The problem with being a history buff is that often simple little tasks, such as looking up some obscure fact, can easily suck you into a vortex. In order to find that fact, you have to sift through material that may or may not be relevant, leading you to discover hints of other things you had no idea existed. Before you know it you’re off on a tangent learning all about something else while your original question lies unanswered and forgotten.
Having said that though, I am making it sound like it’s a bad thing. In actual fact, it’s a complete delight.
The big delight of researching Newmarket Park in recent months, was discovering some fascinating things about its predecessor – Blandford Park.
Blandford Park came into existence in the mid-1920s, and was usurped by Newmarket Park in 1964. Unlike Newmarket Park, you can’t wander around on it anymore. Instead, tens of thousands of cars, including mine, drive over it every day as part of Auckland’s motorway network. But it still holds an important place in the history and nostalgia of our game in New Zealand.
In terms of location, the easiest way to place it is by looking at the following photographs of Grafton Gully. In this picture taken from the air you can see the park very clearly, and you can get your bearings by noting the stone church right by the tip of the landing gear:
The church is still there today, circled in this photograph:
Apart from Grafton Bridge, almost nothing else about this part of Auckland remains the same. Here, you can see Blandford down the gully from the bridge, with the bowling club (still there) across the road and a very shiny and new looking Carlaw Park towards the bottom!
From reading about Blandford, I get the sense it had a slightly different reputation to that of Newmarket Park. If Newmarket Park is Gone With the Wind – a classic from the golden age… Blandford Park is more like a silent movie equivalent of Snakes on a Plane – so bad it’s good!
If you read this delightfully barbed excerpt from the Evening Post in 1935, you’ll probably get a sense of why…
To many of the Soccer enthusiasts who journeyed to Auckland last week to see the North Island Chatham Cup final there was an added attraction—the first sight of the notorious Blandford Park. Every wet-weather match on that ground has been followed by reports that the surface was largely responsible for the failure of visiting teams to show their best, but those who had not seen Auckland’s principal Soccer ground were inclined to the belief that it could not be as bad as its description.
The disbelievers were quickly and effectively converted by the state of the field last Saturday. Torrential rain had fallen overnight and on the day of the game there were frequent intermittent showers. The falls had the effect of making a surface mire: the water had not been lying long enough to soak in deeply and make the ground gluey; it was rather a substantial coating of slippery mud and water on a comparatively solid foundation. Aucklanders considered that although the ground presented the worst appearance this season it was a little better for football than on the days when Auckland defeated Wellington and Otago respectively.
But as Wellington standards go the surface was a shockingly bad one. A diamond with its four points at the half-way marks on either side line and at the two goal mouths included the worst part of the field which was also the most used part. Outside the diamond turf predominated: inside it was mostly mud. Footholds were precarious, the goalies found the handling anything but sure and the clinging mud brought many a good pass to an unexpected stop.
In the circumstances Hospital’s decisive defeat of a team which could reasonably be expected to feel more at home on Blandford Mire was all the more praiseworthy; as was also the fine football played by both elevens. The standard of Soccer would have been a credit on the best of fields. Without going into the ramifications of the question, it seems obvious that if Soccer is to advance in Auckland the bugbear of Blandford Park will have to be disposed of, either by improving the ground—and that a lot—or by shifting Soccer headquarters to some more distant but playable ground.
I’d hate to see what they would have been like if the Wellington team had lost!! Although to be fair, looking at this photograph that shows the teams lined up for the game in question – you can kind of see what they were complaining about…
Of course, no account of the history of an Auckland football venue would be complete without a definitive word or 1,500 on the subject from Don Service. Here’s what Don wrote about Blandford Park in Sitter fanzine No 52, March 2002 (supplied by Bruce Holloway)…
Although Newmarket Park, the headquarters of Auckland soccer from 1964-1979, is still there as a public park of the lawns and trees variety, not a trace remains of Blandford Park, its predecessor.
With several roads developed in that area as part of the motorway system through Grafton gully, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact site now, but the large car park for University students approximates it, and one can get a bearing by looking up the steep bank to the big stone church of St Pauls with its frontage on Symonds Street, and remembering that the park was in the gully below it.
The main entrance was on Grafton Road, but that central part of this road was obliterated, although the upper and lower parts still exist.
Across the road was the Auckland Bowling Club, and just a bit further away the Stanley Street tennis courts and the old entrance to the back of the terraces at Carlaw Park. And up the hill at the Auckland Domain were four or five soccer grounds heavily used by lower grades every Saturday.
From Queen Street you could walk up Wellesley Street East, past Seddon Memorial Technical College, who sometimes used the park for their annual athletic sports, past the Wynyard Arms Hotel (renamed the Kiwi in the 1950’s) across Symonds Street to go down Wynyard Street along the side of the church to a right of way with steps doing down to the park.
The wooden grandstand, with about twelve rows, licensed by the City Council to hold 684, backed onto Grafton Road. It was a peculiarity of the afternoon light that usually in photos only the front half of the crowd in the stand were seen, the back half were obscured by the shadows.
From one side of the stand six or seven rows of wooden seating stretched up to the main entrance, and then around and along the full length of the goal-line at what was called the Stanley Street End, as opposed to the Grafton Bridge End.
This open seating accommodated about 1400 people. Opposite the stand was a fair-sized grass slope below the church. When I first saw the park in 1940 there were just three grass-topped terraces at the bottom of the slope, yet pictures from 1925 and 1926 show 12-15 rows of terraces there. When or why these terraces were removed seems a bit of a mystery.
A very modest place compared to Ericsson or North Harbour. And yet it offered far more seating than the four or five leading Auckland clubs of today, some of which still have no grandstand.
And you had a reliable programme every week of a main attraction with the next best attraction as a curtainraiser. And clubs, not so obsessed as nowadays with home and away concepts, sometimes complained if they weren’t chosen often enough for headquarters!
The park was named after Mr Morgan Blandford, the original owner of the land. It was officially opened on May 9th, 1925 when Auckland beat Waikato before a crowd of 5-6000. It was supposed to have been opened by the Governor General, but he was detained in Wellington by the fatal illness of the Prime Minister, Mr Massey.
The park had a fair playing surface in later years, but in the 20s and early 30s it was notoriously muddy after rain. Yet old-timers used to claim that Auckland’s standard was better then than post-war. This view was shared by Fred Fullbrook, a long-serving administrator, who with his carrying voice, was often heard reminiscing with friends in front of the kiosk. He thought highly of players such as Danny Jones, apparently a very skilled ball-player, Bob Innes, the best of the Kiwis, Jimmy Christie, Murray Kay and Alan Reid. The last two had Scottish professional experience.
A goalkeeper who was something of a legend with Aucklanders was Bill Zuill, but his career was cut short by injury during the New Zealand tour of Australia in 1933. Another noted keeper was Jack Batty, grandfather of Jason Batty, who used to tell how when he transferred to Tramways during the depression he was immediately given the job on the trams although they had a waiting list of 1300.
Admission prices were low. I think it was in the early 50s that administrators of the three football codes met in solemn conclave and decided that because of increasing expenses they would have to raise the price of admission for club matches from one shilling to one and sixpence, the equivalent to raising it from 10 cents to 15 cents.
Strangely, in the park’s 39 years, only two test matches were played there, Australia winning 4-1 in 1939 and 8- 1 in 1948. Plus one “unofficial test” when FC Basel (Switzerland) won 4-1 under floodlights in 1964.
This was because for many major attractions bigger grounds were hired, Eden Park just a couple of times and the Epsom Showgrounds for Tom Finney’s English FA XI in 1961; but more especially Carlaw Park, the rugby league headquarters, where twelve soccer games between 1922 and 1969 attracted approximately 180,000 spectators [Did he mean 18,000? Enzo.]. Back at Blandford, Auckland were beaten 8-4 (5-3 at halftime) by the English amateurs in 1937, and the rest of New Zealand scored only two goals against the visitors in eight games. Other Auckland achievements at the park included the two 3-3 draws with South Africa in 1947 and the beating of the FK Austria club 3-0 in 1957 and of Australia 2-1 in 1958.
This win was particularly satisfying to those of us who had seen Australia beat Auckland 5-0 and 8-0 in 1948.
But in some ways the most memorable day at the park was in 1955 when Auckland Province played a Hong Kong club and a see-sawing game ended at 5- 5 was watched by 10,000, the record for the ground.
A sensational game was the North Island final of the Chatham Cup in 1949 when Eden drew 2-2 with Petone Settlers.
The game was eventually called off through failing light after 40 minutes of extra time. In the replay Petone won 4-0 at Wellington. Then there were the many stirring games between the arch-rivals North Shore and Eastern Suburbs and the once-frequent games between the Navy and Auckland for the Drummond Cup which petered out in the mid-50s, when the Navy, who had not won since 1939 could no longer hold the Auckland second division reps, let alone the first.
The Falcon Cup knockout was disappointingly discontinued about the same time although it had a long history and gave clubs each year, a second chance to win a trophy.
Perhaps the funniest incident was about 1952 when Auckland B was leading a Merchant Navy selection by 4-0 after about half an hour. The Auckland goalkeeper, Harry Sime, decided the sailors needed some encouragement, and accidently on purpose knocked the ball into his own goal. The visitors finally went down 8-3.
In the post-war years I don’t think any crowd for a local club match exceeded 1600 (sometimes it was only half that), but the North Island final of the Chatham Cup regularly drew 4000, and more than that sometimes watched the end of season “International Tournament”, begun in 1956.
Local players, including the best from Gisborne and the Waikato played for teams according to their country of origin. There was England, Holland, New Zealand and The Rest. Later there was Scotland. The players took it seriously and there were some fine games.
And finally, when the time was drawing close for Blandford Park to slip away into the annuls of history and become a motorway interchange, Bob Higgs, the Chairman of the Auckland Football Association Control Board, wrote the following perhaps slightly rose tinted view of the park in a 1959 issue of “Soccer” (also kindly supplied by Bruce Holloway):
The setting at Blandford Park must be unique in this country at least. The close proximity of the spectators to the ground brings about an ideal sense of complete participation in the game. The backdrops of trees which at this time of year is a glorious sight of Autumn colours, could not be improved. Even the old stand, with all its shortcomings is part of the atmosphere. The members of the Supporters’ Club, sitting outside their headquarters quickly become an accepted part of the Park. How often, too, have we gauged the gate by how far round the corner of the terraces the spectators have gathered.
Within two years all this will pass. It is agreed that Blandford Part and its setting takes a lot of beating, but Civic Progress has condemned it. The Park now lives only on borrowed time. Those things we would have liked to have done to the Park would now he a waste of money. I think we all regret that a move from Blandford Park is necessary. I know I do. The decision was not ours to make but having been made, we must make the best of it we can.
Western Springs is to be our new home. We have been promised a ground up to international standards. The drainage, which has caused trouble for years is to be rectified. We will have a say in what the ground is used for in the off season. Plenty of parking space will be available. Good change rooms and showers are available for the players. Good conveniences are available for spectators. The terraces are greater in capacity than we will need for some years. The stadium does lack a covered stand. This will be our responsibility to erect. When the time comes, we will be asking you to help us to build this stand. We will need money, materials and time. You know best what you can give. We will be asking you soon.
As we know, the move to Western Springs didn’t eventuate. Instead, the AFA found its temporary home (as it turned out to be) in Newmarket five years later. Blandford Park was buried beneath rubble, spoil, concrete, gravel and tar – never to be seen again.
Auckland still doesn’t have a permanent ‘home of football’, 50 years on.
On Bruce’s suggestion in the comments section below I sought and received the following from Barry Smith:
Blandford Park is significant in that it provided a charge ground for football in Auckland giving our sport an income stream that never existed previously.
The Don Service article includes the following:
“Strangely, in the park’s 39 years, only two test matches were played there, Australia winning 4-1 in 1939 and 8- 1 in 1948. Plus one “unofficial test” when FC Basel (Switzerland) won 4-1 under floodlights in 1964.”
There are two reasons why test matches were not played at Blandford Park, one being the paucity of such games in the 40 years the park served as a football venue. The other reason is the limited seating capacity, only 2,000 or so, and very little standing room. Rather like Kiwitea Street today.
Carlaw Park was the venue for matches against Canada (1927), England (1937) South China (1955), Eastern (1957), Australia (1958), Saprissa (1959). Eden Park was used for a test against South Africa in 1947 and NZ played FK Austria on that same ground in 1957. The Tom Finney led Football Association XI played at the Epsom Showground. However, matches between the visiting teams and Auckland were played at Blandford Park.
In the Blandford Park years, two games took place each Saturday. A curtain-raiser at 1.15pm and the main game at 3pm. With four teams involved attendances were better on average than modern times when people are asked to pay $15 for just one game.
The old admission price of one shilling was equivalent to the cost of two large ice creams or say three when the price rose to one shilling and sixpence. A standard ice cream today (if there is such) costs say $3 so admission should probably be no more than $10 for parity with the 1950s.
What I liked about Blandford Park, and the headquarters grounds for rugby and league, was being able to turn up to the Park on and Saturday and know that you were seeing (arguably) the most appealing matches that day. Not like today when I have to choose between several venues and then be able to watch only one match.
Naturally the representative selectors of old spent much of their time at Blandford Park so playing on the ground was always an advantage for players in terms of opportunity for rep selection.
The western side of the ground received little afternoon sun and with only a grass bank on which to stand was rarely used by spectators. I can recall only two occasions on which a group of spectators stood there. One was the Eden v Petone North island Chatham Cup fixture in 1949 when the Petone supporters stood there. The other was the Auckland v South China A.A. (Hong Kong) match in 1955 when the crowd was so large that all the seating was taken leaving latecomers no option but to stand on the western bank.
I would question Don’s statement that the North Island final of the Chatham Cup regularly drew 4,000 as aside from the Petone game I don’t ever recall full seating at the park.
Don should probably have mentioned the floodlight games played as early as 1929. That year there was a bad spell of weather and the planned series of Cup games had to be abandoned.
There were no lights when I first attended a match at Blandford but a floodlight series took place in spring in 1952 and night games were a feature at the park up to its closure.
Categories: Other Football Topics
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.