TT No.104: Mike Latham - Saturday 28 November 2009:
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Every so often the opportunity arises to visit a jewel of a new ground, not a sanitized, concrete monstrosity bought ‘off the shelf’ but a ground with style, atmosphere and presence. Castlecroft Stadium, the ‘new’ ground of reigning West Midlands Regional League champions AFC Wulfrunians is an outstanding addition to ‘must visit’ grounds on any self-respecting groundhopper’s list. There can be few better grounds at Step 6 in the country and the ground would easily look at home higher up the pyramid.
Though a ‘new’ ground in terms of non league football this season, Castlecroft has a long history and is a case of rugby union’s loss very much being football’s gain. The Castlecroft area developed at a rapid rate in the post war period with Wolverhampton RUFC opening an adjoining ground in 1950 and Wolves setting up a training ground and building what was effectively their second ground, primarily for use by their youth teams on the site. Wolves officially opened Castlecroft Stadium in 1956 and provided a stand and floodlights. When Wolves eventually moved their training base to another part of the city at Aldersley Stadium and sold off Castlecroft the Rugby Football Union stepped in.
In 1990 the RFU after negotiations with Wolverhampton Council entered into a reported £2,000 per year deal for a 99-year lease at Castlecroft and funded a £450,000 stadium development in conjunction with construction giants Tarmac, setting up for the first time a dedicated national headquarters and administrative base for youth rugby.
From 1990 until 2007 Castlecroft was the RFU’s national centre for schools and youth rugby. Many senior international rugby players graced the Castlecroft turf and when
Castlecroft Stadium staged around 70 rugby games per year, including Schools and Colts games and international matches. In total Castlecroft hosted over 200 schoolboy internationals. All incoming and outgoing tours were planned and prepared at Castlecroft which was also the base for training camps. But then the RFU then decided to switch their administrative base for youth rugby to Twickenham and stage games at three different centres and so rugby’s link with Castlecroft was broken.
Enter AFC Wulfrunians, an old boys team associated with
Castlecroft is situated in a pleasant, leafy, suburban part of
The main stand dominates the ground. With just under 500 seats and a cantilevered design it gives an excellent view of the action. The bar, lounge, refreshment and hospitality areas are situated at the back of the stand. Three sides of the ground are hard standing with the far side, where the dug-outs are located, being out-of-bounds for spectators. A large netting runs along this side to prevent balls being booted into neighbouring gardens. The playing pitch is immaculately kept and surrounded by a neat white-painted perimeter fence and the floodlights are excellent.
This was an intriguing game in prospect with both sides in the top three in pursuit of leaders Ellesmere Rangers. The only goal of the game came early, Myles Fenn finding space in the area to control a left-wing cross and guide a left-footed shot past the ‘keeper in the eleventh minute. Bloxwich dominated much of the second half, hitting the woodwork twice and the hosts just about held out despite seven minutes of added time.
The ‘Wulfs’ are a friendly, progressive club and a visit to their outstanding headquarters comes with my highest recommendation.
contributed on 28/11/09