What are the oldest stadiums in the Premier League?
Out of the 20 clubs in the English top flight, several have moved to more modern premises and only a few remain at their original stadiums.
In a rapidly-changing world, it’s necessary to move with the times and football is no exception. The game has become far more commercialized, and that, along with health and safety requirements and the basic need to upgrade stadiums which have been subjected to wear and tear has meant that clubs are obliged to provide a safe and secure environment for spectators. Today, very few clubs remain at their original grounds - the ones that are still based at their first homes have undergone extensive renovation and refurbishment work, modernized with state-of-the art facilities to make watching the game a more comfortable experience.
It wasn’t so long ago that you could practically just turn up on the afternoon of a game, pay to go through the turnstiles and join thousands of other supporters on the terrace. Half-time refreshment might be a stale pie or hot dog - and it doesn’t bear thinking about what kinds of nasty germs and bacteria were lurking in the toilets. The modern day ‘matchday experience’ is another world entirely.
Tragic football events prompt changes
Everything changed after a series of tragedies which cost the lives of many football fans at the end of the 1980s. Events at Bradford, Hillsborough and Heysel - all old, crumbling, decaying grounds, made it clear that many stadiums were way past their sell-by date. In the summer of 1989, the British government ordered all grounds to undergo rigourous structural testing, particularly on the terraces behind the goals and crash barriers - several of them failed. Following the Taylor Report in 1990, terraces became all-seated and perimeter fences were removed.
During the next two decades, a few clubs decided that it would be more economical to completely rebuild a new stadium from scratch, so they sold off the land to developers and moved to a cheap site where they could construct a modern, all-purpose stadium. Other clubs revamped their stadiums in compliance with UEFA’s infrastructure regulations - the standard required to be able to host European games.
A number of classic English clubs have moved to new premises over the past 10-20 years - historic grounds like Highbury, White Hart Lane, Maine Road, Filbert Street, Roker Park, the Dell, and the Baseball Ground have all disappeared, demolished as clubs relocated to plush, new stadiums.
We take a look at the oldest surviving stadiums still in activity in the Premier League.
Molineux, Wolves. 1889
Wolves set up home at Molineux in 1889, playing their inaugural match on 7 September 1889 against Notts County in front of a 4,000-strong crowd. They bought the stadium outright in 1923 and the first-ever floodlit game was held at Molineux on 30 September 1953 when Wolves took on South Africa. Like all English stadiums, it has undergone numerous redevelopment programmes and currently has a capacity of 32,000.
Goodison, Everton. 1892
The second oldest stadium in the Premier League is in Liverpool. Everton, the city’s first club, was founded in 1878 but curiously, their first proper stadium was Anfield, where the team played from 1884 until 1892. Everton left Anfield following an alleged rent dispute and constructed a new home, across Stanley Park. Goodison Park was the first major, purpose-built football ground in England, hosting its first league game on 3 September 1892 - a 2-2 draw against Nottingham Forest. The stadium was also one of the eight venues for the 1966 World Cup, famously playing host to Pele’s Brazil, who played all three of their group games there - it also staged the semi-final between West Germany and the Soviet Union. Goodison Park has hosted more top-flight games than any other stadium in England and has a capacity of 39,572. Everton however will soon be on the move to another part of town, relocating to Bramley-Moore Dock on the banks of the River Mersey. Construction of the new stadium began earlier this year with hopes that it will be fully operational for the start of the 2024-25 season.
Craven Cottage, Fulham. 1896
Craven Cottage, on the banks of the River Thames, has been home to Fulham since 1896 and is the oldest football stadium in London. After buying the land in 1894, it took the club two years to prepare the site to stage regular matches. The Cottage hosted its first game on 10 October 1896 when Fulham beat Minerva 4-0 and its first international game on 18 March 1907 - a home international between England and Wales which ended 1-1. The Stevenage Road Stand, with its distinctive gabled roof, was renamed The Johnny Haynes Stand in 2005, in honour of Fulham’s greatest-ever player Johnny Haynes, who passed away aged 71 in October 2005. In November 2019, the Riverside stand was demolished to make way for a new stand, Fulham Pier, which will increase the seating capacity.
Villa Park, Aston Villa. 1897
Villa Park is home to Aston Villa, the Prince of Wales’ team. It is the largest football stadium in the English Midlands, and the eighth largest stadium in England. The first game to be played at Villa Park was a friendly against Blackburn Rovers on 17 April 1897 with the hosts running out 3-0 winners in front of a crowd of 15,000. Over the years it has regularly been used as a neutral ground to host international and domestic cup games - it has staged more FA Cup semi-finals than any other stadium in England. The national team have played there 11 times from their first appearance in 1899 to the most recent, a friendly against the Netherlands in 2005. Villa Park was also one of the grounds selected for the 1966 World Cup finals, staging games between Germany, Spain and Argentina.
City Ground, Nottingham Forest. 1898
The City Ground has been Forest’s base for most of the club’s life. Founded in 1865, Forest is officially the oldest football club in existence. Initially without a permanent home, the team even played some of its early games at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground before settling half a mile away. Forest officially moved to the City Ground in September 1898 but had already played a handful of games there in the previous months. It has undergone countless makeovers during the past century and plans to expand the stadium, increasing capacity from to 30,445 to 35,000 were rubber-stamped earlier this year. The City Ground boasts four stands, two of which are named after iconic managerial pair Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, along with the Trent End and Bridgford Stands.