By Stuart Croll, Non League Today
Dartford’s Princes Park stadium is better than the new Wembley, according to the country’s best known football supporting designer.
Wayne Hemingway, who shot to fame as founder of the Red or Dead fashion label, speaking on the Soccer AM show, said: “Wembley is only third on my list. The Emirates is fantastic in terms of design and from that point of view it’s better than Wembley.
"But the absolute number one stadium in the country is from a club that is two levels below the Conference - Dartford.”
Jeremy Kite, the leader of Dartford Borough Council, who funded the £6.5m Princes Park, doesn’t claim it to be the best in Britain but does boast that it is “the finest stadium in Non League football.”
Fit for a Prince
After 14 years in exile, ground sharing at various venues, Dartford moved into their new home on November 11th 2006. They defeated Horsham YMCA 4-2 in front of an all ticket crowd of 4,097.
Since then all their home games have attracted crowds of well over a thousand when they previously played in front of a couple of hundred.
The stadium, located just five minutes from the M25, has been acclaimed for its top quality sporting facilities and hospitality suites for both the community and business alike. However, it was its green-ness that made the headlines.
Green for go
The environmentally friendly measures are so impressive it is a surprise Dartford haven’t changed their team colours from white to green.
The roof of the stadium is a ‘living grass’ roof that absorbs rainwater and retains heat and alongside the grass are solar panels which provide electricity for heating and hot water.
Next to the stadium are two man-made lakes to collect rainwater for recycling. The pitch was deliberately set 1.5 metres below the level of the surrounding terrain in order to reduce floodlight and noise pollution for the neighbouring population.
One cheeky, perhaps jealous, Dover Athletic supporter complained to Dartford that they had taken the desire to cut down noise pollution too far by making sure the PA system couldn't be heard.
Club Secretary Peter Martin said: “The PA system has now been improved. It says a lot that since the ground opened the few complaints we have received are about minor things like the PA system and the fact the light sensors in the toilets don’t come on immediately.”
He added: “I would be more concerned if the noise pollution was low because the fans had no goals to cheer, thankfully that hasn't happened either.”
"But the absolute number one stadium in the country is from a club that is two levels below the Conference - Dartford"
Designer Wayne Hemmingway
For the fans
Practically, Princes Park ticks all the right boxes as well. The sightlines are excellent wherever one chooses to stand, while movement around the ground is easy.
The clubhouse and two function rooms are excellent with ‘quotes’ from football legends like of Brian Clough adorning the walls.
Disabled provision is excellent with a dedicated area at each corner of the ground, as well as a special lift enabling access to hospitality areas.
The club are hoping the reputation of the stadium and its facilities will assist in drawing big name teams for. In the build up to their first full season at their new home Dartford booked the stars of Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace to entertain their fans.
And there is another aspect of the ground that is unique and will get visiting supporters talking.
While many grounds have statues of past greats outside their entrances Princes Park has a sculpture amongst the fans on the terraces! The 5.5 metres high wooden sculpture of a supporter celebrating a goal bestrides the terrace opposite the main stand.
Designed by Philip Bews, it is already a source talking point amongst the fans and thankfully so far has avoided any damage - accidental or deliberate.
Dartford fans can only hope that the team becomes as impressive as their stadium as they dream of trophies and promotion.
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