Story: Sports venues

Page 2. Development of the major stadiums, 1920 to 1990

All images & media in this story

Increased spectatorship

From 1920 there was growing spectator interest in competitive sports, especially rugby. This was due to:

  • the success of the All Black rugby team, especially on the 1905–6 and 1924–25 tours to the United Kingdom
  • tours by international rugby and cricket teams
  • increased leisure time, especially the Saturday afternoon holiday, which most people had by this date
  • the development of radio, which heightened interest in sports
  • new domestic competitions such as rugby’s Ranfurly Shield and cricket’s Plunket Shield
  • improvements in transportation, such as buses, trams and cars, which made it easier for spectators to travel to games.

The result was a demand for new grounds, and for larger grandstands at existing grounds.

New grounds

The significant new grounds developed between the wars were:

  • Hamilton’s Rugby Park, which opened with a new stand in 1925 (although nine years later the roof collapsed), followed in 1950 by Seddon Park, a village-green setting for cricket (Hamilton thus joining Wellington and New Plymouth in having separate grounds for rugby and cricket)
  • Lansdowne Park in Blenheim, which opened in 1930 with a rugby game between the British Lions and combined team representing Nelson, Golden Bay, Motueka and Marlborough.
  • Rugby Park in New Plymouth, which became a rugby ground in 1931 and was later re-named after passionate local rugby supporter and businessman Noel Yarrow
  • Carlaw Park, close to Auckland’s Domain, which became a legendary ground for rugby league from 1921.
  • Gisborne’s Harry Barker Reserve, a cricket ground from 1948
  • Okara Park in Whangārei, which became Northland’s main rugby ground in 1965, replacing the notoriously muddy Rugby Park
  • Mt Smart in Auckland, which opened as a sports stadium in 1967, was the site of the athletics events at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and became the home of the Warriors rugby league team
  • Queen Elizabeth II Park in Christchurch, constructed for the 1974 Commonwealth Games
  • Owen Delany Park in Taupō, which opened in 1983 and was used for both rugby and cricket.

After the Second World War there followed:

Irishwoman’s stand

At both Carisbrook and Eden Park there was a long tradition of stands outside the official admission area but with good views of the ground – known as ‘Scotsman’s stands’. Most were outlawed in the 1960s, but Monica O’Sullivan’s ‘Irishman’s stand’ – which had been first built on her property at 1 Cricket Avenue, next to Eden Park, in 1956 – lasted until the 1990s. O’Sullivan, a stalwart Irish Catholic who reserved seats for the Marist brothers, printed tickets, numbered the planking seats and served refreshments – a choice of beer or tea served from her best china.

New stands

Between 1920 and 1990 facilities at sports grounds, especially grandstands, were improved. In response to international rugby tours, new stands were built at Carisbrook and Eden Park in the 1920s and 1930s; and there was another burst of such improvements at most grounds in the 1950s and 1960s. By then the big grounds normally had embankments to accommodate standing patrons. Eden Park – which had hosted the Empire Games in 1950, and was the site of New Zealand cricket’s lowest test innings (26) in 1955 and then first test win the next year – hosted a huge crowd of 61,240 for the fourth rugby test against South Africa in 1956.

The large grounds were used for a range of sports, from rugby and cricket to football and marching. They were also used for various events such as receptions for royalty, religious gatherings or rock concerts. They became assets for the whole community.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Sports venues - Development of the major stadiums, 1920 to 1990', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/sports-venues/page-2 (accessed 24 August 2019)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 Sep 2013