Cardiff Arms Park was developed on land created by the diverting of the River Taff. Always prone to flooding, its boundaries dictated and restricted by the river on one side and the rapidly growing city hemming it in on the other, its location has always been problematic. It’s a ground that grew with the city, expanding piecemeal as it struggled to keep up with the ever-increasing passion of the Welsh for the game of rugby. As the Yorkshire Post once noted “Its architecture has the defects of growth as distinct from planning.”
The city centre location has always been a conflict between the head and the heart. Logic dictates that moving to a new site where a stadium could be purpose built without the existing restrictions makes the most sense, but time and again plans to do so have been overruled. Visiting fans always comment on how fantastic the location is, and anyone who has been to Twickenham can understand the appeal of being in the heart of things rather than the outskirts. After 150 years the stadium remains rooted in the city centre, valiantly trying to cope with the regular influx of tens of thousands of rugby supporters.
From its earliest days demand for tickets, both for Wales and Cardiff matches, regularly outstripped supply. Huge crowds filled Westgate Street on match days and long queues at the entrances was a problem long before security checks and covid passes.
Admission charges for Cardiff matches were first introduced in 1879, and still being fiercely debated 10 years later. As early as 1888 steel fencing was erected in an attempt to keep “the street urchins from getting into the grounds”. It failed. Some even went so far as to ford the Taff so that they could ‘Bobby-dodge’ and gain access at the river end.
Unauthorised access was a running theme throughout the 1880s with frequent complaints in the newspapers about the “hundreds of young men and boys who cheat the gate every Saturday” and the “small fry” who “get under the ropes and stand in front of you in shoals.” Many preferred the elevated ‘wall tickets’ overlooking the ground from Westgate Street before the building of the flats. Crowds got so bad they started to obstruct traffic, particularly when one gentleman decided to watch from the back of his horse and cart. The crowding took a serious turn when a young boy died after falling off the wall in 1891 whilst watching Cardiff versus Newport, and a few years later a gentleman broke his leg trying to watch the game against Swansea.
A cheap season ticket for workmen was introduced in 1890 and proved hugely popular, and a Ladies ticket was introduced in the same year. By 1905 3,500 workman’s tickets were being issued and sold out quickly causing “threats of violence” and suggestions of “rushing the gates”.
Cardiff tried to cope with the increasing demand by extending the grandstand and enlarging the temporary stands in the early 1890s. However, when one of the temporary stands gave way during an Easter Monday match, causing numerous broken bones but miraculously avoiding any fatalities, there were many calls about providing more safe exits.