Fletcher is the top architect
BURNLEY is where Paul Fletcher ’s football career really began. Huddersfield is where the first chapter of his post-playing career got kick-started.
When the former striker takes his seat in newly named ‘The John Smith’s Stadium’ this afternoon to watch the Clarets take on the Terriers, he can look around with a sense of pride at what he not only helped to build, but to establish as a long-serving sporting arena for the town.
After making a career out of putting the ball in the back of the net Fletcher could not have moved on to a more different project when he hung up his boots.
A spell as Colne Dynamoes’ commercial director in the late 1980s resulted in him taking up a similar role at Huddersfield Town.
At the time he was only interested in customers and clients, not construction.
But that stadium proved to be the first of many on Fletcher’s CV – including the Reebok Stadium and Ricoh Arena. He was later appointed commercial director at the new Wembley Stadium, before returning to Turf Moor and becoming chief executive.
While Burnley is his true footballing love; the ground that services Huddersfield Town and Super League side Huddersfield Giants is his baby.
It was a football first for the architect too in this country, and paved the way for him to be involved in some of English sports most iconic structures.
Fletcher hand picked Australian Rod Sheard, who went on to have a leading role in the design the Emirates, the Centre Court roof at Wimbledon and the impress-ive 80,000 stand at Ascot Racecourse.
“If the truth be known there was little knowledge of new stadia in football in those days. What we achieved was quite pioneering,” said Fletcher.
“When I first got there we had about £4million to spend.
“In the end if cost £29.5m, but we did quite well in getting support.
“Initially that came from selling the old Leeds Road ground to a developer, then we managed to get some good grants from the Lottery fund, then we got a good naming rights deal.”
It was originally called the McAlpine Stadium.
“Another big thing in our favour was that everybody wanted it to work,” Fletcher added. “The great thing about Huddersfield is that the whole team was pulling in one direction – the council, the football club, the rugby club.
“I managed to persuade the board to allow rugby to be played there. Everyone was against it at first, but in the last season at the old stadium we trialled it to see if there would be any damage to the pitch or any problems with the dressing rooms. There weren’t – it worked a treat – so both clubs moved into the new stadium.”
In 1995, the year after completion it was named ‘Building of the Year’ by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
It was futuristic and multi-functional, and enabled the club to branch out from sport to bring the crowds as Fletcher drew in the likes of Bryan Adams, The Eagles, The Beautiful South, Bon Jovi and REM to play gigs at the ground in front of around 40,000 people. REM sold out two nights.
“There wasn’t a stand at one end when it was built, so we could put a stage there,” said Fletcher.
“When we built the last stand we built a swimming pool underneath and sold a piece of land to a cinema. At the far end there’s a golf driving range, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
But Fletcher admits it wasn’t all of a grand plan.
“The great thing for me was that I didn’t really know what I was doing when we started out,” he admitted. “I’ve said time and again I tried to draw on my teamwork principles that I had learn from Jimmy Adamson. “The successes we had at Burnley were when the team was pulling in the same direction, and I had a great team around me at Huddersfield.”
Fletcher left Huddersfield to help build the Reebok Stadium for Bolton Wanderers. He returns as a guest of the club for today’s game, but insists he won’t be splitting his allegiance. He will remain behind the Clarets, hoping Charlie Austin can take the limelight away from wanted man Jordan Rhodes.
“Charlie has overcome his injury, which must have been a worry to him, and he has just got better and better,” said Fletcher.
“It was a gamble for us to let Jay Rodriguez go in the summer, but it will give Charlie his wings now.”
Fletcher remains busy off the field with a number of projects, including his role on the board of the University and College of Football Business , which is based at Turf Moor.
By October, he will have had two books published this year too.
The first is called ‘The Seven Go£den Secrets Of A Successful Stadium’, which has been self-published for the industry (available via his own website).
His biography, charting his career, has been written by Burnley fan Dave Thomas. It is aptly titled ‘Magical: A Life in Football’.