A joint development between Kirklees Metropolitan Council, Huddersfield Town Football Club and Huddersfield Giants Rugby League Club, the McAlpine Stadium was a replacement for Huddersfield Town’s Leeds Road ground, which did not meet the requirements of the 1989 Taylor Report.
The concept was designed in 1990 by Lobb Partnership (now HOK+Lobb) and engineer Anthony Hunt as a reaction to the requirements of the report and the Sports Council’s concept of a “stadium for the 1990s”. The £16m, 20 000-seat structure opened at the start of the 1994/95 season.
Originally consisting of only two long stands, the stadium was built and funded to the tune of £2m by Alfred McAlpine. The contractor hoped that other football clubs would want to buy the “designer-stadium” product. Its unique selling point is the curved roofs, which are held up by giant banana trusses rather than the usual stanchions, improving spectator sight lines.
Two end stands have been added since the stadium opened. The latest – the £9m Panasonic Stand – was finished last autumn. Capacity has risen to 24 000. The overall cost, including conference facilities in the Lawrence Batley Stand and a fitness centre in the Panasonic Stand, is £30m.
Fitness for purpose
The McAlpine Stadium is home to the Terriers – Huddersfield Town Football Club – and Huddersfield Giants Rugby League Club. In all, the ground holds more than 70 games a year, including reserve matches.
With so many fixtures, the pitch can easily “cut up”, lose its grass and become unplayable. A pitch costs £40 000 to relay, so Huddersfield Town installed a part-artificial pitch – the Desso Grassmaster – which has a nylon weave that binds grass roots together. Although the system is generally effective, former Terrier Dale Tempest says when there are two games in quick succession, the ground staff are reluctant to water the surface because it might cut up. The resulting hard and dry surface can make controlling the ball more difficult. HOK+Lobb’s Derek Wilson, the architect who designed the stadium, says the odd problem was expected because of the high number of matches played. He adds that the pitch was voted best in the Football League a couple of years ago.
Mick Green, editor of Huddersfield Town fanzine Hanging on the Telephone, says the stadium offers the best views in football. Even visiting fans find it hard to disagree. Because the roof is suspended from a giant curved truss that meets the ground only on either side of the stand, there are no stanchions to get between spectators and the action.
But fans complain that the atmosphere in the stadium is not as good as it was at the old Leeds Road ground. This may be nostalgia, but Green’s theory is that the open ends – where the trusses are secured – allow the noise generated by fans to escape, whereas grounds with covered corners keep more of the sound in. Lobb’s Wilson says the debate about atmosphere is probably as much to do with the post-Taylor Report shift from terracing to all-seater stadia.
The new Panasonic Stand has added 16 bedroom-cum-corporate boxes and a fitness centre to the stadium’s corporate facilities. A full programme of conferences demonstrates its popularity as a corporate venue. However, office space is in short supply and Pace, the stadium’s new owner, is converting the club shop to offices. The shop will be moved to a new building near the stadium.
Backroom facilities for the players are spartan. The small changing rooms have blockwork walls painted white with basic hooks. Tempest says players fight over space. And tiles have fallen off the walls around the showers. But the fitness centre, complete with 25 m pool, is a big hit with the players.
Supporters’ facilities are among the best in the country. Legroom is unusually generous, toilets are clean, canteen areas are well kept and have televisions, there is no graffiti, and there are plenty of entrances and exits. On the downside, the curved roofs mean that fans sitting in the front rows can get wet when it rains. Wilson admits that this is especially true of the Panasonic Stand. Its roof is more curved than the others to allow lighting rigs for concerts to be accommodated beneath it.
Car parking has been vastly improved by laying tarmac over the existing gravel-based car park. Stadium manager Brian Buckley says that tarmac and white lining have increased parking capacity by 25% to 1500 spaces.
Stadium manager Brian Buckley says that the cost of maintenance is more than £100 000 a year. Staff costs are £50 000, materials and other costs total about £60 000, and power and water account for £200 000.
The maintenance crew spend much of their time painting and working on the services for the offices and conference facilities. About 40 seats have to be replaced every year – a low figure, according to Wilson.
The state of the wallpaper in the conference facilities is one of Buckley’s most pressing concerns. This has been bashed and ripped by people carrying boxes into and out of rooms. Buckley plans to strip the wallpaper at lower levels and replace it with a protection board to waist level. This will add £20 000 to maintenance costs in the coming year.
As you arrive by train or car along the Colne Valley, the stadium’s curving banana trusses reflect the gentle rise of the valley on either side. The “wow factor” is high – first-time visitors will never have seen anything like it.
Up close, there is a retail park feel to the finishes.
Shop-front curtainwalling and gun-metal grey trapezoidal cladding predominate. The interiors are better than at most football stadiums, with grey concrete relieved by carpet in some places.
The wow factor kicks in again inside the ground. The uninterrupted views are a fan’s delight, and the curved shape of the stands makes the stadium feel more human than the usual shoe-box, square-edged grounds.
The stadium falls short of full marks only because it lacks the flourishes – such as the raking floodlights – of Bolton Wanderers’ Reebok Stadium or the grandeur of Piano’s Nuovo Comunale di Bari in Italy.