No.1 Sportsground to be No.1 Again

Redevelopment of Newcastle’s No.1 Sportsground should be ready for its 100th anniversary next year.

Artists impression of the upgraded No.1 Sportsground with enlarged field, floodlights, and bleachers.

The project includes enlarging the playing field, upgrading floodlighting, and new tiered seating.

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’.

“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,” Cr Nelmes said.

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 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. Four-tier concrete bleachers will seat an additional 390 spectators and almost double the ground’s seating.

Clubs affected by the ground’s closure will have arrangements made for alternative venues during the 2020/21 summer and 2021 winter sporting seasons.

Sportsground History

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Historic image of No.1 Sportsground during a Schools Pageant, held on 25 April 1951. A living map of Australia was
formed on the field by 6000 school children. Image from Newcastle Libraries Local History archives.