Athletic Park, Wellington
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1971 Lions Tour of New Zealand
|Location||Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand|
|Owner||Athletic Park Company (1896–1908)
Wellington Rugby Union (1908–1999)
|Opened||6 April 1896|
|Closed||10 October 1999|
Athletic Park was a sports ground used mostly for rugby matches in Wellington, New Zealand. The ground was also the inaugural home of New Zealand's principal knockout football tournament, the Chatham Cup (first held in 1923).
It has now been demolished and replaced with a retirement village. It was famous for a very steep grandstand (the Millard Stand) which used to sway a little in the regular strong winds that Wellington is famous for. The stand was unsafe as Wellington is very susceptible to earthquakes.
Athletic Park was an open park overlooking the Cook Strait and Pacific Ocean and was exposed to strong winds – most famously the 1961 All Black Test against France which was played in hurricane-force winds.
Throughout the 1980s several proposals were made to modernise the grounds, but instead a decision was made to build a new stadium. Several alternatives were proposed, including a new stadium in Porirua, revamping the Basin Reserve or Fraser Park in Hutt Valley, and the ultimately successful proposal to build a stadium on unused railway land near the Wellington Railway Station. In 1999 Athletic Park was closed and replaced by Westpac Stadium, referred to by some as "The Cake Tin", which sits directly behind the Wellington Railway Station this being extremely popular with supporters coming from Porirua, and the Hutt Valley.
Regardless of Westpac Stadium's location to public transport and modern features, it has lacked the atmosphere and intensity that Athletic Park had. This could be due to Athletic Park being Rugby specific, which brought spectators close to the action. Westpac Stadium's flaw of attempting to be both a cricket stadium and rugby stadium has led to dwindling numbers of supporters showing up to rectangular sport in Wellington.
The last Test match was against France on 26 June 1999 with the All Blacks winning 54 - 7, while the last rugby match played at Athletic Park was on 10 October 1999, between Wellington and Otago NPC teams, with Wellington winning 36 -16.
Music and other events
Athletic Park also played host to other non-sports events, including a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and various rock concerts.
KISS performed a concert in 1980 as part of their Unmasked Tour. In 1983, David Bowie and Dire Straits performed at Athletic Park, with further performances by Dire Straits in 1986 and 1991. Elton John performed 2 concerts there, the first on the 10 March 1982 as part of his Jump Up! Tour and the second was on the 22 February 1984 as part of his Too Low for Zero tour. Eurythmics performed on 28 January 1987 as part of their Revenge Tour.
Fleetwood Mac played what is regarded as 'the worst concert ever' at Athletic Park in March 1980 as the band had an internal meltdown and left the stage during the show to 'sort things out' before returning to continue. Those attending chanted for the return of the supporting band, New Zealand's 'Street Talk' as the music deteriorated.