In 1879 Lord Penrhyn granted Bangor Cricket Club the tenancy of “a very eligible field adjoining the British Hotel and extending to the back of St Paul’s school”. This was the Farrar Road ground where the cricket club began by building a “handsome pavilion”
Work on levelling the ground took place in 1894-5 to remove “a distinct slope extending from the High Street side to the northern boundary wall”. At the same time the playing area was enlarged by covering over the river Adda which flowed “along the northern extremity”. A new pavilion was erected in the north west corner of the field and Lord Penrhyn met the cost of all the improvements.
By the early 1900s the field was in use during winter by the Bangor and University College Hockey Clubs and the Railway Institute Boys Football Club. Bangor Football Club, whose Maes Y Dref ground was below regulation size, used the ground for Welsh Cup matches.
After the First World War, cricket resumed in 1919, but the Maes y Dref football ground had been turned over to allotments. The Football Club was forced to look for a new home. In 1920 the Bangor cricket and football clubs amalgamated under the title of the Bangor Athletic Club. The intention was that the football and cricket clubs would share the Farrar Road ground, but the arrangement did not work and in 1929 Bangor Cricket Club vacated the ground and moved to Ty Newydd at Llandegai.
In 1930 the former Caernarvon Athletic stand was bought for £80 from the liquidator and erected at Farrar Road.
In 1936 a new, wooden grandstand was presented to the Club by T F Dargie, in memory of his son, Arnold Dargie, well-known as a footballer throughout North Wales, who fell in the Great War. This stand provided dressing room space as well as substantial spectator seating, and is still in use today.
In 1958 one of the ground’s two main grandstands was destroyed in a mysterious fire after a controversial North Wales Coast Challenge Cup final between Bangor and Holyhead. A new structure, bigger and better, was soon put in its place, built by a City director and builder, J C Jones of Penrhos. This stand is also still in use, accommodating City’s office, boardroom and collection of trophies and memorabilia.
The terracing on the High Street side was laid out in the early 1950s - supporters and local players helped – and around the same time a shelter was erected.
In 1969 the club installed floodlights following Bangor’s admission to the Northern Premier League. A public fund was launched by the directors to help with the cost.
In the mid-1970s, City’s new Chairman, Charles Roberts, a Wrexham businessman, presided over a major upgrading of the stadium, which became enclosed with perimeter block walls. Other structural improvements and other new features were provided at this time, including new turnstiles at the Farrar Road end, the building of the Club canteen, and the refurbishment of the Green Turf Social Club.
The 1980s were years of uncertainty for Farrar Road. In the early part of that decade, Penrhyn Estate sold the ground to the City of Bangor Council.
New plans for the redevelopment of the ground were aired around this period – all coming to nothing. In July 1987 the press reported a proposed £1m development scheme for Farrar Road involving greater community use, whilst in February 1992 news emerged of plans, subsequently rejected, for a giant retail development on the site with the Football Club relocating to Caernarfon Road.
The wider footballing climate also impacted on Farrar Road. In 1985/6, Club Chairman John Ross Jones, a local solicitor, presided over a 21-day ground improvement “blitz”, ensuring that Farrar Road would meet UEFA safety regulations and be eligible to stage Bangor’s European match against Athletico Madrid. This included the refurbishment of dressing rooms, the installation of telephone lines and press facilities in the stand, the introduction of crush barriers on the terraces, the erection of a large perimeter fence, and improvement to toilets and emergency exits.
Looking at Farrar Road in the early 21st century, it is difficult to imagine the famous names which have graced the turf – and the huge crowds which have watched them.
Cup finals, under the auspices of local, regional and national Welsh footballing bodies, have been held at the ground, and representative matches have also been played at Farrar Road, from a full British Home International Championship match between Wales and Ireland in 1904 to a Wales v Bulgaria under-21 international in 1983.
A temporary grandstand was erected to hold up to 1,000 of the nearly 5,000 who attended the 1904 game. Before the match, spectators enjoyed entertainment by the band of the Clio training ship, whilst part of the players’ preparation had been a trip to nearby Penrhyn Quarry to enjoy an “exhibition of blasting”.
Amateur, Junior and Youth internationals have been held at the stadium, which has also seen Inter-Association fixtures between the North Wales Coast FA and its Scottish equivalent. 1991/2’s visit of Gretna in the FA Trophy proved unique when a team from Wales took on a team from Scotland in an English competition!
Numerous Football League clubs have appeared at the ground against Bangor over the years in Welsh and English competitions, and some of Britain’s biggest teams (including Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs) have been attracted as opposition in friendly encounters. One notable overseas visitor was the US “soccer” team Tulsa Roughnecks.
Bangor City’s reputation in European competition is second to none in Welsh football – and most of these matches have been played at Farrar Road, from the famous 1962 clash against Napoli, through encounters with Fredrikstad of Norway and Athletico Madrid (both in 1985), Akranes of Iceland (1994), Widzew Lodz of Poland (1995), and Haka of Finland in 1998. More recent European matches have been played in Wrexham and Rhyl due to safety requirements.
City’s 1962 European Cup-Winners’ Cup campaign was masterminded by manager T G Jones – ex-Everton and Wales star, later inducted into the Everton Hall of Fame, as well as becoming Freeman of the City of Bangor. Against all odds, Bangor beat the Italian giants 2 – 0 at Farrar Road, only to lose the return leg 1 – 3 and be knocked out of the competition after a playoff at Highbury. Had the away goals rule been in operation at that time, Bangor would have gone further in the competition.
In 1978, one of football’s greatest-ever names donned a City shirt as Bobby Charlton guested when Bangor took on Treviso in the Anglo-Italian Tournament.
Many of these games have been watched by crowds which, with today’s Health and Safety legislation, seem unimaginable. The record attendance is believed to be 12,000 in July 1969 for a special Investiture match between a Wales XI and Manchester United. Some reports suggest that there was room for about 4,000 more at the St Paul’s end!
It’s hardly surprising that this game attracted such support as Wales’ team included Mike England, John Mahoney, Cliff Jones and Gary Sprake, whilst United, recent winners of the European Cup, included in their ranks Charlton, Best and Law.
Other huge attendances have been reported for Welsh Cup matches against Cardiff City in 1928 and 1951, the 1st leg of the European Cup Winners Cup v AC Napoli in 1962 and crowds of around 10,000 for the Ted Robbins Memorial match in 1946 between Queens Park and a Wales XI, and the first leg of the 1978 Welsh Cup final against Wrexham.
To bring the Farrar Road story up to date, at the time of writing (2003) local planners are considering new moves to allow retail development on the site, with Bangor City moving to a new ground at Nantporth on Holyhead Road.
Should these latest plans come to fruition, they will mark a new chapter in the history of what has been one of the most prominent clubs in Welsh football.
When a club moves forward, however, it is also a chance to look back, and more than a few tears will be shed when Bangor City leaves its famous Farrar Road home.
Many thanks to Ian Garland, Keith Evans and John Cowell for their contributions to this piece.