Western Springs Stadium
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Western Springs Stadium is a stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Built within a natural amphitheatre, it is primarily used for rugby union matches during the winter and for speedway during the summer. It is also occasionally used for large concerts and festivals.
|Location||Stadium Rd, Western Springs, Auckland, New Zealand|
|Operator||Auckland Council / Auckland Stadiums|
Western Springs Stadium was built on land purchased from the Motion family by Auckland City Council in 1875 in order to build the Western Springs reservoir and pump station. Situated in a natural amphitheatre, concrete terracing was constructed. It was designed and modelled on European stadiums which included a banked concrete cycling track, a cinder running track and a grassed centre area for football and sports. The original design included a covered grandstand which would fill the gap between the concrete terraces, the cycling track finishing straight was designed and built to start and finish in front of the proposed grandstand (where the pit area now is). The stadium was never completed.
In 1929, the stadium built by Relief Labour was opened to serve cycling, athletics and football sports. The cycling track was over 500 yards in circumference as the European tracks were then. The cinder all weather Athletic 440-yard running track was the first of its type in NZ and it with the overall stadium would have easily compared to the famous Wembley Stadium in England. Some conjecture has been made when motorcycle speedway commenced on Western Springs. Saroway Park Newmarket was being used at the time. Previously the Mt Albert volcanic crater had been used. It was not until 1935 Motorcycle broadsiding commenced on the cinder running track (as they did on Wembley). On Christmas Day December 1937 midget car racing was introduced at a special international meeting, it included NZ pioneers Ron Roycroft and Geo Smith. The first official season then followed in January 1938. Speedway was still being raced at the previous venue at the Epsom Showgrounds. Athletics disappeared from Western Springs as a result and New Zealand's only all weather Athletics track was replaced by the traditional grass tracks until the late 1960s. When the first of the new style all weather athletics tracks were built Western Springs was already many years ahead of its time with an all weather cinder surface laid in 1929.
1950's saw promoters "take over" with the blessing of the Auckland City Council pleased to receive a monetary return. The early promoters combined Cycling, Motorcycle Speedway and Speedway Cars who all raced together on the same program with a large following. The war intervened and in 1944 Speedway became a huge entertainment and the formula of Cycling, Speedway Bikes and Midgets reached international heights.
Speedway previously had competed on Epsom Showgrounds, Blanford Park on the old cycling track around the soccer field (now under the Grafton Gully motorway) and Olympic Park (Saraway Park) in Newmarket.
Stock car promoters raised the height of the speedway/running track introducing stock cars and forcing speedway motorcycling out, who relocated to Rosebank Road. Speedway cars were affected at this time by a conflict with Stock Car promoters. During the 1960s Cycling was forced out of the stadium as the promoters in tandem with the Auckland City Council made access difficult and later impossible under the requirements of the speedway track. The Auckland City Council had little regard for Amateur sports such as Cycling and Athletics, nor for the stadium itself, never completing the complex and building the Grandstands. Neglect reached its nadir when the main concrete terraces slipped away during the 1960s, almost taking the cycling track with it. It took months to effect repairs; under strong public criticism they finally did some thing to re-instate the damaged terraces. The surrounding stadium grounds deteriorated into a Council yard with derelict equipment and buildings littering the boundary of the site which spread to the adjoining Lake and Pump House and abandoned relief campsite. Speedway Cars resurged into a new golden era when stock cars went to Gloucester Park and finally Waikaraka Park.
Because cycling was forced out the cycling track was never able to be used again, so it was removed to widen the new speedway midget race track; at the same time smaller cycling velodrome track sizes became the International requirement.
The 1960s saw a brief return of what the stadium concept originally was; this was assisted by the Speedway promoter who laid the athletic track. On the success of Peter Snells' Olympic victories an International Athletic and Cycling event was held with the largest crowd recorded for the stadium. It was larger than the 1950 British Empire Games cycling events and Closing Ceremony.
Western Springs Stadium has been used for speedway since 30 November 1929 when motorcycling (broad siding) was introduced. Midget Car racing started in December 1937 with an International race including New Zealand pioneers Ron Roycroft and Geo Smith. The first full speedway season started in January 1938. With the war years there was a break until 1944 when speedway with cycling, motor cycling and midget cars became the major entertainment event during the summer months in Auckland.
Speedway events take place at the stadium from early November through to mid March. Speedway activities have been under threat in recent years due to complaints and legal action from a local residents group. Currently speedway events are limited to 12 events per season, but negotiations and legal action by community groups and speedway promoters are ongoing.
On 31 March 2012 Western Springs Stadium played host to the opening round of the 2012 Speedway Grand Prix, the first time the Speedway Grand Prix (SGP) has ever been held in New Zealand. The 413 metres (452 yards) long track was one of the longest tracks ever used in the SGP series. The SGP of New Zealand was held in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before being cut from the 2015 Speedway Grand Prix series.
Between late March and early October the stadium is used by the Ponsonby RFC for training and games.
Western Springs has been mooted as a new home for Test cricket in Auckland by Regional Facilities Auckland, at a cost of $20 million. This rationale was boosted in 2015 when the AFL stated that they would like play Australian Rules Football there at AFL level. Auckland Cricket are reluctant to move after their return to their traditional home at Eden Park, redeveloped for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but concede that it is too small for international cricket. The shift plan is further complicated by the proposed repositioning of speedway at Mount Smart Stadium and the positions of the incumbents there. In 1987 Western Springs hosted its first and so far only list-A limited overs game.
Two concerts held at the stadium were the largest concerts ever in New Zealand at the time. On 26 November 1983, one of the final dates of David Bowie's Serious Moonlight Tour was attended by either 74,480 fans (according to bootleg recordings) or by 83,000 (according to the promoter years later). On 14 March 1987, over 80,000 fans saw the concert by ZZ Top.
Other artists who have performed at the venue range from Led Zeppelin (1972), Bob Marley & The Wailers (1979), Elton John (1971, 1974, 1982, 1984 and 1990) to AC/DC (2010 and 2015). Including shows by Deep Purple 13/11/75, Alice Cooper 4/4/77, Rod Stewart 22/2/79, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) 29/1/78, KISS 3/12/80, Fleetwood Mac 22/3/80, Stevie Wonder 11/4/81 (weather delayed Monday), Bon Jovi 19/09/87, David Bowie 28/11/87, Pink Floyd 22/01/88, Mick Jagger 5/11/88, The Rolling Stones 17/4/95, Genesis 23/11/86, Paul McCartney 27/3/93, Bruce Springsteen 28/03/03.
At the top of the hill that forms the amphitheatre is a street of houses – the residents have a view into the stadium from their back gardens. This has often been referred to by the artists on stage, who have often encouraged the residents to donate money to charity in lieu of an entrance fee – notably, Bono from U2 (1989) and Robbie Williams (2003). In 1993's ZooTV show, Bono made a mid-performance phone call to one of the neighbouring properties with a grandstand built in the backyard overlooking the stadium, and earlier in the day the band had sent up a selection of tour merchandise to attempt to sell to the viewers.
In January 2014, it was the venue for the Big Day Out, the festival's first return to Auckland since Mount Smart Stadium in 2012. A reported 40,000+ attendance may augur a return in 2015 but a lack of success in Australia puts this in doubt.
On 15 February 2014, rapper Eminem performed at the venue for an estimated 55,000 fans. It was his first in the country and is the first to be headlined by a rap act in the venue's history.
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- NZ SGP
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