An architectural look at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park

Tranmere Rovers may not be playing in the Football League at the moment, but you would not know this from the look of their stadium Prenton Park. Located in Birkenhead, the ground is smart, well maintained and has the modern facilities that you would expect to see at a top Football League ground.

The only professional club on the Wirral today, Tranmere was formed in 1884 as Belmont F.C. and bought an area of land to play on in 1887. In 1895, following a letter published in the Football Echo, it was named Prenton Park after the nearby upmarket district of Prenton.

Since the land on which their football pitch was located was wanted for a school and houses, Rovers had to move to their present site, and the name Prenton Park moved with them. Prenton Park stadium was opened in 1912 by the Mayor of Birkenhead. Since then, it has had many changes and now has four stands. Many of the alterations were carried out to comply with regulations that affected football stadiums.

Changes over the years

In 1958, floodlights were added to the ground at a cost of £15,000, which was raised by the supporters’ association. In 1961, with Dave Russell as manager, Tranmere Rovers played Friday night home games under the floodlights rather than the more traditional Saturday afternoon, meaning that supporters could watch Rovers on a Friday, then could support First Division teams Liverpool or Everton on Saturdays

By 1968, the Main Stand was in a bad condition and could not be repaired. It was replaced by a new stand costing £80,000. The same year, the wooden terraced areas known as Cowshed and Paddock were removed and concrete terraces were built.

In 1985, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act came into force and this meant that major changes were needed at Prenton Park to conform to the new rules. These changes reduced the capacity of the ground from 18,000 to 8,000. This was done through the closure of the Kop End and the reduction of the Main Stand capacity to 3,000 as there were not sufficient access points for more spectators.

The Tranmere suite was built on the Main Stand in 1988, and it wasn’t long before executive suites, function rooms and bars were added.

In the 1980s, Rovers had financial difficulties and little work was done to the stadium until the mid-90s. Things had improved by then, and £3.1m was spent on stadium improvements. The Taylor Report, which looked into the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster of 1989, concluded that standing areas were no longer allowed at clubs in the top two divisions. To comply with this, three all-seater stands were constructed, bringing the ground capacity up to its present 16,587.

Main Stand

The Main Stand, built in 1968, is Prenton Park’s oldest stand. With a capacity of 5,957, it’s a two-tier stand divided into three sections. The lower tier is known as the Bebington End Paddock with a capacity of 1,150. The upper tier is simply known as the Main Stand and holds 3,598.

The third section is the VIP area, which holds the directors’ box, a number of suites and hospitality areas. It houses the Bunny Bell Bar (named after an ex-player who scored nine goals in a 13-4 win against Oldham Athletic in 1935 that remains the highest scoring Football League game to date) and the Dave Russell restaurant. The VIP area has recently undergone major refurbishments that provide a number of light and spacious rooms, many with air conditioning.

Bebington Kop

The Bebington Kop is usually called just the Kop. A single-tier structure, it seats 5.696. The Kop previously housed both home and away fans, split down the middle. Now, the home fans use the Kop, with away fans in the Cowshed.

Johnny King Stand

The Johnny King Stand was built in 1995 and holds 2,414. It was originally called the Borough Road Stand then renamed in 2002 in honour of former Tranmere manager Johnny King, who passed away last year.

The Cowshed

The Cowshed Stand holds up to 2,500 away fans. As the main road runs behind, it is constructed as a slanted structure. Since it was first built, a bar and TV screens have been added.

Other buildings

Prenton Park also has a recreation centre and a club shop. There is a car park situated next to the stadium which is open for fans to park on match days.

Accessibility

In January 2017, Tranmere Rovers was praised in the Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s report ‘Accessibility of Sports Stadiums’ for its work on improving disabled access at Prenton Park.

The club, with the Tranmere Rovers Disabled Supporters Association and the Tranmere Rovers Trust, funded ground improvements. These included new wheelchair platforms on the Main Stand and the Kop, and shelters for wheelchair bays built on Bebington Paddock. A platform lift has been constructed for access to the hospitality suites on the first floor of the Main Stand.

Beyond football

If you’re not a football fan, there are other ways to experience Prenton Park.

In May 2017, pop music fans are heading to Prenton Park to see Madness, Little Mix and The Farm, who are performing as part of the Wirral Live event.

The function rooms in the Main Stand have been recently refurbished to provide rooms for weddings, meetings, conferences, and other functions. Rooms available range from the boardroom that can hold about 40 people, to the Arthur K Gallagher suite with a capacity of 160. For more intimate functions, the Media Suite can hold 20 people.

On match days, the VIP suites provide clear windowed views over the pitch, and a marquee is available that can be erected next to the function area for functions of up to 250 people.

Prenton Park aims to be the premier events hub for the Wirral. It is easily accessed from the M53 motorway and Mersey Tunnel, and it is well served by bus and train links.

Posted by Mark
February 3, 2017
Features

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