With the 2022 commonwealth games descending in Birmingham this summer, all eyes will be on the Alexander Stadium. The venue is set to host the athletics as well as both the opening and closing ceremonies. Since its opening in 1976, the stadium has proved a vital center for regional, national, and international athletics, being home to local team Birchfield Harriers, as well as British champs and regular Diamond League meetings. The venues redevelopment continues to uphold the successful legacy formed over the years. However, in light of this year’s games, the stadiums considerable history, merits a mention as we build up to the summer’s events.
Purchased back in the 1920s, the Perry Barr site was previously a rubbish tip, providing a useful source for the cinders used in the construction of the track that subsequently opened in 1929. The stadium facilitated a variety of sports, from athletics and cycling, to dirt track racing in the mid-1930s. Local side Aston Villa’s second and third teams also trained at the site throughout this period. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the stadium was quickly requisitioned by the government, and held by the 50th Battalion, Warwickshire Home Guard. The battalion was made up of men in reserve occupations, such as local miners, along with those too old or young to serve abroad. Toward the war’s later years the old Alexander stadium was occupied by Italian prisoners of war, the last of which remained at the camp until January 1946, when it was returned to the AC.
Finally back in the hands of Birchfield Harriers, they began hiring the track out to the Birmingham Brummies speedway team. This arrangement proved in the Harrier’s favor, with the newly installed floodlighting (courtesy of the speedway organization) allowing for the UKs first ever floodlit athletics meeting to be held in late 1948. Local athletics continued to thrive at the stadium in the years following, with highlights such as Diane Leather being the first woman ever to run a sub-5-minute mile. With the continued growth and success of the club, in 1977 Birchfield harriers relocated to the new alexander stadium, the current venue in use today.
Amidst the allocation of the commonwealth games in 2017, a £72 million regeneration scheme was proposed. The plans depict a major development of both the north and south stands to increase temporary seating numbers to around 30,000. Post games this will revert to a permanent capacity of 18,000, making the stadium the UKs largest permanent athletics venue. Further aspects of the scheme mirror that of the London 2012 Stratford regeneration, with a large focus on the development of the surrounding Perry Barr area. Phases include an additional 1,400 new homes alongside improved public transport and cycle route to reduce local reliance on cars. Post games, Birchfield harriers will continue to have exclusive rights to the venue for weekly training nights and home fixtures. Additionally, BCU plans to relocate their sporting facilities to the stadium, an important move for integrating sporting foundations across the city. Consequently, the regeneration in place can provide a catalyst for the Alexander stadium to continue its legacy as a local, regional and world class athletics venue.