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Club

Victoria Ground

The Britannia Stadium

Following the publishing of the Hillsboro report many clubs found themselves in stadiums that had  in truth come to the end of their useful lives as football prepared for life in the next millennium.

Stoke  certainly weren't alone in facing the prospects of a choice between a massive modernisation programme or moving to a new site. Their problems of having to modernise an aging ground hemmed in as it was on 3 sides by narrow terraced streets was far from unique. In Stoke's case however the problem was further compounded by the close proximity of the river Trent that ran behind the Butler Street Stand, making any development on the unenclosed side potentially prohibitively expensive.

In 1994 the Stoke - On - Trent City Council and Stoke -On - Trent Regeneration Council also had an important project and decisions to be made, as they set out to redevelop the former Hem Heath Colliery site. The site was considered vital for the economic regeneration of the South of the City and indeed the city as a whole. Meetings took place with both Stoke City and Port Vale to discuss the possibility of the building of a new stadium as part of a proposed recovery of 360 acres of derelict colliery land in the South of the city - on a site to become known as ' Trentham Lakes '.

Port Vale from the North of the City dismissed the proposal, due to it's geographical position. Vale considered the location to be to close to 'enemy territory' and certainly beyond the boundaries that they felt their own support would travel to. The Stoke board, whilst not dismissing the subject appeared to be keener, at least initially to look into the feasibility of developing and retaining their existing Victoria Ground.

However, in January 1995 Stoke appointed their first Chief Executive, Jez Moxey. Moxey's brief it seemed was to bring to a head  the modernisation of the existing ground or the move to a new Stadium. A year of behind the scenes activity, the majority of it going on unseen, commenced  , the first real public indication and acknowledgement that a move was being prepared for was the release of an in depth, club commissioned supporters survey.

And so it proved that the rumours had turned into reality and Stoke had decided to move home for only the second time in their history and the first time for 119 years. The first sod was cut in the late autumn of 1996 and by early 1997 the steel super structure started to take shape. The 28,000 all seater stadium opened it's doors for the first time in August 1997, just three years after the project was first conceived at a cost of an estimated 14.7 million.
 
Stoke keen on selling the new home to their supporters even took the decision to create a visitors centre in the final months of construction , allowing supporters to keep up to date with progress. Though throughout it's construction Stokies could be seen travelling in increasing numbers to stand at the fences that surrounded the site to catch a glimpse at their new home and gaze at the skeleton of steel work that was beginning to raise from what seemed the surface of some far off storm swept barren planet, then look back to the valley floor below at their beloved Victoria Ground.

For many it would be a welcome move, but for others it would be a painful one, feeling as it did   like turning your back on an old and trusted friend in her hour of need, a friend who we'd shared  countless happy times and indeed a few sad ones too, a place full of emotion, warmth and history. To many the Victoria Ground was and still is the very heart of the club.

The name of the new the 'Britannia Stadium', named as part of a 10 year sponsorship deal with Leek based Britannia Building Society helped retain much of the dignity that might otherwise have been lost and was at least in keeping with the old ground - though many supporters felt the club had missed an opportunity to name it after it's most famous son Sir Stanley Matthews.

Though it's to the club's  and indeed the council's credit that they've taken the opportunity to name many of the roads beginning to appear around the new site after players of yesteryear that served the club so well. The major access road or ' way ' being reserved for the great man himself, -  minus the ' Sir' at the wizards own request - a gesture that few who knew or knew of him would be surprised at .

Indeed following his sad passing, Sir Stanley Matthews memory has been further honoured at the new ground by a bronze monument splendidly depicting three eras in his career which fittingly looks out over the valley to his former Penkhull home and to the site of the old Victoria Ground below.

The Britannia Stadium was officially opened on 30th August 1997 against Swindon Town in front of 23,859 spectators - though the first game had been held 3 days earlier against Rochdale in the League Cup when 15,439 turned up for a fixture that would have done well to break 6,000 otherwise.

It's true to say that for a variety of reasons, not least the performances on the pitch, many supporters have taken taken time to feel at home at the ' Brit ' myself included and still hanker for the old days at the Vic where you always felt any half-time deficit could be turned around by the sheer will power and voices of a packed Boothen End.

One day the ' Brit ' will have that aurora ,one day the Brit will hold that fear for visiting teams and when it does the Brit really will feel like home.

A Guide For Visiting Supporters

 

 
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