Take Your Seats, Please

Duo’s Role In Ground-Breaking Fixture

John Holsgrove in action against Tottenham.

Two influential Wolves figures of the 1960s have been named as participants in what is said to have been the first game in England to have been played in an all-seater stadium.

Not long before becoming colleagues at Molineux, Ronnie Allen and John Holsgrove were Crystal Palace team-mates for the first of an unusual series of friendlies against West Ham that have recently been ‘revisited’ more than half a century on.

Palace had just been promoted to the Second Division and temporarily vacated their Selhurst Park headquarters to move one and a half miles down the road to mark the opening of the newly-completed Crystal Palace Stadium at Norwood.

The venue was seen much more as a home for athletics, so the 9,000 who watched Holsgrove, Allen and team-mates in action there against the FA Cup holders in August, 1964 had to do so with a running track between they and the pitch.

More significantly, at a time when every ground had terraced areas, all the spectators were seated – and that before the main stand was added in 1977 as a way of increasing capacity from 12,000 to 16,000.

“It did make for a bit of a strange atmosphere,” Holsgrove recalled. “It was certainly nothing like what I became used to at Molineux for example.

“As I remember, it was a bit of a novelty going to play West Ham there. It wasn’t a one-off either as other matches followed.”

Allen skippered the side who beat West Ham 4-1 and helped himself to one of the goals. The Hammers were captained not by Bobby Moore but by Johnny Byrne, one of seven players in their side whose name began with a B!

West Ham went back to the venue in 1965 but Allen was by then at Wolves and Holsgrove would follow him shortly afterwards. As the excellent Backpass magazine has told us this year, Chelsea and Arsenal also played in friendlies at the ground later in the decade.

Ronnie Allen (right) and Johnny Byrne shake hands before the novelty Palace v West Ham game in August, 1964.

The tall defender was signed immediately after the infamous 9-3 defeat at Southampton in the autumn of that year and had the satisfaction of his first four Wolves matches ending in 3-0 victories.

West Ham and Palace meet again on Wednesday in another stadium that was initially used for athletics and we wonder how many of the respective clubs’ supporters realise that their sides played each other in an all-seater setting long before the Taylor Report of 1990.

Thomas Publications
www.footiepix.co.uk