Park marks 100th

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

EDEN Park will this year cel­e­brate its 100th an­niver­sary at the cen­tre of New Zealand sport­ing folk­lore.

The land­mark sta­dium started life on re­claimed swamp land as grounds for the Kings­land Cricket Club in 1903.

Rugby ar­rived in 1913 when the Auck­land Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion signed a deal with the Rugby Union to use the new park in the off sea­son.

‘‘That’s when it really started to be­come a sta­dium. It’s why we’re hav­ing the cen­te­nary now,’’ Eden Park’s com­mu­nity li­ai­son of­fi­cer Gra­ham Wal­ton says.

The site has grown to be­come New Zealand’s largest sta­dium and has played host to some of the most mem­o­rable sport­ing mo­ments — in­clud­ing some we’d prob­a­bly rather for­get.

Among the top rank­ing are the All Blacks’ first win against the Spring­boks in 1956, the in­fa­mous 1955 cricket test where New Zealand achieved the low­est score in the sport’s his­tory (bowled out for just 26), and the 1981 Spring­bok tour.

Mr Wal­ton has had a life­long re­la­tion­ship with the sta­dium and has been there for most of its big mo­ments.

‘‘There’s been a lot of firsts at Eden Park. It’s prob­a­bly this his­tory that en­hances its rep­u­ta­tion as an iconic sport­ing venue even more so than the fa­cil­i­ties,’’ the 72-year-old says.

But he is quick to point out it’s not just rugby and cricket that have a claim to the park.

Tour­na­ments for most ma­jor sport­ing codes, as well as vis­its from the Royal fam­ily and the Dalai Lama have also been held there.

The park even once housed a school – of sev­eral used to train coun­try teach­ers in the 1920s.

Former pupils say the head teacher used the pitch as a driv­ing range dur­ing his lunch hour and got the stu­dents to col­lect the balls.

‘‘I don’t know how the grounds­man of Eden Park would have felt about it, but that’s how the story goes,’’ Mr Wal­ton says.

Eden Park was ear­marked as a mor­tu­ary dur­ing World War II but never used.

The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Eden Park Trust Act 2009 means it is be­ing used a lot more for com­mu­nity events.

‘‘It’s not the case any more that if you don’t come to see sport you won’t come to the park,’’ Mr Wal­ton says.

Per­haps the great­est tes­ta­ment to Eden Park is that it devel­oped largely by its own means or by those of the sport­ing codes that used it, he says.

‘‘The New Zealand pub­lic and government, both lo­cal and na­tional, like to use top fa­cil­i­ties but they don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to front up with the money to de­velop them.’’

The government agreed in 2007 to give $190 mil­lion for the re­de­vel­op­ment of the park in time for the Rugby World Cup.

‘‘It was really the first time any government has put any money into the park by way of funds or grants,’’ Mr Wal­ton says. ‘‘It couldn’t have been re­de­vel­oped with­out it.’’

The work in­cluded re­plac­ing the old south and west stands, as well as adding a new east stand, and tem­po­rar­ily in­creas­ing crowd ca­pac­ity to 60,000.

‘‘The end re­sult is some­thing we are very happy with,’’ Mr Wal­ton says.

Fund­ing a pos­si­ble waterfront sta­dium and other plans to shake up Auck­land’s sport­ing venues have all raised ques­tions in the past about the fu­ture of Eden Park but the sta­dium is on track to re­main New Zealand’s pre­mier sport­ing venue, its chief ex­ec­u­tive David Kennedy says.

‘‘It’s been around for 100 years and there is no rea­son it won’t be around for an­other 100,’’ he says.


Cen­te­nar­ian: Gra­ham Wal­ton has had a life­long re­la­tion­ship with Eden Park which turns 100 this year.


Watery legacy: The flooded site of the Kings­land Cricket Club ground, pic­tured in 1907, later be­came Eden Park.

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