The Blackfriars End with the cathedral and church in the background
|Full name||Edgar Street Athletic Ground|
|Location||Hereford, HR4 9JU|
|Field size||114 x 76 yd (69 m)|
|Built||late 19th century|
|Opened||late 19th century|
Edgar Street is a football stadium in Hereford and has been the home of Hereford United Football Club since 1924. It is the largest football stadium in the county of Herefordshire and is located on the edge of Hereford City Centre, adjacent to the cattle market. The name of the stadium directly derives from the name of the street where it is located, which is also the A49.
The stadium consists of four stands with both terracing and seating and has largely remained the same since the last major redevelopment work was completed in 1974. The stadium has been central to the financial troubles of Hereford United for the last decade, with control of the two ground leases having been transferred to developers in exchange for a £1 million loan in the late 1990s. More recently any proposed redevelopment of the ground to include revenue-generating facilities has been prevented by the influence and presence of the proposed nearby Edgar Street Grid redevelopment scheme.
The site has been used as a stadium since the late 19th century, although the year in which it was opened has not been widely recorded. The stadium was originally owned by the Hereford Athletic Ground Company and was also used by amateur football side Hereford City. In those days the ground's official name was Edgar Street Athletic Stadium, there was a running track around the pitch which explains the curious curved "dead" areas behind each goal in front of the terraces. Even in the early days Hereford United struggled financially and the landlord obligingly reduced the rent to help the club. In 1931 the stadium was purchased by Hereford City Council for £3,000, and in 1952 United secured a lease on the stadium for the first time.
Although now showing its age, the ground's history does have some notable landmarks, such as the installation of floodlights in March 1953, before many large clubs. In 1974, following the most recent major development seen at Edgar Street, it was the only one outside the First Division with two cantilever-roof stands. At 76 yards (69 m) the ground had, until the advent of new stadia, one of the widest pitches in the Football League. The extreme width of the pitch was created when the old running track was turfed over.
Due to the club's financial crisis in 1997, the lease was handed over to developers. In 2000 an electronic scoreboard was put up at the Blackfriars Street End, using funds bequeathed to the club by a supporter.
The capacity of the ground in 2007 was 7,700. Over the years it has gradually been reduced from 8,843 due to the Blackfriars End falling into a state of disrepair in recent years. The record attendance, however, is 18,114 against Sheffield Wednesday in the 1958-59 season FA Cup Third Round.
The Merton Stand, on the eastern side of the ground is the only all-seater stand in the ground and was built in 1968. It currently has a capacity of 1818. Initially it was flanked on either side by standing areas known as the Cowsheds, but when the club progressed into the Football League the stand was extended to cover the entire length of the pitch. The Merton Stand is the nominated family stand and includes the director's and press boxes, with matchday sponsors also seated in this stand. In front of the stand lie the dugouts next to the players' tunnel. All of the club facilities, such as offices, changing rooms, boardroom and corporate hospitality are located underneath the stand. The result of this is a number of windows at pitch level. The Vice Presidents' Club and Legends, the supporter's bar are also located in this stand.
The Meadow End is located at the northern end of the ground and is traditionally populated with the club's most vocal supporters. It is a fully covered terrace and has a distinctive curve to its shape. The flat area in front of the terracing enables supporters to stand directly behind the perimeter wall of the pitch, very close to the action. It has a capacity of 1,400. Located behind this end is the substantial Merton Meadow car park.
The pitch's distinctive downhill slope is in the direction of the Meadow End, which has seen some memorable goals over the years, most notably the goals scored by Ronnie Radford and Ricky George in the 1972 FA Cup victory over Newcastle United.
Although in later years the Meadow End has been seen to be decaying much like the Blackfriars Street End and may be replaced in the future.
One of the FA Cup traditions of the club was for a group of supporters to dribble a swede before kick-off to the Meadow End and score a goal for good luck.
Len Weston Stand
The Len Weston Stand (referred to as the Cargill Stand for sponsorship reasons), on the western side of the ground, is a narrow two-tiered stand and was built in 1974, replacing the previous wooden grandstand, which was moved to a field near Risbury in the County. The stand has a total capacity of 1996, comprising 936 seats and a further 1060 standing. It extends the entire length of the pitch and was named after the former president and benefactor of the club, Len Weston, of the Weston's cider and perry making family business. It was renamed the "Floors-2-Go Stand" at the start of 2006-07 season, with the stand being painted with an orange colour scheme to reflect this.
The stand is unusual in that the lower tier is terraced and the upper tier seated. The upper tier contains just five steep rows of seating but offers perhaps the best view in the ground as it is higher than the Merton Stand, and also closer to the pitch so supporters may not be able to see the front of the pitch, but seating is so narrow supporters may be cramped together like sardines. The view from the terracing on the lower tier can be obscured by a number of supporting pillars which is said to be like watching football from the mouth of a cave, but also has the benefit of being very close to the touchline. The proximity of the A49 road immediately behind the stand limited the amount of room to build the stand, hence the relatively small number of rows of seating. Ticket allocation is split between home and away supporters with the Meadow End side allocated to home supporters.
Blackfriars Street End
The Blackfriars Street End, on the southern side of the ground, is a fully covered terrace similar to the Meadow End, but is positioned further away from the pitch. The stand has fallen into a state of some disrepair in recent years, with the number of supporters it can accommodate under Health & Safety regulations reducing significantly in recent years. This in turn has reduced the capacity of the ground by at least 1,000 in the last 10 years.
The half of the end nearest to Len Weston Stand side is designated for away supporters who are separated from the home support by fencing, which is known as "the cage". Like at the Meadow End, there is a large flat area in front of the terracing, allowing supporters to stand directly behind the perimeter wall.
Having slowly decayed in the last decade, the end was finally closed in the summer of 2009 after failing a safety inspection. Plans have been made to build a new 1,500 -capacity Seated stand. A temporary stand containing was 650 seats built in there to accommodate clubs that bring a large away following.
However, following improvements made to the terrace in the summer of 2012, the temporary stand has been removed. The improvements to the stand brought the overall capacity of the ground up to 5,966 (after receiving official conformation from the club).
The ground was central to the club's financial problems in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In order to cover debts the club secured two loans from property developers - the Bristol Stadium Group and Chelverton. As part of the arrangement, the previous regime of the club handed control of the ground leases to the developers.
With the ground in a prime location in Hereford it was originally believed that the best course of action would be for the club to relocate, and the ground be sold off for commercial development to enable the £1.3 million debt to be repaid. The landowners Herefordshire Council were against demolishing the ground and turning it into a retail development. Subsequently focus switched to keeping the club in its present location and redeveloping the ground to include some form of commercial development, a multiplex cinema being one of the proposals.
By this stage interest on the debt had already been frozen but there remained a repayment deadline of May 2003, which threatened the long-term future of the club who were still struggling financially into 2003. The BS Group had already sold their stake to Chelverton who in turn ran into difficulties meaning that control of the leases was passed to Carillion-Richardson. The pressure on the club to repay the debt has since eased with the developers working with the club to redevelop the ground to include facilities that can generate revenue, which will enable the club to repay the debt.
Herefordshire Council and Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency formed a company called ESG Herefordshire, and released plans in 2003 detailing redevelopment of 100 acres (0.40 km2) of Hereford city, including the area where the ground is located. In October 2006, ESG Herefordshire appointed Urban Initiatives to revise and develop the masterplan.[dead link]
The redevelopment of the ground itself is not constrained by the Edgar Street Grid directly, but it remains in limbo until appropriate retailers and businesses can be attracted to the proposed facilities at the ground. As the ESG includes a retail quarter, the club are effectively competing for prospective retailers and businesses - with several choosing to move into the ESG.
At the start of May 2012 the club finally secured their leases of Edgar Street for the next 250 years. This is an important stepping stone for future development of the Stadium and should encourage future investors and developers.
- Leeds FA Cup Tie Brings Financial Boost For Bulls Hereford Times, 1 November 2007. Retrieved on 11 February 2008.
- Ground Details for Wolves pre-season friendly Hereford Official Website, 15 July 2008. Retrieved on 25 July 2008.[dead link]
- Real Estate Development - Future Developments: Hereford, United Kingdom Richardsons Capital LLP. Retrieved on 24 May 2008.[dead link]
- "Urban Initiatives to design masterplan to revitalise and expand Hereford city centre" (Press release). ESG Herefordshire. 26 October 2006. Retrieved 31 January 2007.