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      THE HAWTHORNS - HISTORY

The Hawthorns has been the home of West Bromwich Albion Football Club for over 100 Years. It was the first Football League ground to be built in the 20th century and was opened on September 3, 1900 for the First Division game with Derby County. The game finished 1-1 in front of 20,104 spectators. Derby's Cradley born England International Steve Bloomer scored the first ever goal on the ground whilst Charles 'Chippy' Simmons became Albion's first scorer at The Hawthorns when he grabbed the equalising goal.

The move to The Hawthorns came about due to serious financial problems the club were having at the time. The directors were finding it hard to attract investment or indeed enough supporters to Stoney Lane and the fact that the ground was only leased, meant that they were unwilling to spend money on improving what had by then become one of the poorest grounds in the country.

At a meeting of shareholders on May 8th 1899 three options were suggested, the first one being for the town itself to provide money to strengthen the team with the club's directors and shareholders funding the summer wage bill. The second idea was to move the club to a location where it would attain better support whilst the third option was to wind the club up altogether.

Finding a new location for the club had already been considered with an option having already been secured on a piece of land on the Birmingham Road. The plan to move to a new ground had however met with opposition from local traders who feared they would lose business and money if the club were to move away from the town centre where Stoney Lane was situated. The aforementioned traders put forward an offer to provide funds to improve Stoney Lane if the club agreed to extend it's lease on the site. A meeting was called to test how genuine the offer was but the response was poor meaning that the directors would have to continue with their search for a new location, hindered by the fact that the option on the Birmingham Road site had been withdrawn.

In December 1899 Albion were offered a piece of land by The Sandwell Park Colliery Company. The meadow, which had once been owned by an ancient Coventry Charity, was situated on the boundaries of West Bromwich, Handsworth and Smethwick and on maps was listed as The Hawthorns Estate. Despite the area then being rural, a couple of buildings familiar to today's fan were already there - The Woodman Public House (demolished 2004) and Street House, nowadays known as The Hawthorns Hotel, which back then was a private residence, once the home of a Mr Halford who gave his name to Halfords Lane.

On May 14 the following year the club accepted the offer and signed a fourteen year lease with the colliery company. To raise money to undertake building work the directors issued debentures and also started selling season tickets for the forthcoming season.

With funding in place, work started on transforming the site, John White Jnr being the contractor. Some 1,600 yards of drains were laid whilst 5,000 square yards of soil was moved from the Birmingham Road End to the Smethwick End to level the site. Three hundred loads of ashes were placed underneath the topsoil on which some 12,000 yards of turf were laid.

Alongside Halfords Lane a new stand was built. Designed by Wood & Kendrick architects and built by the company of John Dallow and Son, the stand would provide 5,000 seats. Erected opposite the new stand on the Handsworth side of the ground was the old Stoney Lane grandstand, known as the 'Noah's Ark'.

It took just four and a half months to complete the ground which was then named The Hawthorns on the suggestion of the then secretary of the club Frank Heaven.

In 1910 the lease of the ground was extended for another eleven years but just three years later in 1913 the club purchased the freehold of The Hawthorns for 5,350.

 

 

Halfords Lane circa 1910

With the club now owning the ground and due to the money raised through the teams success on the pitch and increased attendances, ground improvements were carried out over a number of years eventually taking the capacity up to around the 70,000 figure although the highest gate to assemble at the ground was some 5,000 short of that when 64,815 watched the FA Cup game with Arsenal in 1937. Over the years and due to safety work and redevelopment the capacity has gradually fallen and today stands at around the 26,500 mark.

The Hillsborough disaster in 1989 was to change the face of football grounds forever including The Hawthorns. The resulting Taylor report published in January 1990 made a number of recommendations including one that all football stadia should be all-seated with standing no longer allowed. In 1994 both the Birmingham Road End and Smethwick End terraces were demolished and replaced by new all-seated stands. The new look Hawthorns was completed with the construction of a new East Stand in 2001.

With three quarters of the ground boasting new stands, ideas were mooted for a new Halfords Lane Stand which would of completed the rebuilding work and increased the ground capacity back up and over the 30,000 mark for the first time in 20 years. However, September 2007 saw the club announce that plans for a new stand were to be shelved indefinitely and instead a major refurbishment would be carried out instead - work which took place during the summer of 2008.

 

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