Stadiums of the past: Lancaster Park

By Dylan Cleaver

Lancaster Park, or AMI Stadium as it was commonly known as at this point, one month before the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Lancaster Park, or AMI Stadium as it was commonly known as at this point, one month before the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

When West Ham waved goodbye to their beloved Boleyn, more commonly known as Upton Park, they did so in riotous fashion, smashing up the Manchester United team bus and then beating them 3-2 on the field. When we farewell out stadia, it's normally a much more sedate affair, writes Dylan Cleaver, as he profiles five iconic grounds over the next week.

Lancaster Park

Rugby
1st test: NZ 5 Australia 16, 1913
Last test: NZ 20 Australia 10, 2010

Cricket
1st test: NZ v England, 1930. England won by 8 wickets
Last test: NZ v Sri Lanka, 2006. NZ won by 5 wickets.

Capacity when closed: 38,628

Of all the victims of the Christchurch's devastating February 22, 2011 Earthquake, Lancaster Park was the least mourned.

It might have been sporting a new, monolithic stand that pushed its capacity near 40,000 but it was another utilitarian structure on piecemeal ground that tried to accommodate both summer and winter games.

Bought by Canterbury Cricket and Athletics from Mr Lancaster in 1881, the ground had a rich and varied history, hosting everything from the New Zealand Swimming Championships to Deep Purple, from the Reverend Billy Graham to the Queen of England.

In the end it pleased few except the Canterbury diehards.

It ended up being a ridiculous cricket ground with pinched boundaries and oversized stands. Test cricket had become so poorly patronised that the five-day game hadn't been played there since 2006, as New Zealand Cricket shifted its emphasis away from near-empty concrete jungles to low-capacity boutique venues like the Basin Reserve, Seddon Park and even Dunedin's University Oval.

It wasn't a great rugby ground either, even if it hosted some great rugby moments. The low-lying crowd was too far away from the action and those up high were exposed to the South Island's harsh winter elements. Night rugby at the stadium was often an unpleasant experience for all involved.

Yesterday: Carlaw Park

It did host some great moments, however, none more so than the 1985 Ranfurly Shield challenge won 28-23 by Auckland. They took the Shield north only after withstanding a furious comeback from a host team spurred on by 52,000 folk, many of whom gathered pitchside during a pulsating second half.

Swapping codes, Lancaster Park was the scene of New Zealand's first test win against Australia, with Glenn Turner driving the Chappells to distraction with centuries in either innings, and Richard and Dayle Hadlee taking four wickets each in Australia's second innings.

They were heady days for the park. Now it sits desolate and useless as Christchurch is (very) slowly rebuilt around it.

The Hadlee Stand, which connected the region's most famous cricketing sons to the ground, was demolished in the immediate aftermath of the quake. The Memorial gates survived. The Deans Stand still stands, an incongruous high point in the low-slung Phillipstown suburb it sits in. The tremor, however, lifted the concrete piles upon which the Deans stand sits and dropped them at the wrong angle, making the stand uninhabitable.

Lancaster Park/Jade/AMI Stadium From The Air (via RebuildChristchurch)

It was the dark grey syrup from the liquefaction that oozed through the surface that essentially killed any hope of the venue returning to its former glory.

"Christchurch City Council demolished the Hadlee stand at the time of the earthquake due to the level of sustained damage. The remaining stands are still standing, but are not accessible," said David Adamson, general manager city services.

"Vbase, the Council's venue management business unit, is maintaining the security and appearance of the Lancaster Park facility to ensure it does not become a burden for neighbours nor an attraction as a venue for undesirable behaviour.

"The council has undertaken a significant amount of work in looking at the extent of the damage to Lancaster Park. This work however was focused on insurance needs rather than its future use."

In this respect, Lancaster Park's farewell was different. Unanticipated, there was no goodbye matches; no chance for the public to show affection for the old lady, warts and all.

Now it just serves as an unsubtle reminder of life pre- and post-2011.

There is still conjecture about what Christchurch's post-quake sporting infrastructure will look like. Lancaster Park was far from the only venue affected. QEII Park, which hosted the 1974 Commonwealth Games, was also damaged beyond repair and demolition began in 2012.

Wilding Park, once the premier home of New Zealand's Davis Cup ties, is in a sad state and the iconic grass centre court has been paved over.

The blueprints have been drawn up for a rebirth, the centrepiece being a covered 30,000+ capacity stadium but the council has been involved in a long-running dispute with insurers over the value of its assets so neither a new stadium nor the demolition of Lancaster Park has been rubber-stamped.

Canterbury Cricket have leapt ahead of the curve, winning an Environment Court decision that has allowed them to transform a corner of bucolic Hagley Park into a picturesque international cricket arena.

Rugby is operating out of the old Addington Showgrounds. It is an adequate temporary solution to a problem that requires a permanent answer.

"The Council is currently contemplating how it will move forward... in the context of the need for a stadium for Christchurch," Adamson said. "The context obviously incorporates the temporary hundred day stadium, the Crown's blueprint, as well as potential future use on the Lancaster Park location.

"The Council's current Long Term Plan has significant funding towards a stadium in the year 2022 to 2025. It is envisaged that clarity over the stadium will be gained over the next 12 months."

After what they've been through, few would begrudge Christchurch a showstopper of a facility to replace the broken dame.

TOMORROW: Newmarket Park

- NZ Herald

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