Note The history of Long Eaton United FC is closely linked to that of Long Eaton Stadium, on the opposite side of the road to Grange Park. The old speedway stadium, out of use and derelict since being gutted by an arson attack on 27 December 1998 looks likely to rise, literally like a Phoenix from the ashes following a long-standing campaign to return the sport to the Derbyshire town, despite a fair amount of rather predictable local opposition from the ‘NIMBY’ brigade. In February 2006 it was reported that, after the local council had repeatedly refused to allow building on the site, a £1.5 million deal had been signed that would see redevelopment of the old stadium.
The 1998 fire was in fact, the second; the previous grandstand having been destroyed by an earlier blaze in 1948. In the immediate post-war years there was understandably great enthusiasm amongst the population for spectator sport and speedway was one such sport that enjoyed a great resurgence. Both speedway and greyhound racing meetings had been staged at the stadium before WW2 and within a year of the 1948 fire, a new grandstand and clubhouse had been constructed, and there were ambitious plans to further develop a 50,000 capacity ‘Wembley of the Midlands’. The promoter however, realised that it made good financial sense to make sure that the stadium was fully ultilised all year ‘round and as a consequence a professional football club, Long Eaton Town FC, was formed in July 1949. The first two months of the season were in fact spent at the Herrburger Sports Ground in Meadow Lane whilst the pitch was prepared.
The new club was not the first to play at the stadium as the site had been used for football in the early part of the 20th century with both Long Eaton Rangers and Long Eaton St. Helens playing matches there. The dream however, proved short-lived. The speedway team closed down in 1952 and the football club, after experiencing problems with the stadium owners, moved across the road to the council-owned Grange Park ground.
The arrival of a new Chairman in 1956 saw the club change its name to Long Eaton United FC and by this time, had begun the creation of what Vince Taylor in his 1999 ‘Groundtastic’ feature referred to as “one of the more idiosyncratic of non-league grounds”.
The first building on the ground was of a rather basic concrete construction on the far touchline incorporating three rows of terracing, with the dressing rooms at either end. Further cover was opened opposite in February 1957. It would be an exaggeration to describe this as a ‘stand’ even though that may have been the initial intention. Certainly, there was originally a plan to include seats but this never came to fruition. Instead, what remained was a high roof built over an area of earth banking. The only later addition to this structure was a large sign on the back wall announcing the club’s name, although this was met with opposition from local residents who apparently felt it too gaudy. New dressing rooms were built behind, and a new clubhouse opened much later.
Adjacent was a further area of cover, imaginatively constructed from half of a discarded nissen hut. This was not as unusual as it appears, with ‘recycling’ of old buildings common following WW2. For example a nissen hut was also converted into dressing rooms at Wadebridge Town FC. Grass banking around the pitch further boosted the ground’s capacity.
The fact that the ground was council-owned thwarted plans for further progression. Plans to enclose it and erect cover behind the goals met with opposition from locals who considered the area a public recreation area.
In 1997 however, the club was awarded a large lottery grant and at last had the financial muscle necessary to move forward, with floodlights installed the following year. Soon afterwards came the long-awaited erection of a perimeter fence, whilst the ‘stand’ and buildings behind it were also demolished. Whilst its replacement was being constructed, players changed in a temporary portacabin just outside the ground.
The first proper grandstand at the ground – christened the ‘Big Jim’ Stand – is of a fairly standard prefabricated steel cantilever design, but does provide a good unobstructed view of the action, and has the dressing rooms behind. To its right, where the converted nissen hit cover previously stood is a simple cover of steel construction.
More recently the covered area on the far touchline has been updated and converted into a further seated stand, incorporating a separate area for Directors. DB (with thanks to Vince Taylor).