|Full name||Kassam Stadium|
|Oxford United (2001–present)
London Welsh (2012–present)
|Architect||ACP Architecture Ltd|
To date, the Kassam Stadium has staged nothing higher than fourth-tier league football, as Oxford were relegated to Division Three the season before the new stadium was built and were further relegated to the Conference National in 2005–06. The club was previously based at The Manor Ground.
On 7 June 1995, directors of Oxford United Football Club announced that the cramped and outdated Manor Ground would be replaced by a new 16,000-seat stadium, situated in the Blackbird Leys area of the city, by the end of the decade.
Construction of the new stadium was begun in the summer of 1996 by Taylor Woodrow, but was suspended in December 1997 after financial problems meant the contractors weren't paid. The stadium was originally known by its location, Minchery Farm. At this time, United's chairman was Robin Herd, and the club's chief executive was Keith Cox.
Ongoing money problems meant that no further work was done on the site until February 2000. This followed Firoz Kassam's purchase of the club in April 1999, and then many legal problems involving Oxford City Council, Nick Pentith, Thames Water, Morrells of Oxford, and local landowner Les Wells. By this time, the contractors had changed to Birse Construction, with Taylor Woodrow having had their debt settled by a Company Voluntary Arrangement, by which Firoz Kassam reduced most of the football club's unsecured debt by 90 per cent.
Oxford's fortunes on the pitch changed dramatically during this period of financial uncertainty, hardly helped by having to sell some of their best players in order to stay afloat. After winning promotion to Division One in 1996, they secured two mid-table finishes before being relegated back to Division Two in 1999 and falling into Division Three two years later – meaning that they would be a bottom division club in the 2001–02 season for the first time in more than 30 years.
Opening and recent history
The stadium is officially owned by one of Kassam's Firoka Group companies, and hosted its first football match on 4 August 2001. The game was a friendly match against Crystal Palace, which Oxford won on penalties following a 1–1 draw, and Paul Powell scored the club's first goal at the ground. The first competitive match at the ground took place one week later, on 11 August, against Rochdale, in the Football League Third Division (now Football League Two). United lost this match 2–1 in front of a crowd of 7,842 people; Jamie Brooks scored for Oxford. Since then, the ground has hosted rugby union games, as well as an under-17 International football tournament in 2002.
In March 2006, the Oxford United Supporters' Trust unofficially renamed the ground "The United Stadium". They urged everyone to use this name, which they claimed signified the crisis at the club, with the Chairman failing to choose the right option to take the club forward, and which also symbolised the unity of the fans. Despite the unofficial renaming of the stadium, it seems most fans and local press still refer to the home ground as the Kassam Stadium.
At the 2008 Annual General Meeting, club chairman Nick Merry said "The price is agreed for the stadium at £13 million. That is not negotiable but the valuation of the stadium is some way short of that so funding that deficit needs to make commercial sense. We are not prepared to put the future of Oxford United at risk. Any deal has to make sense for both the short term and long term future of this club."
On 16 May 2012, rugby union club London Welsh applied to move their home ground to the Kassam Stadium following promotion from the RFU Championship, and their opening Premiership fixture was played there on 2 September 2012.
The attendance record at the Kassam Stadium is 12,243. This was for Oxford's final match of the 2005–06 League Two season, a 3–2 defeat by Leyton Orient that sealed their relegation from the Football League. It beat the previous record of 12,177 for a 3–0 League Cup defeat by Aston Villa on 6 November 2002. During the summer of 2006, Oxford United hosted Manchester United in a friendly game that attracted 11,463 people, and on Boxing Day, 2006, the ground held a Conference Premier record attendance of 11,065 for the 0–0 draw against Woking. This was surpassed during the play-off 2nd leg on 3 May 2010, where the attendance was 11,963 for the visit of Rushden & Diamonds.
On 24 July 2006, Sir Elton John played a concert to a sold-out 17,500 crowd.
In 2006–07, when Oxford led the Conference National for most of the season before being overhauled by Dagenham & Redbridge and then being eliminated from the playoffs by Exeter City, the average attendance at the Kassam Stadium was 6,332. However, with Oxford's worse form in 2007–08 the average attendance slumped sharply to 4,728. Despite Oxford once again finishing mid-table in 2008–09 attendances rose marginally and the average attendance of that campaign was 4,879. Promotion back to the Football League was achieved via the playoffs in 2009–10, during which Oxford's average attendance enjoyed a dramatic rise and narrowly exceeded the 6,000 mark.
Structure and facilities
The stadium offerers a number of conference rooms to host corporate and non-corporate events. The stadium's South Stand is host to 28 private hospitality boxes with each box capable of holding up to 20 people.
The ground currently consists of three stands.
- The North Stand (also known as the Manor Hospital Stand) is divided for use by both home and away supporters and has a capacity of 5,026.
- The East Stand (formerly sponsored by the Oxford Mail newspaper, and still commonly known as the Oxford Mail Stand) is home to the more vocal home supporters and can hold 2,879 spectators.
- The South Stand (currently without a sponsor) is the main structure of the stadium, housing the Quadrangle conference centre, the Exhibition Bar, the club offices and changing rooms, and a row of 28 glass-fronted executive boxes. The South Stand is divided into two tiers, with the lower tier including the ground's Family Section. It has a total capacity of 4,495.
In March 2008 a bronze statue of an ox was erected outside the stadium. The unveiling was attended by the boardroom staff and a few fans. The club released a statement saying the reason for the unveiling not being more publicised was because of health and safety concerns if the unveiling took place on a match day. The statue was vandalised in January 2011 with it being completely covered in bright pink paint.
On 30 May 2012, rugby union side London Welsh RFC played the second leg of the 2011–12 RFU Championship Play-off final with the Cornish Pirates at the Kassam Stadium. London Welsh won the match 29–20 in front of a crowd of 3,456. The victory gave them an overall aggregate win of 66–41.
The stadium became London Welsh's home ground for the 2012–13 season in the English Premiership. London Welsh's promotion was initially rejected by the governing Rugby Football Union, but the decision was successfully appealed by the club. The move to the Kassam was a result of the Premiership's minimum capacity requirement of 10,000, which the side's former ground at Old Deer Park in Richmond did not meet. London Welsh played their opening fixture of the 2012–13 Aviva Premiership season against Leicester Tigers on 2 September 2012, losing by 38 points to 13, in front of a crowd of 6,850 people.
John Kelly, County Emergency Planning Officer for Oxfordshire, confirmed in an interview with BBC News 24 that the stadium would be used under emergency powers which exist under contingency plans for the partial evacuation of London. The stadium provided accommodation for those having to be evacuated from Abingdon during floods in 2007. Each year the stadium plays host to the Oxfordshire Senior Cup final run by the Oxfordshire Football Association. The stadium has also hosted an Under-17 international football tournament and an Elton John music concert.
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