Eden Park marks 100th

EMMA WHITTAKER
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2013
Eden Park
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WATERY LEGACY: The flooded site of the Kingsland Cricket Club ground, pictured in 1907, later became Eden Park.

Eden Park
JASON OXENHAM
CENTENARIAN: Graham Walton has had a lifelong relationship with Eden Park, which turns 100 this year.

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Eden Park will this year celebrate its 100th anniversary at the centre of New Zealand sporting folklore.

The landmark stadium started life on reclaimed swamp land as grounds for the Kingsland Cricket Club in 1903.

Rugby arrived in 1913 when the Auckland Cricket Association signed a deal with the Rugby Union to use the new park in the off season.

"That's when it really started to become a stadium. It's why we're having the centenary now," Eden Park's community liaison officer Graham Walton says.

The site has grown to become New Zealand's largest stadium and has played host to some of the most memorable sporting moments - including some we'd probably rather forget.

Among the top ranking are the All Blacks' first win against the Springboks in 1956, the infamous 1955 cricket test where New Zealand achieved the lowest score in the sport's history (bowled out for just 26), and the 1981 Springbok tour.

Mr Walton has had a lifelong relationship with the stadium and has been there for most of its big moments.

"There's been a lot of firsts at Eden Park. It's probably this history that enhances its reputation as an iconic sporting venue even more so than the facilities," the 72-year-old says.

But he is quick to point out it's not just rugby and cricket that have a claim to the park.

Tournaments for most major sporting codes, as well as visits from the Royal family and the Dalai Lama have also been held there.

The park even once housed a school - of several used to train country teachers in the 1920s.

Former pupils say the head teacher used the pitch as a driving range during his lunch hour and got the students to collect the balls.

"I don't know how the groundsman of Eden Park would have felt about it, but that's how the story goes," Mr Walton says.

Eden Park was earmarked as a mortuary during World War II but never used.

The implementation of the Eden Park Trust Act 2009 means it is being used a lot more for community events.

"It's not the case any more that if you don't come to see sport you won't come to the park," Mr Walton says.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Eden Park is that it developed largely by its own means or by those of the sporting codes that used it, he says.

"The New Zealand public and government, both local and national, like to use top facilities but they don't necessarily want to front up with the money to develop them."

The government agreed in 2007 to give $190 million for the redevelopment of the park in time for the Rugby World Cup.

"It was really the first time any government has put any money into the park by way of funds or grants," Mr Walton says. "It couldn't have been redeveloped without it."

The work included replacing the old south and west stands, as well as adding a new east stand, and temporarily increasing crowd capacity to 60,000.

"The end result is something we are very happy with," Mr Walton says.

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Funding a possible waterfront stadium and other plans to shake up Auckland's sporting venues have all raised questions in the past about the future of Eden Park but the stadium is on track to remain New Zealand's premier sporting venue, its chief executive David Kennedy says.

"It's been around for 100 years and there is no reason it won't be around for another 100," he says.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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