Home Park

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For other uses, see Home Park (disambiguation).
Home Park
Theatre of Greens
A corner of a football stadium on a cloudy day.
Location Plymouth, PL2 3DQ
Devon, England
Coordinates 50°23′17″N 4°09′3″W / 50.38806°N 4.15083°W / 50.38806; -4.15083Coordinates: 50°23′17″N 4°09′3″W / 50.38806°N 4.15083°W / 50.38806; -4.15083
Owner Plymouth City Council
Operator Plymouth Argyle
Capacity 16,906[1]
Field size 105 x 72 m[2]
(114 x 78 yd)
Surface Desso GrassMaster
Scoreboard None
Construction
Built 1892
Opened 1893
Renovated 2001
Construction cost £11m (2001)
Architect Barr Construction (2001)
Tenants
Plymouth Argyle (1901–present)

Home Park is an all-seater football stadium in the Central Park area of Plymouth, England, and is the home of Football League Two club Plymouth Argyle. The ground, given the nickname the Theatre of Greens by the club's supporters, has been Argyle's permanent residence since 1901.[3] After undergoing considerable development in the 1920s and 1930s the ground suffered heavy damage during the Second World War. It was re-opened in time for the resumption of the Football League in 1945 and underwent further improvements in the 1950s, including the installation of floodlights and a new double-decker Grandstand. The ground remained relatively unchanged until 2001 when construction of three new all-seater stands commenced.[4] The work was completed in February 2002, and after further work the stadium became all-seated in the summer of 2007.[5]

The stadium's record attendance was recorded in 1936, when 43,596 spectators were in attendance to watch the club play a Second Division match against Aston Villa; this was actually discovered to have been beaten when 44,526 watched Argyle host Huddersfield Town 13 January 1934 in the FA Cup. The record average attendance for a single season, 23,290, came in the 1946–47 season.[6] The stadium was selected as part of England's 2018 FIFA World Cup bid by the FA in December 2009.[7][8] The ground has played host to England youth internationals in the past, and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup match between Saint-Étienne and Manchester United in 1977.[9] Aside from football-related uses, Home Park has played host to rugby and athletics in the past and now puts on live music during the summer, with Elton John, George Michael and Rod Stewart among the acts who have performed at the ground.[10]

History[edit]

Construction and early years[edit]

Home Park was originally used by the now defunct Devonport Albion rugby team from 1893 to 1898. Following a dispute with the ground's owners over rent, Albion left and the ground was not used for three years. In 1901 the Argyle Athletic Club obtained a lease on the ground, then an oval-shaped bowl and cinder track surrounded by allotments and farmland.[11] The new owners staged their first event, an athletics meeting, on Whit Monday in 1901, however, leaseholder Clarence Spooner was keen for it to stage football. Following a series of successful trial matches involving Argyle Football Club, which attracted healthy crowds, Spooner made the decision to focus on establishing the first professional football club in Devon.[3] The club, formed in 1886, changed its name to Plymouth Argyle in 1903 and became professional that same year. Home Park played host to its first competitive match, against Northampton Town, on 5 September 1903 in front of a crowd of 4,438. At the time the ground had one wooden grandstand which could accommodate 2,000 people, while the other three sides of the ground were surrounded by slag heap banking with a waist-high fence. When Argyle joined the Football League in 1920 several improvements were required to meet safety requirements.[3]

The wooden Grandstand was demolished and replaced by a much larger and more modern structure at a cost of £12,000, while concrete terracing with crush barriers were added around the other three sides of the ground. A pitched-roof was erected along the main entrance at the Devonport End of the ground to provide cover for supporters using that terrace. The new Grandstand incorporated players changing rooms and club offices. Many of these facilities were built with funds provided by the official supporters club.[3] By the 1930s the ground was regularly hosting crowds in excess of 20,000 and on 10 October 1936 the record attendance was set. A crowd of 43,596 were in attendance to watch the club play out a 2–2 draw with Aston Villa in the Football League Second Division. The ground continued to host Second Division football until the outbreak of war in 1939.[12]

Wartime bombing[edit]

The city of Plymouth was hit hard during the Second World War due to its strength as a military base, with HMNB Devonport being the largest naval base in Western Europe.[13] So, with the ground being in such close proximity to the city centre and Plymouth Sound, it was unlikely that it would escape unharmed. The Football League was abandoned three games into the 1939–40 season, but Home Park continued to host matches until the summer of 1940 in the hastily organised South West Regional League.[14] A series of bombing raids on the city took place in April 1941, known as the Plymouth Blitz, by the Luftwaffe. As expected Home Park did not escape. The Grandstand was all but destroyed after sustaining multiple hits and the pitch was littered with impact craters, which left the club facing a major rebuilding operation after hostilities had abated in 1945.

Resurgam[edit]

Home Park in 1996.

In order to be ready for the resumption of a regionalised Football League in 1945 several drastic measures were required. Disused army huts were used as changing rooms, buses and trams were used as offices, and railway sleepers were used for terracing.[3] The Football League was still split into North and South divisions, having been created four years earlier in order for the League to continue whilst limiting the amount of movement that was required by competing teams during the war. The 1945–46 season was to be its only full campaign. Records from this time tend not to be included in official records. Plymouth Argyle's first official match back at the ground for six years was played on 31 August 1946. 25,659 spectators were in attendance to watch a 3–1 victory against West Ham United in the Second Division.[15]

A new double-decker Grandstand was built in 1952, one of the last to be based on the template made popular during the 1920s and 30s by prolific football stadium architect Archibald Leitch, with floodlights installed in October of the following year.[11] Running the length of the pitch, it had standing room in the first tier, known as the Mayflower Terrace, and wooden seating in the second tier.[11] When a roof was erected on the Lyndhurst side of the ground in 1964, three quarters of the ground were under cover, with all but the second tier of the Grandstand being standing room. In the 1969–70 season seats were added at the back of the Mayflower Terrace, which took the seating capacity to 4,100 and the overall capacity to 40,000.[11] In the late 1970s the pitched roof at the Devonport End of the ground had to be removed for safety reasons.[3] However, it was replaced in 1984 by a non-pitched structure to leave just the Barn Park End uncovered once more.[16]

The ground remained relatively unchanged throughout the 1990s, aside from the Lyndhurst Stand being made all-seater. However, its future seemed unclear when the club outlined plans to move to a new site in Central Park in 1996. The Plymouth Tradium, designed by Alfred McAlpine, would seat 25,000, and also incorporate community sports and leisure facilities.[17] In the end nothing came of it and the club would instead focus on redeveloping Home Park, with many parts of the old ground showing their age by the arrival of the twenty-first century.

2001 redevelopment[edit]

A panorama of a semi-full football stadium with green seats on a sunny day.
The Devonport End in 2009.

A new plan, based on wholesale redevelopment of the existing ground, was announced in 2000 which at the time would cost an estimated £9m. The stadium would be built in two phases, with the first phase seeing the complete redevelopment of the Devonport End, Lyndhurst Stand, and Barn Park End. The second phase involved the Mayflower Grandstand which would be replaced by a new three-tiered structure to complete an 18,500 capacity all-seater bowl.[18] The green light came in June 2001 when the club and Plymouth City Council agreed a new long-term lease for the ground. The building firm Barr Construction moved onto the site two months later.

During the first six months of the 2001–2002 season supporters watched the club's matches from one touchline before the first phase was completed in February 2002.[19] One of the biggest attendances since the redevelopment was set on 20 April 2002, as 18,517 spectators watched Plymouth Argyle recorded a 2–0 win against Cheltenham Town in the Third Division.[20] A feat which was bettered in 2004, and then in 2007. Home Park attracted its highest average league attendance for over forty years during the 2004–05 season in the Championship, formerly known as the First Division.[21] Despite this, a start date for the second phase of redevelopment would not materialise. The former chairman of Plymouth Argyle, Paul Stapleton, declared that not completing the project was the biggest disappointment of his tenure.[22]

Freehold purchase and conversion to all seater[edit]

The club purchased the freehold of the ground from Plymouth City Council to become sole owners in December 2006 for £2.7m.[23] It was hoped that work on a new Grandstand would begin the following year. It hosted its biggest crowd since the redevelopment in March 2007 when 20,652 were in attendance to watch Argyle play Watford in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.[24] That summer the ground became all-seated as the club was forced to convert the Mayflower Terrace into seating by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.[25] In the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 regulations were brought in, recommended by the Taylor report, that all stadiums in the top two divisions of English football must be all-seated unless there are exceptional circumstances. The club had been given three years grace after winning promotion back to the Football League Championship in 2004.

Three major summer initiatives were announced by the club just over a week later, which were carried out over the next month.[26] The Mayflower Terrace was replaced by temporary, unreserved seating with a capacity of 3,500. A new state-of-the-art public address system was installed, and the last of ground's inconic floodlight towers were dismantled after 54 years of service, with a new system put in its place.[27] The capacity of the ground was therefore reduced by roughly two thousand to 19,500 following these changes.

Council buys back ground[edit]

On 4 March 2011, the club entered administration.[28] As part of a rescue package, which saw South West hotelier James Brent take over the club,[29] Plymouth City Council agreed to buy back the freehold for a reported £1.6m and lease the ground back to the club for an annual rent of £135,000.[30]

Structure and facilities[edit]

The rear of a stand at a football stadium with spectators on a cloudy day.
Outside the Devonport End in 2006.

The Home Park pitch is surrounded by four covered all-seater stands, officially known as the Mayflower Grandstand to the south, Devonport End to the west, Lyndhurst Stand to the north, and Barn Park End to the east.[31] Each stand has one tier with the exception of the Mayflower Grandstand which has two, an upper tier and a lower tier, known as the Mayflower Terrace, which was converted from terracing in 2007.[32]

The Mayflower Grandstand is the club's main stand, which can hold roughly 7,000 spectators. It is the oldest part of the ground, having been built in 1952. It houses the club's main offices, the boardroom, team changing rooms, press rooms and also accommodates executive boxes, which can host functions and are available to supporters during matchdays.[33] The dugouts; which are made of wood and supplied by the club's sponsors; sit in front of the Mayflower, with the player tunnel slightly off center going underneath the Mayflower. To the rear of the stand is the Club Shop, selling official merchandise, and the Pyramid Suite, a top class hospitality area which can cater for up to 170 people.[34] There are two structures overlooking the pitch on each side of the stand. To the east is a building which contains a hospitality area (the Chisholm Lounge),[35] and a press area, and to the west is a disabled enclosure. There have been plans to replace this stand for a number of years.[36] In 2013, planning permission was finally given to revamp and rebuild the Mayflower Grandstand after becoming less popular with supporters and the club's chairman James Brent, although no date has ever been set for the construction to begin.

The other three stands are very similar in design and linked together, having been built in 2001. The Devonport End is the traditional end where the more vocal of the club's supporters gather. It can hold approximately 3,500 spectators. [37] The Lyndhurst Stand is the largest of the three, holding approximately 6,000 spectators, including the corners. The corner towards the East side of the ground is now the dedicated family area. The Barn Park End is where the away supporters are housed. Similar to the Devonport End, it also holds approximately 3,500 spectators. The standard allocation given to visiting clubs is 1,300 but this can be increased if demand requires it.[38] All three boast good views and standard facilities for a football stadium, including concourses, merchandise stands and food and drink outlets. The pitch at the ground measures approximately 100 metres (109.3 yards) long by 66 metres (72.1 yards) wide, with a few metres of run-off space on each side. The ground also has two pitch covers, rain and frost, to protect the pitch during inclement weather during the winter months.

Inside Home Park from corner of Mayflower and Barn Park. Before reserve match in the Football Combination between Plymouth Argyle and Swansea City in 2009

Failed World Cup Bid[edit]

In August 2009 the club announced plans for wholesale development of the stadium and regeneration throughout the area.[39] The club declared that the city of Plymouth would be submitting an application to the Football Association (the FA) to be a host venue for England's 2018 FIFA World Cup Bid.[40] The eye-catching plans were released to the public on 14 December 2009, two days before the FA would announce which candidates they had selected for the bid.[41] The plans, designed by Populous, include developing the stadium into a 46,000 capacity all-seater area, with a 5,000-seat indoor facility and hotel built into the complex, at a cost of at least £50m.[42] The build would be done in three stages. The First Phase, a new Mayflower Stand, will become a reality regardless of the bid, increasing the capacity to 27,000. The Second Phase, an additional 8,000 seats, and the Third Phase, an additional 11,000 seats, would be completed by the 2014–15 season should Plymouth's application and England's bid be successful, giving the stadium a capacity of 46,000 all-seated by this stage.[43][44]

"If one were to classify Britain's 'sleeping giants' in order, Cardiff might be top for self-destruction, but Plymouth, surely, has the ground location which most clubs would die for."

Simon Inglis[27]

The city presented its bid at Wembley Stadium in November 2009 with numerous businesses and sports clubs from Devon and Cornwall fully behind it.[45] A selection of those included the city's rugby union and basketball clubs, Plymouth Albion,[46] and Plymouth Raiders,[47] and local football clubs Exeter City,[48] and Torquay United.[49] Plymouth was selected as a part of England's 2018 FIFA World Cup Bid, alongside 11 other cities on 16 December 2009.[50] Plymouth Argyle director Paul Stapleton described himself as being overwhelmed, going on to say that getting over the first hurdle "gives our supporters belief that we can achieve things", while the bids chairman, Douglas Fletcher, described the bid as one "for the people of Devon and Cornwall".[51][52] A day later the club revealed that the stadium could possibly be renamed for sponsorship reasons as a part of funding for the project which shall begin in the summer of 2010.[53]

However, on 2 December 2010 England lost its World Cup bid to Russia.[54] Following the failure of the World Cup bid, the consortium that had taken controlling interest in the club in 2009[55] quickly lost interest now property speculation was out of the question and a few months later the club entered administration.[56]

Other uses[edit]

A man, performing on a stage in front of a capacity crowd.
Rod Stewart performing at Home Park in 2009, his only UK tour date that year.

The stadium has also hosted matches involving the England national team at various levels. The England Amateur team played a match against their Welsh counterparts in 1914. Home Park also hosted three England Under-23 matches in the 1960s and 1970s. A 6–1 win against Belgium in 1962, a 4–1 win against Bulgaria in 1970 and a 0–0 draw with Poland in 1973.[57] The ground hosted a unique match in 1966 between representative sides of the Football League and Irish Football League. A crowd of 35,458 were in attendance as the Football League, featuring seven members of the 1966 FIFA World Cup winning squad, were 12–0 victors.[58] Home Park has also been used for purposes other than football. Before Argyle moved in, the site was used for rugby union matches, and it hosted an athletics meeting in the early 20th century.[3]

On 5 October 1977, Home Park hosted Manchester United's European Cup Winners' Cup first round second leg tie against AS Saint-Etienne of France. United won the game 2–0 (3–1 on aggregate).[59] Despite being based nearly 300 miles away at Old Trafford in Manchester, United had played their "home" tie at Home Park as UEFA had ordered them to play at least 120 miles from Old Trafford due to hooliganism incidents at the first leg in France, for which they had initially been expelled from the competition completely and only readmitted on appeal.[60]

Plymouth Argyle were limited in what they could do with the stadium throughout the 1900s because of a long-standing lease agreement with the City Council. That changed in 2006 when the club purchased the freehold of the ground for £2.7m.[61] Soon after, the club announced it would begin hosting live music in the summer months, starting in 2007, and the first act to perform there was Elton John.[62] Other major acts have followed, including George Michael, Meat Loaf, Westlife, and Rod Stewart.[63] The stadium also hosts an annual free-admittance carol service in December to celebrate Christmas, in association with the Plymouth branch of Christian organisation Faith and Football.[64]

Records[edit]

The highest attendance recorded at Home Park is 43,596 for a Football League Second Division match between Plymouth Argyle and Aston Villa on 10 October 1936.[65] This was before the ground was converted to an all-seater stadium, allowing many more people to fit into the stadium. Home Park's record attendance as an all-seater stadium currently stands at 17,511, set at a Football League Championship match between Plymouth Argyle and Watford on 22 March 2008.[66] Home Park's record attendance for a non-competitive match is 37,639, for a mid-season friendly between Plymouth Argyle and Santos on 14 March 1973.[67] The lowest recorded attendance for a competitive match at Home Park was 944, set on 10 December 1996, for a Football League Trophy first round tie between Plymouth Argyle and Bournemouth.[65] The highest average attendance at Home Park over a League season is 23,290, set in the 1946–47 season.[68] The lowest average attendance at Home Park came in the 1982–83 season, when an average of 4,537 spectators watched each match.[65]

Transport[edit]

Adjacent to the Devonport End of the stadium is a large car park which is free during matchdays on a first come, first served basis. There are numerous Park & Ride services provided by Plymouth Citybus dotted around the area.[69] The club also runs a special service on the day of a match, with the co-operation of Citybus, which provides free transport throughout the city to the stadium for any supporter that has a valid matchday ticket.[70][71] The stadium is on Outland Road, which links to the A38 dual-carriageway and direct access to Cornwall and the north of England.[72] On foot, the stadium is approximately 1.6 miles (2.5 km) from Plymouth railway station and 1.8 miles (2.8 km) from the city centre.[73]

References[edit]

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  57. ^ England Under-23 Internationals RSSSF. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
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  59. ^ [1]
  60. ^ [2]
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  62. ^ Great Gigs In The Park The Herald. Retrieved 20 January 2010.
  63. ^ Rod To Play Home Park The Herald. Retrieved 20 January 2010.
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External links[edit]