New ground: 10 of the best stadium moves in the new-build era

New ground: 10 of the best stadium moves in the new-build era

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Photograph: David Goddard/Getty Images

In the first of a two-part series, we look at the league clubs who have arguably benefited most from relocating. Read part two here.

By Niall McVeigh for The Set Pieces

Main image: The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Photograph: David Goddard/Getty Images

When it opened in August 1988, Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park was the first brand new league ground for 33 years. Since then, a new-build revolution kickstarted by the Taylor Report has seen more than a third of the current 92 league clubs move home. Any team leaving an ancestral home for a new, purpose-built arena is gambling their history and identity on making it work.

For the success stories, there is much to love about their new surroundings – some offer safety and stability, while others have led to charges up the league and that new trophy room getting plenty of use. In part two, we will take a look at relocations that did not go to plan – but first, here are 10 stadium moves that paid off.

The New Den, Millwall

Opened: 1993 | Capacity: 20,146

Millwall have led a nomadic existence around south-east London, playing in four grounds on the Isle of Dogs before relocating to New Cross in 1910. The Lions reached their peak in the late 1980s, cheered on by the “Millwall roar” at the old Den, a notorious ground where Gary Lineker admitted he was scared to score.

The club tried to shake off their ugly reputation in the 1990s, toying with the idea of relocating or even renaming the team. In the end, they made the change by putting supporter safety first. The new Den was the first all-seater ground built to the Taylor Report’s specifications, with accessible exits and a separate route from the nearest train station for away fans.

Having largely shaken off their old home’s grim reputation, Millwall have faced the new threat of an attempted land-grab in newly gentrified Bermondsey. The closest team to the City of London, they continue to fight for their place in the capital.

John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield Town

Opened: 1994 | Capacity: 24,121

Huddersfield’s all-seater ground won RIBA’s Building of the Year when it opened in 1994. For its first decade, it was named after McAlpine, thecompany who constructed it, helping the club pay for a stadium that was innovative in both design and ownership model.

Like Bolton and Wigan, the Terriers opted for an innovative design featuring four curved, interlocking stands. The other two clubs enjoyed more spectacular rises, but have suffered harder falls. With ownership split between the football club, local council and Super League side Huddersfield Giants, the stadium created a sustainable path to the Premier League.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing – Town found themselves in the financial mire early in the 21st century after gambling on Premier League promotion, but regrouped to end their 45-year top-flight exile under David Wagner in 2017.

Millwall and Huddersfield.

Bet365 Stadium, Stoke City

Opened: 1997 | Capacity: 30,089

Life at England’s most old-school new stadium started terribly for Stoke. In their first season the Potters dropped into the third division, going down with visitors Manchester City on a grim final afternoon. Like their opponents that day, Stoke rose again to become a top-flight fixture, with their new home becoming a rare new-build fortress.

From the outside, the ground long known as “the Britannia” doesn’t seem remarkable; it’s perched on the edge of town and circled by car showrooms. Inside, the steep, windswept stands lend it a forbidding feel that’s lacking from many new grounds.

The venue was perfect for the Tony Pulis era, as Europa League football came to town and the team reached an FA Cup final – against Manchester City. The club has since tumbled back into the Championship, but the ground remains a byword for a tough play to go on a cold Tuesday night.

Stoke City fans watch on from the edge of a stand back in 2009.
Stoke City fans watch on from the edge of a stand back in 2009. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

Madejski Stadium, Reading

Opened: 1998 | Capacity: 24,161

Closer to a motorway junction than the town, built over a landfill, and part of a curious 90s trend for chairmen naming grounds after themselves, Reading’s new stadium ticks a lot of unwanted boxes. But life at the “Mad Stad” is infinitely preferable to what might have been.

Reading had played at Elm Park since 1896 but like local rivals Oxford, were stuck in a cramped, outdated ground. In 1983, U’s owner Robert Maxwell toyed with merging the clubs to form the Thames Valley Royals. The Frankenstein scheme never came to fruition and Reading reached the second tier in 1994, forcing Sir John Madejski to find his club a new all-seater home.

Elm Park never hosted a top-flight game, but eight years after moving in, Reading were a Premier League side playing at a sold-out Madejski. The club are making an unexpected bid for promotion this season, further evidence that sometimes, change is needed.

KCom Stadium, Hull City

Opened: 2002 | Capacity: 25,400

Hull City AFC were born in 1904 but took almost a century to find a suitable home. They spent the inter-war years at The Boulevard, home of rugby league side Hull FC. Plans to relocate to Boothferry Park were put on hold by World War Two, before occupation by the Home Guard left the pitch unplayable. Things never really improved from there.

As the club drifted down the leagues amid financial struggles, the capacity shrank to 15,000. Two supermarkets moved into the main stand while other parts were knocked down. There wasn’t even enough cash to maintain the ground’s neon sign – fans nicknamed the ground “Fer Ark” after the only letters still illuminated.

Like Huddersfield, Hull City joined forces with the local council and Hull FC to plan a purpose-built stadium. In the meantime, the club clung to life at Boothferry Park, dodging relegation from the league and sliding into receivership. When the stadium finally opened, City’s fortunes skyrocketed. Within six years they climbed from the bottom tier all the way to the Premier League.

Reading and Hull.

King Power Stadium, Leicester City

Opened: 2002 | Capacity: 32,262

It was a long road to success for Leicester’s formidable new home. The stadium was almost called the Walkers Bowl, put the club in serious debt and was opened by Gary Lineker climbing out of a crisp lorry with a big pair of scissors. Things could only get better.

Leicester fans were left pining for the swashbuckling Filbert Street era as they fell into the third tier, but after a slow-burning battle to get back to the Premier League, all the pieces fell spectacularly into place in the 2015-16 season. The King Power, with its pristine playing surface and clapper-wielding crowds, became a very modern cauldron of noise as Leicester powered to football’s most extraordinary triumph.

The ground was touched by tragedy in 2018 when Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club owner and architect of their success, was among four people to die when his helicopter crashed soon after taking off from the stadium.

Leicester City players lift the Premier League trophy at a packed King Power Stadium.
Leicester City players lift the Premier League trophy at a packed King Power Stadium. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Etihad Stadium, Manchester City

Opened: 2003 | Capacity: 55,097

On 4 November 1995, at the 12th time of asking, Manchester City won their first Premier League game of the season. Two days later, another result changed the club’s fortunes for ever as the 2002 Commonwealth Games were awarded to Manchester.

City slid into the third tier in 1998, but were back in the top flight by the time the Games opened at a shiny new purpose-built venue. In the meantime, the club had been locked in talks with the local council and architects, keen to avoid getting stuck in an athletics stadium on the edge of town. The ground had a football future built in, with the lower tier of seating initially buried beneath the running track, which was moved to an adjacent venue before City moved in. The first match at the venue was a 2003 friendly against Barcelona, a sign of things to come.

Five years later, this sleeping giant with a stadium and site ripe for development came to the attention of Sheikh Mansour. The rebranded stadium is now the jewel of the state-of-the-art Etihad Campus, half a world away from Maine Road. The stadium has become a symbol of the club’s uneasy return to the English elite, with jibes over empty seats and booing the Champions League anthem among the lowlights. It will never be Maine Road, but the fans who shook the rafters when the title was won at the death in 2012 aren’t looking back.

An aerial shot of the Etihad Campus development, taken in March 2020.
An aerial shot of the Etihad Campus development, taken in March 2020. Photograph: David Goddard/Getty Images

Liberty Stadium, Swansea City

Opened: 2005 | Capacity: 21,088

In 2003, Swansea faced Hull on the final day of the season, needing a win to ensure Football League survival. They prevailed 4-2 and, like their opponents that day, found a new home offered them a ladder to climb the leagues. It took just 10 years for Swansea and Hull to meet again in the Premier League at the Swans’ shiny new home.

Built over an old athletics track and shared with rugby union’s Ospreys, the Liberty ticks a lot of new-ground boxes – bowl-shaped, out of town, Frankie & Benny’s close by – but has allowed room for growth that was impossible at the old Vetch Field, its turnstiles wedged between terraced houses. Life was largely serene for fans at the Liberty, with their stylish team settling in the top flight and lifting the 2013 League Cup.

Valencia and Napoli called at the stadium as Swansea returned to Europe, but the good times couldn’t last forever. Under new American owners, funds dried up and the club drifted towards relegation. For the first time in its history, there was mutiny in the air at the Liberty. The club are now rebuilding in the Championship, with their purpose-built Fairwood training ground attracting young British talent to the team.

Amex Stadium, Brighton & Hove Albion

Opened: 2011 | Capacity: 30,666

Few teams have suffered a more fraught road to relocation than Brighton. The Seagulls left the Goldstone Ground in 1997, with the land sold in order to cover mounting debts. The club’s board did not have a new ground in place; had Brighton not avoided relegation to the Conference on the last day of the season, the club could feasibly have ceased to exist.

Instead Albion struggled on, playing home games at Gillingham’s Priestfield stadium 70 miles away. When they did return to the south coast it was at the Withdean Stadium, a woefully under-equipped athletics venue. Eight thousand fans perched in temporary stands beyond the running track – but under new owner Dick Knight the team flourished. A permanent home was vital to the club’s hopes of further progress, and clamour grew to leave the Withdean behind – fans even released a single to help fund the move.

With cheap land at a premium, a potential site was identified in Falmer, beyond the city limits. It wasn’t until 2011, 14 years after the Goldstone gates were locked, that Albion moved into their new stadium. “The Amex” has redrawn Brighton’s horizons, with capacity already increased to more than 30,000 as the club climbed into the Premier League. The asymmetrical venue’s most famous moment may have come in another sport, when Japan stunned South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Swansea and Brighton.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Opened: 2019 | Capacity: 62,303

Daniel Levy’s mission to free Tottenham from the confines of White Hart Lane has been a long, fraught battle. Spurs had been favourites to take over the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, but their plan to rebuild it as a football-friendly arena was passed up, in favour of West Ham’s more straightforward tenancy (more on them in part two).

Instead, Spurs decamped to Wembley as a new stadium was built adjacent to White Hart Lane. The short-term effect was a restriction on finances that kept the trophy cabinet empty during Mauricio Pochettino’s otherwise transformative reign. The new stadium has cost close to £1bn and opened several months late – but one survey showed 95% of fans are happy with their new home. That’s because Tottenham’s new stadium is that rarest of things – a new ground that feels unique.

The steep stands help create a raucous atmosphere and staying in N17 means the club have kept (or perhaps even enhanced) their identity. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted Levy’s meticulous plans, however, with rugby, boxing and NFL fixtures cancelled and José Mourinho’s side playing in front of empty seats. It’s a reminder that when it comes to stadium relocation, nothing is guaranteed.

This article is taken from a three-part series from The Set Pieces, first published in 2016.