The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

Stadium Review: Don Valley Stadium

with 2 comments

Top Gear once joked about the “Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire”. After visiting the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield today, currently home to exiled Rotherham United, I can see why – it felt like Eastern Europe.

Firstly, and most significantly, there’s the running track around the inside. It was build primarily as an athletics venue – the Millers only moved in after being ejected from their Millmoor home at the end of the 2007/08 season, while the stadium itself opened in 1990 in time for the 1991 World Student Games. But it’s not only the fact that it has a running track, with the inevitable distance between the stands and the pitch that nearly always kills the atmosphere for football matches. Like a lot of athletics stadiums from the period, such as at Gateshead, Crystal Palace, Newport and the old Cardiff Athletics Stadium in Leckwith, it is very open air – the main stand has a high canvas roof, and most of the stands being uncovered, so this exacerbates the lack of atmosphere.

Further to this, there is also the issue of filling the 25,000 seater stadium, which Rotherham don’t. In fact, the turn-out was only just over 3,000, with over 650 of those being Torquay fans who had travelled up to hopefully see the team reach the play-offs – a very disappointing crowd for the last day of the season, especially for a club that was in the second tier only a few years ago. The result of this was that all the fans were in the covered stand, which itself has a more-than-capable capacity of about 9,000. This meant that all the fans for both sides were on one side of the pitch, leaving some 60% of the stadium completely empty. This is something you don’t see on TV, because of the camera angles. The small home crowd and quiet home fans didn’t help the matter – it was, as the Torquay fans sang, like a library, chillingly silent at times.

Adding more to the Eastern European feel to the stadium was the area immediately surrounding the stadium – not quite wasteland but all flat and undeveloped, leaving the stadium further exposed. The paint on the high fences around this seemed to be flaking and faded, much like the stadium signs, which looked as if they hadn’t seen a crowd big enough to fill the stadium for many years – not only that but there were still plenty of signs for declaring the stadium was the home of the Sheffield Eagles rugby league team, even though they moved out some 18 months previously. It had the feel of a 20 year old stadium, but one which had not aged well and not been properly maintained – as I said, very Eastern Europe.

So, in summing up, the whole place has a very eerie feel and atmosphere – like nothing else in the whole country, and with good reason. Watching the match from high up in the block allocated to away fans, looking out over the whole pitch and a vast area of empty seats, it was perhaps the least enjoyable match I’ve ever seen, regardless of the result. It simply didn’t feel right. The stadium itself is not suited to football at all, and needs the refurbishment it blatantly hasn’t had since it opened, especially bleak wasteland-like surrounding area. Located in a part of the city which is clearly feeling the effects of the post-industrial era (the ironically-named Brightside), it really is an uncomfortable stadium to visit for a football match. Let’s hope Rotherham can get back to their home town soon once the new stadium in the town centre is built. They deserve better than this.


Written by James Bennett

May 7, 2011 at 20:06

2 Responses

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  1. It was Thatcher who came up with the Socialist Republic of south Yorks!


    May 8, 2011 at 08:32

    • Yeah, I did see that it was a Tory thing when I searched for it – not sure it was Thatcher but definitely a Tory thing. Wiki says it was the then-MP for Sheffield Hallam, which is now Clegg’s seat.

      James Bennett

      May 8, 2011 at 10:59

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