Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Celebrating 40 Years of the Sport Wales National Centre (Part 1) - Nick Lia

On 12 June 1972 Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, officially opened the National Sports Centre for Wales. Today marks the 40th anniversary of a superb facility - that has seen countless Welsh sports heroes pass through it's halls - that we now know as the Sport Wales National Centre. Nick Lia, Operations Manager, has worked in the Centre from the very beginning. In this first of a two-part blog he shares just a few of his fond memories over the years. 

Nick Lia, Sport Wales National
Centre Operations Manager
I should imagine that I am the only member of staff who went to the grand opening weekend of the Sport Wales National Centre, then named the National Sports Centre for Wales. This took place 40 years ago on the weekend of 30 October 1971.

In fact, my memories of this place start even earlier than that. In 1970 I was a 17-year-old, wet behind the ears Police Cadet stationed at the police HQ in Cathays Park and we used to have marching practise every Friday morning in the castle grounds.

The Sport Wales National Centre
As we marched on the path alongside the Taff, I could see the steel skeleton of a huge building being built but did not know what it was at the time. Little did I know then what that steel skeleton would become and what the future would hold for me amongst its walls!
The opening weekend was a revelation to me. The building seemed massive and, along with apparently thousands of visitors squeezing past each other in the corridors, there were displays of gymnastics, weightlifting, swimming and trampolining to amaze us all.

The trampolining was in the Lower Gym, now squash courts one and two. The weightlifting area was adjacent to this gym, now changing room five. The original squash courts three and four are now the CV Room and Bute Suite meeting room. The shooting range became the free weights room, the lecture theatre is now the home of Disability Sport Wales and Registry and the bar is now the Taff Suite meting room. These are just some of the structural changes which have taken place over the years.

The original internal decor was also very eye catching and probably based on the en vogue colour schemes of that era. Orange, purple and green walls and carpets were everywhere – really lovely! Reception was a small island affair which you could walk behind with plush orange and green bench seating and soft chairs either side for people to sit and relax.

As an aspiring hammer thrower, the NSCW was I thought, going to be a wonderful place to train especially compared to my usual training haunt, the rundown and somewhat dilapidated facilities of the old Maindy Athletic Stadium in Cathays. What really interested me was the fact that the grass pitch was then designated as an athletic throwing area for hammer, discus and shot with circles and cages at the top end of the pitch.

All manner of sports are catred for at the SWNC 

If my memory serves me right I think I paid 10p to enter on this weekend and for sentimental reason kept the ticket safe for about ten years as a memento before deciding not to keep it any longer. Shame really - I regret doing so now as it would have been a collector’s item which I could have put on ebay!

I have seen many changes to the building fabric over the years both inside and out – far too many to mention. The building and external areas are almost unrecognisable compared to 40 years ago and have evolved into this wonderful sporting facility we have today.

No doubt there will be further changes to the building in the years to come but whatever they are and whatever the policies of the day will be I’m sure this place will continue to be at the heart of Welsh sport and long may it do so.

The Sport Wales National Centre is the home of Sport Wales. Follow @sport_wales on Twitter for all the latest sports news and developments in Wales.