Belle Vue (Doncaster)
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (June 2008)|
|Old Belle Vue|
The Main Stand of the stadium, destroyed due to a gas leak and now totally demolished.
|Full name||Belle Vue Stadium|
|Location||Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England|
|Owner||Doncaster Rovers Football Club|
|Operator||Doncaster Rovers Football Club|
|Opened||26 August 1922|
|Doncaster Rovers (1922–2006)
Doncaster RLFC (1995-96) & (1998-2006)
Doncaster Belles (1991–1997)
The ground was opened by Charles E. Sutcliffe from the Football League on Saturday, 26 August 1922. The opposition was Gainsborough Trinity. The initial capacity was for 7,000 spectators, which was extended year-on-year as finances allowed. In 1927 the main stand at Doncaster's former ground in the suburb of Bennetthorpe was jacked up and moved on rollers to Belle Vue to form the family stand, where it remained until 1985 when the tragic events at Bradford City meant that the old wooden structure was deemed unsafe and was demolished.
In 1938 the capacity of Belle Vue was increased to 40,000 and it was in 1948 that the stadium recorded its highest attendance of 37,099 against Hull City, although apocryphal accounts refute this and claim that many more gained entry to the ground by climbing over walls and thus avoided having to pay.
Rovers decline and 1995 fire
In the later years of the 20th century, as the club's fortunes began to decline and finances became tighter, the capacity of Belle Vue was cut dramatically, falling as low as 4,859 in May 1987 when mining subsidence was found underground beneath the Popular Stand terrace.
A fire in the Main Stand one night in June 1995 caused extensive damage and nine months later Chairman Ken Richardson was arrested after the full-time whistle blew on an evening match against Fulham. He was charged with conspiracy to commit arson and was subsequently found guilty. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment. The actual arsonist, 41-year-old Tyneside man Alan Kristiansen, received a one-year prison sentence; it was revealed that Kristiansen, a former SAS soldier, had been paid £10,000 by Richardson to start the fire. His accomplices Ian Hay (aged 54 and from Gateshead) and Alan Cracknall (aged 32 and from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) both received nine-month prison sentences suspended for two years.
In the summer of 2003 work began to repair the Town End terrace, to replace the old seating in the Main Stand and to extend the Rossington terrace. In the summer of 2004 the Popular Stand terrace was also extended and executive boxes were built at the Town End of the stadium. New club offices, a new supporters bar and the application of tarmac to the car park completed a much needed facelift. In a move that angered some fans Belle Vue was renamed Earth Stadium as part of a sponsorship deal with Rotherham based finance company Earth Finance. The capacity reached the region of 11,500.
Keepmoat Stadium and Belle Vue closes
A new stadium had long been mooted for Doncaster Rovers. The stadium finally started to become a reality when planning permission was granted. Construction started on 17 October 2005 of a 15,000 all-seater community stadium complex. The new ground was named the Keepmoat Stadium.
The last ever game at Belle Vue was on 23 December 2006 against League One leaders, Nottingham Forest. Doncaster finished their time at the stadium with a win, with a goal from Theo Streete ensuring a 1-0 victory.
Life after football
On Wednesday, 7 February 2007 nearby residents to the old stadium described a sound like a bomb going off in the early hours of the morning, the impact of the blast left more than half of the Main Stand obliterated and much of the roof in pieces. Two people at the scene received hospital treatment for injuries sustained in the explosion - one of whom had to be transferred to a specialist burns unit in Nottingham - while one lane of Bawtry Road had to be closed for two hours because of scattered debris and the risk of further explosions. It was rumoured in the town that earlier in the evening somebody had broken into the stadium and stolen the boiler, while leaving the gas pipes open, filling the stand with gas. Two different men later entered the stadium through wide open gates and doors before inadvertently igniting the gas, causing the explosion. The alarm was raised at 3.17am on Wednesday, 7 February, when a police patrol officer on duty near the stadium in Bawtry Road witnessed the explosion and called for the fire brigade. One man in his 20s was arrested in connection with the incident and was questioned by police.
Demolition of the stadium, home to Doncaster Rovers for 84 years, was expected to be imminent because of the safety threat that the derelict site posed to the public.
Following the explosion, demolition of the stadium was rapidly speeded up and now very little remains of the ground. Areas of terrace are still identifiable and large sections of the pitch remain but The Main Stand and Popular Side have now been reduced to rubble while floodlights, executive boxes, turnstiles, snack bars and offices have either been removed or destroyed, along with the ground's club house, the Rovers' Return.
The site was patrolled by security following the explosion and was fenced off whilst demolition work was undertaken. Since demolition, the security fences have remained to prevent access onto the site.
The ground was renowned for having one of the top five biggest pitches in the UK, at 110 yards long, and 72 yards wide. In addition to the size of the pitch, it was considered to have one of the best playing surfaces due to the fertile soil, providing a near perfect pitch.
- Davison, John (6 March 1999). "Ex-owner of Doncaster Rovers jailed for arson plot". The Independent (London).
- "Doncaster 1-0 Nottm Forest". BBC News. 23 December 2006.