Sheffield Eagles finally coming home as stadium deal signed

Homeless Sheffield Eagles are set to finally return to a new stadium in their own city next year, after property developers gave the green light for construction work to begin.

Scarborough Property Investments have confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that work will commence on the first phase of a new Community Stadium at Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe, once the coronavirus crisis allows. The stadium will provide a permanent home for Championship club Sheffield, with the initial build creating 750 seats after which there is potential for an overall capacity of 3,921 should demand require it.

Once work begins upon the return to normality following the current coronavirus pandemic, the build is a 10-month project with the stadium set to open shortly afterwards, hopefully during the late Spring/early summer for Eagles fans.

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It will be heartening news for the Eagles organisation and fanbase, which has endured a nomadic existence since the destruction of Don Valley Stadium in 2013.

Delighted: Mark Aston, left, and former Sports Minister Richard Caborn.

Sheffield have played home games in Wakefield and Doncaster since then, as well as at a temporary base at the SOLP.

Work was scheduled to start last April but was delayed. However, it has now been confirmed that all parties; the SOLP, the Eagles, Scarborough Property Investments and the land-owning city council, have agreed to commence construction.

For Mark Aston, the club’s head coach and their man-of-the-match when they shocked Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup final, the opening of a stadium they will have offices in and be tenants of will at last enable the club to lay down some roots in their home city.

“It’s tough playing outside the city. We’re Sheffield Eagles, but we’re always playing on the road,” said Aston.

The Olympic Legacy Park could be the Sheffield Eagles' future home

“How can you build anything when you’re repeatedly letting a fanbase down?

“The stadium will be built, there’s no doubt about it. We can’t wait for that, the fans deserve it because they’ve had a tough time.

“But this should galvanise us, make us stronger. We told the fans we would be back, and we will be back.”

For most clubs at the semi-professional level, there is grave uncertainty about how the coronavirus-enforced lockout will affect their revenue streams.

Even more so for the Eagles, who used to play in front of 1,300 supporters at Don Valley Stadium, but played to a little over 300 at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium in their final game before the RFL suspended the season.

“It’s easy for fans to have lost faith when we have delivered the same message over the years, but it’s imminent, it’s close and we need you all back,” was Aston’s call to arms.

“This stadium will put the foundation back in place and we can start building the club back to where it’s been and what it stands for. People need to see it to believe it, and once that first spade goes in and the stand goes back up then I’m sure people will come back.”

Aston is Mr Sheffield Eagles, having been at the club for all but one of his 34 years in the sport, and all but three of the club’s 36 years of existence.

He served as player, head coach and chief executive over the years, and even oversaw the club’s foundation, which he hopes to resurrect once they return to the city.

“People forget that we’re only 36 years old, so that’s not a big history, but having a new stadium can finally be the start of something,” said Aston.

“We are going to do loads of things with the community; we’ve got some wheelchair rugby happening down at the English Institute of Sport with England playing Australia.

“Next year we’ve got the wheelchair World Cup down there and also the men’s World Cup will be playing a couple of games at Bramall Lane, so these are exciting times.

“It’s something we’ve been craving for years, bringing a major event to the city and hopefully on the back of that we can re-energise and reinvigorate our support base, because it’s a great sport and it’s a family sport. Our aims for the legacy of the World Cup are to develop a wheelchair rugby league team representing Sheffield Eagles, a women’s team as well and just to develop the sport in the city in general.

“There’s a lad from here who has just signed for Leeds Rhinos called Corey Hall, who has gone on and played for England Academy. He’s the first to do that.

“I’ve always believed rugby league kids are here in South Yorkshire – we used to have 10,000 in the foundation – we’ve just got to find them, get them coached and give them a pathway.

“We’ve done it once, we can do it again, but we need that home. Once we’ve got that... boom.”