The UK's greatest football grounds

The British football grounds featured in this guide are some of the most iconic in the whole world. Some stadiums have celebrated more success than others but each ground has its own rich heritage and unique atmosphere. From Craven Cottage to Wembley, From Wrexham Racecourse to Old Trafford, find out what makes each of these stadiums so special.

Craven Cottage, London

Fulham’s home ground has a perfect Thames-side location, tucked away next to elegant Bishop’s Park in one of the most discreetly well-heeled areas of London. It’s also a charmingly quirky place, whose rickety turnstiles (which, like the Johnny Haynes stand, are listed) and red-brick facade have the aura of a different, gentler age.

Craven Cottage was designed by the Glaswegian architect Archibald Leitch, who built 20 major football stadiums in the UK—including Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, which has long overshadowed its less glamorous neighbour. The “cottage” itself, on one corner of the pitch, was added by Leitch because he’d forgotten to have changing rooms in the original design. Technically, its real name is the Pavilion and, with its ornate balcony, it does indeed look like something more usually found at a cricket ground.

Fulham’s former chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed, who sold the club in July 2013, was responsible for the one tacky note—the much-mocked statue of Michael Jackson. (Jacko’s only link to the club was that he once attended a game as Al-Fayed’s guest.) When criticised by fans for erecting the memorial, Al-Fayed’s response was: “They can go to hell.”

Capacity: 25,700. For tours, go to fulhamfc.com

Read more: The world's 10 weirdest stadiums

 

Anfield, Liverpool

In Liverpool’s footballing pomp, when curly perms ruled, Anfield saw the fulfilment of many dreams. Located in the solidly working-class area of north Liverpool—less than half a mile from the home of arch-rivals Everton—it’s another ground built by Archibald Leitch.

According to Simon Inglis, author of Football Grounds of Britain, it was Arsenal who first used the name “Spion Kop” for a sloped terrace (after the 1900 Boer War battle fought on a hill), but “Anfield’s Kop inspired all later imitations… Britain’s largest, grandest and noisiest terrace”.

In its heyday, the Kop held 30,000 fans—although not always comfortably. It was demolished in 1994 with the coming of all-seated stadiums, but nearly 20 years later the new stand has yet to be accepted by all Liverpool fans—and that’s an understatement. Plans are now underway for a £260m redevelopment including a hotel and (shudder) a “food hub”.

Capacity: 45,500. For tours, go to anfieldtour.com

 

Wembley Stadium, London

Known across the world, Wembley is “the home of football”, England’s national stadium and the scene of any number of great events—including the 1966 World Cup win (so long ago that the country England played no longer exists), and Live Aid in 1985. Even Pele spoke about Wembley in reverential terms.

But, as any visitor knows, there’s a huge mismatch between the myth and the reality—not least because shiny corporate Wembley sits in a depressing industrial estate and the approach reeks of cheap burgers. Built in 1923, the famous old twin towers were demolished in 2000. The new Wembley, designed by Sir Norman Foster, was late and over budget, but has largely delivered.

Plush and well-designed, inside it’s an enjoyable—if hideously expensive—experience for fans. And while the “McDonald’s” arch may never evoke the affection the twin towers did, it’s certainly distinctive.

But does the place have the same soul?

Capacity: 90,000. For tours, go to wembleystadium.com

Read more: Bobby Moore's life in goals

 

Old Trafford, Manchester

You’d be hard pushed to find any football fan anywhere on earth who hasn’t heard of the Theatre of Dreams, as Bobby Charlton famously dubbed it. Football was originally a working men’s game—although it can be argued that United have done more than most to change that—and Manchester was the heart of the industrial north, so it’s fitting that the ground was built next to a canal once used for carrying coal.

Old Trafford, yet another ground designed by Leitch, has been Manchester United’s home since 1910—they lost their first match there to Liverpool. However, no games were played between 1941 and 1949, because of German bomb damage—and when league football began again after the war, United were forced to play their home fixtures at Maine Road, the former home of Manchester City.

Today, the sheer size is overwhelming (it’s the largest club ground in the UK) and so is the mythology surrounding it. On the southeast corner is a clock commemorating the 1958 Munich air disaster, while a statue of Sir Matt Busby, the manager from 1945–69, stands outside the East Gate.

In 2008, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of United’s first European Cup win, a statue in tribute to the stellar forward line of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton was unveiled directly opposite Sir Matt’s. With a wholly appropriate nod towards religious devotion, the statue is called The United Trinity.

Capacity: 75,800. For tours, go to manutd.com

Read more: 7 Mancunian writers defined by the north

 

Elland Road, Leeds

Most grounds built a century ago have gradually been swamped by other buildings, points out Simon Inglis. But not Elland Road—which is still in a no-man’s-land in the south of the city, just off the M621. Once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as “the most intimidating venue in Europe”, Elland Road certainly comes across as forbidding in The Dammed United, the 2009 film that chronicled Brian Clough’s legendary 44-day reign as Leeds United manager.

Clough had taken over, in 1974, from Don Revie—he of the dodgy car coats—who led Leeds through their great era of the 1960s and early 70s. Throughout that time, the club captain was Billy Bremner, the growly, diminutive Scot who rarely went out of his way to avoid a scrap. There are now statues of both men outside the ground.

What’s most important about Elland Road, though, is the place it retains in the life of the city, and in the hearts of the locals.

Capacity: 37,900. For tours, go to leedsunited.com

 

Celtic Park, Glasgow

Formed as part of a drive to fight poverty in Glasgow’s East End, Celtic aimed to promote integration among the people it worked with. Today its mission statement says it has “proud Irish links… but no political agenda”. Even so, there will probably always be an intense rivalry with Rangers.

On the same site since 1892 (when the original turf came from Donegal), Celtic Park has been redeveloped several times—and in the late 1990s a new Paradise arose “like a phoenix from the slums,” says Simon Inglis, “all curves and angles, irregular and green”.

The Jock Stein stand is named after the manager who once said that “football without fans is nothing”. The Lisbon Lions stand commemorates the club’s greatest moment, when in 1967 they became the first British team to win the European Cup—and with a side all born within 30 miles of Celtic Park. But the club is probably best known for its enthusiastic fan base all over the world.

When the team won against Barcelona in 2012, even Rod Stewart, a Celtic man to his core, had to have a packet of Kleenex handy.

Capacity: 60,800. For tours, go to celticfc.net

 

St James' Park, Newcastle

The home of Newcastle United is all about location, location, location: it’s right in the centre of the city, five minutes from the main shopping centre. This has brought its own problems—namely past wrangles with the local council over expansion. Planning battles are also the cause of the stadium’s endearingly lopsided look, with the huge, over-dominating North and West stands.

Nonetheless, today’s St James’ Park has achieved the seemingly impossible: a modern Premier League football stadium that’s not impersonal.

Maybe that’s in part down to natural Geordie warmth, from the “Howay the Lads” sign above the players’ tunnel to the legendary Toon Army of fans. And now the original gates to the ground—which were found in farmland belonging to the former chairman Sir John Hall—are being scrubbed up and are due to be put back in place.

Capacity: 52,400. For tours, go to nufc.co.uk

Read more: Andy Cole remembers his time at Newcastle

 

The Racecourse, Wrexham

Formed in 1864 to give local cricketers something to do during the winter, Wrexham is the world’s third-oldest professional football club—and, according to no less than Guinness World Records, its stadium is the oldest of all that still hold international matches. (The first was in 1877.)

The club’s glory days are now somewhat in the past and they’ve recently been plagued by financial problems. In 2011, fans themselves had to raise the money—some £127,000 in one day—to save the club from oblivion. Yet the jolly, red-and-white home to the Dragons survives as an interesting and seamless mix of old and new.

There are any number of glitzy new stadiums in Wales. But if you’re in the mood for something more traditional, this is the place to go.

Capacity: 10,500. For more, go to wrexhamafc.co.uk

 

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more travel stories

Enjoyed this story? Share it!