Ninian Park in 2005
|Full name||Ninian Park|
|Former names||Sloper Park|
|Location||Sloper Road, Cardiff CF11 8SX|
|Owner||Cardiff City F.C.|
|Record attendance||62,634 (Wales vs England, 17 October 1959)|
|Field size||110 x 75 yards|
|Opened||1 September 1910|
|Main contractors||Cardiff Corporation|
|Cardiff City F.C. (1910–2009)|
Cardiff City Blue Dragons (1981–1984)
Ninian Park was a football stadium in the Leckwith area of Cardiff, Wales, that was used as the home of Cardiff City F.C. for 99 years. Opened in 1910, it underwent numerous renovations during its lifespan. At the time of its closure in 2009, it had a capacity of 21,508.
Cardiff City had been playing home fixtures at Sophia Gardens but the lack of facilities at the ground had restricted them from joining the Southern Football League. To combat this, club founder Walter Bartley Wilson secured a plot of land from Cardiff Corporation that had previously been used as a rubbish tip and construction of a new ground began in 1909. The stadium was completed a year later and named Ninian Park after Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, who had acted as a financial guarantor for the build. A friendly match against Football League First Division champions Aston Villa was organised to open the ground. It was originally constructed with a single wooden stand and three large bankings made of ash, but gradual improvements saw stands constructed on all sides of the pitch. The four stands were named the Canton Stand, the Grange End, the Popular Bank (commonly known as the "Bob Bank") and the Grandstand.
The ground was also used as the home stadium for the Wales national football team from 1911 until the late 1980s, hosting 84 international fixtures during its existence. Safety concerns led to it being replaced by Cardiff Arms Park as the preferred home venue for the national side. The Welsh national side holds the record attendance for a match at Ninian Park; 62,634 fans watched a fixture against England on 17 October 1959. Cardiff City's club record attendance was 57,893 during a Football League fixture against Arsenal on 22 April 1953. The ground hosted its last match on 25 April 2009 against Ipswich Town and was demolished soon after, being replaced by the newly constructed Cardiff City Stadium located opposite. The site was converted into a residential housing estate that was named Ninian Park after the ground.
Construction and early years
Following the founding of the club in 1899, Cardiff City F.C. played their home matches at Sophia Gardens. The club was becomingly increasingly popular with local people, but the facilities at Sophia Gardens were deemed inadequate for this growing support, with the site lacking turnstiles and an enclosed pitch. The limitations meant the club were forced to turn down an invitation to join the newly formed Southern Football League Second Division in 1908. To capitalise on growing interest, Cardiff organised friendly matches against Crystal Palace and Bristol City, played at Cardiff Arms Park, and Middlesbrough, held at the Harlequins Ground. The attendances convinced club founder Walter Bartley Wilson of the potential of the football club, and he approached Bute Estate, a large landholder within the city, about securing a plot of land to build a new ground.
The club was offered an area of waste ground by Councillor John Mander which was known as Tanyard Lane. Located between Sloper Road and a local railway station, the area had been used previously as a rubbish tip and an allotment ground. The club chose an area of around five acres located near a junction on Leckwith Road. They were offered the ground on an initial seven-year lease with a yearly rent of £90. This was to be supported by guarantors should the club have financial difficulties and be unable to maintain payments. Local volunteers and workers were used to clear the site of debris and level the surface. The ground was surrounded by large mounds of ash and slag sourced from the furnaces of local companies used to form banking for spectators. A white fence was erected around the outside of the ground. A small 200-seat wooden stand and changing rooms were added to complete the build. One of the guarantors who had agreed to support the project later pulled out during development. Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, son of John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, stepped in to offer his financial support. In appreciation of his contribution, the ground was subsequently named Ninian Park, replacing the original planned name Sloper Park.
The new ground was officially opened at 5:00 pm on 1 September 1910 with a friendly against Aston Villa, reigning champions of the Football League First Division, which attracted a crowd of around 7,000 people. The match began with a ceremonial kick-off performed by Crichton-Stuart and ended in a 2–1 defeat for Cardiff. Jack Evans became the first player to score for the club at the ground. The first competitive match played at Ninian Park took place three weeks later, on 24 September 1910, with a 4–1 victory over Ton Pentre in the opening match of the 1910–11 season which attracted a crowd of around 8000. Less than a year after it was opened, Ninian Park was chosen as the new home ground for the Wales national football team, replacing the Cardiff Arms Park. It hosted its first international fixture on 6 March 1911, a 2–2 draw against Scotland. During its formative years, the pitch sometimes bore signs of its former use as a rubbish tip with debris such as glass often rising to the surface. The club paid players 6d an hour to arrive early before matches and help clear the pitch of objects. However, this approach was not always successful; Scottish international Peter McWilliam suffered a gash to his leg that ended his playing career, and Cardiff's Jack Evans was scarred for life in a similar incident when a piece of glass cut his knee. In November 1910, a larger timber stand that could hold up to 3,000 spectators was built at the Canton end of the ground. Several players who worked as labourers in their spare time helped to complete construction. The stand was extended three years later to cover the length of the pitch. In the early years at the stadium, the ground contained only one changing room and washing area meaning home and away teams shared facilities. This continued until a separate dressing room was constructed in 1913.
Football League and development
Cardiff won promotion from the Second Division of the Southern Football League to the First Division in 1913. Following the resumption of league football after the First World War, the team's fourth-placed finish in 1920 raised enough income to eliminate the club's debts. This also allowed for the construction of an all-seater stand at Ninian Park behind the north goal which was named the Canton Stand. In 1920, Cardiff joined the Football League, and the move saw attendances increase significantly. Matches against well known clubs in the top two divisions of the English football league system attracted considerable interest, with attendances averaging over 28,000 in the Second Division. These jumped again as Cardiff won promotion to the First Division after one season. The opening match of the 1921–22 season attracted a crowd of over 55,000 for a 1–0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur. The turnstiles were closed once 50,000 spectators had been let into the ground, but the remaining crowds outside, still queuing for entry, forced open the exit gates and entered the ground. Club estimates put the attendance at between 56,000 and 60,000.
Victory in the 1927 FA Cup Final raised enough funds for a roof to be erected over the terrace at the Grangetown end of the ground. Built by local company Connies & Meaden Limited, it was officially opened on 1 September 1928 before a league match against Burnley by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Arthur John Howell. It could hold 18,000 spectators. However, the investment in the stadium proved detrimental to the team as manager Fred Stewart was left with little money to reinvest in an ageing squad. Replacements were sourced from amateur clubs, but the side were relegated to the Football League Third Division South by 1932. The idea of installing a greyhound racing track at the stadium was proposed the same year in a bid to increase revenue but was met with opposition from council and footballing authorities before being abandoned.
On 18 January 1937, the main stand caught fire after thieves attempted to break into the club's safe using explosives. They mistakenly believed that money taken from gate receipts in an FA Cup tie against Grimsby Town was stored inside. The fire was discovered at 3:45 am by a local policeman. He alerted the fire brigade; however, they were unable to douse the fire and it destroyed the stand, the dressing rooms and offices. It also claimed the lives of the club's watchdog Jack and one of the club's cats and destroyed the majority of the club's historical records. The stand was largely destroyed in the blaze but was rebuilt before the outbreak of World War II.
Over the following few decades, several areas of the ground underwent significant renovations. The main stand was extended in 1947. The Popular Bank was expanded, and a new roof installed over its rear section in 1958. Floodlights were added to the ground for the first time in 1960. Ninian Park was one of the last Football League grounds to have them installed. During this period the club's popularity had increased as they challenged for a return to the First Division. On 27 August 1949, Cardiff sold 60,855 tickets for a South Wales derby match against Swansea Town but only 57,510 entered the ground on the day. Their record attendance for a match was set four years later, on 22 April 1953 when a crowd of 57,893 watched a First Division match against Arsenal.
In 1958, Connies & Meaden were employed again to construct a large roof over the rear section of the Popular Bank and to extend the stand the length of the pitch. As the club's fortunes declined during the 1960s crowd numbers fell, but during the 1972–73 season Cardiff spent £225,000 extending the main stand capacity by a further 4,500 seats. In 1975, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act was introduced, and two years later local authorities introduced sanctions on Ninian Park that saw the capacity reduced from 46,000 to just 10,000 over safety concerns. The club was forced to pay £600,000 towards improving the ground's safety features to ensure that Ninian Park could be maintained. £200,000 was provided by the Football Grounds Improvement Trust and £27,000 by the Football Association of Wales (FAW). The Safety Act also required that the Grange End Stand be overhauled. This included the demolition of the roof, and the removal of banking which severely reduced the overall capacity of the ground. During a Wales v Scotland World Cup qualifying match on 10 September 1985, Scotland manager Jock Stein collapsed at the ground after suffering a heart-attack during the match. He was taken to the ground's medical room where he received treatment, but doctors were unable to revive him.
Downscaling, closure and demolition
In the late 1980s, increasing concerns over safety issues saw Ninian Park replaced as the main home venue of the Wales national side by Cardiff Arms Park, although a small handful of matches were played until it hosted its final international fixture on 13 October 1998 against Belarus. In January 1990, the club was dealt a blow when thieves broke into the stadium following an FA Cup tie against Queens Park Rangers. They stole £50,000 of gate receipts by gaining access to offices via the pitch. The money was eventually recovered. Some was found in the house of one of the perpetrators; the majority was found buried on Caerphilly Mountain. Later the same year, the FAW chose to move a UEFA Euro 1992 qualifying match between Wales and Belgium to the Cardiff Arms Park over fears proposed safety improvements at Ninian Park would not be completed in time. Cardiff threatened legal action over the decision, stating that the club could "meet any deadline" to complete the work, but were unsuccessful. The game went ahead at Cardiff Arms Park.
With Cardiff struggling financially and owing several payments to their landlords the City of Cardiff Council, the club was forced to close three stands in the ground to save on policing costs during matches. The closure remained in place for a year until Rick Wright acquired control of the club and invested heavily in updating the ground. Improvements included installing 2,100 seats and extending the roof in the Grandstand, replacing terracing in the Popular Bank with 5,330 seats and refurbishing the Grange End and the Canton Stand which added a further 1,761 seats.
Plans for a new stadium to replace Ninian Park were in development for several years before Cardiff City officially submitted an application to local councils. Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett originally objected to the proposals as he wished for the club to use the Millennium Stadium as their home ground instead to maximise the occupancy levels of the stadium. The plans for a 30,000-seat stadium, with the potential to expand to 60,000, were eventually approved by Cardiff council, and plans were submitted in 2006. Work started on the new Cardiff City Stadium at the end of 2007 on the site of the Cardiff Athletics Stadium at an expected cost of £38 million.
The last ever football match played by Cardiff at Ninian Park was a 3–0 defeat to Ipswich Town on 25 April 2009. The final senior player to score at the ground was Jon Stead, then of Ipswich Town; the last player for Cardiff to score at the ground was Ross McCormack in a 3–1 victory over Burnley in the penultimate senior game at Ninian Park. After the final match, an online memorabilia auction was setup, with items such as goalposts, office furniture and supporters' seats being sold off.
The stadium was handed over to Redrow Homes by Cardiff chairman Peter Ridsdale on 10 September 2009. The 99-year-old Ninian Park was demolished later in 2009 to make way for a housing development. Redrow built 142 houses on the site that retained the name Ninian Park. A planted square was proposed at the centre of the new housing development, in the area of Ninian Park's centre spot. The first show home of the £24 million development was opened in late spring 2010, with a mixture of terraced, detached and semi-detached houses. The first families moved into the new housing in November 2010. The main road was named Bartley Wilson Way after the founder of Cardiff City.
Structure and facilities
The Grandstand was an all-seated stand that was built before the Second World War to replace the original wooden structure that had been destroyed in a fire. The stand had originally contained a standing section at the bottom, but this was later converted to seats. Press areas reserved for journalists had been located in the stand since 1960. Directly opposite was the Popular Bank, which was commonly referred to as the "Bob Bank" as it previously cost one shilling (known as one bob) to enter. It was originally an all-standing construction with no roof on its completion in 1910. A roof was constructed in 1958, and the top half of the stand was converted to seating in the early 1990s. The Popular Bank became well known for the advertising featured on the roof of the stand. In 1960, an advert for Captain Morgan rum, named after Sir Henry Morgan who hailed from Cardiff, was painted on the roof and remained in place for 42 years. The advert was the longest running stadium roof advert in the history of the Football League. It was replaced in 2001 by an advert for Hyper Value.
The Grange End and Canton Stand were both named after local districts in the city, Grangetown and Canton. The Grange End also housed visiting away fans and due to severe crowd trouble, had featured a 6 ft (1.8 m) fence to separate opposing fans and netting to stop objects being thrown until it was removed in 2006. The Canton Stand also housed executive boxes, hospitality areas and several club offices. These areas had originally been commissioned in the 1980s but financial difficulties at the club delayed the completion of the project until 2001. The ground featured large floodlights in each corner and a plasma-screen television showed highlights during the game. The television was bought by the club in 2002 from Bolton Wanderers. They had used the screen in their former ground Burnden Park before moving to the Reebok Stadium. It was located between the Popular Bank and the Grange End.
The stadium and surrounding area was served by Ninian Park railway station (on the Cardiff City Line) on one side of Sloper Road and Grangetown railway station (on the Vale Line) on the other side. Ninian Park Station (originally named Ninian Park Halt) was built in 1912 by the Taff Vale Railway at the junction of Sloper Road and Leckwith Road. Railway officials had been encouraged by increasing crowd numbers at the club's matches and looked to capitalise on the interest. When the railway was privatised, the stations became part of the Valley Lines. Trains operated frequently to Central and Queen Street stations. By road, the stadium was also served by the A4232 dual carriageway, which is approximately 0.7 miles (1.13 km) away from the Leckwith Interchange.
During the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff, Ninian Park hosted the show-jumping championships. A trial event for the 1960 Summer Olympics team selection was also hosted at the ground in May 1960. Cardiff rugby club played at Ninian Park twice between 1960 and 1961 as their ground did not have floodlights. The Cardiff City Blue Dragons rugby league team used the ground as their home between 1981 and 1984. The Welsh national rugby league team, the Wales Dragons, used Ninian Park as one of its home venues. The ground hosted seven internationals between 1981 and 1995. The Dragons held a 3–3 record at Ninian Park, winning their last game 28–6 over France before the largest international rugby league crowd at the ground (10,250) on their way to a semi-final berth in the 1995 Rugby League World Cup. The 1999 final of the WRU Challenge Cup was also held at the ground.
The ground also hosted several boxing World title fights. Cardiff-born fighter Jack Peterson defeated fellow Welshman Dick Power by a first round knockout to win the Welsh Heavyweight Title in February 1932. Ronnie James contested the first World title fight ever held in Wales when he fought American Ike Williams for the NBA Lightweight Title in September 1946. The bout lasted until the ninth round when reigning champion Williams knocked James out in front of a crowd of 45,000 people. Howard Winstone's rematch against reigning WBC and WBA featherweight champion Vicente Saldivar was also held at Ninian Park; Salvidar claimed a narrow victory over Winstone by half a point.
The ground has been used for numerous other events. Pope John Paul II visited the city on 2 June 1982, touring several locations, and appeared at a National Youth Rally held at Ninian Park attended by 35,000 people. As part of his Rastaman Vibration Tour, Reggae singer Bob Marley staged a concert at the ground on 19 June 1976. He was supported by Country Joe and the Fish and Eric Burdon among others. The concert had originally been scheduled for Stephen Stills but when he was unable to play, Marley filled the date.
The highest attendance recorded at the ground is 62,634, for a match between Wales and England on 17 October 1959 in the 1959–60 British Home Championship. Cardiff City's record attendance at the ground was 57,893 during a league fixture against Arsenal on 22 April 1953. Although a match against Swansea Town in August 1949 sold 60,855 tickets only 57,510 was recorded through the turnstiles on the day. The ground also holds the record for the highest attendance for a Welsh Cup match after 37,500 fans watched Cardiff defeat Swansea Town 3–2 in the 1956 final.
The highest season average attendance record was set during the 1952–53 season with 37,937. The lowest season average was recorded in the 1986–87 season with 2,856. 1987 also included the club's lowest ever home attendance for a fixture in the Football League when 1510 fans attended a match against Hartlepool United on 7 May.
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