The late 19th century saw the formation of many football clubs that we are familiar with.
Captured by Aerofilms Ltd in the years before and after the Second World War, these photographs record lost football grounds that no longer stand.
Why do football teams relocate?
Football clubs move for various reasons. Existing sites cannot cope with further redevelopment, or a move may lead to increased revenue generation. The ground owners sometimes no longer want a football club on their site.
Another significant factor arrived in 1990 when Lord Justice Taylor’s report on the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster recommended a move to all-seat grounds.
Football clubs and stadiums can play a huge role in creating a sense of place and community identity. The loss of a ground inevitably affects this until the roots of a new ground become firmly established.
Here are the stories behind 12 ‘lost’ football grounds.
1. Port Vale FC | The Old Recreation Ground, Stoke-on-Trent
The Old Recreation Ground was home to Port Vale Football Club for 37 years from 1913.
Despite attempts to move on from this restricted site, the club improved the ground, including constructing a new Main Stand in 1931. Vale continued to play at the ground until 1950, when they moved to their current home, Vale Park.
The Old Recreation Ground became a car park. The site was eventually redeveloped as part of the Potteries shopping centre.
2. Huddersfield Town AFC | Leeds Road, Huddersfield
Leeds Road was home to Huddersfield Town from 1908, the year the club was formed. Shortly after, football’s architect in chief, Archibald Leitch, was engaged to reconstruct the site.
The pitch was turned 90 degrees, and the Main Stand, a partially-covered terrace and two banks of the open terrace were built. This photograph shows the upgrading of the concrete steps of the Popular Terrace after the Second World War. A roof was later added.
Huddersfield’s last match at Leeds Road was played in April 1994. The club made the short trip over the River Colne to the Alfred McAlpine Stadium (now the John Smith’s Stadium), home to both the town’s football and rugby league clubs.
‘Alf’ was awarded RIBA’s Building of the Year award in 1995, while the Leeds Road site became a retail park.
3. Arsenal FC | Arsenal Stadium, or Highbury, London
Arsenal controversially moved the 10 miles from Plumstead to Islington in 1913, angering Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient and local residents.
The enclosed site was the playing field of the London College of Divinity and bounded by houses, gardens and a laundry. Terraces were built using material excavated from the Piccadilly underground line, and an East Stand erected.
Redevelopment in the 1930s created an Art Deco styling for the club. By 2006, the need for greater capacity resulted in the club relocating a short distance to the 60,000 seat Emirates Stadium.
Highbury is not entirely ‘lost’. Two stands, including the listed East Stand, have been incorporated into the Highbury Stadium Square residential development.
4. Southend United FC | The Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea
Southend-on-Sea’s Kursaal amusement park opened in 1894 as the Marine Park and Gardens. From 1919 until 1934, it was also home to Southend United Football Club.
When the club reformed after the First World War it laid a new pitch at the Kursaal. In 1920 the East Stand was built, seen here on the right side of the pitch. The club left the Kursaal in 1934 and eventually returned to its original stadium, Roots Hall, in 1955.
Following the closure of the amusement park in 1973, the majority of the site was redeveloped as a housing estate.
5. Sunderland AFC | Roker Park, Sunderland
Roker Park was Sunderland AFC’s sixth ground. Previously farmland, the club began developing the site in 1898, opening that September with a Grandstand, the Clock Stand opposite, and open terraces behind each goal.
Nearest the camera in this view is the Roker End. It was built in 1911 using reinforced concrete supports, replacing the original solid bank of terracing. Opposite is the Fulwell End, which was extended in 1925 and roofed in 1966 for the World Cup.
The Grandstand was rebuilt in 1929 as the Main Stand, designed by the renowned architect Archibald Leitch. Opposite is the new Clock Stand, shown here under construction in July 1936. It was opened two months later.
6. Leicester City FC | Filbert Street, Leicester
Formed in 1884 as Leicester Fosse, the football club played its first match at Filbert Street in November 1891. After becoming Leicester City in 1919, the 1920s brought significant changes to the ground.
Pictured nearest the camera, the Main Stand opened in 1921. To the right, the two-tier Spion Kop was added in 1927. In the following decade, a roof was added to the Popular Side, the narrow stand opposite the Main Stand.
Following the Taylor Report, City considered plans to rotate the ground 90 degrees but these were rejected. Instead, the Main Stand was rebuilt, opening in 1993. Despite this investment, Filbert Street’s partly-restrictive site led to the club opting to move to a new ground.
Leicester City played its last game at Filbert Street in 2002 before relocating. Leicester’s new home, the Walkers Stadium (now the King Power Stadium), is just a short distance away on the site of the former power station that can be seen at the extreme right of this photograph.
7. Coventry City FC | Highfield Road, Coventry
Highfield Road opened in September 1899. This Aerofilms photograph was taken in 1953 but shows the ground as it would have looked before the outbreak of the Second World War.
At the far end of the ground is the Kop, a mass of terrace constructed using rubble collected when tram lines were laid in the city. A new Main Stand was built in 1936. Opposite the Kop is the West Terrace, which was covered in 1927 with a roof acquired from Twickenham rugby ground.
Following the arrival of new manager and former player Jimmy Hill in 1961, the club and ground underwent a minor revolution. During the next seven years the West Terrace roof was replaced and the North Stand and Main Stand rebuilt.
The desire for greater capacity led to City’s move to the Ricoh Arena (now the Coventry Building Society Arena) in 2005. Highfield Road was demolished and replaced with housing set around a play park on the site of the pitch.
8. Bristol Rovers FC | Eastville Football and Athletic Ground, Bristol
Bristol Rovers moved to the Eastville Football and Athletic Ground at Stapleton Hill in 1897. Its location between the River Frome and the Stapleton Gas Works unsurprisingly led to the club’s fans being named ‘Gasheads’.
This photograph from 1926 shows the recently-built (1924) South Stand casting its shadow over the side of the pitch. It survived until 1980 when it was suspiciously destroyed by fire. The desire for extra revenue resulted in greyhound racing being introduced to Eastville in 1932. To facilitate the track, sections of the end terraces had to be removed, changing the look of the ground for the remainder of its existence.
Financial pressures resulted in Rovers leaving Eastville in 1986, taking up temporary tenancy at Bath City’s Twerton Park. Eastville eventually closed in 1997 and the site was redeveloped as part of a larger retail park.
9. Hull City AFC | Anlaby Road, Kingston Upon Hull
Hull City first played at the Circle Cricket Ground in 1905, but a year later moved to an adjacent football pitch, which became known as Anlaby Road.
Closest to the cricket pitch in this 1931 Aerofilms photograph is the 4,000 seat Main Stand, built in 1914. Roofs were added to cover some of the terracing in the 1920s. Due to the ground’s restricted access and a possible re-routed railway line, City looked to move from Anlaby Road.
In 1930 City purchased land on Boothferry Road, on the site of a former golf course. Financial difficulties and the outbreak of war delayed their move to Boothferry Park until 1946.
The club eventually returned to the Circle and Anlaby Road site when it became home to the club’s new KC Stadium (now the MKM Stadium), which opened in 2002.
10. Doncaster Rovers FC | Belle View, Doncaster
Doncaster Rovers moved to a new ground on the edge of Low Pasture, adjacent to the Great North Road, in 1922. To the south and east of the ground was Doncaster Aerodrome.
It had been established during the First World War but was in civilian use when this photograph was taken. In order to create the football ground, ash was used to lay the pitch and embank three sides of the ground. At the far end of the ground is the Town End, partially covered with the stand that was relocated from the club’s previous home, and which survived until it was demolished in 1985.
The Popular Side, to the left side of the pitch, suffered from subsidence resulting in the demolition of its cover in 1987. On the opposite side, the Main Stand was destroyed in an arson attack in 1995. Rovers played their last game at Belle View in 2006 and moved to the new, multipurpose Keepmoat Stadium (now the Eco-Power Stadium).
Remnants of the old ground survive as the site has yet to be fully redeveloped.
11. Manchester City FC | Maine Road, Manchester
City moved from the east of Manchester to the south in 1923 after their previous home at Hyde Road proved inadequate.
Surrounded by the suburban terraces of Moss Side, the new ground was built on a former brick works and comprised a 10,000-seat Main Stand and banks of open terracing on the other three sides.
In the 1930s and through the 1950s roofs were added and seating replaced some terracing. Later piecemeal reconstruction resulted in Maine Road becoming one of the country’s most disjointed looking major football grounds.
A move to the City of Manchester Stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, was favoured over further redevelopment, and City’s final game at Maine Road was played in May 2003. Demolition began later that year and the site is now occupied by housing and a school.
12. Thames AFC | West Ham Stadium, London
Not just a lost football ground, West Ham Stadium also reflects a lost football club.
It was built in 1928 as a speculative development to take advantage of the popularity of speedway and greyhound racing. Dubbed the ‘Wembley of the Docklands’, it was reckoned to have a capacity of around 100-120,000. Its first greyhound race attracted 56,000 spectators and 84,000 speedway fans watched a test versus Australia there in 1933.
A football club, Thames Association, was specially formed to play there to make use of the stadium on Saturdays. However, with competition from established local clubs, Thames’ league career was short lived, with only two seasons spent in Division Three South.
The club holds the dubious record for the lowest known attendance for a Saturday Football League match: 469 versus Luton Town on 6 December 1930. The club was dissolved in 1932. West Ham Stadium hosted its last meet in 1972 before being sold for housing.
Memories of Bootham Crescent
In 2022, York City Football Club moved from Bootham Crescent to a new, out of town stadium, the LNER Community Stadium.
In this video series, we speak to fans to understand how they feel about their club’s previous home, which is due to be redeveloped for housing.
Aerial Photography Explorer
You can explore over 400,000 photographs from the Historic England Archive’s aerial photograph collections using our Aerial Photography Explorer. Find the place where you live, or look for your favourite football ground, railway station or places you visit.
Do you have memories of watching games at any of these stadiums? Let us know about them in the comments below.