Small no more: How Home Nations rugby stadia are expanding.

Discussion in 'The Clubhouse Bar' started by Prestwick, Apr 2, 2008.

  1. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Across the British Isles, a sea-change in sports stadia is washing away old stereotypes of heath-robinson, out of date and crumbling Rugby stadiums. A decade ago, fans were squeezing into ramshackle stadiums which had evolved over the best part of a century. Poor planning, construction and maintenance had led to a generally poor viewing experience for fans who were all to often packed in tight and suffering from obstructed views, old seats and wonky bars to lean against on the terraces.

    Recently, things began to change. Major clubs across the home nations have either moved into or submitted plans for modern, 21st century stadiums. Teams like Northampton and the Ospreys already enjoy world class facilities for fans and players, Gloucester and Munster are currently in the middle of huge rebuilding programmes and other teams like the Scarlets, Bristol, Leicester and Worcester have either submitted or have had plans approved for new stadiums which are breathtaking in both design and their ambition.

    Rugby League have been no slouches either with many clubs either moving to co-share grounds with their Soccer siblings or submitting their own plans like St Helens for challenging new constructions.

    Complex thinking.

    <div align="left">Obviously though, it isn't as easy as simly saying "lets plonk a new ground here" or "lets just knock down that stand and rebuild it", stadiums cost serious money these days. Leicester Tiger's planned 30,000 seater stadium will cost £60 million alone. Financing is a serious problem for small Rugby clubs in both codes. Constrained by small stadium sizes, they have a hard time trying to finance expansion when you physically can't show that you can draw the big crowds. Bigger clubs like Munster, Leicester, Bath & Northampton get around this by pointing to the huge crowds that tend to pack the big stadiums like Twickenham, Lansdowne Road, the Millenium Stadium, etc when their teams end up in the knock out stages of a big, set peice tournament.

    Increasingly however, clubs are turning to commercial and retail enterprises to get the neccesary finance for new expansion. St Helens (a major club in a sport played by people with bones in the middle of their brains) for example are entering into partnership with Tesco and other retail developers to turn their dreams for a stadium at Chalon Way into reality by building the stadium along with a major Tesco superstore and a retail plaza. As well as this, their old home at Knowsley Road will be given over to residential development. A similar move is being followed by Welsh province Llanelli Scarlets who have done a deal with Supermarket chain Morrisons and Carmarthenshire Council at their new site at Pemberton. Their old home at Stradley park will also be given over to residential development in order to finance the move. Worcester Warriors are teaming up with Esporta Health clubs and Worcestershire County Council to build a Heath Club and a major park and ride scheme.

    These developments tend to curry favour with planning committees. They involve multiple redevelopments on brownfield sites which add value to the community in the form of new jobs, family entertainment, retail opportunities and big landmarks which seperate their town or region from the rest of the pack. As an extra bonus, they can sometimes provide Town, City or County councils with the opportunity to develop cheap services for the community, in this case, the park and ride scheme at Sixways.

    Partnerships with local authorities runs as a theme with Rugby clubs. Superleague club, Hull FC, partnered up with Hull City Council and Hull City AFC to build the Kingston Communications Stadium. Completed in 2002, it stands as a stunning development, its sweeping curves and imaginative lighting marking it as a shining light in a city best known for rain, grime and male rape. Inside it is well lit, roomy and adds to the atmosphere of the traditional city <strike>bloodbath</strike> derby.


    Growing pains

    Another major issue is space. In fact, many of the clubs are having to rebuild or expand stadia which, a century ago, were built in quiet and sparse parts of time but now find themselves in a middle of housing estates or in other constricting situations.
    </div><div align="center">[​IMG]

    </div>One solution is to buy land and/or property to make the space needed availible. In the case of Munster Rugby's home at Thomond Park, the IRFU offered to buy adjacent housingm thus making the spectacular 25,000 sized stadium possible. In Worcestershire meanwhile, owner of Worcester Warriors, Cecil Duckworth, helped finance the purchase of land surrounding his club's Sixways home. This extra land is now used for training pitches for the Club's myriad of youth and amateur teams, making space for the main plans for the Sixways site.

    Intelligent design

    One thing which Clubs should be saluted for is the fact that they are breaking from the age old tradition of randomly adding capacity for the short term. Stadiums like Welford Road as it stands are a hodgepodge of old, middle age and new stands, none of which satisfy the Rugby fan. Bath's REC, Saracen's rented home at Vicarage Road Bristol's old Memorial Stadium in particular are poorly designed and in the case of the REC are woefully inadequate in terms of capacity and shelter for the 10,000 unfortunate fans who have to brave torrential rain and howling gales in the open air without any sort of cover.

    Two events sparked change however: Franklin's Gardens in Northampton and the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. While the fomer emphasised a more pragmatic approach to stadium redevelopment while the latter was much more revolutionary, both resulted in brand new rugby stadia which broke the mould and set the marker on which all future developments would be judged by.

    Northampton started redevelopment of Franklin's Gardens in 2001, it saw the total re-construction of two stands but this was coupled with the promise of a new, long term plan for the development of the stadium. Nothing like this had ever been attempted in NH club rugby since the game had gone professional in 1996. The plan called for a gradual redevelopment program with the end product being a stadium linked together on three sides to form an innovative horse-shoe arrangement. In particular, inside, the stadium would retain one single, persistant look which would banish the distracting clash of old and new once and for all.

    <div align="center">[​IMG]
    Meanwhile in Wales, Swansea City Council quietly planned their own revolution. One that would see an innovative new stadium which would be purposely designed for the city's football club (Swansea AFC) and the regional Rugby club (the Ospreys). This would be a revelation for Welsh rugby: a brand new, world-class, 20,000 seater stadium. A veritable wonderland for fan and player alike. The design also built in the ability to easily extend capacity in future if there was demand and being owned by a neutral, independent 3rd party meant mis-management and irrational short sighted decisions were impossible.

    While by todays standards, these stadiums are seen as small or old hat, their design features were groundbreaking for the time. Franklin's Gardens married seated and terraced areas in a modern setting while the Liberty Stadium updated facilities for players and fans with modern food and drink areas and up to date changing rooms and training facilities. Because of the simplicity of the designs, they both offer up opportunities for further development and expansion in the future. If you could name two Rugby stadiums which sparked the rush that we see today, you could easily name these two at the top of the list.

    Since then, various clubs have taken either one route or the other to stadia nirvana. Gloucester have opted for a gradual plan to rebuild Kingsholm by re-doing each stand one by one. The first stand to emerge from this new development program was the main grandstand. Rebuilt to take 7500 fans, it manages to blend into the general environment at Kingsholm but suffers from the problem of line of sight of the fans being obscured by the supporting pillars. Flawed design driven by neccessity because of the sheer cost of building these days but the compromise has failed to dent the impressiveness of the stand.

    <div align="center">[​IMG]
    Worcester Warriors too are investing £8 Million in a new East Stand. This will remove the dreaded supporting pillars as well as increasing capacity to 12,000. After this, Worcester will turn their focus to the dire North Stand (currently temporary seating, but the cheapest seats in the house, to the annoyance of the visiting Northampton fans who can barely afford to get in), redeveloping that too. There are plans afoot to gradually redevelop more as the rugby club and County council ramp up the infrastructure improvements. Bold claims have been made about the capacity for the new road & transport facilities to process 20,000 people on a match day. Obviously, Worcester Rugby expect big things of Sixways in the coming years.

    Other Welsh Region, Newport Gwent Dragons, are planning a large, £40 Million redevelopment of their home ground at Rodney Parade which will take the capacity up to 15,000.

    On the other hand, Bristol RFC and Bristol Rovers football club are planning a complete rebuild of the now old and crumbling Memorial stadium. Part of the stadium will house students and key workers and it is envisaged that a total 18,000 fans will be able to be seated.

    <div align="center">[​IMG]

    The future

    The future looks bright for growth for the Home Nations. The rules have stipulated that to retain Premiership status, all stadiums must have a capacity of 15,000 or more by 2011. For clubs like Bath, Newcastle, Wasps and Sale, this means time is running out. All four have room for improvement and a flurry of rapid building can't be ruled out in the next 18 months or so. Another option might be to negotiate a stay of execution while much grander, long term visions are incorporated. This rule will mean that expansion by clubs like Worcester and Northampton is all but inevitable.

    Elsewhere in the UK and Ireland, the picture is rosy. Cardiff Blues plan to move to a new stadium to share with Cardiff City FC while more renovation of various Rugby grounds across Ireland is mooted, possibly gearing up gradually to the country submitting a Rugby World Cup bid a decade or two down the line. Rugby has always been one of the top sports of the British Isles, but it is only now that the facilities is catching up with the quality of the action....
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  3. DC

    DC Guest

    really enjoy that article

    and love the new stadium models!!

    its about time that rugby catches up with its soccer counterparts in the stadium department!
  4. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    You have one part wrong there, dear Prestwick... Bristol apparently havn't got a deal with Rovers to use the Mem as of next year and so are designated homeless.

    Work that out as you will.
  5. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Are you sure? Bristol Rugby have released an article today welcoming planning approval on the Memorial Stadium plans, specifically with this statement:

    It seems that the only thing standing in the way of Rovers and RFC from signing is confirmation from Premier Rugby that it meets the criteria.
  6. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    Ah, I hadn't heard that yet. Fair enough.
  7. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    A week is a long time in Politics.

    Thats if we were talking about politics, we're not, we're talking about property development!
  8. its about high time rugby stadiums started coming upto standard with the rest of the world cuz some looked like dilapidated pieces of old ****
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