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100 YEARS OF ST. ANDREWS - PART TWO

27-12-2006

Birmingham City's win against QPR yesterday kept them top of the Championship and marked the centenary of their home ground. Steve Beauchampé charts the building and development of the Blues' ground.

Chelsea's newly opened ground on the London Athletic Club site at Stamford Bridge, the largest stadium in England, with a claimed capacity of 95,000 had caught the public imagination. Proposals for Birmingham's new home were no less ambitious - to convert waste ground off Garrison Lane into the nation's finest football arena!

To describe the site simply as waste ground was an understatement, for it was an area of utter wilderness, a former brickworks with grimy slopes leading down to stagnant pools alongside the Camp Hill Railway loop.

Harry Morris, a club Director, past Chairman and former player, had long been searching for a suitable location and it was thanks to his vision that this apparently unwelcoming spot was chosen as the club's new home.

Morris persuaded the Board of the site's potential, a 21-year lease was secured and in September 1905, Birmingham announced that a ground to replace Muntz Street, with accommodation for 70-80,000 spectators, would be constructed at a cost of£8,000, the work expected to start the following year.

Many viewed the proposals with incredulity, particularly given the state of the site before work began and The Birmingham Mail questioned whether the Directors were wise “in pitching their camp in such unsavoury surroundings.”

Undeterred by such scepticism, Morris persisted, although fellow Director William Adams (arguably the one man of the time who consistently displayed the vision and resolve to make Birmingham a major force in English football) was also an influential figure in encouraging the project.

But it was Harry Pumfrey, a local carpenter and former Art School student, and T.W.Turley, who made the most vital contributions, saving thousands of pounds in contractors' fees by their selfless efforts as Project Engineer and Clerk of Works respectively. Pumfrey was not a qualified architect, yet his plans and drawings were of the highest professional standards.

The pitch was created by draining two large pools, fed by artesian springs, which were then infilled with what the Birmingham Evening Dispatch estimated to be '1 million earthloads' of rubbish. A large embankment was built on the western, 'unreserved' side, near Coventry Road, raised to a height of 47 feet with a further 100,000 cart loads of refuse and spoil deposited by anyone who would pay to do so.

The scheme raised the club over £800 and, even before the installation of steps and barriers, the banking thus created was known as the Spion Kop, after the Boer War battle of January 1900. When finished the Kop boasted 110 terrace steps at its highest point, 82 at its lowest, with room for 48,000 spectators paying 6d each (with concessions for children).

The installation of a roof was initially delayed to allow the rubbish to settle sufficiently to bear its weight, before lack of money became the issue so that the roof was not added for many years.

A further 6d terrace behind the Tilton Road goal accommodated another 12,000 people, while the extensive 360ft long grandstand, sited alongside Garrison Lane and reputedlythe second largest in the land, boasted 6,500 seats and 5,000 terrace places. Seats were priced between 1s-2s.

Underneath this stand were the club offices, changingrooms, training facilities and a spacious billiard room, the whole structure featuring 450,000 bricks, 40 tons of corrugated iron, 100 tons of cement and vast quantities of timber.

With an open terrace at the railway end housing a further 4,000 spectators, the ground's 75,000+ capacity thus matched the club's ambitious prediction of September 1905,though at a total cost of £10,000 the project was 25% over the original budget estimate.

In stark contrast to the shortcomings of the Muntz Street pitch, the 'New Ground' (as it was still referred to, the name St. Andrews having yet to achieve common currency) boasted the finest turf available locally and a playing surface measuring 115x75yrds, at the time one of the country's largest and bigger than that at Villa Park. Indeed, Villa Park officials, including surveyor Frederick Rinder, were among many in English football who heaped praise on the splendid new ground.

Heavy snowfall almost scuppered the opening fixture, against Middlesborough at noon on December 26th 1906, but the unstinting efforts of Morris, Pumfrey, Turley et al in building the ground were replicated by a large army of volunteers who cleared the pitch and, following an opening ceremony performed by local brewer Sir John Holder, the game proceeded.

A piano had been offered to the first Birmingham goalscorer at the new ground, but a 0-0 draw, acted out in front of approximately 32,000 spectators, meant that it would be three days later, against Preston North End, that the goal impasse was broken, the honour falling to Bill Green in a 3-0 win.

Stories that Green was promptly substituted, whereupon he instantly sat down at the piano - handily placed at the side of the pitch - and composed the club anthem Keep Right On To The End Of The Road, finishing it just before the final whistle in time for the crowd to perform a hearty rendition as they left the ground, are perhaps misplaced...after all, substitutes were not permitted in football until many years later.

You can read Part 1 here

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