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Sunday, 17 May 2020 - 10:33
aberdeen football club grounds pre-pittodrie
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aberdeen football club grounds pre-pittodrie

17 May 2020 10:33

Aberdeen FC were founded in 1903 and have played at Pittodrie Stadium from inception. However, the history of football in the Granite City goes back to 1881 and the three clubs who ultimately merged to form The Dons played at seven recognised grounds before the move to Pittodrie in 1899.

This article is based on information gleaned from Fraser Clyne's excellent book "The Aberdeen Men Can't Play Football " An early history of football in Aberdeen 1881-1903" and research and photographs provided by Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust (AFCHT). GT's Scots Editor recently undertook the 8 mile Heritage Trail walking tour www.afcheritage.org/heritagetrail taking in and photographing the sites of all previous grounds of Aberdeen (formed 1881), Orion (1885) and Victoria United (1889) the three founder clubs of the current Aberdeen FC.

The photographs are all available on the Heritage Trail pages.

Holburn Cricket Grounds (1882-1888)

This long gone venue was sited alongside Broomhill Road opposite Balmoral Place south of the city centre. The area is now bounded by the residential area of Irvine Place, Pitstruan Place, Broomhill Road and Allan Street. Aberdeen FC founded in 1881 secured part of the Holburn Cricket Grounds, occupied by Aberdeenshire Cricket Club as their first football ground.

The first competitive match in the Granite City took place at Holburn Cricket Grounds on Saturday 15 April 1882 at 230pm with Aberdeen losing 3-1 to Coupar Angus in what was advertised as a "Grand Football Match". Admission to the grounds was 6d with ladies free and the match was started in a violent storm of wind and snow, resulting in a slippery state of ground. The original Aberdeen FC kits comprised maroon jerseys and blue knickerbockers with stripe.

Holburn Cricket Grounds became the main venue for Aberdeen for their first few seasons. The press rarely reported the crowd size and the largest estimated attendance at the venue was 1,000.

Aberdeen returned to Holburn after a couple of seasons at the Recreation Grounds in 1886, before finally moving to The Chanonry Grounds after the 2-1 win over Aberdeen Rangers on 11 February 1888.

Local sides Caledonian and then Bon Accord played at the Holburn Cricket Grounds for a short time after Aberdeen's departure before the ground ceased to be used for field sports.

Aberdeen Grammar School (1882-1884)

The original Aberdeen FC played two home matches on the Grammar School grounds which were then located on the north western side of the original school building, adjoining Whitehall Place, but which have long since been built over and are now part of the Aberdeen Grammar School buildings adjacent to Whitehall Place.

Aberdeen's first Scottish Cup tie was played at Aberdeen Grammar School playing fields on 5 October 1882, with DB Lothian scoring for the home side in a 3-1 defeat to Dundee Harp. The only other match played at the venue was a 3-3 draw against Montrose in April 1884.

Recreation Grounds (1885-1886)

After the River Dee was diverted in the 1870s to allow for expansion of the harbour, the reclaimed land became the location of the Inches (which had previously been on the south side of the River Dee) roughly in what is now an area bounded by Palmerston Road, North Esplanade West and the South Eastern end of Market Street. The ground was only in use for a few years and then later reclaimed for development. The layout of the grounds included a perimeter track for bicycle racing which was very popular in the 1880s and the easily accessible location encouraged large crowds to Recreation Grounds, which were not enclosed.

Aberdeen played their 16 home matches in season 1885-6 at the Recreation Grounds. As a precursor to this move, there was "considerable interest" and a healthy turnout of spectators playing 3d admission money to see the home side lose 7-1 to Arbroath in the Scottish Cup on 4 October 1884.

Orion were formed in 1885 and their first match, a 2-2 draw with home side Aberdeen was held at the Recreation Grounds at the Inches on 30 October 1885. Orion also played on open ground at Duthie Park (one friendly game v Bon Accord) and the Links (seven friendly matches) during 1885-6 season.

Another tenant of the Recreation Grounds were the ill-fated Bon Accord who suffered a record 36-0 defeat to Arbroath in the Scottish Cup at Gayfield in 1885.

Despite considerable investment by the site owners, the Recreation Grounds did not host football for long and the ground appears to have later been occupied by police stables. The site is now a mixture of tenement style office accommodation and small warehouse units in the Poynernook area between Palmerston Road and Market Street.

Victoria Bridge Grounds (1889-1900)

Victoria United founded in 1889 in the distinctive Royal Burgh of Torry area of the city south of the River Dee set up at the new Victoria Bridge Grounds and hosted Celtic in their inaugural match on 16 August 1889 suffering a 10-0 defeat before a small crowd in heavy rain. The Victoria Bridge Grounds were located between what is now South Esplanade East and Crombie Road. The stadium was a substantial facility capable of holding crowds of 6,000 and upwards, and of hosting a variety of sporting events including cycling and athletics competitions. The chimney of the Seaton brick works and tenements of Victoria Road were visible behind the east end of the ground.

Other notable clubs visiting the Sinclair Street ground included Hibernian, Liverpool and reigning English Champions Sheffield United, with the local side enjoying a 1-0 victory against the Blades in a major giant-killing.

Victoria United vacated the Victoria Bridge Grounds in 1892 having encountered financial problems.

The Vics returned to their original Torry venue in 1894 leasing the Victoria Bridge Grounds for a further three seasons from Aberdeen Harbour Board. They celebrated their homecoming with an 8-1 Scottish Cup victory over Peterhead.

A ground record attendance was set when The Vics played Aberdeen in the Aberdeenshire Cup semi-final on 11 January 1890 and 4,500 saw Orion beat Aberdeen 5-0 in the Aberdeenshire Cup Final, this figure was beaten two months later when the first women's match in the city was played in May 1895 before an excitable crowd of 6,000, which resulted in the police escorting the players back to the pavilion after a pitch invasion.

Liverpool then 5th in the First Division visited the Victoria Grounds winning a friendly before 2,000 by 1-0, the gate receipts more than covering the 25 guarantee to the Merseysiders.

At the end of 1899-1900 season The Vics were unable to renew their lease on the Victoria Bridge Grounds and faced a crisis that threatened their very existence. The last match at the Torry venue was a 2-1 defeat against Forfar Athletic in the Northern League in May 1900. The club tried to find a ground close to Holburn Street station, but this came to nothing.

Merger discussions with Orion did not consummate and Victoria United moved away from their south side roots across the city to Central Park.

The Victoria Bridge Grounds are now the site of Joseph Robertson's fish factory on the south side of Sinclair Street, Torry.

Wellington Bridge Grounds (1892-1894)

Victoria United played at the specially constructed Wellington Bridge Grounds during 1892-3 and the following season. The venue near Old Ford Road on North Esplanade set amongst granite works was between Victoria Bridge and Wellington Suspension Bridge, the latter providing the ground's name. The land was leased for 50 per year from Aberdeen Harbour Board, which then (as now) owned substantial tracts of ground in the area. Wellington Bridge Grounds were not quite ready for the start of the season so the Vics had to play their opening fixtures away from home, with the first match at the new venue being a friendly with Brechin City on 22 October 1892, the home side winning 9-1.

In October 1893 The Vics now known by the nickname the "Iron Dukes" in reference to the Duke of Wellington (after whom the Wellington Suspension Bridge was named) agreed a deal with the Harbour Board to lease some additional land on the east side of Old Ford Road, adjoining the original ground. A new grandstand was opened and packed for the Iron Dukes 6-1 defeat to Orion in the Scottish Cup.

The Wellington Bridge Grounds hosted a floodlit benefit match for striking joiners in 1894.

The biggest club to visit Wellington Bridge Grounds were Heart of Midlothian who beat The Vics 8-2 on 10 February 1894. The final fixture at the North Esplanade ground saw The Vics hammer Arbroath Wanderers 11-2 in 1894 and no further football took place at the venue which was subsequently developed for warehouse and most recently modern office accommodation.

Chanonry Grounds (1887-1898)

The Chanonry Grounds were an enclosed venue located behind what is now Number 8 Chanonry in the north of the city in the Old Aberdeen district on what is now part of the area occupied by Cruickshank Botanic Gardens.

Aberdeen clubs had a very poor record in the Scottish Cup and this may have contributed to the move to a better home venue which could attract higher quality opposition to the Granite City. The Chanonry Grounds were selected and leased by Aberdeen FC. The inaugural match was a 10-2 victory against Our Boys of Aberdeen in the Aberdeenshire Cup semi-final in late 1887. The first Aberdeenshire Cup Final watched by 1,000 saw Aberdeen wearing Black & Gold jerseys beat Aberdeen Rangers 7-1 in 1887 and two years later "as large a crowd than has ever assembled at Old Aberdeen on any previous occasion" saw Aberdeen beat Orion 4-3 in the Aberdeenshire Cup Final despite poor weather and admission prices having been raised from 6d to 9d.

A Scottish International Select played an Aberdeen Select side in 1888 before 4,000 (the largest attendance for a sporting event in the city to date) and 1889 with the Scots Select winning 6-1 and 10-0 respectively. A new record Chanonry crowd of 5,000 witnessed Aberdeen's record defeat, a 13-1 humbling by a Queens Park side containing six Scottish Internationalists in the Scottish Cup 4th round on 4 November 1889. This figure was equalled when joint Scottish League Champions Dumbarton beat Aberdeen 6-2 in May 1891. Facilities were gradually improving at Aberdeen's football venues, the Chanonry having both a pavilion and clubhouse, but changing accommodation remained fairly primitive. The Aberdeen Reserve team used a wash house close to the Chanonry to change for their match against Telephone FC while the visitors just stripped off on the pitch.

Notts County were the first English club to play at the Old Aberdeen venue winning 4-0 on 2 January 1893 in the traditional new year match. English Champions Sunderland "The finest combination in the Kingdom" also visited the ground winning 7-1 the following year.

Willie Stewart was the first player sent off in a match in the Granite City for Victoria United against Aberdeen in the Charity Cup Final on 27 May 1893, with the incident causing a riot and the match being abandoned.

Despite competition from Victoria Bridge Grounds and to a lesser extent Central Park, The Chanonry Grounds provided the regular home venue for many representative inter-county matches as well as hosting Aberdeenshire and Charity Cup finals. The record attendance at the venue was 7,000 for the Aberdeenshire Cup Final in February 1892, Victoria United beating Aberdeen 2-0.

More than 5,000 watched both the Aberdeenshire Cup Final and subsequent replay between Orion and Victoria United in February 1897, with every possible space being filled including tree branches and the tops of boundary walls.

Aberdeen had been playing at The Chanonry Grounds for 11 years but in 1898 Miss Anne Cruickshank bought the buildings and playing fields and bequeathed them to Aberdeen University for the construction of the Botanic Gardens which now occupy the old playing fields and a sizeable area of land to the north abounding St Machar Drive and Chanonry.

The last Aberdeen home match at the much loved Chanonry Grounds was a friendly on 16 April 1898 with Aberdeen (now known as the Whites) beating Peterhead 9-2 and the final football match saw Orion beat Victoria Unite 6-4 in the Charity Cup final two weeks later.

Central Park (1887-1894)

Orion moved to the enclosed Central Park in the Kittybrewster area in the north east of the city for season 1887-8, their first match resulting in a 3-1 victory against Aberdeen Rangers and remained there until 21 April 1894. Orion nicknamed the Reds or the Stripes slipped behind both city rivals Aberdeen and Victoria United and did not gain admission to the ill-fated Northern League.

Aberdeen played their opening match of 1887-8 at Central Park, losing 9-4 to Our Boys of Dundee in a Scottish Cup 1st round tie and returned to the venue for season 1898-9 having been forced to vacate the Chanonry. This was a temporary measure as the Whites negotiated a lease with Aberdeen Town Council for land owned by Mr Knight Erskine to build a football ground on the Spital Estates, near Merkland Road East - to be named Pittodrie Park ! Aberdeen playing their first game at Pittodrie in September 1899.

The first floodlit game (using an experimental floodlighting system consisting of six Wells' patent lights) in the Granite City took place at Central Park on 10 November 1892 for the William Wallace Benefit match with Orion beating an Aberdeenshire FA Select 3-2 before a crowd of 3,000. Despite the charitable nature of the match, the stereotypical thrifty image of Aberdonians was reflected in that 1,000 fans avoided paying the entry money by climbing over the boundary walls under the cover of darkness.

Victoria United moved to Central Park in August 1900 and played there for their final three seasons prior to the merger with Orion and Aberdeen to form the current Aberdeen FC. The Vics enjoyed success at the Kittybrewster venue winning the Fleming Shield and Rhodesia Cup twice.

In the aftermath of the first Ibrox disaster in 1902 when 26 spectators died after a section of wooden terracing collapsed during the Scotland v England International, Aberdeen Town Council subsequently considered reports on the security and stability of the grandstands at Pittodrie (Aberdeen), Cattofield (Orion) and Central Park (Victoria United) and instructed improvements be carried out.

The Vics final home game at Central Park was a 2-2 draw in a friendly against Hibernian on 13 May 1903. The Central Park site is now residential housing between Back Hilton Road and Cattofield Terrace.

Cattofield Park (1894-1903)

Cattofield Park was located in what had been partly the grounds of Cattofield House. It was almost astride what is now the modern housing development Cattofield Square off Cattofield Place, near Clifton Road. All three city clubs, Orion, Aberdeen and Victoria United played at the Kittybrewster venue at some point.

Orion moved from Central Park up the hill to nearby Cattofield Park in 1894, hosting Glasgow Rangers for the first time in a 7-2 defeat on 16 November 1895. The club were ambitious and Cattofield Park was claimed to be one of the best grounds in the north of Scotland, Orion leasing it from Aberdeen Town Council and spending 200 in levelling and enclosing it. The Central Park grandstand was also moved to sit alongside the new pitch and a covered press box installed. The Stripes opened Cattofield Park (also referred to as Orion Park) before 2,000 who witnessed a 4-2 defeat to Dundee. This attendance was exceeded by a visit from a Hearts XI which attracted 3,000 to the venue in 1895.

However, in a match in December 1896 the ground was in miserable condition, the rain having formed a number of miniature lakes on the pitch. A match against Victoria United had to be cancelled as winds blew the roof off the grandstand. To compound matters there were regular occurrences of crowd misbehaviour at Cattofield and the police were required to keep any troublemakers at bay on several occasions.

In September 1897, matters had improved and Orion unfurled the Northern League Championship flag (the first Granite City club to win the league) on a 40 foot high flag pole which was specially erected.

Orion lost 2-0 to Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup 1st round in 1899 before a "record crowd" including a healthy Killie support who had travelled by special train directly to the nearby Kittybrewster station. The following year another large Cattofield crowd including 500 East Stirlingshire fans witnessed a 1-1 draw at Orion's final home and a similar sized Ayr United travelling support helped attract 3,500 to the ground in 1901.

The Stripes had been gradually improving the facilities at Cattofield, notably adding a roof to the grandstand during summer 1901 and further improvements were planned, with a fundraising concert and dance held in the Albert Hall, Huntly Street in February 1902.

Orion played their last game at Cattofield Park beating St Johnstone 5-2 in a Northern League fixture on 9 May 1903. The ground continued to be used for junior fixtures, but in 1904 the main stand was dismantled to replace the original stand at Pittodrie Park.

The merger of the original Aberdeen FC, Orion and Victoria United resulted in the formation of the current Aberdeen FC in 1903, with the home ground being Pittodrie Park, where the original Aberdeen FC had played since 1899. Discussions around this time had suggested that a 30,000 capacity ground be built for the merged club and that it should be named Balmoral Park. Ironically the second part of this prophecy did indeed come to pass, as in 2018 the Granite City's second club Cove Rangers (then of the Highland League) took up residence at the Balmoral Stadium in the Loirston area on the south side of the city.

AFCHT are planning to commence a post-Lockdown fundraising campaign to install heritage plaques at the current sites of the original venues which hosted Aberdeen, Orion and Victoria United football matches. GT Scots Editor Jock Gardiner and fellow AFCHT Trustees are planning a third football grounds road trip to Ireland to visit all the venues current and historic where Aberdeen FC have played on the Emerald Isle. More details on the AFC Irish Grounds Tour which is now likely to be scheduled for 2021 will be featured in future editions of GT.