Throwback Thursday – The History of Wembley Park

The history of Wembley Park

Box Hill Soccer Club spent years in the 1950s searching for a permanent home ground, having a temporary hire arrangement at Surrey Park where they had to share with other sports. Finally, the Box Hill Council offered the club land on Canterbury Road, Box Hill South. It was hardly paradise. The “land” was the site of the council’s old rubbish tip, closed in the 1930s. It was truly a wasteland. A delegation from the club inspected the site in late 1955. They would have looked over a large over-grown paddock and one large brick structure, which was the incinerator used to burn rubbish.

Box Hill’s Ray Taylor – 1970’s Wembley Park

As the Box Hill delegation surveyed the scene, there must have been grave misgivings about the wisdom of moving the club to a rubbish dump. To their eternal credit, these visionaries looked way beyond the scraggy wasteland and saw what was possible. A decision was taken to accept the council offer. In a move that typified their ambition and determination, the Box Hill committee would name the new home ground Wembley Park, after the famous home of English football in London, Wembley Stadium. It was an audacious call, but sent message far and wide that Box Hill Soccer Club was a force to be reckoned with.

In the weeks that followed there was a flurry of meetings between the club and council to kick-start the project. The improvements needed were vast. The top priority was soil and drainage for a top-class pitch, followed by a pavilion, change rooms, toilets, fencing on the outer perimeter so entrance fees could be charged, a fence around the playing area and flood lights for practice sessions. The first draft of plans included terracing and a grandstand.

These were heady days for the club.

Wembley Park exterior 1970’s

A sod turning ceremony took place at Wembley Park on Saturday 25 February 1956 at 10.30am. The Mayor of Box Hill, Councillor R. Sparks, officiated at the proceedings and symbolically kicked the first ball at Wembley Park, but it was a long way from being ready to host matches. Indeed, it would be more than two years until the 1958 Victorian State League season before Wembley Park would be ready to host matches.

With the budget so tight, it was decided that the old rubbish incinerator could be fashioned into change rooms. As anyone who visited quickly realised, the smoke odour never quite went away. Later a Press Box was added on the roof of the change rooms. Even with the council’s support and the help of club volunteers and benefactors, the project was stretching the club’s finances and volunteer resources to the limit. In 1957, Box Hill received a loan of £600 from the Victorian Amateur Soccer Football Association (VASFA), to be repaid by the end of 1959. The cash allowed Box Hill to get things moving.

Soccer News about Wembley Park opening

The grand opening of Wembley Park finally happened on Saturday 5 April, 1958. Box Hill hosted Ringwood Wilhelmina in round two of the State League home and away season. The visitors rained on the parade, inflicting a 4-1 defeat on Box Hill. The Hillmen made amends the following Saturday 12 April, 1958 with a thumping 5-3 victory over Hellenic. After all the work and investment in Wembley Park, it was crucial that Box Hill retained its State League status and that was comfortably achieved with a solid 5th place finish in the 12-team competition. After the opening day loss to Wilhelmina, Box Hill turned Wembley Park into a fortress, losing only one other home match in the 1958 season.

Facts and insights in this story by Kyle Patterson