REMEMBERING SHEFFIELD: Don Valley Stadium

Don Valley Stadium.
Don Valley Stadium.
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What have Michael Jackson, Rotherham United, Sheffield Eagles and former athlete Jessica Ennis all got in common?

No, it's not a trick question. The answer - they have all performed at Sheffield's former Don Valley Stadium.

The opening ceremony of the World Student Games at the Don Valley Stadium.

The opening ceremony of the World Student Games at the Don Valley Stadium.

The venue, which was built as the main stadium for the 1991 World Student Games in Sheffield, was home to the Eagles for more than 20 years.

But the stadium's demolition in 2013 saw them to take to the road for four years, playing in Doncaster, Wakefield and Rotherham.

Head coach Mark Aston said: "We've had an horrendous four years on the road so to be home is nice.

"It makes a massive difference not being in Sheffield because we are Sheffield Eagles and we have fought to keep the club alive. In 1999/2000, when the merger happened with Huddersfield it was awful and we had to start again from the lowest level.

Sheffield Eagles played their first game at the Olympic Legacy Park on March 11.

Sheffield Eagles played their first game at the Olympic Legacy Park on March 11.

"The only pleasing thing during all of that time was we had a ground in Don Valley Stadium. That was the one steady thing we had and we must thank Pat Smith at Sheffield International Venues and the rest of his team.

"Having Don Valley was massive for us at that time because we didn't have any players or anything but we had a ground and we knew we could so something with that."

The Eagles have now returned to the site of their former home and played their first game at the £55 million Olympic Legacy Park on March 11.

Don Valley opened in 1990 as part of regeneration for the World Student Games, which were held in Sheffield a year later.

But controversy surrounded the stadium from day one with critics arguing that the games, which Sheffield Council spent millions of pounds to secure and build facilities for, would leave a massive debt burden.

Apart from the music concerts, a plus for the venue was athlete Jess Ennis-Hill. Years before her success, Jess was tipped for future greatness after using the stadium’s facilities to train.

Designed by Sheffield City Council's Design and Building Services, it was built by RM Douglas Construction at a cost of £29 million.

The stadium and facilities provided a training base for the City of Sheffield Athletic Club and it was the home of the Sheffield Half Marathon.

And for Rotherham United, it proved to more than just a home, it was a saviour when the Millers were forced to leave their former ground Millmoor, after talks with Ken Booth, owner of Millmoor, broke down in 2008.

Millers chairman Tony Stewart said: "Don Valley was the only show out of town. I couldn't do a deal with the owners of Millmoor and it became quite clear there was not another stadium available.

"The Football League said as long it's not more than four miles and we move back to Rotherham within four years we were okay so it just fit the requisite.

"We had four years at Don Valley which allowed us to work on the New York Stadium. The people there were fantastic and it's actually probably responsible for making the New York Stadium what it is today because we were able to act on what people said was wrong at Don Valley.

"We've got one of the steepest gradients in the stands at the NYS and that came about because of what people said about bringing their telescopes to Don Valley. Now everyone is as close to the action as they can be so, in a way, Don Valley Stadium was a blessing."

Former sports minister Richard Caborn helped Sheffield secure the World Student Games and is also the project lead for the Olympic Legacy Park.

He said: "In 2013 the stadium was not being used anything like what it used to be and it was costing £750,000 a year and the council asked me if I could find a sporting solution to the problem.

"We thought there was a great opportunity with the teaching hospitals and the universities to drive this new sporting agenda - which links it with health and wellbeing.

"We are looking at the OLP as not just great sports facilities but a great economic driver and wealth creator down there."

Mr Caborn said he was proud of the facilities at the OLP, which include a school, a health and wellbeing research centre, a 3G pitch which is expected to be turned into a stadium.

A community arena is also planned for the site.

"I think the OLP is the renaissance of Don Valley - it's out with the old and in with the new. It is the old Don Valley Stadium put into a modern setting with sport and health and wellbeing facilities."