Building a Dream? The Kirklees Stadium and its Discontents

Ross McLean

Ross McLean

4 min read

The plans for the £14m Kirklees Stadium were set in stone in August 1992, with a view to swinging open the doors to a new home and a new chapter in Huddersfield Town history at the beginning of the 1994-95 season. After 86 years of triumph and tribulation on the hallowed turf of Leeds Road, a new state-of-the-art stadium coupled with a retail and leisure complex was pencilled in to be constructed only 150 metres from the old Leeds Road ground. The plan was to create jobs and generate revenue for the town while concurrently boosting prospects for both football and rugby league teams as the new millennium beckoned. 

The stadium was revered in the national press, being described as “space age” and “an outstanding example of modern architecture”. The Kirklees Stadium boasted a 25,000 capacity upon completion (extended to 35,000 for concerts), television screens powered by media giants Panasonic, undersoil heating covered by a pitch worth more than £380,000 and ample parking spaces for both visitors and local Leeds Road residents alike. Cheshire-based Alfred McAlpine won the contract for the construction of the stadium after successful redevelopment projects at both Anfield and Old Trafford. The firm would subsequently go on to sponsor the Kirklees Stadium for the first 10 years. 

Happy days, right? Well, not exactly. The new stadium concept had its detractors at the time, particularly the fans who were accustomed to roaring on Town while crammed inside the deteriorating terraces of the Cowshed End at Leeds Road. Safety concerns aside, there were grave financial worries as Town treaded water at the lower-end of Division 2 with neither a hope of ascension, nor the financial autonomy to sign players to help them achieve promotion and climb the football league once again. 

Fans and shareholders alike were blaming the club’s financial misfortunes and poor league results on the development of the new stadium, wondering if the £14m would be coming out of the transfer fund. In a 1993 shareholder meeting, newly-appointed chairman Graham Leslie addressed the issues in no uncertain terms, offering that "only when we have independent profits coming in from first-class facilities will we be able to build a team of players on a more secure basis." Similar reports were emerging from other Division 2 clubs at the time, with only 5 teams in the league claiming to have turned a profit in the 1992-93 season. Supporters were awakening to the fact that Leeds Road simply wasn’t bringing in the revenue needed to sustain the club. Leslie considered his financial structuring concept to be a “blueprint for British sport” by partnering with Kirklees Stadium Development Ltd and warmly welcoming the aforementioned community and commercial aspects into the stadium, not only through football and rugby matches, but large scale live music concerts and other national sporting events as well.

A cash injection of funds upwards of £2m from Kirklees along with revenue from advertising and the sale of 22 luxurious executive boxes would mean that the football and rugby league clubs would only be on the hook for £428,000 per year in rent, which seemed to settle the critics’ concerns. Shareholders and supporters were also assured that they would not be ‘priced out’ of the new stadium and a day out at the complex would not leave the Town faithful shelling out more than they would have done on a similar afternoon at Leeds Road. Unless, of course, they were planning on having a sit-down meal or making a trip to the brand spanking new multi-screen cinema straight after the game.

The Kirklees Stadium’s development was on track for opening day, despite some financial solvency worries and a sprinkling of typical West Yorkshire weather impeding some of its progress. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner played a huge part in drumming up interest for the stadium complex with regular updates and photos of the construction, tantalising Town fans with promises of ice cold beer by John Smith’s and Fosters, paired with irresistible pies and beef burgers courtesy of catering specialists Ring & Brymer, all of which was to be enjoyed in the brand new concourses in the Riverside and Kilner Bank ends. 

As one door was opening, another had to close. The final goodbye at Leeds Road would see the Terriers beat Blackpool 2-1 in front of a bouncing crowd of 16,165 who would then pour out across what is now known as the Leeds Road Retail Park for the last time, with barely a dry eye amongst them. Joy and frustration had been broadcast from those crumbling terraces for generations, enough for the whole town to hear, but as the new millennium approached thick and fast, it was finally time to turn the page. 

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