A photo of the Crystal Palace Athletics stadium, showing the back of the scoreboard.

Future bright for historic Crystal Palace National Sports Centre

Where else would you find the site of the 1895 FA Cup final, an athletics track where Lord Sebastian Coe and Usain Bolt have dominated, the location of the first England Rugby Union non-hone nation international match, as well as a Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen concert?

The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (CPNSC) sits on a site with tremendous history and has a history of its own, but the multi-sports centre and outdoor athletics stadium, which opened in 1964, has sadly fallen into disrepair.

But the future looks bright, as, on October 21, the new plans for the planned refurbishments were revealed.

The large multi-sports centre that makes up part of the CPNSC alongside the athletics stadium.

The plans are to keep the Jubilee stand and the 400m track, fully revamp the existing indoor track and potentially add a new accredited outdoor 200m track.

The main building will see the restoration of all four pools, improvements to access, new building and plant works to make the venue more energy efficient, roofing and glazing work to stop all leaks and a new main arena floor.

The CPNSC will also retain and grow existing clubs, including gymnastics, diving, weightlifting, and health services. The CPNSC partnership hopes to have the pools operational by the end of 2026.

This followed Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s announcement in May this year that a planning application for the comprehensive redevelopment of the centre will be brought forward by April 2024 and that a contractor will be able to start work in 2025.

Photo of the CPNSC taken in 2018 (Credit: MrsEllacott/Wikimedia Commons)

The site is laced with history, including the first Women’s FA Cup final of the modern competition held at Crystal Palace in 1971.

The world-famous athletics track hosted the very best athletes and hosted the London Grand Prix from 1999 to 2012.

In 1977, Lord Coe claimed his first UK national outdoor record when he ran the 800m at the Coca-Cola Games at Crystal Palace. 

Bolt featured at Crystal Palace during the height of his powers, as the previous year he had broken the 100m world record at the Beijing Olympics, then cruised to first place in the 2009 London Grand Prix and then two months later, went on to shatter his own 100m record when he ran a 9.53 at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.

One hundred ten years ago, the 1913 FA Cup final between Aston Villa and Sunderland took place in front of 121,919 people.

The thrill and atmosphere that must have rung out from the banks feel a million miles away when you visit the site today – over the last couple of decades, the CPNSC has become increasingly tired.

Photo of a Coldplay concert at the Crystal Palace Athletics stadium with the landmark Crystal Palace tower in the background.
A Coldplay concert on June 2005 at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. (Credit: Nigel Freeman)

John V. Powell MBE, chairman of the Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, revealed that one of the main reasons the centre and stadium were not maintained for so many years was because the site was constantly given short-term contract extensions of a year or two at a time.

Powell said: “From a business point of view, a massive place like Crystal Palace, you’re hardly going to spend millions on running the place, maintaining it, and upgrading it.

“So because of that, the centre went to rack and ruin and declined over the decade, despite all the consultations and well-meaningful talk.”

Another issue Powell raised for the centre’s decline was a complete lack of marketing, due to the uncertainty created by the short-term contracts.

Powell stated that they have had to keep a realistic view of things, as they understand that it is a costly process to regenerate the whole place. But the partnership is very hopeful of rejuvenating one of the most iconic venues.

Powell said: “I have spent a lot of time in the United States and Australia through track and field, and when you mention Crystal Palace, everyone knows Crystal Palace.”

Los Angeles 1984 100m finalist Donovan Reid, now athletics coach at Crystal Palace, shared Powell’s view of the iconic venue.

Reid said: “It is a classic venue.

“You want it to be in a place where Crystal Palace is synonymous with a sporting event, and that can only happen if the facility is functional.”

Powell also discussed how the future looks a lot brighter than it did not so long ago.

Powell said: “In the past, we’ve been threatened with no indoor track, the jubilee track being demolished, and all sorts of doom and gloom.

“But the conversation now is very different, and we are hoping that 2024 is going to be the start of something positive for a change.”

“It is the most accessible multi-sports venue in the country, trains coming in from the home counties, central London, you name it, 13 bus routes up the road, a tram line at the bottom of the hill. 

Rebecca White, a regular patron of the CPNSC, stated that the improvements she would like to see are to the changing facilities and the overall cleanliness of the place.

White said: “The centre is in desperate need of an uplift. Especially the cleanliness of it, the showers and taps not working. “

“For a centre that draws in a lot of people, I just could not understand how all that money was not used towards the basic facilities.”

“I used to bring my children here for swimming lessons, but we moved them to Thornton Heath and Waddon because, at least there, the changing rooms are clean.”

White could see the CPNSC’s potential if they get the refurbishments right.

She said: “It’s in a good location, with good parking, so I certainly believe with an uplift, you would get more people getting excited and wanting to start doing stuff here or having a membership.”

Work on the track has already begun, with plans for the 60th anniversary of the CPNSC taking place next year.

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