Date: 30th June 2008 at 10:09pm
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You either loved it or loathed the place, but for well over half a century, Sealand Road was the home where Chester played their football, for better or for worse. Anybody who’d watched football at The Stadium will have their own personal highs and lows, but for me personally the day I led Chester out as an eleven year old mascot against Cardiff City will always stick with me. As a youngster, the memories of witnessing my first minutes silence, remembering those who lost their lives at the Hilsborough disaster will never be forgotten. The silence around the ground was truly deafening.

When Chester were elected to the Football League in place of Nelson in 1931, Sealand Road and its surroundings were very different from the ground we sold to property developers in 1990. There were fields all around which are now covered by retail outlets, light industry and residential housing and the ground was covered on two sides only. The Main Stand, which survived until 1979 was a small, wooden construction, made distinctive by vertical blue and white stripes on the paddock rear wall, and along Sealand Road was the standing cover known as The Barn.

It has been claimed by historians that Sealand Road was one of the first Football League grounds to have a public address system installed, at least as far back as August 1931 when the club began its League programme. It is said that for many years the announcer would begin with the words ‘Hello Spion Kop, Hello Albert!’ apparently addressing a long standing supporter in the crowd. Like Brunton Park, one of Sealand Road’s major problems in those early years was flooding from the nearby River Dee, which flows through the town centre, at every high spring tide. This was solved in 1936 when the club installed proper drainage at a cost of £400.

One of the most unusual events at the ground came on 5 January 1935, when the Football Association organised an experimental game using two referees for a match between two amateur international trial teams. A similar experiment was tried at The Hawthorns in March of that year, before the idea was dropped completely.

Sealand Road’s highest attendance, 20,500, came in January 1952 for Chester’s 3rd round cup replay tie against Chelsea, won by the visitors. The club’s first floodlit game at the ground was on 12 October 1960; a League Cup match against Leyton Orient. The lights were later updated in 1974 before the Stadium played host to Chester’s most famous League Cup run, taking on teams like Leeds United and Aston Villa.

In 1968 the popular side opposite the Main Stand was covered, then in December 1979 the old wooden stand was replaced with a new main stand at a cost of £556,000. It had been built directly behind the old one, and in consequence there was an awkward flat space behind the front wall and the touchline. The development raised the number of seats at Sealand Road to 2,874 in a total capacity of around 20,000.

Ground Description

The Entrance lead you behind the Main Stand, which despite its youth, looked remarkably tired. It was of similar design as that at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, with a flat roof pitched slightly upwards, supported by pillars along the front. The most prominent feature is the high, breeze block wall at the front, broken only by staircases leading up to the seats. If there was a terrace in front, or a few large advertisements to cover up the grey wall, the stand might have looked quite smart. As it was I remember the wall looking bare, and in front is a 30 foot gap before reaching the touchline.

Apparently the regular supporters had complained for years about the old wooden Main Stand, but when the new concrete and steel structure was finished they pined for the warmth, friendliness and community feel of the old one. To the left of the main stand, which at least provided a reasonable view, was the open Spion Kop. Although overgrown at the top, it had good terracing, formed unusually out of paving stones. The barriers are extremely thin.

To the right of the main stand was the Barn, a decaying barrel roofed cover over the Sealand Road End terrace, with 16 uprights (not that I have counted, just been told!) along the front. At the back were some very warn, uneven, but quite solid wooden terraces, with an ancient sign above from the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company Limited warning that dropping lighted matches is dangerous, does anybody remember that sign? Between here and the Main Stand is a modern block overlooking the pitch housing social facilities, offices and the old club shop.

Opposite the Main Stand was the all covered Popular Side, a simple covered over space of terracing. Behind is an overgrown pathway along the side of some old wasteland and beyond is the impressively titled Stadium Way, another drab road that lead to the site of Chester’s old ground in Whipcord Lane. But the floodlights at the old Sealand Road held an interest of their own; on a scottish pattern, having the lamp holders leaning down towards the pitch. Unlike most systems, the lamps are mounted on open ended bars, rather than on a box frame.