Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

The Birth of Football Stadiums in the UK

Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace stadium during the 1905 FA Cup final

The history of football in the UK dates back to 1863 when the Football Association officially codified the Laws of the Game. However, before the game gained popularity, matches were not played in purpose-built locations. So, where were they played? And what was the first stadium built specifically for football?

Cricket and Rugby Pitches

When football was still in its infancy, it struggled to gain recognition. People preferred watching cricket and rugby matches instead. As a result, most football games were played in cricket grounds or on rugby pitches.

In fact, even the first Football Association Cup final in 1872 was held at Kennington Oval, a famous cricket stadium. The final continued to be played there for the next twenty years before moving to Fallowfield Stadium in Manchester in 1893.

The First Football Grounds

Bramall Lane
Cricket match at Bramall Lane – Gerald England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The debate about the first football ground revolves around Bramall Lane and Deepdale, the homes of Sheffield United and Preston North End, respectively. Bramall Lane opened twenty years before Deepdale, but Preston fans argue that Deepdale has continuously hosted football for longer.

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However, neither of these stadiums was initially built exclusively for football. Deepdale was initially a farm and was later leased to Preston’s North End sport club in 1875 for cricket and rugby games. The first association football match was played there on October 5, 1878.

Similarly, Bramall Lane primarily served as a cricket ground before hosting its first football match on December 29, 1862. It became the main stadium in Sheffield and played a significant role in hosting various sports events.

The First Purpose-Built Stadium

As football gained popularity, clubs started focusing on enhancing the match-day experience for supporters. Everton Football Club, formed in 1878, initially played their games in Stanley Park. However, due to increasing crowds and noise, they moved to Anfield Road in 1884.

Anfield Stadium

Anfield had proper covered stands, making it an ideal home for Everton. The club flourished there, turning professional, helping form the Football League, and winning their first league championship. The stadium’s capacity also grew to accommodate 20,000 spectators.

A dispute with the majority shareholder of Anfield led to Everton leaving the stadium in the early 1890s. This provided them with an opportunity to build their own purpose-built stadium. George Mahon, a member of the Everton board, leased land in the Walton area of Liverpool to create Goodison Park.

When Goodison Park opened on August 24, 1892, it became the first purpose-built football stadium in England. The stadium had stands on three sides and marked a significant milestone in the history of football stadiums.

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Q: What was the first purpose-built football stadium in the UK?
A: Goodison Park, which opened on August 24, 1892, was the first purpose-built football stadium in England.

Q: Which stadiums were initially used for cricket and rugby before hosting football matches?
A: Kennington Oval, Bramall Lane, and Deepdale were cricket or rugby grounds before they started hosting football matches.

Q: When did Everton move to Anfield?
A: Everton moved to Anfield in 1884.


The evolution of football stadiums in the UK reflects the growth and popularity of the sport. From humble beginnings on cricket and rugby pitches to purpose-built stadiums like Goodison Park, these venues have played a crucial role in shaping the football experience for players and supporters alike.

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