Posts tagged: Blackheath

The Football League: conceived in Fleet Street, born in Manchester

By , 21st March 2013 11:11

Andertons_Hotel_site_01022011As well as the 150th anniversary of the Football Association, 2013 also marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s first league football competition.  The Football League was the brainchild of William McGregor, a committee member of Aston Villa FC.

The prohibition on professionalism had been lifted by the Football Association in 1885.  Drawing the biggest crowds, the FA Cup, and to a lesser extent local and regional cup competitions, were the principle sources of revenue for those clubs that started to pay players. However the knock-out nature of cup football made managing club finances difficult.

On 2 March 1888, McGregor wrote to five prominent clubs proposing a meeting to discuss his idea of establishing a programme of competitive home and away fixtures to give clubs more stable and predictable revenue streams. He also canvased suggestions of other clubs who should be invited to participate.

Representatives from Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion met at Anderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street, in London on 23 March – the eve of the 1888 FA Cup Final.  (The final was to be contested by West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End at the Oval.)

Anderton’s Hotel stood at 165 Fleet Street.  The Victorian building was demolished in 1939 and the site is now part-occupied by a branch of HSBC.

2013-02-06 13.38.18Although the modern building’s connection with the origins of league football is not commemorated, the British Institute of Professional Photography did erect a plaque on the occasion of the centenary of its inaugural meeting which was held at Anderton’s Hotel on 28 March 1901.

The Football League was officially born at a meeting at the Royal Hotel in central Manchester on 17 April 1888.    The 12 founding members included six clubs from the Midlands and six from Lancashire: Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke City, West Brom, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston.

In marked contrast, the clubs which had attended the inaugural meeting of the Football Association at the Freemasons Tavern 25 years previously had all been from the London area.  It is perhaps a reflection of the commercial nous of the League’s founder members that all bar Accrington survive today. By contrast, of the 11 founder members of the FA – Barnes, Blackheath, Blackheath Proprietary School, Civil Service, Crusaders, Crystal Palace, Forest of Leytonstone (who later became the Wanderers), Kensington School, No Names Club from Kilburn, Perceval House (Blackheath), and Surbiton – only Palace has maintained a place in the upper tiers of the sport in England.

As for Manchester’s Royal Hotel, it stood on the corner of Market Street and Mosley Street overlooking what is now Piccadilly Gardens.   The hotel itself was demolished in 1908 and the site was incorporated into Lewis’s Emporium which was already occupying an adjacent block.  The Emporium was replaced in 1915 and the site is now occupied by the Royal Buildings.  The site’s role in the creation of league football is commemorated by  a plaque erected by Manchester City Council in 1996.

Charles W Alcock: the Mackem who created the FA Cup & international football

By , 25th June 2010 17:03
Birthplace of Charles W Alcock, creator of the FA Cup and instigator of international football

Charles W Alcock was born at 10 Norfolk Street, Sunderland on 2 December 1842. As of the date of this photo, June 2010, the property in the Sunniside area of Sunderland is mid-refurbishment. Photo courtesy of Ben Hall, www.sunnisidepartnership.co.uk

Update: 19 November 2010 – Good to hear that Alcock’s birthplace has now been commemorated with a Blue Plaque.  The Sunderland Echo previewed its unveiling in August 2010 and the FA’s World Cup bid team were quick off the mark to remind everyone of Alcock’s role as inventor of international football: FIFA’s decision on which country should host the 2018 tournament was due to be taken on 2 December 2010. George Caulkin of The Times has kindly posted a photo here.

Described by the official historian of the Football Association as ‘the forgotten father of English sport’, Charles William Alcock was arguably the central pillar of London’s sporting establishment in the fourth quarter of the 19th Century.  Surprisingly, this pioneering sports administrator and journalist qualifies as a Mackem having been born at 10 Norfolk Street, Sunderland, on 2 December 1842.  The son of a ship owner, the Alcock family had moved a few streets to 17 John Street by the time of the 1851 census.

In 1855, Charles followed his elder brother John to Harrow School where both developed a passion for football. On leaving school, together they formed the Forest Club in Epping in 1859.

By 1861, the entire Alcock family had moved south, taking up residence in Essex.  Now described in the census as shipbrokers, John and Charles, were near neighbours of the Kings Head Inn in Chingford and lived in a house called ‘Sunnyside’.  Whether the house name was chosen as a reminder of the family’s roots in Sunderland’s Sunniside district, or a was remarkable coincidence is, for the moment, unknown.

1863 was an eventful year for the two brothers.  John attended the inaugural meeting of the Football Association at the Freemasons Tavern in Great Queen Street, London, while Charles took the lead in founding the Wanderers which made its home at the Oval and supplanted Forest as the leading Old Harrovian football club.

Charles was elected to the FA committee in 1866, aged 23.  He became secretary in 1870 – a position he held for twenty-five years.  Almost immediately, he was involved in organizing the first unofficial international football match between England and a ‘Scotland’ team made up largely of ex-public school Scots living in London.  The match, which ended 1-1, was played at the Oval on 5 March 1870.

By 1871, now married with a son and two daughters and declaring himself to be a journalist in the census, Charles had made his home in Rosendale Road, Norwood in a house possibly called ‘Grassendale’.

For the 1871-72 season, and drawing in part on his experience of the ‘Cock House’ inter-house knock-out competition at Harrow, he devised the FA Cup as a competition open to all football clubs. Not content with simply organising the tournament, he also captained the Wanderers team that won the inaugural final – also played at the Oval – on 16 March 1872.  (Wanderers went on to win the Cup five times between 1872 and 1878.)

At the same time that he was pioneering the FA Cup and international football, Alcock also became the first paid secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. Appointed in 1872, he held this post for the rest of his life.

Known to have played rugby for Blackheath – then one of the leading proponents of alternative form of football – with his influence at Surrey, he may well have been involved in the staging of the second rugby international in history: England’s first ever home match was played at the Oval on 5 February 1872.

Back on the football field, Alcock refereed the first official football international – a nil-nil draw between Scotland and England played on 30 November 1872 at the West of Scotland Cricket Club near Glasgow.  He also fostered relations with the longer-established Sheffield Football Association, paving the way for the eventual adoption of a common rulebook.

As well as becoming the first president of the Referees Association, Alcock also managed to find the time to serve as president of the Surrey FA, vice-president of the London FA, chairman of the Richmond Athletic Association and vice-president of Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club.

At Surrey, Alcock assumed responsibility for arranging the first cricket test in England: the England verses Australia match played at the Oval in 1880.  Two years later, the Australian demolition of England that gave birth to the Ashes legend also took place on Alcock’s watch.

Alcock was living at 36 Somerleyton Road, Brixton when, in 1881, he was granted a testimonial by the FA Committee ‘in consideration of his having been the founder of the Association game’.

As football grew in popularity, tensions arose between the ex-public school amateurs who dominated the Football Association and clubs mainly from the Midlands and the North who were calling for a more professional approach to the organisation of the game.  With his cricketing experience of managing relations between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’, Alcock helped to prevent football splitting in the way rugby eventually divided into union and league.  However, the 2005 Burns report on the governance of the FA confirms that some of these tensions continue to exist to this day.

By 1891, Alcock, his wife, four daughters and three domestic servants had moved to Heathlands in Kew Road, Richmond. (His son had died as an infant.)

Thanks to Alcock, most of the big FA fixtures came to the Oval up to 1895.  Improvements funded by these revenues helped secure the ground’s status as a test venue.  Surrey were also successful on the cricket field under Alcock’s stewardship, winning eight county championships between 1887 and 1895.

In addition to his multiple roles in sports administration, he was also a prolific and ground-breaking sports journalist and publisher. In his twenties, he wrote for The Field and The Sportsman before founding specialist magazines such as the Football Annual, Football magazine and Cricket. Alcock’s books included Football: the Association Game (1890) and Surrey Cricket: its History and Associations (1902).

Alcock died on 26 February 1907 at his home at 7 Arundel Road, Brighton.  He is buried alongside his son in Norwood Cemetery, a short distance from the Rosendale Road home he occupied in the early 1870s.

London’s historic marathons

By , 24th April 2010 09:44

The London Marathon is now established as one of the world’s premiere elite marathons. It is also probably the biggest mass-participation sporting events on the planet as well as one of the most successful charitable fund-raising events.

Today’s London Marathon course starts in Blackheath, heads east through Charlton and Woolwich before turning west and passing the Cutty Sark in Greenwich at around 6½ miles. Crossing the River Thames at Tower Bridge, the course heads east as it passes half-way and loops around the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf before heading west again along The Highway and the Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk to the finish in front of Buckingham Palace.  The event has transformed many of London’s iconic landmarks into sporting landmarks.

The finish has changed most over London’s near three-decades of city marathon history. The first London Marathon, held on 29 March 1981, finished on Constitution Hill between Green Park and Buckingham Palace.  From 1982 until 1993 the race finished on Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background. But in 1994 repair work to the bridge meant the finish line was moved to The Mall where it has been ever since.

Elsewhere, alterations have been surprisingly few.  In 2005 a cobbled area near the Tower of London – around 22 miles – was eliminated to the relief of elite and fun runners alike. The direction taken by runners around the Isle of Dogs between 14 and 21 miles switched from clockwise to anti-clockwise the same year.

In 2012, London’s third Olympic and first Paralympic Marathons will draw on the elite marathon expertise of the London Marathon organisers.  They will be hoping that they will be able to stage races as dramatic as the first two London Olympic Marathons: in both, the gold medal slipped from the grasp of the leading athlete between entering the stadium and reaching the finishing line.

1908

London’s first Olympic Marathon in 1908 was also historically significant in defining the 26 mile 385 yards / 41.195 km  distance that is now the standard.

The race started on the East Terrace of Windsor Castle from where the 55 competitors ran through Windsor town centre and across the Thames to Eton and then on to Slough.  The course then continued on to Uxbridge, Ickneham, Ruislip, Eastcote, Pinner, Harrow, Wembley, Harlesden, Willesden and Old Oak Common before crossing Wormwood Scrubs to reach the Anglo-French Exhibition Grounds and the White City Stadium.  Traveling along the route today, it is clear that today’s sprawling London suburbs were still very distinct villages in 1908, and much of the course would have had a distinctly rural feel.

The White City Stadium was the first stadium ever to be built specifically as the principal venue of an Olympic Games. It had a capacity of 150,000 or which 68,000 were seated but only 17,000 were protected from the elements. Incorporating a 1/3 mile running track, 660 yard banked cycle track and swimming pool, the Stadium was built by the organisers of the Anglo-French Exhibition in just 10 months.  In later life, White City was also a soccer World Cup venue, hosting the Uruguay v France match in the 1966 tournament.  The Stadium was demolished in 1985 and the site is now occupied by the BBC.

From Windsor to the stadium, the proposed 1908 course measured approximately 26 miles. On entering the stadium through entrance “QQ RR SS” in the south west corner, it was decided that the runners should turn left to run 385 yards around the track to the finish line immediately below the Royal Box.

Race day was 24 July.  The Games’ official report describes how the “close, warm, and muggy atmosphere of that summer afternoon, when the sun was deceptively strong and there was very little air,” was to have a profound impact on a race which started started at a brisk pace: the first mile was completed in just 5 minutes and 1 second.

With a dozen British entries, it was home athletes who made the early running.  Jack Price led the South African Charles Hefferon by 200 yards at half way – in Ruislip.  Frederick Lord, another Briton, in third place was “laboured in his action” just ahead of the Italian Dorando Pietri.

Hefferon took the lead at 15 miles and attempted to make a decisive break. Pietri closed on Hefferon in Old Oak Common Lane and passed the South African as they approached Wormwood Scrubs. However, Pietri’s push was too much and he was almost unconscious when he reached the track, turning right instead of left in his confusion before  collapsing.

In describing what rapidly became elevated to the status of legend, the official report says,

“As it was impossible to leave him there, for it looked as if he might die in the very presence of the Queen and that enormous crowd, the doctors and attendants rushed to his assistance. When he was slightly resuscitated the excitement of his compatriots was so intense that the officials did not put him on an ambulance and send him out, as they would no doubt have done under less agitating circumstances. The first fall and the first assistance rendered had, if it had been only realised, disqualified the Italian for the prize.”

Eventually, Pietri struggled to his feet and staggered to the tape in a time of 2 hours 54 minutes 46.4 seconds.  Shortly afterwards, the American Johnny Hayes reached the finish without assistance in 2 hours 55 minutes 18.4 seconds.  An official objection from the US team was eventually upheld and Hayes was awarded the gold medal.

Hefferon had hung on for silver and Joseph Forshaw, another American, took bronze.  Queen Alexandra, who had witnessed the drama from the Royal Box, presented Pietri with a gold cup.

The events of London 1908 captured the public imagination, established the marathon as the ultimate sporting challenge and paved the way for a flurry of races between the leading protagonists over the now official distance which could be considered the forebears of modern city marathons.

Excluding the disqualified Pietri, only 27 of the 55 athletes finished the 1908 marathon. Given the sultry conditions, perhaps the instructions to competitors contributed to the high attrition: “Every competitor must wear complete clothing from the shoulder to the knees (i.e. jersey sleeved to the elbows and loose drawers with slips). Any competitor will be excluded from taking part in the race unless properly attired.”

Other aspects of the race would not be unfamiliar to modern marathon runners.  As “official caterer” the Oxo Company provided refreshments.  Rather than mineral water or energy drinks, 1908 athletes were offered an “Oxo Athlete’s Flask containing Oxo for immediate use” while hot or cold Oxo or Oxo and Soda were distributed at feeding stations along the route. Rice pudding, raisins, bananas, soda and milk. and stimulants were also available “in cases of collapse” while “eau de Cologne and sponges can be had for use of competitors from the Oxo representatives…”

Pietri’s exploits are commemorated today in Dorando Close which skirts the BBC White City complex.  The location of the finish line of the old White City Stadium is marked on the site.
View London’s historic marathons in a larger map

Update: In his blog which examines sporting myths, US blogger Brian Cronin explores the connection between the British Royal Family and the official marathon distance.

1948

When the Olympics were resurrected after World War 2, the 1948 Games were centred on the Empire Stadium, Wembley.  For the marathon, the organisers devised an out-and-back route that took runners north from Wembley in order to avoid the many roads that were still bomb-damaged in inner London.  The course also climbed more than 300 feet as it progressed from Middlesex into Hertfordshire.

The Marathon Race on the final afternoon of the track and field events – a warm, humid and windy day – was curiously reminiscent of the Pietri race forty years earlier.

Around six miles, Etienne Gailly, a 25-year old Belgian who had escaped from occupation during the war, eventually reached Britain and joined Belgrave Harriers, moved to the front of the field of forty-one.  At 15 km. he had a lead of 14 seconds and extended this to half a minute by 20 km. At 30 km. Gailly was 53 seconds ahead of the Argentinian Delfo Cabrera but five kilometres later Choi Yoon-chil of Korea had moved into a 28-second lead over Cabrera, with Gailly another three seconds behind.  Choi dropped out with injury around 38 km.  With 5,000 metres to go, Cabrera was leading, just five seconds ahead of Gailly.

It was Gailly who entered the Stadium first “exhausted and hardly able to drag one foot after the other”  yet needing to complete a little over a lap of the track to secure the Olympic title.  Within a few seconds, Cabrera entered the stadium and had no difficulty in overhauling the “practically insensible” Belgian to snatch the gold in a time of 2 hours 34 minutes 51.6 seconds.  Welshman Tom Richards was the third to enter the Stadium and he too had little difficulty passing Gaily taking the silver in 2 hours 35 minutes 7.6 seconds.  The gallant Gaily held on to finish third in 2 hours 35 minutes 33.6 seconds, just over half a minute ahead of the South African Johannes Coleman, who had finished sixth in the 1936 Berlin Games.  In one of the closest Olympic Marathon finishes of all time, the first four athletes were running their final laps of the stadium at the same time.

The Six Nations and the origins international rugby

By , 11th March 2010 23:33

Each spring, Murrayfield, Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road and the Millennium Stadium become places of pilgrimage for rugby enthusiasts.  By drawing together the first four rugby playing countries, the Six Nations maintains a tangible and continuing link to the origins of the international game.

Today’s landmark venues are among 35 grounds in the British Isles that have hosted matches as the competition has evolved from ad-hoc fixtures in the 1870s to become the Home International Championship – considered to have started in 1883.  France officially joined the championship in 1910 before Five Nations became Six at the start of the third millennium.

A common characteristic of many of the earliest international rugby venues was that they were established cricket grounds. On closer examination, this is not so surprising.  By the second half of the 18th century, cricket was widely played and many of the earliest rugby clubs were set-up by cricketers looking to keep themselves occupied during the winter months.

England have played4/5/6 Nations matches at some 15 grounds; Ireland 9, Wales 7 and Scotland 6.

View The Six Nations and the origins international rugby in a larger map

(As this post spans 140 years of international rugby history, and approaching 700 matches, its quite long! It’s divided into sections for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, so if you’re interested in a particular country, scroll down.)

Scotland

Just as they were to invent Rugby 7s in 1883, the Scots can arguably take credit for inventing international rugby: it was Scotland who issued the invitation for an England team to play in the world’s first rugby international.   The match  was staged on the cricket pitch of the Edinburgh Academy at Raeburn Place on 27 March 1871.  Angus Buchanan claimed the distinction of becoming the first international try scorer in helping Scotland to victory by a goal and a try to a try.

Scotland’s second home international, again against England on 3 March 1873, was played at the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow.  The match ended in a scoreless draw.

Scotland then reverted to Raeburn Place until growing friction with their Edinburgh Academy hosts prompted a search for a new ground.  The last match at the birthplace of international rugby was a 6-0 victory over Ireland on 2 March 1895.

On 14 March 1896, Scotland defeated England 11-0 at Hampden Park, Glasgow.  The second of three grounds to bear the name, it became Cathkin Park when its owners, Queen’s Park FC, moved to the current Hampden Park in 1903.  (The Scottish rugby team played South Africa at the new Hampden Park in 1908.)

In 1897, the Scottish Football Union acquired land at Inverleith, Edinburgh to make Scotland the first national rugby team to own its own ground. While Inverleith was being developed, Scotland played two matches at Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh, an established “pedestrianism” venue.  An 8-3 victory over Ireland on 20 February 1897 was followed by a 3-3 draw with England on 12 March 1898.  (Between 1977 and its closure and demolition 1995, Powderhall was home to the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team.)

Ireland became the first visitors to the world’s first purpose-built international rugby stadium at Inverleith on 18 February 1899, defeating Scotland by 3-9.  After the First World War, limited space and run-down facilities at Inverleith prompted the SFU to search for a new home . Murray’s Field was eventually purchased from the Edinburgh Polo Club at the end of 1922.  The last match at Inverleith was played on Burns Day – 25 January – 1925 and ended in a 25-4 victory over France.  Today, Stewart’s Melville College, and associated clubs, continue to play rugby at Inverleith.

The first match at Murrayfield on on 21 March 1925 saw the lead change several times before Scotland eventually ran-out 14-11 winners over England to secure their first Grand Slam.

England

Although Twickenham has been England’s primary home for a century, of the nations who strive for the Triple Crown, England has had the most “home” grounds.

An English cricket ground hosted the world’s second rugby international.  The return fixture against Scotland on 5 February 1872 was played at the Kennington Oval and ended in a victory for England by a goal, a drop goal and 2 tries to a drop goal.  The first FA Cup final was staged at the same venue a month later.

The Oval hosted a total of seven rugby internationals, including Ireland’s debut on 15 February 1875 – won by England by 1 goal, 1 drop goal, and a try to nil – and the first international rugby match between teams of 15 players – again from England and Ireland – on 5 February 1877.  Until then rugby had been 20-a-side.

The ground of Manchester FC, one of the oldest still surviving rugby clubs, in Whalley Range was the venue for England’s home victory against Scotland by 2 goals and 3 tries to 1 goal on 28 February 1880.  Walley Range hosted a total of seven England matches up to 1892.  According to the 1889 Ordnance Survey Map for Moss Side, the site is now occupied by present day King’s Road, Powell Street and Alphonsus Street off the Upper Chorlton Road.

Wales’ international debut was on Mr Richardson’s field, Blackheath on 19 February 1881.  It was a baptism by fire for the Welsh as England won by 7 goals, 1 drop goal and 6 tries to nil!  Blackheath holds a unique position in the history of rugby.  A founder member of the Football Association, Blackheath withdrew in protest at the FA’s preference for the Cambridge rules  of football, which prohibited carrying the ball, and its less tolerant attitude towards hacking.  Blackheath then went on to become a founder member of the RFU.

Prior to the 1902 schism that ultimately led to the creation of Rugby League, Yorkshire was a rugby stronghold.  England played a number of matches in the county including three in Leeds on three different grounds.   The first was on 5 January 1884 when Wales were beaten by a goal and 2 tries to 1 goal at Cardigan Fields.  The pitches are now occupied by the Leeds Rugby Academy under the management of the Leeds Rugby Foundation.

In the same 1884 season, Scotland were entertained at the Rectory Field, Blackheath on 1 March.  A successful conversion separated the teams and gave victory to England by a goal to a try.

Between 1888 and 1889, the Home International Championship was reduced to a 3 Nation tournament after England declined to join the International Rugby Board which had been established to overcome differences in interpretation of the laws of the game.  When England returned to the fold in 1890, they chose Yorkshire for their first match playing Wales at the original Crown Flatt ground, on Leeds Road, Earlesheaton in Dewsbury.  The match was notable as Wales’ first victory against England – by a single point scored by a Dewsbury player William “Buller” Staden – to nil.  Crown Flatt was replaced by housing after it was destroyed by arson in 1988. (Dewsbury Rams rugby league team play at the Tetley Stadium in Owl Lane which was initially referred to as the ‘new’ Crown Flatt Stadium when it was built in the early 1990s.)

Richmond Athletic Ground hosted England’s 3-9 defeat by Scotland on 7 March 1891.  The home of both Richmond FC and London Scottish, the Athletics Ground was also the venue for France’s first match in the British Isles – a 41-13 defeat at the hands of England on 5 January 1907.

England’s second match in Leeds, an 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 4 March 1893, was played at Headingley. Acquired by the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Co from the Cardigan Estate in January 1889, Headingley was conceived as a multi-sport venue incorporating cricket and rugby pitches along with tennis courts, a bowling green, and a track for cycling and athletics around the cricket pitch.  Today, the ground is used by both codes of rugby: Leeds Rhinos for league and Leeds Carnegie for union. The Headingley test cricket ground is adjacent to the rugby ground.

The first publicly funded park in Britain, Birkenhead Park on the Wirral, hosted England’s 24-3 victory over Wales on 6 January 1894.

Ireland were the visitors for England’s third match in Leeds on 1 February 1896. Played at Meanwood Road, the Irish won 4-10.

The following year, Scotland suffered a second defeat in Manchester, by 12-3. The match, on 13 February 1897, was played in Fallowfield. The Fallowfield Stadium, which also incorporated an athletics track and velodrome, was also notable for having hosted the 1893 FA Cup Final, the first to be played outside London.  (Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Everton 1-0).  The stadium was acquired by Manchester University, demolished in 1994 and redeveloped as the Richmond Park hall of residence.

Gloucester’s Kingsholm hosted a Welsh victory over England by 3-13 on 6 January 1900.

The first of five internationals at Welford Road, Leicester, was England’s 6-3 victory over Ireland on 8 February 1902.  The 23-5 victory over Ireland on 10 February 1923 was the last England home fixture in the 4/5/6 Nations not to be played at Twickenham.

Wales’ made the short trip across the Severn Estuary to defeat England 18-28 at Ashton Gate, Bristol on 18 January 1908 in a match shrouded in thick fog.  The match was the last of five caps for James Peters, the first black player to represent England.  Although he was then playing for Plymouth, Peters’ rugby career had started at Bristol FC.

Twickenham, affectionately known as Billy Williams Cabbage Patch after an RFU committee member who was instrumental in the purchase of the former market garden, hosted its first international when Wales visited on 15 January 1910.  England won 11-6.

Outside the 4/5/6 Nations, England have also played home matches at Crystal Palace (against New Zealand in 1905 and South Africa in 1906), Wembley (Canada, 1992), Old Trafford Manchester (New Zealand, 1997), and the McAlpine Stadium, Huddersfield, now known as the Galpharm Stadium (World Cup Qualifiers against the Netherlands, 1998 and Italy 1998.)

Ireland

Having played their first international away to England at the Oval, Ireland’s first home international was a defeat by England by a goal and a try to nil.  Ireland continued the tradition established by both Scotland and England in staging the match at the Leinster Cricket Ground, Rathmines, Dublin, on 13 December 1875

Ireland’s next home game, against Scotland on 19th February 1877, was the first of seven matches to be staged at the North of Ireland Football Club off the Ormeau Road in South Belfast.  The Scots ran away victors by 4 goals, 2 tries and 2 drop goals to nil. Founded in 1868 as a section of the North of Ireland Cricket Club, it was one of the three oldest rugby clubs in Ireland until it merged and moved in with Collegians in 1999 to create Belfast Harlequins.  Subsequently, the ground was vacated and turned over to housing.

Lansdowne Road, which was conceived as a multi-sport venue by Henry Dunlop, organiser of the first All Ireland Athletics Championship, opened for athletics in 1872.  Incorporating a cinder track, the inevitable cricket pitch, croquet green, football pitches, archery facilities and lawn tennis courts, Lansdowne hosted its first rugby international on 11 March 1878 when Ireland succumbed to England by 2 goals and 1 try to nil.  The Irish Rugby Football Union took over the lease of the venue in the early 1900s and the ground became Ireland’s spiritual home for the next century until it closed for redevelopment after the autumn internationals in 2006.  The then reigning world champions South Africa were the first international visitors when Lansdowne Road was reborn as the Aviva Stadium on 6 November 2010.

The Ulster Cricket Ground in Ballynafeigh Park, Belfast hosted three matches between 1891 and 1894. The first visitors were Scotland on 21 February 1891, winning 0-14. [Please leave a comment if you can help locate this ground on the map. Thanks.]

Ireland’s match against Wales on 19 March 1898, which ended in defeat by 1 penalty goal to a goal, try and penalty goal, was played at Thomond Park, Limerick.  The home of Munster but owned by the Irish RFU, the stadium has been redeveloped since 2008.

The Mardyke Grounds of the University College Cork are arguably Ireland’s most successful home venue.  Three internationals have resulted in three home victories.  England succumbed by 17-3 on 11 February 1905. France have been defeated twice: by 25-5 on 25 March 1911 and by 24-0 on 24 March 1913.

The Balmoral Showgrounds of the Royal Ulster Agriculture Society staged several 4/5 Nations matches starting with the 0-8 defeat by Scotland on 19 February 1898.  The last match at the venue was the match against Wales on 12 March 1921 which  Wales won 0-6.  The Showgrounds also hosted South Africa in November 1906]

The modern home of Ulster Rugby, Ravenhill Park has hosted 12 internationals against 4/5/6 Nations opposition.  England were the first visitors on 9 February 1924 winning 3-14. Scotland were the last 5Nations visitors on 27 February 1954. Ireland won 6-0.

During the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road, there is a certain irony that Ireland have been permitted to play their home internationals at Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association.  Established in 1884 to counter the growing influence of so-called “foreign” sports – especially those from England – the GAA’s full title references its duty to ensure the “Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes.”  The first visitors to Croke Park on 11 February 2007 were at least gallic: France won 17-20.  Ireland were clear winners – by 43-13 – when England made their first historic visit two weeks later.   Scotland won the last of 14 international rugby matches at Croke Park, on 20 March 2010, winning 20-23.

Outside the 4/5/6 Nations Championship, Thomond Park Stadium in Limerick has hosted Ireland matches against Romania (September 2002), Italy (August 2003) and Canada (November 2009) while the Royal Dublin Society hosted Ireland’s match against Fiji as recently as November 2009.

IRFU results archive Team archive

Wales

Since their international debut at Blackheath in February 1881, Wales have played home fixtures at seven locations. Of these, the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, has yet to stage a 4/5/6 Nations match.  Two of the home venues selected by Wales have been in England, and both of these have also been used by England as home grounds.

St Helen’s in Swansea staged Wales’ first home match on 16 December 1882.  England won by 2 goals and 4 tries to nil.  France’s first official 5 Nations match – a 49-14 defeat – was played at the Swansea ground on New Year’s Day 1910.  Hosting 50 4/5/6 Nations internationals up to the Wales v Scotland match in April 1954, St Helen’s has also been a cricket ground for more than 130 years. Most famously it was where, in 1968, Malcolm Nash suffered the ignominy of allowing Garry Sobers to become the first 1st class cricketer to hit 6 sixes in an over.

Rodney Parade, Newport, hosted six international matches between Scotland’s first visit and victory on 12 January 1884 and the 14-8 victory for Wales over France on 25 March 1912.

The long association between Cardiff Arms Park and international rugby began on 12 April 1884 with a Welsh victory over Ireland by 1 drop goal and 2 tries to nil. Donated by the Marquis of Bute to the City of Cardiff  “for recreational use” in perpetuity, the Arms Park was used by Cardiff Cricket Club from 1848 and subsequently by Glamorgan County Cricket Club until the 1960s.  The southern part of the park became the home of Cardiff RFC from 1876. In the 1960s, as cricketers relocated to pitches up-river in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff’s rugby club took over the former cricket ground while the existing rugby stadium was redeveloped for international use as the National Ground Cardiff Arms Park.  Between the Welsh 3-0 victory over England on 22 January 1955 and England’s 13-34 victory on 15 March 1997, all Wales’s 5 Nations home fixtures were played at the Arms Park / National Ground.

Stradey Park, Llanelli staged three 4 Nations matches starting with England’s visit and 0-0 draw on 4 January 1887.  The first match was actually moved at short notice from the deeply frozen rugby pitch to the adjacent cricket pitch.  (In 1998, during the redevelopment of the National Ground, Stradey Park hosted internationals against Italy in February and Argentina in November).

For the match against Ireland on 12 March 1887, the Welsh Rugby Union chose to play a home match in England.  With Ireland reluctant to travel to play the most junior of the 4 Nations, the match was played at Birkenhead Park – within easy reach of Liverpool Docks and the shipping lines to Dublin.  Wales’ generosity was rewarded with victory by a drop goal and a try to 3 tries: these were the days when a drop goal was valued much more than a try.  Wales were to play “away” on the same ground to England 16 years later.

Between 1997 and 1999, Wales decamped to England again – this time at Wembley.  As well as Autumn internationals against New Zealand (1997) and South Africa (1998), Wembley hosted four 5 Nations matches. The first was a 19-13 victory against Scotland.  Wales last action in the shadows of Wembley’s twin towers was Scott Gibbs dramatic (and heart-breaking for Englishmen) over-time try in the 32-31 victory over England on 11 April 1999.

The most famous feature of the new Millennium Stadium is, of course, its retractable roof – designed to fend off the metre of rain that falls on Cardiff in a typical year.   The new pitch, mounted on removable pallets, has been rotated through 90 degrees compared with the old National Ground to run north-south.  The (un-finished) Stadium opened for international rugby on 26 June 1999 to witness Wales’ first ever victory over South Africa by 29-19.  The (finished) Stadium subsequently staged the 1999 Rugby World Cup final in which Australia beat France 35-12 on 6 November 1999.  The Stadium’s first 6 Nations match was against France on 5 February 2000.

WRU results archive

RugbyData.com contains match-by-match details for most international rugby matches, including all 4/5/6 Nations matches.

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