Widnes Vikings
The Halton Stadium

Ground No. 16
Visited - Saturday 8th August 2009
Result - Wigan Warriors 26-39 Warrington Wolves
Competition - Challenge Cup Semi-Final
Attendance - 12,975

When the franchises for 2009 were announced then the controversial decision to include Celtic and Salford in Super League was made as expected. There were a number of clubs who were turned down, some harshly and others whose bids had been rather more hopeful than realistic. Leigh were the most vocal of the rejected clubs, but the one who most people felt for was Widnes, a club with a history, ground and youth academy that many existing SL clubs would have been proud to call their own. Perhaps it was for this reason that the RFL awarded them with the Challenge Cup Semi-Final between Wigan and Wire when a bigger ground might have seemed more apt, but despite the capacity fears, it gave me the opportunity to visit a ground that I’d wanted to go to for a while.

Situated at the mouth of the River Mersey, Widnes is a true Rugby town, one of the largest in the country without a football club, although the round ball game has been played there. The Halton Stadium was previously home to Runcorn before their demise and Everton reserves still play at the ground, but the people of Widnes have always shunned a team of their own in favour of Rugby League. Formed in 1873, ‘The Chemics’ were a founder member of the Northern Union and had their glory period during the 1970s/80s, winning four Championships, six Challenge Cups and six Premiership titles, not to mention becoming both the European and World Club Champions in 1989/90 alongside a host of other smaller honours. Naughton Park has been their home since 1895, but in the late 90s it was transformed, thanks largely to the council, with the fourth side finally completed in 2005 with the addition of the East Stand replacing the last remnants of the old ground. The redevelopment also saw it renamed to its official title of ‘The Stobart Stadium, Halton’.

It had hosted a Wigan-Warrington semi-final back in 2004, so this was a bit of a re-run, especially as the other semi was also the same as five years previously with Saints taking on Huddersfield at Warrington. I’d been looking forward to the game for some time, so set off in a good mood, not having to leave too early for the relatively short journey up to Merseyside, changing once on the train at Liverpool South Parkway before arriving into Widnes just after midday. Already fans were out in force, with shirts of both clubs visible, the supporters enjoying a rare glimpse of the summer as the atmosphere built up around the ground before kick-off.

Situated in a residential area, the ground is quite confined with houses on two sides, and roads hemming it in on the other two. The South Stand at first you might not expect to be the rear of a stand with a brick and mock-tudor exterior making it look more like a travel tavern, but the other three sides are more contemporary with metal cladding and cantilever struts poking out. Once inside, and after going through the slightly cramped concourse, then it opens up into what you hoped the likes of Shrewsbury’s New Meadow could have been. All four sides are single tiered, with the East Stand slightly smaller than the other three. The South (Main) Stand has executive boxes to the rear, but otherwise they mirror each other, yet unlike the technically similar New Meadow (or Warrington even), then it seems to have a character to it that those two don’t. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but perhaps it’s because the stands are closer together, or maybe the metalwork underneath the roofs, but something helped make it feel a bit different. That architectural je ne sais quoi.

Anyway, an appreciation for stadium engineering aside, since I’d started to follow Rugby League, my nomadic tendencies for seeing a new ground had seemed to settle down and found a home at the JJB Stadium, and it was the Wigan fans I was sitting amongst in the West Stand. The game had promised to be a cracker, Wigan were in great form in the weeks running up to it, but Warrington, indifferent of late are always a threat, and having won the league fixture 16-8 back in May then the Wire fans were likewise feeling confident of their own chances. It looked like they might have taken an early lead when Ben Westwood went over in the third minute, but his try was ruled out for obstruction and four minutes later Wigan had a 6-0 lead thanks to Phil Bailey who weaved his way through the defence to touch down. It was 8-0 shortly afterwards thanks to a Pat Richards penalty, but even at that point there was a sense of unease that things weren’t going right. Wire seemed to be up for the game a little bit more and they went on to dominate the rest of the half, decimating Wigan with 28 unanswered points to make the game seem as good as over at half-time.  After the break, the misery was compounded when Matt King grabbed his hat-trick on 48 minutes to make it 32-8, but far from that being it, it was the signal for a fight-back from Wigan. Sam Tomkins and Andy Coley looked to have helped restore a little bit of pride with a try a piece, but when Thomas Leuluai acrobatically reached over to score a cracker with just over 10 minutes left, then it really seemed game on, Pat Richards converting to make it 26-32. The atmosphere was building in the Wigan end, but almost as quick as everyone had started to believe in the impossible, the enthusiasm was dampened thanks to Lee Briers who tapped home a drop goal, and the game was confirmed as over shortly afterwards when a poor kick from Leuluai went straight to Chris Hicks who raced home through a non-existent defence, Chris Bridge adding the two to make the final score 39-26 to Warrington.

Walking away was a bit gutting hearing the Wire fans still celebrating and with choruses of Que, Sera, Sera ringing out I made my way quickly out, going into the town for some food before eventually heading back, the detour unfortunately helping me to arrive back at the station just as the main throng of Warrington supporters were arriving on the opposite platform to rub their victory in a little bit more.

Overall the result had put a disappointing feel on the day, but it had still been good to visit the ground. For some reason redeveloped grounds seem to have something that brand new ones don’t, even when all four stands have been razed to the ground and rebuilt. Perhaps it’s the location, still within their community as opposed stuck out unwanted on the edge of towns, but even that I don’t think is it. This ground has all the ingredients to be boring and soulless, yet despite the likes of the New Meadow using practically the same recipe, this cake has come out of the oven tasting much better, so to speak. In a Rugby perspective it’s definitely up there with the best, and if as expected, Widnes get the chance they deserve come 2012, then it will be a welcome addition to Super League. 

Welcome to the Halton Stadium

Rear of the West Stand

Rear of the South Stand

Rear of the East Stand

Rear of the North Stand

The North Stand

The East Stand

The South Stand

The South Stand

The East Stand

The North Stand

2009 Challenge Cup Semi Final

The Halton Stadium Panoramic 1

The Halton Stadium Panoramic 2

The Halton Stadium Panoramic 3


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