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Derwent Park Stadium - A Brief History
When you go through the turnstiles to see the Comets in action, do you ever stop and think about the history of the stadium itself? Probably not!

Here's a bit of history about the stadium.

The stadium is actually owned by Allerdale Borough Council, with Workington Town RLFC holding a 199-year lease for use of the stadium, and the Comets renting the stadium from Workington Town on race nights.

Sport has actually taken place there since August 1956, when the ground was opened for Workington Town, who christened the stadium with a 24-0 defeat at the hands of Wigan. Meanwhile the record attendance for the stadium is actually 17,741, which was reached on 3rd March 1965, in a Challenge Cup match between Workington Town and Wigan.

The current main grandstand used to be home to fishing boats, as before the First World War it was the site of a tidal estuary; 'The Saltings'. The 18 acres site for the ground was also previously a rubbish tip, and so the ground sits directly above nearly 4 metres of ash and rubble.

Despite only being charged a pittance of a rent by the council at the time, the erection of the stadium proved to be a long and drawn-out process, largely because of the costs involved. The building of the stadium took around 10 years in total, with constant delays due to a lack of building materials because of all the rebuilding work taking place after the destruction from the Second World War. A building permit also had to be sought, as it was imperative that the 'more important' buildings were built first in the clean-up process, which added a further delay.

By 1953, the pitch and pitch-side banking were completed, but still no stands had been built, with finance still proving to be a real problem. With little financial support coming from the local council it was left to the Supporters Club to raise finances to complete the erection of the stands, while local building firms also helped out; often doing work at cost, simply in the interests of the local community.

In the end the Rugby League itself contributed financially, providing a £13,000 loan to pay for the main stand. The stadium is unique in that the ends of the stand are set at an angle of 45 degrees, so allowing perfect viewing of the pitch, and now also of the speedway track.

The speedway track itself was laid in early 1970 under the direction of Ian Thomas. This necessitated the removal of some terracing on the popular side and a slight movement of the rugby pitch to accommodate the track, which used over 3,500 tons of slag from the nearby steelworks as a base. Upon completion the first speedway meeting took place on Friday, 3rd April 1970.

The stadium continued in this form, with only minor alterations, such as the erection of squash courts and a bar, until 1986. However, in the aftermath of the Valley Parade disaster, where a fire at Bradford City's stadium took many lives, Sports Stadium safety regulations were tightened, and so Derwent Park then underwent a sizeable facelift.

For a spell during the 1986 season the capacity was limited to only 986 during the safety work, and so the club played several of its major games at nearby Borough Park. The safety work came at a high financial cost, as seats had to be removed and crush barriers fitted, smoke detectors installed, and an emergency escape route planned out from the Grandstand.

During the 1990s, the club invested more money in bringing Derwent Park up-to-date by making improvements to floodlights, the roofing and also by carrying out further safety measures.

In mid-1998, the stadium suffered some minor structural damage allegedly due to the construction of a nearby sewer and then, in early 1999, the investment made by Tony Mole to bring speedway back to Derwent Park saw further changes take place within the stadium, further enhancing its' overall appearance.

The staging of the Rugby League World Cup in late 2013, gave the stadium a further opportunity to undergo another facelift, when it was announced that Derwent Park would stage two group matches in late October to early November of that year.

As a result of this announcement, the winter months of 2012-2013 saw the stadium undergo a substantial upgrade, with a sum of £450,000 having been made available by Britain's Energy Coast and Allerdale Borough Council to upgrade the ground in time for the two games featuring Scotland.

This upgrade consisted of works to the Popular Side Stand, Grandstand and Enclosure, toilets, bar areas, pitch and floodlights, along with the installation of a new electronic scoreboard, turnstile refurbishment and works to facilitate broadcasting and the media.

This included items such as structural repairs to the roof of the grandstand and the replacement of the grandstand seats, floodlight enhancements to bring the lighting up to tv broadcast standard, the installation of a new pitch drainage system and the replacement of the high level TV Camera Box on the popular side.

Then, in order to comply with the latest safety regulations, an air fence was fitted to the perimeter fencing of the speedway track in March 2014.

www.workingtoncomets.co - official club website.
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Dave Payne, Adrian Randall