“I have a new lower-league team (in the NPSL – one version of the fourth division in the US and considered the highest tier of amateur football) in my area that will open play in two weeks,” begins Harriet Osborn. “They will borrow a local school’s stadium which has a capacity of 8,500. As a few students of that school like to point out, that’s a larger capacity than some stadiums used by professional teams in Europe, such as Salford City (5,108). What is the most extreme example of this: how many leagues of difference can we find between a big stadium in a lower division and a smaller stadium in a higher one?”
Perhaps the most obvious answer to this is perennial stadium-stat conquerors Queen’s Park. The 52,000-capacity Hampden Park was home to the Scottish League One side for over a century but as of 2021 they are homeless, their lease on the ground having ended, and are awaiting development of a new home. Nevertheless in 2012-13 Queen’s Park were in the fourth tier of Scottish football while Ross County’s 6,541-capacity Victoria Park was hosting top-tier action.
In England, Darlington played at the 25,000-seat Reynolds Arena while in the National League in 2010-11. That same season, the 16,220-capacity Bloomfield Road hosted Blackpool in the Premier League. And the 11,000-capacity Dean Court hosted Premier League football in 2019-20 – that same season Notts County played fifth-tier National League football at their Meadow Lane ground that holds 18,816.
Beyond the big boys of the National League, there have been some pretty large borrowed stadiums playing host to games way down the pyramid.
Gateshead play at the 11,800-capacity Gateshead International Stadium – a home for athletics in the north east – and in 2003-04 were a Northern Premier Division One side in the seventh tier. There was nothing smaller in the Premier League that year but Rotherham were in the second tier playing at the 8,300-capacity Millmoor.
Widnes FC’s home games are at the 13,350 Halton Stadium – home of Widnes Vikings rugby league club – and they played in the 10th-tier North West Counties League Division One in 2013-14. That same season Yeovil were in the Championship – Huish Park holds 9,565.
And, the biggest gap we’ve found, non-league Hull United briefly shared Hull Kingston Rovers’ 12,225-capacity Craven Park, and were there for much of the Northern Counties East League Division One 2015-16 season – the 10th tier of English football (or possibly the 11th – it’s not entirely clear). Good old 11,000-capacity Dean Court hosted Premier League Bournemouth that same year.
Are Fulham record breakers?
“Fulham have secured their fourth promotion to the Premier League, which is surely a record. But, unlike Sky, we know football didn’t begin in 1992. So which club holds the record for promotions to the top tier of English football? I’ll open the bidding with Fulham’s five, but I’m sure there are plenty of clubs with more than that,” writes Richard Hirst.
Hold your horses, Richard. Fulham have a way to go to surpass Norwich’s Premier League promotion prowess – the Canaries have gone up five times in the Premier League era and were relegated for the sixth time at the weekend.
Four promotions pre-1992 brings them to a grand total of nine, but that’s still comfortably short of Birmingham City, who have been promoted to the top flight no fewer than 12 times (the first few coming as Small Heath back in the early 1890s).
The late show (2)
In last week’s Knowledge, we looked at teams playing their home and away fixtures in May, specifically Luton and Nottingham Forest in 1987-88. Turns out that was merely the tip of a rewardingly nerdy iceberg …
“There have been many instances in English league football (49 in fact) of two teams playing both fixtures in May,” writes Chris Roe. “The Luton/Forest one identified in last week’s column (13 and 15 May 1988) is not quite the latest.
“In 1966, Brighton and Oldham played each other on 13 and 18 May. And in 1977, Newport and Workington played each other on 14 and 17 May. If you flip the question on its head, there are some interesting answers as well. The earliest that two English teams have completed both league fixtures was in 1969, when Middlesbrough and Millwall played on 12 and 18 August. Those games were their second and fourth of the season.
“That 1969-70 season was a particularly interesting one for this statistic. In the old Division One, each team played a home-and-away fixture in the second and fourth games, with all the matches taking place between 11 and 20 August.”
“In 1899 the UK Baseball champions were Nottingham Forest, while Spurs won it in 1906,” noted Paul Smith in January 2005. “Which other football teams have had baseball connections or are these team names coincidental?”
The names are not coincidental. The National Baseball League of Great Britain and Ireland was founded in 1890. Four teams were involved, all with close links to association football clubs: Derby County, Preston North End, Aston Villa and Stoke City.
Baseball flourished particularly in the north-east with clubs in Middlesbrough, Darlington, Stockton and Thornaby. In 1933 a National Baseball Association was founded and professional leagues were formed in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The first professional games got under way in 1936, with the Yorkshire League made up of sides from Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Hull, Dewsbury, Wakefield and Scarborough. Games regularly attracted 5,000 spectators – and, on occasion, as many as 10,000.
Can you help?
“I, like a few others, have a memory of the BBC’s Barry Davies laying into the Italians after their famous defeat to South Korea at the 2002 World Cup. The quote goes something like: ‘… and the Italians go out of the World Cup because they WILL. NOT. LEARN.’ Thing is, I can’t find evidence of it anywhere. I even managed to get hold of the full game (replete with commentary from Davies and Joe Royle) but the famous quote is nowhere to be found. I’m starting to think the whole thing is an apocryphal fever dream. So, am I going mad or did Davies actually say that?” asks Rich Soden.
“Last Saturday, Exeter scored 25 seconds after their opponents, Northampton, had a goal disallowed. Is this a record?” wonders Chris Whiffin.
“Due to the odd number of teams in the National League this year, King’s Lynn Town will finish their season a week before everyone else, on 7 May. At this point, my team, Stockport County, will still have three matches left to play. Has any other team ever finished its league season when another team in the same division still has three or more matches left to play?” asks Ian Waterhouse.
“If Nottingham Forest are promoted to the Premier League and Notts County remain in the National League, would this create the biggest difference in league positions between two local rivals who had played in the same league before?” muses Makoto.