Chris Daniel has discovered that non-League clubs are making good use of previously owned turnstiles, scoreboards, seats and even bus shelters
It was a midweek trip to Northern League side Ryton that sparked my curiosity. With rain threatening in the Tyne Valley, I looked for cover – and the nearest provided made my night. Ryton's ground contains seven former bus shelters, not quite the same height, complete with different route numbers still stuck on each. In non-League, strict ground-grading rules tend to require more seats and covered standing areas than average attendances. So recycling offers a cheaper way to satisfy the formidable ground grading committees.
Whether it is due to liquidation or upgrading, old stadiums offer rich pickings. One of the saddest sights of recent years has been that of Scarborough FC's Seamer Road Athletic Ground (known as the McCain Stadium until the company removed every trace of their name the day the club folded). Demolition is finally being mooted for the "Theatre of Chips" after four years of neglect left it open to fires, squatting, vandalism and the activities of scrap metal entrepreneurs and bottle diggers.
Some parts of the stadium now furnish other non-League grounds. Wearside Leaguers Jarrow FC took the goalposts and nets. Ironically, Scarborough Town hit these nine times in two visits in 2009-10 as one of Scarborough's two new clubs won the championship. Fans of the town's other team, Scarborough Athletic, were also quickly reunited with a part of their old stadium as fellow Northern Counties East League (NCEL) side Nostell Miners Welfare offered a new lease of life to some turnstiles and 150 seats. Fellow NCEL side, the brilliantly named Askern Villa, and the North West Counties' Runcorn Town also took 100 seats a piece.
On the first day of the season 15 years ago, those seats saw Boro defeat Cambridge United 1-0 in front of over 2,000. This season, the combined attendance at those three grounds probably won't reach half that. This recycling is nothing new for Scarborians however. In 1969 they donated their floodlights to Tamworth when about to erect new ones. The latter's Lamb Ground still boasts them today. Furthermore, those floodlights were already recycled – Boro had purchased the set from Hull City's Boothferry Park.
The football hand-me-down chain saw Roker Park seats head north to Berwick Rangers and south to Doncaster Rovers. Then, when Doncaster's Belle Vue closed, Blyth Spartans saved the turnstiles, Sheffield FC took the floodlights and Retford United found themselves with two (not so) new dugouts, and some of the ex-Roker Park seats made a second move with them. Leicester City's former home Filbert Street provided Alfreton Town with more seats, as it did with 700 more for Peterborough United – who also took 300 from Millwall's Den, while Godalming Town acquired the turnstiles.
Bangor City in the League of Wales added 1,000 seats from Ninian Park to their Farrar Road ground just 12 months ago, a move which allowed them to meet licensing criteria. They even got a mention and appeal through the BBC website for volunteers to help load seating onto transport from Cardiff to North Wales. With Bangor due to move in 2012-13, those seats may see a third new home in less than five years.
Devon village side Bickleigh's ground is as picturesque as it comes – set among rolling hills with a changing rooms/pavilion complete with clock and a thatched-roof pub behind one of the goals. The club have recently installed their first seats – from Somerset CCC. Finally, there is Farnborough FC. The turnstiles previously saw service at Stamford Bridge, 1,100 seats are from Wembley conference centre (with a further 700 from Ascot Racecourse), the scoreboard used to keep count at the Britannia Stadium and, to cap it off, the floodlights are ex-Highfield Road of Coventry. Oh, and the club agreed to buy a 3,000-seat stand from Darlington's old Feethams ground and now just needs to move it the 225 miles down the country before reassembling it.
At the moment it is said that the used car market is booming while the new car one is slowing. The same can be said in non-League. Hand me downs are the way forward – add in some local voluntary labour and you've got yourself a bargain.
From WSC 296 October 2011