Centenary celebrations come early as Newcastle’s No.1 Sportsground upgrade commences

14 Sep 2020

A major redevelopment of Newcastle’s No.1 Sportsground is underway and expected to be complete in time for the facility’s 100th anniversary next year.  

The project, which includes enlarging the playing field, upgrading the lighting and building new tiered seating, is scheduled for completion in mid-2021 and will be position the region to attract elite sporting events. 

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Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said redeveloping No.1 Sportsground so it can return to its former glory of hosting elite cricket and AFL is an apt way to celebrate the facility notching up its ‘maiden century’. 

“We’re eagerly anticipating the sportsground entering its centenary year in 2021 and look forward to being able to celebrate this milestone moment with a significantly upgraded facility,” Cr Nelmes said. 

“This project will not only benefit those within our community who utilise it for grassroots and regional level sport, but will also have a wider-reaching impact on Newcastle’s economy through its potential to attract and host first class cricket and pre-season AFL fixtures.” 

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The staged works include increasing the size of the playing field to achieve the minimum standard required for a first grade AFL match, constructing seven new cricket wickets and re-building the entire playing surface. 

A new sub-soil irrigation and drainage system will provide a high quality, consistent playing surface, while the installation of six new 40 metre light poles will upgrade the lighting to a standard suitable for night-time games. 

New sight screens, player dug-out benches and oval fencing will also improve the playing experience, while the construction of new four-tier concrete bleachers to seat an additional 390 spectators will almost double the ground’s current seated capacity. 

City of Newcastle has worked closely with the various clubs affected by the ground’s closure, with arrangements made for alternative venues during the 2020/21 summer and 2021 winter sporting seasons. 

No.1 Sportsground History 

No.1 Sportsground sits within the 20-hectare National Park, one of Newcastle’s largest and oldest sportsgrounds and open space reserves. 

It was built on land previously owned by the Australian Agricultural Company, which from 1865 until the early 1900s was leased by the Newcastle Racing Club as the site of the city’s original racecourse. 

National Park Sports Ground, as it was originally known, was designed by City engineer JF Shine in 1921, with its playing oval replicating the size of the Sydney Cricket Ground. 

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Its original two-storey timber grandstand was completed in October 1921 and could accommodate between 200 and 300 people, with dressing rooms, stores and locker rooms in the lower level. 

The sportsground was officially opened on 16 September 1922, with City of Newcastle changing its name two years later to Newcastle Sports Ground. 

In 1989 the Newcastle Earthquake caused major structural damage to the original timber grandstand, which resulted in it being almost completely reconstructed with concrete stands, which remain today. This was the last significant upgrade to take place at the ground. 

No.1 Sportsground has a history of playing host to top level sporting events including international fixtures covering all codes of football, hockey and cricket. 

It has however been more than a decade since the most recent international level match when the Australian women’s cricket team defeated South Africa in March 2009 during the group stages of the ICC Women’s World Cup. 

The last first class cricket match played at the ground was in February 2015, when Western Australia beat NSW by seven wickets in their Sheffield Shield clash.  

Other codes have also made the most of No.1 Sportsground over the years, including a rugby union clash between New South Wales and New Zealand in 1935, while the Newcastle rugby league team defeated Great Britain 23-18 in front of 22,750 fans in 1962. 

The venue has been utilised for a range of non-sporting events as well, including Anzac Day celebrations in 1946 and a Schools Jubilee and Pageant in 1951 that saw 6,000 school children form a living map of Australia in the centre of the field, while Scottish pop-rock icons Simple Minds headlined the Newcastle 500 Supercars concert at the ground in 2018.