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.
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 '.
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.
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
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.
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 .
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.
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
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