Shielfield Park

ShielfieldPark

Attendance figures at “Old” Shielfield Park had shot up from under 200 to over 2000, even for East of Scotland League matches, with the arrival of Bobby Ancell and the club’s ambition of Scottish Football League membership under the chairmanship of John Thompson.

On Tuesday 27th February 1951 the town council were asked to lease six acres of ground, next to their old ground of ‘Old Shielfield’. It was planned to use the existing ground as a second pitch and training ground.

It was hoped that with the use of volunteer workers, under the supervision of a local builder, initial costs could be reduced from £30,000 to £10,000. Several bricklayers, joiners, and other tradesmen had already offered their services.

Plans were scuppered during March 1951, the plans to build a grandstand were dealt a blow. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government informed the borough surveyor that owing to the post war shortage of steel the minister was unable to release any steel from his allocation for the proposed new stand at Shielfield Park

By the end of the month a lease had been approved for 50 years, with an extended lease after that, and the new drainage system almost completed. Turf was taken from the surrounding area of the old pitch at Old Shielfield and the club appealed to local farmers or gardeners who had turf to spare to let them have it.

In  early May the club went into the transfer market and they signed, not a player – but a grandstand for £400 from Bradford City. In doing so they completed one of the most remarkable deals in Scottish football.

However, the first use was not for football but a circus. Celtic Reserves were the first football visitors, to the uncompleted but match playable ground, on 21st August 1954, in a C Division North and East Supplementary League match that ended – Berwick Ranges 1-4 Celtic A.

The official opening was on, Monday 15th August 1955, with a friendly match between Berwick and English Third Division North side, Darlington. It was an opening night with only one flaw for the 3000 spectators who turned out to watch – Rangers lost 2-3.

On the 7th January 1956 the match verses Stenhousemuir was the first match at Shielfield Park to be broadcast live on BBC Radio. It wasn’t an occasion to celebrate however, as Rangers suffered a four-goal defeat.

The Supporters’ Club finished their payments on the grandstand 18 months ahead of target as a result of special fund raising events and set about even more events for other ground improvements.

In October 1959 the Supporters’ Club announced that they were to concrete the terracing and install crush barriers on the popular “Ducket” side, named after the many dovecotes located behind the ground, of Shielfield Park.

Extensive work on the dressing rooms and offices was carried out in time for the January 1960 Scottish Cup clash with Rangers along with tons of rubble laid down behind the grandstand to form an additional entrance to the Enclosure.

By September 1960 the Shielfield Terrace end barricade had been replaced with a grey brick wall at cost of £2500. Other improvement work on going included the construction of new exits, better toilet facilities, a bigger more spacious tea bar and additional first aid amenities.

In June 1961 an order was placed for a 20-yard covered enclosure for the Ducket terracing, which was erected in time for the first game of the 1961-62 season, along with new turnstiles at the back of the grandstand. The Supporters’ Club announced in June 1963 that of the all but £8000 of the £45,000 raised so far had gone on ground improvements and it was now their intention to put the team first.

Speedway racing arrived at Shielfield Park in April 1968 with the formation of the Berwick Bandits speedway team who took over the cinder track, previously used by the Tweedside Cycle and Athletic Club..

A survey was carried out in June 1960 for the installation of floodlights at Shielfield Park, but it was not until the end of the 1971-72 that eight floodlight pylons, each standing 50 feet high and at a cost of £6,325, were finally installed. The first match to be played under the new lights was on Wednesday 20th September 1972 when St Mirren defeated the Rangers 1-0.

Season 1978-79 saw changes on the pitch as well as the stadium as Berwick Rangers won the Second Division Championship. A brick boundary wall was built along the back of the Ducket and around the open old railway embankment end to bring the ground up to First Division standard and a crowd limit of 10,673.

In 1980 the centre and wing stand sections of the grandstand were refurbished and new seating installed. The club then embarked on a £40,000 scheme to concrete the ash terracing in the Enclosure and install matching seating to give the grandstand a total seating capacity of 1,473. By August further ground improvements were completed at the back of the stand with new dressing rooms, players’ lounge and office accommodation added in an extension at a cost of over £150,000.

September 1980 saw the departure of the Berwick Bandits speedway team after a dispute with the football club. During the same month a brick perimeter wall was built around the track.

Rangers were relegated back to the Second Division in season 1981-82 and with failure to bounce straight back up, combined with the general downturn of the club’s lottery schemes, the club slumped in to a financial crisis. Stock car racing was looked into as a means of raising much needed revenue, but permission from the local council was turned down due to noise levels and by 1985 the club was on its knees despite a severe cost cutting exercise.

Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council offered to buy back the freehold of Shielfield Park for £95,000 and rent it back for £100 per annum for three years. In a desperate bid to stave off near certain closure the offer was accepted. The freehold of the ground had been bought from the council in 1970 for the sum of £4352 on condition that it would be used for football and sporting purposes only. The football club had originally asked for £250,000 for the freehold, as they had spent over £300,000 on ground improvements over the past few years, but with no other alternative, due to the sporting covenant, they were forced to accept the council’s offer.

A further blow was struck in 1987 with the recommendation that both the main south stand and Ducket (north) stand should be demolished. A report received by Northumberland County Council brought about by the 1985 Bradford City fire disaster resulted in a new crowd limit of 5250.

The football club were eligible for grants from the Football Grounds Improvement Trust to carry out the rebuilding of the stands, but only if they had a long term lease on the ground, and a 21 year lease was granted to the club in 1988.

In November 1989, due to lack of progress with the ground recommendations, the club was given 28 days notice to take action or the safety certificate would be revoked by Northumberland County Council. The Scottish Football League then ordered that the important home match verses Kilmarnock be switched to Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh. Rangers also had to give up home advantage in the Scottish Cup to Stenhousemuir and a further home League fixture with Queen of the South was reversed.

Rangers returned to Shielfield in early January 1990 after the removal of the stand roofs and other safety measures had been carried out.  The steel structure of the Ducket was passed as suitable and was re-roofed in time for the start of the 1990-91 season.

Shielfield went to the dogs in April 1991 when a deal was clinched with Fife-based greyhound racing promoters, Grant of Thornton, to bring greyhound racing to the ground, bringing in much needed revenue to the club.

It was announced in June of that year, that construction of the new grandstand and greyhound racing track was to start immediately and would be completed for the start of the new season. At an estimated cost of £360,000 it would have seating for 1250 spectators and include a bar for use on race nights. A new police control room, press box, first aid post and better toilet facilities, including provision for the disabled, were also planned. The racing track included an inner fence next to the football pitch along with inner floodlighting on the bends.

However, Berwick Rangers started the new season in a dilemma when the work was not completed in time for a ground visit by Northumberland County Council, Berwick Borough Council and the emergency services. It resulted in an order that the main stand be closed to the public and total ground limit of just 600 imposed, all of which were to be accommodated on the terracing side.

Police were called into Shielfield in August when financial irregularities arose at the football club and yet another crisis loomed.  With the club in dire straits and the real threat of liquidation at anytime, the Shielfield lease was handed over to greyhound promoter for a “short duration” to enable him to gain financial security in respect of his considerable financial involvement in the stadium. It led to the eventually “locking out” of the football club from their home and they were forced to play their last five remaining “home” games of season 1991-92 at the grounds of Meadowbank Thistle, Albion Rovers, Alloa Athletic, East Fife and Stenhousemuir.

The unfinished work on the stand roof was completed by Gordon Grant and his volunteers in time for racing to begin in August 1992. A sub-lease was agreed with the greyhound promoter to finally enable the Rangers to return home for the start of season 1992-93.

With the crowd restrictions now lifted a limit was imposed on the Ducket terracing side of 600 until the crush barriers, deemed not to comply with the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, were replaced enabling the terracing crowd limit to be increased to 2765. A £40,000 upgrade of the floodlights was completed and new crush and safety barriers around the tunnel and stand exits were installed to give the grandstand a capacity of 1366 and total ground capacity of 4131.

By August 1995 the greyhound racing was finished due to poor attendances, and the Supporters’ Club had purchased the lease. A deal was completed for the return of speedway racing to Shielfield Park in the spring of 1996 and work started on rebuilding the track facilities including a track safety fence, pits area and a noise control barrier above the Shielfield end wall. The football pitch was reduced in size from 112 x 76 yards to 110 x 70 yards to allow the speedway track to comply with new regulations.

Seating in the centre stand had deteriorated due to the years without a roof and over 100 were out of commission. In June 1997 the borough council bought an allocation of 380 red seats from Sunderland’s Roker Park ground to replace the entire centre section.

With the ground finally up to safety standards a large crowd was expected for the arrival of Rangers for the Scottish Cup third round clash in January 2002 with the added bonus of being the first ever match at Shielfield Park to be shown live on television. Satellite broadcasters BSkyB had chosen the match for live coverage and the club did not let them down holding the mighty Rangers to goalless draw, and a replay at Ibrox, in front of an all ticket crowd of 4280.

The match against Brechin City on the 21st August 2004 marked the 50th anniversary of the first match to be played at Shielfield Park.

In October 2007 the Supporters’ Club purchased 100 new yellow seats to kick-start their Sponsor a Seat campaign, part of the Shielfield Park Redevelopment Scheme, in order to bring the ground up to current health and safety requirements. By the end of the season nearly 300 seats had been sponsored and installed. and as the campaign gained momentum and the history of Shielfield Park entered another chapter.