A look at Widnes Vikings’ Select Security Stadium

The Select Security Stadium, located in Lower House Lane in Widnes, Cheshire, is home to Widnes Vikings R.L.F.C. The stadium was previously known as Lowerhouse Lane Stadium and Naughton Park.

Beginnings

The Vikings were originally called the Widnes Football Club and were one of the 22 teams that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union league. They played their first match at Lowerhouse Lane in 1885 against Liversedge.

In the 1920s the local council wanted to redevelop the Lowerhosue Lane area for housing. After many objections from the club and its supporters, the council agreed to sell the land to the club for £3,250. Club secretary Tom Naughton was a key figure in helping to raise the purchase price. He died in 1932, and the ground was renamed Naughton Park in his honour.

Later history

In 1995, the Club got into financial difficulties and sold a share of the ground to Halton Borough Council, which teamed up with the club to develop a new stadium on the same site. Designed to be a multipurpose stadium, as well as the pitch and stands, the plans included conference, recreational and function facilities.

The new stadium opened in 1997, and a new stand was added the following year. In 1999, the club’s 40% share of the ground was purchased by the council. It was renamed the AutoQuest stadium after the club’s main sponsor. The AutoQuest sponsorship deal terminated in 2001, and the stadium was then called the Halton Stadium.

In 2005, the East Stand was built to make the stadium an all-seater four stand ground with a capacity of 13,500. In 2007, a sponsorship deal with the Stobart Group caused another name change to the Stobart Stadium Halton. The stadium is now officially known as the Select Security Stadium, but many fans still call it by one its two legacy names – Naughton Park or Halton Stadium.

The iPitch

In 2011, the grass pitch was replaced with an artificial all-weather pitch known as the iPitch. This cost £500,000 and was supplied by Desso Sports Systems, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of artificial pitches. The pitch was laid by local Ormskirk contractors, J Mallinson. The previous pitch was slightly sloped, and this was levelled out before installing the new surface.

How the Vikings got their name

For years the club had been known as the Chemics, but in 1996, the board of directors wanted to relaunch the club when it joined rugby’s Super League competition. A local 17-year-old Frodsham schoolgirl and rugby fan, Helen Baxter, decided to make Widnes Rugby Club the subject of her A-Level marketing and promotion design project. She thought that the club was not marketing itself well, as most promotion activities centered on posters scattered around Widnes town that advertised their home game fixtures. Helen’s vision was to produce a number of different types of promotional materials to attract new fans. She presented her ideas to the club board, which was impressed.

Widnes had already decided to rename the club, with the original idea being to call it Widnes Wizards. Unfortunately, another team was using the term Wizards. As part of Helen’s designs, she had created a club mascot, ‘Chemik the Viking’ which embodied the combative nature of rugby. Inspired by this, the club decided to rename the club the Widnes Vikings.

The new name was launched at the same time as then opening a club shop nearby and the first issue of the short lived newspaper, Vikings Flagship. Remarking on the change of name, the club chairman Toby Chambers said:

“It’s not just a change of name. It signifies the club’s change of approach.”

The town of Widnes also have a Viking history, with its name believed to be of Danish origin.

Match days

When games are taking place, fans sit in the four stands: the North, South, East and West. The South Stand has an area specifically for families. Approximately one hour before the match begins, the stadium announcer welcomes all spectators. Half an hour before kickoff, the teams are announced.

The Conference and Legends Bars are open on match days for food and drinks, and the resident DJ plays music which is piped over the stadium PA system from the pitch and he dedicates records to select fans and announces birthdays. The Vikings Storm Cheerleaders perform before the teams arrive to start the match.

Not just the Vikings

As well as Widnes Vikings, the ground hosts the home games of other sporting teams – Everton Ladies, Halton Spartans American Football Team, Liverpool Ladies and Widnes Football Club. Runcorn FC briefly used the stadium too.

The many present-day uses of the Select Security Stadium

The stadium today houses many activities. The Widnes Rugby Museum is open at the stadium and was created in 2007. It has a large collection of memorabilia that tells the story of Widnes Rugby Club. It currently owns 3,000 items, which are too many to display at once, so displays are regularly rotated. Visitors can relive the history of the club and recall the many great players who have been members of the Widnes Rugby Club team.

The stadium has 20 meeting rooms for conferences and functions that accommodate from 5 to 450 people. In-house chefs provide an extensive menu to people attending functions, meetings and conferences.

Stadium Fitness is a gym facility with a wide range of exercise equipment, and holds regular fitness classes, while the Legends Sports Bar is open for food and drinks and hosts a Saturday night out every week with DJs and karaoke. The second bar is the Conference bar.

The stadium hosts concerts, with Elton John notably played at the stadium in June this year. It also has a shop based in the nearby Tesco Extra superstore.

The stadium is an example of how sporting venues have needed to adapt by providing a number of facilities. In order to survive financially, a sporting club has to look beyond just match days to generate enough income. The Select Stadium has successfully managed the transition to a multipurpose stadium and venue.

Posted by Mark
October 20, 2017
Features

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