Athletic Grounds, Rochdale
|Full name||Athletic Grounds|
|Location||Milnrow Road, Rochdale|
|Rochdale Hornets (1894–1988)|
The Athletic Grounds was a stadium in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England. It was the home of Rochdale Hornets Rugby League Football Club for over 90 years up until 1988. It has also been used for speedway and BriSCA F1 Stock Cars.
A Morrisons supermarket now stands on the site.
Rochdale moved to the Athletic Grounds in 1894. Their first game at their new home took place in September 1894 against Crompton. Between 1896 and 1900, Rochdale Association Football Club played at the Athletics Grounds. Hornets became tenants of the ground in 1900, incidents from the game played on 22 March 1901 resulted in the ground being suspended by the Northern Union.
In the 1911-12 season, the railway stand was covered and a new covered side on the enclosure side was built. Rochdale Hornets purchased the ground in 1913.
A fire destroyed the main stand, dressing rooms and offices on 18 September 1935. A new stand built over the ashes of the old was opened on Saturday 7 March 1936 for the match against Liverpool Stanley.
On 1 April 1939, seventeen spectators were taken to the hospital and two were killed, following the collapse of part of the centre railway stand roof during the Salford versus Wigan Challenge Cup semi-final.
In January 1947, a Supporters' Club bar opened under the main stand. This was followed by a Supporters' Club tea bar on 24 September 1949. A food licence was granted on appeal. This was the first tea bar since before the Second World War. Later, a small tea bar was set up on the railway side of the ground, but was destroyed by vandalism.
Hornets borrowed £3,000 from the Rugby Football League in 1954 to build a new covered outer boundary wall and new turnstiles for the main entrance and Waithlands. The highest attendance for a league match was set on Saturday 16 October 1954, Hornets lost 4-18 to local rivals Oldham in front of 19,654 spectators.
A new popular side stand was built by the Supporters' Club in 1958-59 which increased the covered areas to a capacity of 5,000 spectators.
The old railway stand, which had been damaged by vandals, was rebuilt in 1970 with the Supporters' Club contributing £1,400 towards the repairs.
In 1987 both Rochdale Hornets and Rochdale A.F.C. were in financial trouble. First to receive an offer for their ground, Hornets accepted Morrison's £2.6m offer for the Athletic Grounds and, following the sale of the land bought a half share in Rochdale A.F.C.'s Spotland Stadium, thus saving both clubs.
Speedway was first held at the Athletic Grounds on 4 August 1928. The last meeting took place on 12 July 1930, Rochdale Speedway Limited was wound up on 1 August 1930 with "waning interest in the sport" being cited as the reason for failure. There was a revival of the sport on 16 August under new management but this was short lived. On Sunday 29 March 1970, speedway returned to the Athletics Grounds as Rochdale Hornets speedway team took on Crewe. The team moved to Ellesmere Port at the end of the 1972 season.
Stock Car Racing
BriSCA F1 Stock Cars racing was introduced to Rochdale in May 1970. The track was used until 1972, the big criticism being the height of the inner granite kerb stones. designed to protect the rugby pitch. It returned in 1974 under the promotion of Mike Parker Promotions until 1984 when it finally closed. It was a big fast shale track, 440 yds in length. Rochdale also produced 2 of the sports biggest stars, 391 Stuart Smith and 396 Doug Cronshaw.
The Athletic Grounds holds the distinction of being the scene of the world record for the longest goal kick in rugby league when Swinton, Cumberland and Great Britain second rower Martin Hodgson landed a penalty goal from 77¾ yards in a Hornets v Swinton match played in gale force conditions on 13 April 1940.