Iconic Non League Football Stands, Past and Present: The Not So Perfect Team

Non league football’s most distinctive main stands. Some lost, some intact, some on the way out, and some which have seen Football League action

  • 1. Goalkeeper: A Slate Roofed Double Stand, Horton Park Avenue (Bradford Park Avenue AFC);
  • 2. Defender: ‘Harold’s Lugs’, Kingsway (Bishop Auckland FC);
  • 3. Defender: Built By ICI, Central Avenue (Billingham Synthonia FC);
  • 4. Defender: Built By Miners for Miners, Westfield Lane (Frickley Athletic FC);
  • 5. Defender: An Olympic Record, Champion Hill (Dulwich Hamlet FC);
  • 6. Midfielder: Ornate Beside The Seaside, Wellesley Recreation Ground (Great Yarmouth Town FC);
  • 7. Midfielder: Rhodes’ Legacy, Bower Fold (Stalybridge Celtic AFC);
  • 8. Midfielder: Regal Art Deco Masterpiece, Queen Elizabeth the Second Ground (Enfield Town FC);
  • 9. Forward: Mock Tudor Splendour: The Polegrove (Bexhill United FC);
  • 10. Forward: Poppies Doth Preached: Rockingham Road (Kettering Town FC);
  • 11. Forward: Loveable Fifties Timewarp: Victory Park (Chorley FC).

Substitute:

  • 12. Bethrothed and Divine: The Valley Stadium (Redditch United FC).

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1. Horton Park Avenue, Bradford Park Avenue AFC:

Prior to 1970, the city of Bradford had two Football League clubs. One [Bradford City] would later play the likes of Manchester United in the FA Premier League, but the other one [Bradford Park Avenue] would fold in 1974 and reform as a non-league side.

The main stand at Horton Park Avenue was one of Archibald Leitch’s most elegant designs. It was actually two stands in one, serving both cricket and football. Along with its trade mark criss-crossed girders and shallow terrace, it had three gables, at the left, right and centre of the stand, and ran the full length of the football pitch.

For a time, Horton Park Avenue was a superior ground to Valley Parade. By 1970, it was largely unchanged apart from a social club at the Canterbury Avenue end. Sadly, Bradford P.A’s home closed in 1973 and lay derelict. B.P.A. Mark 1 played their last season’s fixtures at Valley Parade in the Northern Premier League with Great Harwood their last opponents.

The fine stand was demolished with a Cricket Centre on part of the football pitch. Today, a Fitness First gymnasium stands on the site.

2. Kingsway, Bishop Auckland FC:

Much loved among non-league fans was the three sided Kingsway ground, home to Bishop Auckland FC. This was shared with cricket. Its main stand was built sometime after World War I and boasted two tiers, with standing below the seated tier. The stand was extended in 1956 with a further 168 seats on the left and right hand sides with a total of 600 seats. They were dubbed ‘Harold’s Lugs’, in reference to the firm and symmetrical appearance it had on the stand.

By 2001, they left the historic Kingsway ground and shared with Shildon Town, Spennymoor United and West Auckland Town before moving to a new ground on Stadium Way in 2010.

3. Central Avenue, Billingham Synthonia FC:

In 1958, Billingham Synthonia moved to their present ground, following the acquisition of Belasis Lane by ICI for its offices. Central Avenue is dominated by a commodious main stand, which on opening seated 2,000 people. It was tested on its opening day with a 4,200 attendance; their opponents were Bishop Auckland, and they shared the points in a 2-2 draw. Today, the stand is no longer all seater and includes standing accommodation. There is now a modest number of seats, but the potential for expansion is great should Synthonia join the Evostik League North or Blue Square Bet North in future years.

4. Westfield Lane, Frickley Athletic:

Westfield Lane, South Elmsall, West Yorkshire.
Westfield Lane main stand, Frickley Athletic FC. Photo by Matthew Wilkinson (Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives License).

I have had the joy of watching The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic® from this stand, with the fixture being a tense 0-0 draw in 2001. It was opened in 1926 and built by local miners during the General Strike and Miners’ Strike. With seating for 500 people, the stand offers spectators an excellent view of play and – if you have your binoculars ready – the Doncaster to Leeds section of the East Coast Main Line. The boardroom and dressing rooms underneath the stand were heated by coal fires at one time.

5. Champion Hill, Dulwich Hamlet FC:

Few non league grounds could hold a claim to fame as being an Olympic Games venue. In 1948, a First Round match between Korea and Mexico was contested there. At the time, Champion Hill had an impressive main stand with 2,400 seats and terracing for 2,000 fans. The following season saw Hamlet win the Isthmian League with five-figure gates the norm.

By 1979, it appeared in a football sketch for the London Weekend Television comedy series End of Part One, where World of Sport was parodied. Ten years after, their stand and the old Champion Hill was no more. Today, the modern version of Champion Hill has a more modest stand seating 500 and was financed by a deal with Sainsburys.

6. Wellesley Recreation Ground, Great Yarmouth Town FC:

With its sumptuous stanchions, imposing gable and bay windows, the Wellesley Recreation Ground’s main stand was opened in 1904, accommodating over a thousand people on benches. It is believed to be the oldest grandstand in regular use, hosting football and athletics fixtures to this day. The grandstand opened on the 11 June 1892.

7. Bower Fold, Stalybridge Celtic AFC:

Bower Fold has been Stalybridge Celtic’s home since its foundation in 1909. Prior to 1996, its original grandstand saw Third Division North, Southern League Second Division and GM Vauxhall Conference football.

Opening in 1909, it seated 500 people on benches, including a press box and directors’ seats. Originally, there was flat terracing in front of the stand and a tea bar facing the Mottram End. There was also glazed left and right side panels, though these along with the shallow paddock in front went in the 1970s. The stand was virtually all wooden till the late 1980s, when changing rooms were upgraded. Its seating capacity was reduced to 330 on plastic tip-up seats, with the front of the stand wall strengthened and fireproofed with brick.

In 1995 – 96, it was demolished and replaced by its present structure, a 650 seat cantilever stand with new changing rooms, an executive suite, press box, sponsors’ and directors’ seating. It opened as the Manro Stand (after its then club sponsors) in 1996 with a friendly game versus Oldham Athletic. The ‘Bridge won 3-1.

8. Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Enfield Town FC:

Art Deco and football – and at least its cousins too – seems to be a rare beast in The Beautiful Game. Our most famous example (Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium) has been converted to flats, leaving non league as a vanguard of this movement in ground design. Whereas Horsham FC’s main stand is very much that period, Enfield Town’s newest home is more overtly Art Deco.

The centrepiece of its ground is the main stand, shared with athletics and football. After moving in November 2011, it has seen a £6million refurbishment and renovation work, with new seats added, and the reopening of its café. Owned by the London Borough of Enfield Council with Enfield Town FC its lead tenant, it was famously the running track where Linford Christie, Daley Thompson and Sebastian (now Lord) Coe trained. The pavilion is a Grade II Listed Building.

9. The Polegrove, Bexhill United FC:

Bexhill United v Storrington
Tudorbethan Splendour: the main stand at Bexhill United FC. Photograph by grassrootsgroundswell (Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved License).

This delightful stand is home to football and cricket. Bexhill United is a more recent addition to the East Sussex seaside town, following a merger with Bexhill Town and Bexhill A.A.C. The mock-Tudor stand dates from 1926, almost as old as Bexhill Town. Recent modernisation has been sympathetic to the stand’s original features.

10. Rockingham Road, Kettering Town FC:

The Poppies always considered themselves as among non league’s giants, with ambitions of equal stature. Before a disastrous move to Nene Park, Irthlingborough, and a recent fall from grace, Rockingham Road was their home. Till recent years, it was considered as one of the best grounds outside the Football League.

Most of that was due to an ambitious main stand, on a similar scale to Dulwich Hamlet’s effort. Opening in 1972, the cantilever stand originally had seating for 2,500, and probably the envy of most Division Three and Division Four clubs at the time. Facilities included refreshment points and toilets, situated under the stand. In recent years, seating capacity was cut to 1,600.

Today, Rockingham Road stands empty. Kettering Town’s home matches are now played at Steel Park, home to their local rivals Corby Town FC.

11. Victory Park, Chorley:

Whereas Rockingham Road is a ghostly shadow of former glories, another former Conference club has done nicely whilst retaining the air of a traditional non league ground. The main stand at Victory Park opened in 1947 with seats for a thousand fans. Their stand design would be copied at other non-league grounds across the UK, with the mix of terracing at the front and seats above the changing rooms and social club, with windows. Worcester City’s main stand, built to a similar design opened in 1963 – five years after Scunthorpe United and Billingham Synthonia saw the opening of cantilevered stands.

Today, the stand is going strong and looks well in a ground which appears to be stuck in the 1950s. All for a good reason I would say.

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Substitute: 12. Valley Stadium, Redditch United FC:

The Valley, Redditch United FC
The unusual main stand at the Valley Stadium, Redditch.

As a Stalybridge Celtic fan, I have many happy times watching the ‘Bridge play at the Valley Stadium. The one thing which had always intrigued me on my trips to the Valley Stadium is their main stand. At odds with conventional stands, the droop snoop style of propped cantilever construction allows for unrestricted views for 300 people, with press box and sponsors’ seats above, level with the social club. As a quirk of its construction, restricted views are the norm for sponsors and directors.

Redditch itself expanded in 1964, when the town was granted New Town status. Their main stand, along with redevelopment of the rest of the ground, was funded by the town’s Development Corporation, in partnership with the club. Whereas the Queen Elizabeth Stadium’s pavilion at Enfield was a tour de force in Art Deco/post-Art Deco era architecture, the main stand at the Valley Stadium could well be its modernist counterpart.

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Worthy Contenders?

Which other non league football stands deserve iconic status? Feel free to agree or disagree with the selection above or suggest other examples. If you have any memories of sitting in the above line up of stands or any others you care to mention, fire away.

S.V., 05 February 2013.

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2 thoughts on “Iconic Non League Football Stands, Past and Present: The Not So Perfect Team

Add yours

  1. 13. The Dripping Pan. Lewes FC
    This stadium has been their home since 1885. It is set in a natural bowl . During the last 10 years practically all sides of the ground have been redeveloped, so as to obtain an “A” grade. The clubhouse is a three story structure offset behind one of the ends,. First used as a cricket ground in the 18th century.

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    1. Good shout, Buspilot.

      This is one ground I’ve yet to visit, though one on my list of grounds to visit before leaving this world. I had hoped The Mighty ‘Bridge would have copped for them in a FA Trophy match (which would have been a plausible excuse for a weekend in Eastbourne or a tour around Harvey’s Brewery).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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