Arguably the toughest second-tier division amongst the leading countries of European football, the Championship in England is always fiercely contested. Amongst those competing are teams who, at one time or another in the past, have enjoyed success at the very highest level of the domestic game and beyond.
Some of those clubs opted to upgrade their existing stadiums beyond recognition, or have even relocated entirely to what they consider to be more luxurious, modern surroundings. Mostly those changes were made to accommodate an increased demand for capacity. On other occasions land values have played a part, with clubs cashing in on offers from developers, leaving behind their original homes to move elsewhere.
Following the tragic Hillsborough disaster in 1989, the subsequent Taylor Report published in 1990 recommended that all major stadiums be converted to all-seater. Regulations were then introduced from the 1994/95 season enforcing all-seater stadiums in the top two divisions in England, with clubs subsequently promoted to the second-tier given three years to convert terracing to seating.
The original terraces featured at football grounds are a thing of the past, rarely seen these days aside from at the aforementioned newly promoted clubs; but seating changes aside, there are still classic stadiums in the Championship that retain some of their original features, steeped in history and unique charm.
Elland Road – Leeds United F.C.
Rugby League was the first sport played at Elland Road, following its construction in 1897. Football first appeared with Leeds City between 1904 and 1919, but after the club was dissolved due to financial irregularities, Leeds United then emerged from the ashes and have since called this classic stadium their home.
Nothing remains of the original construction, with the stadium having undergone a variety of upgrades over the last several decades. The Revie Stand and the East Stand are the most recent constructions, whilst the South Stand was built in 1974 to replace a 1920’s construction. The oldest part of the stadium, which still retains its original character, is the West Stand, renamed as the John Charles Stand in 2004 following the death of the former Leeds United legend.
The change of name for the West Stand is not without some irony, however. Built in 1957 after the previous stand was destroyed by fire, funds for its construction were challenging to cover and, anecdotally, resulted in the sale of John Charles to cover the costs. Although there have been various improvements over the years, changes in ownership have shelved plans to add additional tiers and executive boxes.
This season, fans of The Whites are once again dreaming of a return to the Premier League but football betting odds of 5/1 with Paddy Power in October would suggest Leeds United are an outside bet for promotion but, at 10/11, they are considered to be in with a very good chance of making the playoffs. Whatever twists and turns this season may bring, their passionate fans at Elland Road will be giving the team every encouragement.
Oakwell – Barnsley F.C.
Originally built in 1887, the same year Barnsley FC was founded, then opened in 1888, Oakwell has been hosting football matches for 130 years and still retains much of the classic English football stadia charm. The most recent changes to the stadium came during the 1990’s, culminating in a very brief spell of just one season in the 97/98 campaign in the Premier League.
The East Stand, South Stand, and North Stand are legacies of that era, but they do at least have a more classic look and feel to their construction, especially from inside the stadium. However, the most interesting part of the stadium is the West Stand, which according to the official Barnsley FC website, is not just the only original part of the stadium in existence, but also retains many of the original seats from the 19th century.
For the immediate future at least, the West Stand at Oakwell will remain a classic reminder of football architecture from way back in the past. Although there were plans to build a new stand, they were shelved because of financial difficulties at the club in previous years. There was takeover talk recently with Chinese and American investors interested, but, as of October, nothing had been resolved.
Back in the Championship following promotion via the play-offs from League One last season, Barnsley FC have struggled early in the 2017/18 campaign, but that’s something even the most passionate Tykes fans are more than accustomed to. Avoiding relegation will be the primary objective this season and anything better than that, such as a finishing mid-table or a good cup run, will be a bonus.
Craven Cottage – Fulham F.C.
Nestling on the banks of the River Thames, Craven Cottage takes its name from a previous dwelling on the site, destroyed by fire in 1888 and, if the rumours are to be believed, even hosted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Florence Nightingale, and even Queen Victoria.
As a football ground, the location hosted football for the first time in 1896 and the initial wood-built stands were erected shortly afterward. Although there have been various changes and improvements to what are now the Hammersmith End, Putney End, and Riverside Stand; the oldest original structures are the emblematic Johnny Haynes Stand and of course The Cottage Pavilion, both dating back to 1905.
Protected by English Heritage, the Johnny Haynes is a Grade II listed building and still retains the original wooden seating in the upper tier. As a classic throwback to English football of yesteryear on the inside, whilst architecturally beautiful on the outside, this is a stand which genuinely deserves to be preserved and maintained for future generations of fans.
Past generations of the Fulham faithful may have seen their team rise and fall over the years, but after a spell of thirteen consecutive seasons in the Premier League, life in the Championship has been far from easy. After edging into the playoffs last season, only to be eliminated by Reading, this season, The Cottagers are expected to be in the running for promotion again. One can only hope their historic stadium will once again grace the English top-flight soon.
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