RETRO: Field of dreams is out of this world

Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield'1990
Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield'1990
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It was once considered a symbol of a bright new Sheffield – “it looks as though it has just landed,” this newspaper noted the week it opened in 1990.

Don Valley Stadium – like an “intergalactic spaceship,” we reckoned – was the first national sports ground built in the UK since Wembley in the Twenties.

Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Pictured is a model of the proposed improved Don Valley Stadium with Graham Tayles (left) principal architect, and Tony Wood, Director, of the Design and Public services 13th October 1994

Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Pictured is a model of the proposed improved Don Valley Stadium with Graham Tayles (left) principal architect, and Tony Wood, Director, of the Design and Public services 13th October 1994

The 25,000 capacity facility became Britain’s biggest athletics venue and would go on to inspire a future Olympic hero, while also hosting everything from football, rugby and cricket to concerts by global pop superstars such as Michael Jackson.

Now, tomorrow, the Attercliffe venue once considered the future will be consigned to the past. Work will begin demolishing the £29 million stadium as part of austerity cuts by Sheffield City Council.

Today to mark its passing, Midweek Retro brings you these pictures showing the landmark in its heyday.

“It’s a world class facility,” says Rob Creasey, head coach there since 2000 and leader of the recent Save Don Valley Campaign. “Getting rid of it makes no sense. This is a city asset. It has such a great history.”

World Student Games 1991.

World Student Games 1991.

Certainly there can be little doubt about that history.

Sheffield’s 2012 Olympic hero Jessica Ennis-Hill first got into track and field after attending a sports day there; double Olympic gold-winner Dame Kelly Holmes ran her last race on the track; and Oliver Pistorius competed in one of his first major non-disabled runs at the facility.

Famously, Czech javelin thrower Jan Zelezny set a world record on the field – and almost speared a trackside TV interviewer while doing so.

Sheffield Eagles and Rotherham FC have both called it home while American football’s BritBowl has been hosted there. In the UK’s first ever floodlit cricket match Yorkshire took on a World XI in August 1991. It was once even mooted as a potential shared ground for Wednesday and United.

Away from sport, it holds the record for Sheffield’s biggest gig when 55,000 turned up to watch Michael Jackson in 1997. Def Leppard and The Rolling Stones have also headlined.

“People often think it’s just an athletics stadium,” says Rob. “But that’s wrong. It’s also the finest performance arts space in Yorkshire.”

The stadium was originally built as part of a £147 million transformation of Sheffield ahead of the World Student Games. Speaking ahead of its opening, MP Richard Caborn called it “a jewel in the city’s crown”.

It included the brightest floodlights ever installed in the UK and a track designed to help runners achieve personal best times.

It remained the biggest athletics venue in the country until London’s Olympic Stadium was opened last year.

Improvements announced in 1994 would have made it even larger. In those proposals grandstands would have been built on all four sides.

The plans were shelved – temporarily, it was said – due to lack of finance.

Not that that stopped the big events coming. Athletics grand prix, the Sheffield Half Marathon and several showpiece rugby games were all regularly held there. As late as this summer, it hosted the British Transplant Games and Scout-tastic, a jamboree attended by 6,000 scouts.

And yet, despite its history, Sheffield City Council announced in January the stadium was to be knocked down. Officials said it would save £700,000 annually, while declaring the smaller (and upgraded) Woodbourn Road athletics track would prove an adequate replacement. They pointed out spectator numbers, even for the biggest athletic meetings, were low.

Despite opposition – including a petition signed by almost 6,000 people – that demolition begins tomorrow.

“It will be a sad day,” says Rob. “Don Valley Stadium should be part of Sheffield’s future.”