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. At the time of its closure in 2009, it had a capacity of 21,508, however during the 1950s it regularly hosted matches with attendances of over 50,000.
Cardiff City had been playing home fixtures at Sophia Gardens but, with growing interest in the club, the lack of facilities at the ground had restricted them from joining the Southern Football League. To combat this, club founder Bartley Wilson secured a plot of land from local land owners that had previously been used as a rubbish tip and began construction of a new ground in 1909. The build was completed a year later and was named Ninian Park after Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, who had stepped in as a financial guarantor for the land after the previous backer had pulled out. Crichton-Stuart would perform the kick-off of the first match at the ground, a friendly match against Football League First Division champions Aston Villa. It was originally opened 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 End, 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, before safety concerns saw it 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 on 17 October 1959 with 62,634 fans watching a fixture against England. Cardiff City's club record attendance was 57,893 during a 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 and the facilities at Sophia Gardens were deemed inadequate for the growing support that the club was receiving, with the site lacking turnstiles and an enclosed pitch. Hence, 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, Bristol City, played at Cardiff Arms Park, and Middlesbrough, held at the Harlequins Ground in Newport. The attendances convinced club founder Bartley Wilson of the growing interest in the football club and he approached Bute Estate, a large landholder within the city, regarding securing a plot of land to build a new ground.
The club was offered an area of wasteground by Councillor John Mander which was known as Tanyard Lane, located between Sloper Road and a local railway station, which had previously been used as a rubbish tip and an allotment ground. They were offered the ground on an initial seven-year lease with a yearly rent of £90, which was to be supported by guarantors should the club enter financial difficulties and be unable to maintain payments. Local volunteers and workers were used to clear the site of debris and level the surface and the ground was surrounded by large mounds of ash and slag to form a banking for spectators, with a white fence 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 that had agreed to support the build later pulled out during development and 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 ground was officially opened at 5 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 kick-off performed by Crichton-Stuart and ended in a 2–1 defeat for Cardiff, Jack Evans becoming the first player to score for the club at the ground. The first competitive match played at Ninian Park was played 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, and 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 and the club paid the players extra wages to arrive early before matches to help clear the pitch of objects, although this was not always successful: Scottish international Peter McWilliam suffered a gash to his leg in one match at Ninian Park. In November 1910, a larger timber stand that could hold up to 3,000 spectators was built at the Canton end of the ground, with several players who worked as labourers in their spare time helping to complete construction. The stand was extended three years later to cover the length of the pitch.
Football League and development
Cardiff won promotion from the Second Division of the Southern Football League to the First Division in 1913 and, following the resumption of league football after the First World War, their fourth-placed finish in 1920 raised enough income to eliminate the club's debts and allow for the construction of an all-seater stand at Ninian Park behind the north goal which was named the Canton Stand, after the nearby district of the city. In 1920, Cardiff joined the Football League and the move saw attendances increase significantly as 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 attracting a crowd of over 55,000 for a 1–0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. The turnstiles had been closed once 50,000 had been let into the ground but remaining crowds outside that were still queuing for entry forced open the exit gates and entered the ground with club estimates putting the attendance 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, and could hold 18,000 spectators. On 18 January 1937, the main stand caught fire, after thieves attempted to break into the club's safe using explosives in the belief that money taken from gate receipts in an FA Cup tie against Grimsby Town was stored inside and burnt down, eventually being rebuilt. The fire was discovered at 3:45 am by a local policeman who alerted the fire brigade however they were unable to douse the fire and it destroyed the stand, killing the club's watchdog Jack and one of the club's cats. Over the following few decades, several areas of the ground were extended or improved with the main stand being extended in 1947, the Bob Bank was expanded and a new roof was installed over its rear section in 1958 and floodlights were added to the ground for the first time in 1960, becoming one of the last Football League sides to have them installed. During this period, following the end of World War II, 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 league 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. However, 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, with £200,000 being provided by the Football Grounds Improvement Trust and £27,000 by the Football Association of Wales. The Safety Act also required that the Grange End Stand be overhauled, which 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 and died at the ground after suffering a heart-attack and collapsing during the match.
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 up until it hosted its final international fixture on 13 October 1998 against Belarus. In 1990, the club was struggling financially and owed several payments to their landlords, the City of Cardiff Council, and was forced to close three stands in the ground to save on policing costs during matches. However, the following year, millionaire Rick Wright acquired control of the club and invested heavily in updating the ground, 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. 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, who had previously used the screen in their former ground Burnden Park before moving to the Reebok Stadium, and was located between the Popular Bank and the Grange End.
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 instead use the Millennium Stadium as their home ground in order to maximise the occupancy levels of the stadium. The plans for a 30,000 seater 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 stadium was handed over to Redrow Homes by Cardiff City chairman Peter Ridsdale on 10 September 2009. Redrow built 142 houses on the site that retained the name Ninian Park. The last ever Cardiff City football match played at Ninian Park was a 3–0 defeat to Ipswich Town, who had Roy Keane as their new manager in his first match in charge, on 25 April 2009. The final senior player to score at Ninian Park was Jon Stead, then of Ipswich Town, and the last player for Cardiff City to score at the ground was Ross McCormack in a 3–1 victory over Burnley in the penultimate senior game at Ninian Park. The club relocated to their new all-seater stadium (capacity – just over 28,000) for the 2009–10 season, and the 99-year-old Ninian Park was demolished later in 2009 to make way for a housing development, which was named Ninian Park after the ground.
A planted square was proposed at the centre of the new housing development, in the area of Ninian Park’s centre spot. It is also possible that street names of Cardiff City legends are being considered, though this is yet to be decided. 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 and the main road was named Bartley Wilson Way after the founder of Cardiff City.
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. Trains operate 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 kilometres) away from the Leckwith Interchange.
During the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, that were held in Cardiff, Ninian Park hosted the show-jumping championships and 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 due to their ground not having floodlights, and 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 its last game 28–6 over France in front of 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.
Since it was built 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 that was 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, where 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 record 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 but only 57,510 was recorded through the turnstiles on the day. The highest season average attendance record was set during the 1952–53 season with 37,937 and the lowest season average was recorded in the 1986–87 season with 2,856.
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- Dean P. Hayes (2003), The South Wales Derbies, Manchester: The Parrs Wood Press, ISBN 1-903158-43-5
- Shepherd, Richard (2002), The Definitive: Cardiff City F.C., Nottingham: SoccerData Publications, ISBN 1-899468-17-X
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