The fourth stop of our Venue series sees us venture into a new sport as we travel down the M62 to Warrington, the industrial town and home of current Super League leaders, Warrington Wolves.
Lying virtually halfway between Manchester and Liverpool, the Roman-founded town was placed at an important crossing point of the River Mersey at Wilderspool. The town is steeped in history, including playing a role in the English Civil War. They can also lay claim to being home to the first IKEA store in Britain, which opened in 1987.
Rugby league is the town’s premier sport and is spearheaded by Warrington Wolves. Founded as Warrington Zingari Football Club in 1876 by seven young local men, they are the only club that has played every season in the top flight.
Zingari is derived from the Italian word for gypsies and was commonly adopted by clubs that lacked a permanent base. In 1881, Warrington found a permanent home at Wilderspool and would spend the next 122 years there. Officially it had a capacity of 9,200, however its record attendance was set in the 1948-49 season when a reported 34,304 spectators turned up to watch the team take on Wigan.
As the Wilderspool stadium headed into the 1990s, it had become decrepit and unfit for purpose. After some time searching for a new home, they eventually settled to the north of the town centre and building began. The Halliwell Jones Stadium became the first stadium post-Taylor report to have terraces. One of the most fascinating things about the ground is the terraced South and West stands, something not seen often in stadia in England.
In 2010, during the Championship Grand Final between Featherstone Rovers and Halifax, a fire broke out beneath the West Stand. The game was delayed for around an hour as firefighters contained the blaze. The ground staff were commended for their actions and ability to safely evacuate over 1400 fans. It’s believed the fire was started deliberately.
Its official capacity sits at 15,300 with its record attendance being just shy of that, set in April this year against Wigan Warriors.
All around the ground, there are nods to the past and history of the club. There are two monuments paying tribute to Brian Bevan. The Australian winger played for the club between 1946 and 1962 and is arguably their greatest-ever player. He scored a world record 796 tries, with 740 of these coming for Warrington. To this day he still holds the record for the most tries scored for The Wire.
The old Wilderspool ground had a stand named after him and after his death in 1991, a statue was unveiled outside the ground in the middle of a roundabout, aptly named ‘Brian Bevan Island’. That statue now sits outside the Halliwell Jones Stadium, alongside a brick mural of the famous player’s face. The stadium also sits on Mike Gregory Way, named after another of their famous players who sadly passed away aged 43 in 2007.
Alongside being the home of Warrington Wolves, the Halliwell Jones has also hosted international rugby league, hosting both European Cup matches in 2004 and four matches during the Rugby League World Cup in 2022.
The Wire are currently flying high in Super League, sitting joint-top with Catalan Dragons. If you’re ever in the North West and have chance to take in a game at the Halliwell Jones, you should definitely do so.
Thanks to Liam and the team at Warrington Wolves for having us down at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. If there are places you would love to see us visit, tweet us @BehindSport and let us know!
You can read more from our Insight series here.