The famous 124-year-old clock atop the current South Stand
During the season Sheffield Wednesday were told that the land rented at Olive Grove would be needed for railway expansions. They were allowed to remain there for the rest of that season but had to find a new ground for the next season. Several locations were considered but fell through for various reasons. An alternative was offered by the Midland Railway Company but it did not meet the requirements of the club.
Finally James Willis Dixon of Hillsborough House, owner of the Silversmiths James Dixon & Sons, offered a 10-acre (4.0 ha) site at Owlerton, a sparsely populated area of land to the northwest of the city. The land was part of the Hillsborough House estate which was being sold off by the Dixons. It was successfully bought for £5,000 plus costs. Soil was dumped at both ends of the ground to level out the ground which was initially meadowland covered with dandelions. The 2,000 capacity stand at Olive Grove was then transported to the new site and was joined by a newly-built 3,000 capacity stand for the start of the next season. The first match to be played was on 2 September 1899 against Chesterfield. The match was kicked off by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield William Clegg, himself a former Wednesday player. It was a Chesterfield player, Herbert Munday, who scored the first goal at the new stadium but Wednesday came back to win the game 5–1. Despite the location of the ground several miles outside the city boundaries and a poor public transport service the new ground averaged 3,000 supporters for the first three months.
The ground was known as the Owlerton Stadium until 1914, when it was renamed Hillsborough to coincide with a series of ground improvements. The ground took its new name from the newly created parliamentary constituency. The ground proved to be lucky for Wednesday with the first 8 years proving to be their most successful so far. They included their first league wins in the and
. This was followed by a second FA Cup in 1907.
The first FA Cup semi-final to be held at the stadium was a replay between West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers on 3 April 1912. A crowd of 20,050 saw an extra time goal give West Brom the win. This was followed by its first international on 10 April 1920. A match between England and Scotland was watched by 25,536. The game ended with England winning 5–4. The following two seasons saw Hillsborough host two more FA Cup semi-finals, both between Preston North End and Tottenham Hotspur. The crowds for these matches were 43,320 and 49,282 respectively. The highest ever attendance was 72,841 on 17 February 1934 for an FA Cup 5th-round game against Manchester City.
After the end of the season a record profit was announced by the club. The money was invested in a replacement for the Olive Grove stand on the south side of the stadium. The banking on the Spion Kop was also increased in size. The new south stand was completed in time for the first round of the FA Cup on 1 October 1913 against Notts County. It cost £18,000 and included 5,600 seats plus terracing at the front. New offices, dressing rooms, refreshment rooms and a billiard room were also part of the new stand. The second round tie went to a replay on 4 February 1914, which was held in front of a record home crowd of 43,000. However the match was remembered for the collapse of the new retaining wall at the Penistone Road end. It caused 70 injuries and caused the match to be suspended while the casualties were taken to the infirmary.
During the post war era Hillsborough rose to be one of the top stadia in the country. It hosted a total of 27 FA Cup semi-finals. In 1966, the stadium was selected as one of the venues for the , hosting first round matches involving , , Switzerland, and , as well as a quarterfinal in which West Germany beat Uruguay 4–0.
Demolition of the North Stand began in 1960 and work began on a new £150,000 stand. The new stand, designed by local firm Husband & Co, was 360 feet (110 m) in length. It was only the second stand in the country, after one at Scunthorpe United's Old Showground, to be built with a cantilever roof and the first to run the full length of the pitch. It was opened on 23 August 1961 by Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association. The 10,008 capacity all-seater stand almost doubled the seating capacity of Hillsborough from 9,000 to 16,000.
The ground held its first national cup final in 1977 when it played host to Everton and Aston Villa for a Football League Cup final replay. A crowd of 52,135 watched a 1–1 draw leading to another replay. At the end of the 1980s the ground held three successive FA Cup semis ending with the events that changed the nature of football grounds throughout the country.
The memorial across the river from the South Stand and main entrance
On 15 April 1989, the ground was the scene of the worst tragedy in English sporting history when Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final. During the match, 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death. Official investigations into the disaster criticised Sheffield Wednesday for not acting upon previous incidents (especially the 1981 FA Cup semi-final) that had shown the potential for crushing at Hillsborough. The Leppings Lane end of the ground did not hold a valid safety certificate; it had not been updated since 1979.
The recommendations of the Taylor Report led to a series of improvements to safety at grounds across the United Kingdom. The terraces at Hillsborough were converted to all seated accommodation over the following four years, and the fences around the pitch were replaced with low safety-barricades to allow incursion onto the playing surface in case of emergency.
Outside the ground, near the main entrance on Parkside Road, is a memorial to the 96 fans that lost their lives at Hillsborough in 1989, during the FA Cup Semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The memorial was unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, 15 April 1999. It reads: In memory of the 96 men, women, and children who tragically died and the countless people whose lives were changed forever. FA Cup semi-final Liverpool v Nottingham Forest. 15 April 1989. "You’ll never walk alone." The memorial suffered minor damage in the Hillsborough Flood; however, it was easily and swiftly repaired.
Plan of Hillsborough and the surrounding area
In 1996, Hillsborough was host to several fixtures at the Euro 96 competition and in particular was host to the . The Danish fans endeared themselves to the local population with their fanatical support and exemplary behaviour, and were particularly popular amongst local landlords—a number of Sheffield public houses had to order emergency supplies of beer and cigarettes.
In 1997 Hillsborough hosted the replay between Leicester City and Middlesbrough. It was won by Leicester by one goal to nil. Later the same year Middlesbrough returned to Hillsborough for an FA Cup semi-final replay in which they beat Chesterfield by three goals to nil.
The record attendance since the ground was made all-seated was on 2 February 2000 in a Premier League game against Manchester United and was watched by 39,640 fans. In recent years average attendances at Hillsborough have remained high relative to the lower leagues they have participated in:
- : 23,638 ()
- : 24,853 ()
- : 23,100 ()
- : 22,336 ()
On 25 June 2007, the River Don burst its banks during a period of severe weather in the area and the whole ground was flooded with several feet of water. Changing rooms, restaurants and kitchens, offices and superstore were all affected, with repairs costing millions of pounds. The clean-up effort took months, although Sheffield Wednesday fixtures were only slightly affected as the floods occurred in the close season. A memorial to the floods was unveiled on 25 June 2008 under the South Stand.