Athletic Grounds, Rochdale
|Full name||Athletic Grounds|
|Location||Milnrow Road, Rochdale|
|Rochdale Hornets (1894–1988)
Greyhound racing (1932–1969)
Speedway (1928–30 & 1970–71)
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 until 1988. It has also been used for speedway, BriSCA F1 Stock Cars and greyhound racing.
The Athletic Grounds east of Rochdale opened in 1894 and the new stadium soon became the home of the Rochdale Hornets rugby league club. Situated alongside the Oldham & Rochdale branch railway on its south side the stadium could be accessed from Milnrow Road.
Rochdale Hornets moved to the Athletic Grounds in 1894, their first game 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 and the old railway stand, which had been damaged by vandals, was rebuilt in 1970 with the Supporters' Club contributing £1,400 towards the repairs.
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.
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.
A greyhound racing syndicate brought greyhound racing to the stadium in 1932 with the opening meeting held on 18 June 1932 under British Greyhound Tracks Control Society (BGTCS) rules, the BGTCS were the main rival to the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC) at the time.
In 1935 the BGTCS disbanded and the track switched to the NGRC and in 1938 the company failed in an attempt to purchase the ground from the rugby league club. Rochdale Greyhounds Ltd had earned significant profits from their tote deductions alone putting them in a strong financial position as the war approached.
The track had a 450-yard circumference and the racing kennels and paddock were set well behind the main grandstand with the 120 resident kennels further behind these quite near to housing that had been constructed since the opening of the stadium. Race distances were 319, 500 and 530 yards in addition to a 465-yard handicap. The Racing Manager during the 1950s was T H Mitchell assisted by J Edden.
In December 1962 the track decided to leave the NGRC due to falling profits and they went independent (unaffiliated to a governing body), J Dickinson was the Racing Manager but Mitchell & Edden remained at the track. However, during December 1969 the greyhound racing stopped with the Rochdale Greyhounds Ltd citing unsustainable losses.
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.
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. A Morrisons supermarket now stands on the site.
- "OS County Series Lancashire and Furness 1930". old-maps.co.uk.
- Barnes, Julia (1988). Daily Mirror Greyhound Fact File. Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-15-5.
- Tarter, P Howard (1949). Greyhound Racing Encyclopedia. Fleet Publishing Company Ltd.
- Genders, Roy (1981). The Encyclopedia of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 0-7207-1106-1.