Elm Park (stadium)
Elm Park in 1981
|Location||Reading, Berkshire, England|
Elm Park was a football stadium in the West Reading district of Reading, Berkshire, England. The stadium was the home of Reading Football Club from 1896 to 1998. In 1998 they moved to the new Madejski Stadium.
In 1889, Reading were unable to continue playing at Coley Park as W B Monck (the local squire) no longer allowed football due to "rowdyism [by] the rougher elements". With club membership exceeding 300 by the time the club went professional in 1895, Reading required a proper ground. A meeting the following year determined that funding would be difficult. £20 was donated by J C Fidler, on the proviso that "no liquors were to be sold" on site. The rest of the cost was financed through donations by wealthy supporters, as well as one large individual donation. A former gravel pit in West Reading was identified as the site, and the area was leased from Councillor Jesse.
The first game at Elm Park was held on 5 September 1896 between Reading and A Roston Bourke's XI. The visitors were a scratch team from Holloway College and thus not registered with the Football Association. Reading were later fined £5 and suspended for playing against an unregistered team. The away team was named after Arthur Roston Bourke, honorary secretary of the Referees' Association. The match was abandoned due to torrential weather; Reading were leading 7–1 when the match ended. £44 was taken on the gate, with an attendance of approximately 2,500.
In 1908, the club's annual general meeting proposed moving to a new ground near Reading railway station. A board meeting the following year decided that the move would not be possible, as "there was no chance of a move to the ground near to the GWR railway stations due to the actions of the Great Western Railway".
As a result of Reading's relegation to Division Four after the 1982–83 season, the club was threatened with a merger with Oxford United – a move which would have seen the closure of Elm Park. The teams' merger and closure of the stadium was subsequently averted, and the following season saw Reading's promotion back to Division Three under the guidance of Ian Branfoot.
In 1994, the Taylor Report made all-seater stadiums compulsory in the top two divisions (the Premier League and the first division). Reading were champions of the second division in 1994, and were promoted to the first division. Reading became subject to the Taylor requirements, though converting Elm Park to an all-seater stadium would have been impractical. Instead, a location in Smallmead (to the south of the town) was identified as the site for a new stadium. The former council landfill site was bought for £1, with further conditions that the development of the stadium would include part-funding of the A33 relief road. Expansion of the club's home would also allow alternative commercial ventures (particularly leisure facilities) and shared use with other teams (such as rugby union clubs Richmond and London Irish). The last competitive match at Elm Park took place on 3 May 1998 against Norwich City, with Reading losing 0–1 to a 57th-minute goal by a young Craig Bellamy.
Structure and facilities
Elm Park featured four stands:
- North ("Norfolk Road")
- South ("Tilehurst Terrace" or "South Bank")
- West ("Tilehurst End")
- East ("Reading End" or "Town End")
The north (with a capacity of 4,000 seated) and south (6,000 standing) stands were covered; the west and east stands were uncovered terraces. The east stand was reserved for away supporters, as was a small section of the north stand.
In 1920, the seats in the north stand were upholstered. At the same time, the railings on the south stand were moved forward 3 yards (2.7 m) to allow a further 2,500 spectators in the ground.
The stadium's capacity was traditionally given as approximately 33,000, though changes implemented in the wake of the Taylor report meant that the capacity upon the ground's closure was approximately 14,800.
The ground's record attendance was in 1927, when 33,042 spectators watched Reading beat Brentford 1–0. The lowest attendance was on 26 October 1938 when 801 people watched Reading play Watford in the Division 3 cup.
With the capacity previously far greater than the current capacity of the Madejski Stadium, Elm Park has been the venue of Reading's highest attendances to date. Reading's highest attendances at home have been:
|19 February 1927||Brentford||1926–27 FA Cup||33,042|
|16 February 1935||Arsenal||1934–35 FA Cup||30,621|
|26 January 1929||The Wednesday||1928–29 FA Cup||29,248|
|24 September 1949||Notts County||Division 3 South||29,029|
|8 January 1927||Manchester United||1926–27 FA Cup||28,918|
|12 January 1952||Swansea Town||1951–52 FA Cup||28,129|
|8 March 1952||Plymouth Argyle||Division 3 South||28,055|
|28 January 1928||Leicester City||1927–28 FA Cup||27,243|
Bus services between Reading town centre and Elm Park were operated by Reading Buses. Reading West railway station was the closest railway station to the stadium, though major services only stop at Reading railway station.
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