South London has played a hugely significant part in the history of sport. In two parts we look at our ‘Top Five’ historic sporting venues.
1. The Oval
The Oval in Kennington can confidently claim to be the most historic sports ground in the whole world. The home of Surrey County Cricket Club since 1845 and the venue of many test matches, it is principally associated with the history and drama of the Ashes Test series between England and Australia, being the location of the final, and often deciding, match of the series, and it hosted the very first test match on English soil between the two countries in 1880. England’s loss to Australia on 29th August 1882 at the Oval was their first defeat on home soil; a mock obituary in the Times led to the coining of the phrase ‘the Ashes’ and the smallest trophy in sport has been fiercely contested ever since.
However, the Oval has a very important place in football and rugby history too. The first ever international football match was played here in 1870 with England beating Scotland 1-0, and further internationals were played here until 1889. The first FA Cup Final was played at the Oval when Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1-0 in 1872 and finals continued here until 1892.
England played their first home Rugby Union match at the Oval, beating Scotland in 1872, the inaugural match having been played in Scotland a year earlier. England continued to play their internationals at the Oval during the 1870s, including the inaugural match against Ireland in 1875.
2. The Crystal Palace
In the current era, the stadium, located in the middle of Crystal Palace Park, is associated with athletics, but the Crystal Palace ground has hosted many other sports, including the first England v New Zealand rugby match in 1905. Most significant, however, is its role in football history. The original Crystal Palace FC was founded in 1861 by workers at the famous exhibition centre, becoming one of the twelve founder members of the Football Association in 1863. In 1871 the club entered the very first FA Cup competition, reaching the semi-final, but by 1876 the club had disbanded. A new club was formed in 1905 and played on the site until 1914, later moving to its current home at Selhurst Park.
The FA Cup Final was played at the Crystal Palace between 1895 and 1914, attracting huge crowds, including the 1913 final between Aston Villa and Sunderland when nearly 122,000 attended, only ever exceeded by the first Wembley final. It was a lucky ground for Villa, who won that match and the three other finals they played here. Newcastle United fans would rather forget their connection with this venue, however, as they appeared in five finals and failed to win any of them!
The current stadium, part of the ‘National Sports Centre’ and built in 1964, hosted many important athletics meetings over the years, in particular the annual London Athletics Grand Prix, until 2012. It now faces an uncertain future with the Olympic Stadium being the new home of British Athletics.
We’ll look at the other three venues in our Top 5 soon.