Cardiff Arms Park
Cardiff Arms Park in the foreground and the Millennium Stadium in the background
|Cardiff city centre|
Welsh National Rugby Ground
Cardiff Arms Park (Welsh: Parc yr Arfau Caerdydd), also known as The Arms Park and the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park for sponsorship reasons from September 2014, is situated in the centre of Cardiff, Wales. It is primarily known as a rugby union stadium, but it also has a bowling green. The Arms Park was host to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1958, and hosted four games in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, including the third-place play-off. The Arms Park also hosted the inaugural Heineken Cup final of 1995–96 and the following year in 1996–97.
The history of the rugby ground begins with the first stands appearing for spectators in the ground in 1881–1882. Originally the Arms Park had a cricket ground to the north and a rugby union stadium to the south. By 1969, the cricket ground had been demolished to make way for the present day rugby ground to the north and a second rugby stadium to the south, called the National Stadium. The National Stadium, which was used by Wales national rugby union team, was officially opened on 7 April 1984, however in 1997 it was demolished to make way for the Millennium Stadium in 1999, which hosted the 1999 Rugby World Cup and became the national stadium of Wales. The rugby ground has remained the home of the semi-professional Cardiff RFC yet the professional Cardiff Blues regional rugby union team moved to the Cardiff City Stadium in 2009, but returned three years later.
The site is owned by Cardiff Athletic Club and has been host to many sports, apart from rugby union and cricket; they include athletics, association football, greyhound racing, tennis, British baseball and boxing. The site also has a bowling green to the north of the rugby ground, which is used by Cardiff Athletic Bowls Club, which is the bowls section of the Cardiff Athletic Club. The National Stadium also hosted many music concerts including Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and U2.
Early history of the site
The Cardiff Arms Park site was originally called the Great Park, a swampy meadow behind the Cardiff Arms Hotel. The hotel was built by reign of Charles I. Cardiff Arms Park was named after this hotel. From 1803, the Cardiff Arms Hotel and the Park had become the property of the Bute family. The Arms Park soon became a popular place for sporting events, and by 1848, Cardiff Cricket Club was using the site for its cricket matches. However by 1878, Cardiff Arms Hotel had been demolished.
The 3rd Marquess of Bute stipulated that the ground could only be used for "recreational purposes". At that time Cardiff Arms Park had a cricket ground to the north and a rugby union ground to the south. 1881–2 saw the first stands for spectators; they held 300 spectators and cost £50. The architect was Archibald Leitch, famous for designing Ibrox Stadium and Old Trafford, amongst others. In 1890, new standing areas were constructed along the entire length of the ground, with additional stands erected in 1896.
By 1912, the Cardiff Football Ground, as it was then known, had a new south stand and temporary stands on the north, east and west ends of the ground. The south stand was covered, while the north terrace was initially without a roof. The improvements were partly funded by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). The opening ceremony took place on 5 October 1912, with a match between Newport RFC and Cardiff RFC. The new ground was opened by Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart. This new development increased the ground capacity to 43,000 and much improved the facilities at the ground compared to the earlier stands.
In 1922 John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute, had sold the entire site and it was bought by the Cardiff Arms Park Company Limited for £30,000, it was then leased to the Cardiff Athletic Club (cricket and rugby sections) for 99 years at a cost of £200 per annum.
North and South Stand redevelopments
During 1934 the cricket pavilion had been demolished to make way for the new North Stand, which was built on the rugby union ground, costing around £20,000. However in 1941 the new North Stand and part of the west terracing had been badly damaged in the Blitz by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.
At a general meeting of the WRU in June 1953, they made a decision, "That until such time as the facilities at Swansea were improved, all international matches be played at Cardiff". At the same time, plans were made for a new South Stand, which was estimated to cost £60,000, however the tender price came out at £90,000, a compromise was made, and it was decided to build a new upper South Stand costing £64,000 instead, with the Cardiff Athletic Club contributing £15,000 and the remainder coming from the WRU. The new South Stand opened in 1956, in time for the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. This brought the overall capacity of the Arms Park up to 60,000, of which 12,800 spectators were seated and the remainder standing.
The Arms Park hosted the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, which was used for the athletics events, but this event caused damage to the drainage system, so much so, that other rugby unions (Glamorgan County Cricket Club, and the rugby union ground to the south was used by the national Wales team and Cardiff RFC.
By 7 October 1966, the first floodlit game was held at Cardiff Arms Park, a game in which Cardiff RFC beat the Barbarians by 12 points to 8.
The National Stadium, which was also known as the Welsh National Rugby Ground, was designed by Osborne V Webb & Partners and built by G A Williamson & Associates of Porthcawl and Andrew Scott & Company of Port Talbot.
After agreement from the Cardiff Athletic Club, the freehold of the south ground was transferred solely to the WRU in July 1968. Work could then begin on the new National Stadium. Glamorgan County Cricket Club would move to Sophia Gardens and the cricket ground to the north would be demolished and a new rugby union stadium built for Cardiff RFC, who would move out of the south ground, allowing the National Stadium to be built, for the sole use of the national rugby union team.
On 17 October 1970, the new North Stand and the Cardiff RFC ground was completed, the North Stand cost just over £1 million. The West Stand was opened in 1977 and the new East Terrace was completed by March 1980. By the time the final South Stand had been completed and the Stadium officially opened on 7 April 1984, the South Stand had cost £4.5 million. At the start of the project, the total cost was estimated at £2.25 million, although by time it was finished in 1984, it had risen by nearly four times that amount.
Both stadia had approximately east-west alignment: the rugby ground to the north (Castle Street) end; the National Stadium to the south (Wood Street) end. The original capacity was 65,000 but this had to be reduced in later years to 53,000 for safety reasons. 11,000 of these were on the East Terrace and the conversion to all-seater stadium would have reduced the stadium capacity still further to 47,500. This capacity would have been much less than Twickenham and the other major rugby venues and also less than the demand for tickets to major events.
A world record crowd of 56,000 for a rugby union club match watched Llanelli RFC beat Neath RFC by 28 points to 13 points in the final of the Schweppes Cup (WRU Challenge Cup) on 7 May 1988. The first evening game to be played under floodlights was held on 4 September 1991 at 8.00 pm, between Wales and France. The last international match to be held at the National Stadium was between Wales and England on 15 March 1997, and the last ever match that was held at the National Stadium was on 26 April 1997 between Cardiff and Swansea, Cardiff won the SWALEC Cup (WRU Challenge Cup) by 33 points to 26 points.
In 1997, just thirteen years after the National Stadium had opened, it was considered too small and did not have the facilities required of the time and it was demolished and a new stadium, the Millennium Stadium, was built in its place (completed to a north-south alignment and opened in June 1999). This would become the fourth redevelopment of the Cardiff Arms Park site. Although the Millennium Stadium is on roughly two thirds of the National Stadium, Cardiff Arms Park site, it is currently no longer using the Arms Park name. The official website confuses the issue as well, one part states that "The Millennium Stadium is located on Westgate Street in Cardiff; next to the Cardiff Arms Park". whereas another section specifically refers to the stadium as "The Millennium Stadium, on the Cardiff Arms Park"
Only the rugby ground and the Cardiff Athletic Bowls Club now use the name Cardiff Arms Park. The rugby ground has two main stands, the North Stand, which was renamed the Bmibaby Stand in August 2002, and the South Stand. Both the Bmibaby Stand and the South Stand have terracing below seating. The other ends of the ground are the Westgate Street end (east), which has rows of seating below executive boxes, plus the club shop, and the River Taff end (west), which has 26 executive boxes. The rugby ground has two main entrances, the south entrance, and the Gwyn Nicholls Memorial Gates (north entrance), which was unveiled on 26 December 1949 in honour of the Welsh international rugby player Gwyn Nicholls. The Cardiff Athletic Clubhouse is situated in the corner of the ground between the South Stand and the Westgate Street end.
The South Stand of the rugby ground formed a complete unit with the North Stand of the National Stadium. Now the same structure of the South Stand of the rugby ground is also physically attached to the North Stand of the Millennium Stadium. This section is known colloquially as Glanmor's Gap, after Glanmor Griffiths, former chair and President of the WRU. This came about because the WRU were unable to secure enough funding to include the North Stand in the Millennium Stadium, and the National Lottery Commission would not provide any additional funds to be used for the construction of a new ground for Cardiff RFC. The Millennium Stadium was therefore built with the old reinforced concrete structure of the National Stadium (North Stand) and the new steel Millennium Stadium structure built around it.
There was doubt about the future of the Arms Park after 2010 following the move of the Cardiff Blues to the Cardiff City Stadium. Cardiff RFC Ltd, the company that runs Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC, still has a 15-year lease on the Arms Park, but talks are underway to release the rugby club from the terms of the lease, to enable the Millennium Stadium to be redeveloped with a new North Stand and adjoining convention centre. However, it still has the original requirement on the lease, that the land will only be used for "recreational purposes", as stipulated by the Bute family. But the Arms Park site is a prime piece of real estate in the centre of Cardiff, which means that it may be difficult to sell the land to property developers. The estimated value of the whole Arms Park site could be at least £25 million, although with the "recreational use" requirement, its actual value could be a lot less than that figure. A decision by Cardiff Athletic Club on the future of the Arms Park has yet to be made. In 2011, the Cardiff Blues regional rugby union team made a £6 million bid for the Arms Park, later the WRU made an increased bid of £10 million for the site. Both bids were rejected by the trustees of the Cardiff Athletic Club. However, in 2012 Cardiff Blues announced that they would be making a permanent return to Cardiff Arms Park following declining attendances at the Cardiff City Stadium. In the 2013 off-season, the pitch at the Arms Park will be replaced with an artificial FieldTurf surface in time for the start of the 2013–14 season. This change is intended to prevent any adverse weather conditions from affecting the rugby.
Cardiff Arms Park is best known as a rugby union stadium, but Cardiff Athletic Bowls Club (CABC) was established in 1923, and ever since then, the club has used the Arms Park as its bowling green. The bowls club is a section of the Cardiff Athletic Club and shares many of the facilities of the Cardiff Arms Park athletics centre.
The Les Spence Memorial Gates were erected in memory of the former Cardiff RFU player, who captained the team in 1936-37. He was born in 1907 and became chairman of the Cardiff RFU and president of the WRU between 1973 and 1974. He was awarded an MBE and died in 1988.
The Club has produced two Welsh international bowlers; Mr. C Standfast in 1937 and Mr. B Hawkins who represented Wales in the 1982 World Pairs and captained Wales in 1982 and 1984.
On 31 May 1989, Wales played its first international game against West Germany at the National Stadium in a World Cup qualifying match, which ended goalless. It was also the first ever international football match held in Great Britain that was watched by all-seater spectators.
In 1958, the British Empire and Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff. The event was (to date) the biggest sporting event ever held in Wales; however, it would not have been possible without the financial support given by the WRU and the Cardiff Athletic Club. Both the opening and closing ceremonies took place at Cardiff Arms Park, plus all the track and field events, on what had been the greyhound track. It would turn out to be the last time that South Africa would participate in the Games until 1994. South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth Games in 1961.
Baseball & British baseball
Baseball was established early on in Cardiff, and one of the earliest of games to be held at the Arms Park was on 18 May 1918. It was a charity match in aid of the Prisoner of War Fund between Welsh and American teams of the U.S. Beaufort & U.S. Jupiter. British baseball matches have also regularly taken place at the Arms Park and hosted the annual England versus Wales international game every four years. The games are now usually held at Roath Park.
The first boxing contest held at the Arms Park was on 24 January 1914, when Bombadier Billy Wells beat Gaston Pigot by a knockout in the first round of a 20 round contest. Boxing contests were held later on 14 June 1943, 12 August 1944, 4 October 1951 and 10 September 1952.
Around 25,000 spectators watched international boxing on 1 October 1993, at the National Stadium with a Prince Naseem Hamed at the rugby ground in 8 rounds.
In 1819 Sophia Gardens on the opposite bank of the River Taff to the Arms Park, following work on the creation of a national rugby stadium, later named the National Stadium.
The first first-class cricket match actually to be held on the ground was between West of England and East of England, on 20 June 1910. In all more than 240 first-class cricket matches were played at Cardiff Arms Park.
Only one Gillette Cup fixture against Somerset on 22 May 1963. Except for the aforementioned 1910 game, the only major match not to involve Glamorgan was a Test Trial in July 1932, which was badly affected by the weather and saw play on only one of the scheduled three days.
To help pay for the upkeep of the site, a greyhound track was built in 1927. The first meeting was held on 7 April 1928. The Arms Park (Cardiff) Greyhound Racing Company Limited signed a 50-year lease in 1937, with Cardiff Athletic Club – the owners of the Arms Park – having no rights to break the agreement or to review the rental until 50 years expired. A neighbouring track, White City, Cardiff closed in 1939 and the Welsh Greyhound Derby was transferred to the Arms Park from White City, Cardiff in 1945. This was one of the three races that formed the triple crown along with the English Greyhound Derby and Scottish Greyhound Derby. The track continued to host the race annually. In 1958 the entire surface required relaying after the Commonwealth Games had finished. In 1971 the Welsh Greyhound Derby was given 'classic' status. In 1977 the Cardiff City Council announced that a revamp of the Arms Park site would not include greyhound racing. The Welsh Rugby Union required the Arms Park track to extend terracing at the National Stadium. The last Welsh Greyhound Derby was on 9 July and the last meeting was held on 30 July. 1,128 greyhound fans saw Lillyput Queen, owned by Cardiff butcher Malcolm Davies and trained by Freddie Goodman,win the last race. Cardiff City Council had taken less than ten minutes to reject a plan to switch greyhound racing to nearby Maindy Stadium.
In 1876, the Cardiff RFC was formed and soon after they also used the park. On 12 April 1884, the first international match was played at the ground between Wales and Ireland, when 5,000 people watched Wales beat Ireland by two tries and a drop goal to nil.
The Arms Park rugby ground became the permanent home of the Wales national rugby union team in 1964. Later, the National Stadium was also home to the WRU Challenge Cup from 1972 until the match held at the Stadium on 26 April 1997, at a much reduced capacity, between Cardiff RFC and Swansea RFC. Cardiff RFC won the match 33–26.
The National Stadium is best known as the venue for what is considered to be "the greatest try ever scored" by Gareth Edwards for the Barbarians against New Zealand in what is also called "the greatest match ever played" on 27 January 1973. The final result was a win for the Barbarians. The score, 23–11, which translates to 27–13 in today's scoring system.
The scorers were:
The National Stadium hosted four games in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, including the third-place play-off. The National Stadium was also host to the inaugural Heineken Cup final of 1995–96 when Toulouse beat Cardiff RFC by 21–18 after extra time, in front of 21,800 spectators. The following final in 1996–97 was also held at the National Stadium, this time it was between Brive and Leicester Tigers. Brive won the match 28–9, in front of a crowd of 41,664.
Until February 2012, it had been assumed that the last professional rugby union game to take place at the Arms Park was on 17 May 2009, when Edinburgh beat the Cardiff Blues 36–14 in a Celtic League match during the 2008–09 season.
However, on Tuesday, 7 February 2012, it was confirmed that Cardiff Blues would face Connacht at the Arms Park on Friday, 10 February 2012. The Pro12 League game result was a win for the Cardiff Blues 22–15 and attendance of 8,000. The following Tuesday, it was announced that the match against Ulster on Friday, 17 February, would also be at the Arms Park, resulting in a Blues win, 21–14 and attendance of 8,600. The agreement signed during 2009 tied Cardiff Blues to a 20-year contract to play a maximum of 18 games per season for a set fee, rather than per match at Cardiff City Stadium. But on 23 February, it was announced that the two Welsh 'derbies' against the Scarlets and the Ospreys would be played at Cardiff City Stadium, rather than the Arms Park, because of Cardiff Blues' anticipation that the attendance figures would far exceed the maximum capacity of 9,000. On 8 May 2012, it was announced that Cardiff Blues would be returning to the Arms Park on a permanent basis after just three years at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Tennis courts were laid out in the Arms Park for Cardiff Tennis Club until the club moved to Sophia Gardens in 1967. In 2003, the club amalgamated with Lisvane Tennis Club to form Lisvane (CAC) Tennis Club, which is still a section of Cardiff Athletic Club (CAC).
Major music concerts were also held at the National Stadium from 1987 until 1996, they included U2, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Bon Jovi and R.E.M. The last music concert was held on 14 July 1996. Jehovah's Witnesses held their annual conventions at the National Stadium.
The National Stadium was known primarily as the venue for massed voices singing such hymns as "Cwm Rhondda", "Calon Lân", "Men of Harlech" and "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" ("Land of my Fathers" – the national anthem of Wales). The legendary atmosphere including singing of the crowd was said to be worth at least a try or a goal to the home nation. This tradition of singing has now passed on to the Millennium Stadium.
The Arms Park has its own choir, called the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir. It was formed in 1966 as the Cardiff Athletic Club Male Voice Choir, and today performs internationally with a schedule of concerts and tours. In 2000, the choir changed their name to become the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir.