In Part 1, we saw how the Oval and the Crystal Palace are two of the most historic sports stadiums in the world. Here, we complete our look at South London’s Top 5.
3. The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club
The current home of ‘The Championships, Wimbledon‘ in Church Road SE19 was first used in 1922 after the event had outgrown its original location in Worple Road, Wimbledon. The club was originally founded in 1868 as a croquet club, tennis being introduced a few years later, with ‘The Championship’ starting in 1877.
Wimbledon is now the site of one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and Centre Court, with a capacity of 15,000, one of the world’s most famous sporting arenas. ‘The Championships’, held over a fortnight in June/July, is one of the four ‘Grand Slam’ events of international tennis, along with those of Melbourne, Paris and New York, and is now the only Grand Slam played on grass courts – the original surface of the game.
Wimbledon has also hosted other important matches over the years, including the Davis Cup (the men’s national team competition). Four finals were played here in the 1930s and Britain’s defeat of Australia in 1936, by 3-2 on Centre Court, is the last time Great Britain won the Davis Cup. Lastly, the Olympic Finals of 2012 were played at Wimbledon, culminating in the unexpected and crushing defeat of Roger Federer, the undisputed greatest male tennis player of all time, by Andy Murray, on what turned out to be a golden Saturday for Great Britain.
4. Herne Hill Velodrome
This outdoor cycling track at Burbage Rd SE24 is one of the world’s oldest velodromes, dating from 1891. George Hillier, secretary of the London County Cycling & Athletic Club, initiated the construction of the stadium after failing to persuade the Crystal Palace Company to build a proper track at that venue. It was built as a 450 metre bowl with 30 degree banking, originally with a shale surface but from 1896 surfaced with concrete.
It was renowned for its Good Friday meetings from 1903 to 2013, which attracted many of the top racers over the years. Most famously, however, Herne Hill was one of three venues in south London for the 1948 London Olympics (the others being Crystal Palace FC’s Selhurst Park and Dulwich Hamlet FC’s Champion Hill), when it hosted the track cycling events. Britain’s Reg Harris won silver in the sprint, Tommy Godwin bronze in the 1k time trial, with GB winning another bronze in the team pursuit.
The stadium was also used for football at times, having been the home of Crystal Palace FC during WW1 and the venue for the 1911 Amateur Cup Final.
After some years of uncertainty and after a long campaign by cycling organisations, the Herne Hill Velodrome now has improved facilities and a more secure future.
5. The Valley
The home of Charlton Athletic FC, dating from 1919, is the oldest ground used by a professional football club in south London. In the professional era (1885 onwards), the Valley is the only ground in south London where a major trophy has resided – the FA Cup in 1947. (Wimbledon FC, of course, won the same trophy in 1988 but their ground, Plough Lane, no longer exists. The League Championship or League Cup have never been to south London).
For many years, the Valley was the largest club stadium in Europe, with a capacity of around 75,000 and the ground record of 75,031 was set in 1938 for a 5th Round FA Cup match against Aston Villa. However, after financial problems, the Valley fell into disrepair and in 1985 it was closed and Charlton ground-shared with Crystal Palace and then West Ham. After a long campaign by supporters, Charlton returned to the Valley in 1992. Although the capacity is much reduced from its historic high, the stadium is still the biggest in south London with a maximum of 27,111 spectators.
South London’s Top 5 Venues used for Sport, by Capacity:
1. The Valley, 27,111 2. Selhurst Park, 26,309 3. The Oval, 23,500
4. The Den, 20,146 5. The O2 Arena, 20,000