Dorchester Town are fortunate to have their ground situated on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall who, when Tesco supermarket took over the site of the original ground in Weymouth Avenue, insisted that any development took place through them. Accordingly, the Avenue Stadium was designed by the Duchy's architects, with the Duke of Cornwall himself - HRH the Prince of Wales - taking his usual keen interest in all things architectural. Prince Charles paid two official visits to the ground, plus a number of unofficial ones prior to the grounds inaugural match of 18 August 1990.
Kerry Miller is unequivocal in stating that at the time of its first competitive match, on 18 August 1990 (vs Worcester City), the Avenue Stadium was “certainly the most innovative football ground built in England for many years”.
The whole ground was built by McIntyre Construction at a cost of around £3 million, of which £110,000 was spent on the playing surface. 32,000 tons of chalk were laid to ensure the good drainage of a pitch what was prepared fully 18 months before completion of the stadium. the chalk lies 1 metre deep at one end, and 3 metres deep at the other, to ensure a level surface. The floodlights are of Football League standard, the ground having accommodated AFA Bournemouth for the first part of the 2001/02 season.
In recent years it has become apparent that, due to the large amount of chalk underneath, there is very high drainage on the ground that leaves the pitch particularly dry. With the aid of a 90 per cent grant of £24,000 from the Football Association, a new computer-operated sprinkler system that feeds off a natural underground water supply has been installed that's able to deliver the equivalent of an inch of rain in two hours.
In order to get into the palatial main entrance of the ground, one has to skirt around past the Tesco superstore that now stands on the site of the old ground. As would expect however, this is now ordinary Tesco. The huge water feature and fountains in front of the entrance make one imagine what a Tesco in Monte Carlo or Versailles might look like!
The centrepiece of the stadium is undeniably the huge gabled stand, with accommodation for over 700 seated spectators. The stand has two impressive glass-fronted press/announcers boxes at the rear, offering fine views of the action below. One serious design flaw however, was a failure to put controls for the PA system in the announcers' box. Instead these are downstairs, necessitating a hugely comical (or irritating, depending on your point of view) farce played out before kick-off, during which the announcer asks fans in various areas of the ground to signal whether or not they can hear; whether it's too loud etc etc., whilst someone downstairs responds by adjusting the controls!
One further drawback of the design, is the presence of supporting pillars which impede the view in some areas. A conflict of aesthetics over functionality methinks. A cantilever stand may not have been in harmony with the design, but at least everyone would have been able to see. However, this is a very minor quibble. Within the bowels of the stand are a function room; a surprisingly small bar/lounge area, and dressing rooms (again, not particularly big).
Opposite the main stand, on the 'railway side' (eastern side) of the ground, are two areas of covered terracing, again thoughtfully designed. Entrance may be gained from the main car park behind through very narrow turnstiles, set inbetween two turrets, which contain a small refreshment and club shop respectively.
Further terracing, with crush barriers can be found at either end of the ground. The northern end is surprisingly (given the overall quality of the facilities) uncovered. The opposite end however, does boast a slated roof, provided by the Duchy. And if all this appears as though the club simply sat back and let the Duchy do everything for them, it should be pointed out that they in fact raised £11,000 from selling the fixtures and fittings from the old ground.
The Avenue Stadium represents a fine example of how it is possible to build a modern football ground without resorting to the cloned design becoming increasingly prevalent, although one has also to accept that in many ways, Dorchester were extremely fortunate. Some visitors have complained that for its virtues, the Avenue Stadium is a little “sterile”, to which my response is that there is no pleasing some people!
Take the Dorchester bypass (A35) from all directions, and the ground is on the south side of town, adjacent to a roundabout at the intersection with the A354 to Weymouth. Alternatively, follow the Weymouth signs from Dorchester town centre for one and a half miles.
Dorchester South (BR)