Home » Cultural Life » The rise and fall of the London Arena

The rise and fall of the London Arena

Crossharbour

Recent residents and visitors who visit the Isle of Dogs will have great views of the O2 Arena , but how many realise that the Docklands for a short period had an Arena which had a seating capacity for over 15,000 people.

The London Arena (also known as the London Docklands Arena)  based near Crossharbour  was built as an indoor arena and exhibition centre. It  hosted concerts and sports events and was for a time the home of London Knights ice Hockey team, the London Towers Basketball team and later the London Leopards Basketball team from Tower Hamlets.

The first concert in the Arena was Duran Duran and it also featured the very popular at the time WWF wrestling.

First opened in 1989, it had a major £10 million refit in 1998,  it struggled to become a financial success,  and in 2005 it closed. The arena was demolished in 2006.

arena 1

Photo by Jonanamary

When we look at the phenomenal success of the O2 , it is hard to believe that the Arena could have failed , however the lack of a comprehensive  transport system and lack of access onto the Isle of Dogs for cars probably had a lot to do with its failure.

arena 2

Photo by Jonanamary

How many people out there came to a concert or game at the London Arena , send in your story.

 


48 Comments

  1. karen says:

    I came here to see the Elvis in concert in 1999, fantastic concert.
    It was a good arena. I wondered what happened to it. Sad it was demolished.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for the comment, Unfortunately I never attended a concert there but nice to hear you had a good time.

      • Simon Searle says:

        I was at the opening of the London Arena and featured in the TV ad for it’s Xmas/New Year fair which was televised. I have often wondered if there is footage of this as I would love to see it again. I was paid a box of Maltesers for holding a ballon, letting it go and wistfully looking up at it as it floated away. I should say I was paid an ‘extra’ box of maltesers as we were all given a box for taking part (Cubitt Town Primary School).

      • Hi Simon,

        Thanks for your comments, I must say I was very amused by your box of maltesers story and refusal to wipe up the sweat.

        Many thanks

      • Simon Searle says:

        I also worked there with the London Leopards when they were in residence, mainly helping out and mostly messing about taking advantage of the free hotdogs and coca cola the vip badge got me. Was unbelievably allowed to roam free backstage and in the changing rooms too. Gave up the job when they asked us to wipe the sweat off the court during a game – although not a snob I didn’t want to be seen doing that in my teenage years as I didn’t think it would impress the girls much!

        I was present when the IRA bombing took place and didn’t really think much of them letting th game go ahead even though I stayed to watch.

  2. Steve says:

    Went to watch the London Knights there once as I was a student at the University of Greenwich, they were offering seats at promotional rates around 2000-time so must have been struggling for customers even then. Shame to see community space lost for more and more flats but that’s the way it is these days.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment, it is always interesting to hear from people who attended the arena.
      When you consider the success of the O2 arena, it seems that the London Arena was built at the wrong time in the wrong place.
      With improved transport it probably would be successful now !!

  3. Gee says:

    Went to see tony hawk skateboarding at this arena in 2002, great memories R.I.P London arena.

  4. Steve says:

    I’ve spent hours trying to find pictures of how this Arena looks like on the inside, its amazing how they’re virtually none.

    • Hi Steve,
      In the time I having writing this blog, it has amazed me how little photographic evidence survives of not necessarily obscure buildings. When I was researching the London Arena, I do not think I saw a picture of its inside. When you consider the number of events that took place that’s quite amazing.

    • Torsten Scholz says:

      Hi, if you want to see a bit of the inside of the Arena, watch Robbie Willliams’ “She’s the One” music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVaRHJn_dgM
      At 2:17 there is a sequence which was obviously shot inside London Arena, as you can quite clearly tell from the design, and there are even some London Arena logos clearly visible (Along with some figure skating world championship logos, which are obviously fake, as the arena never hosted such an event). I am also rather interested in the sad story of this short-lived, ill-fated and almost forgotten arena. It’s really sad that there are so few photos and other documents remaining today, despite the fact that although never doing well, it was London’s most modern and busiest indoor arena for 15 years. I agree that it was clearly set in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you consider the phenomenal success of the O2 as well as that of similar arenas like Manchester Arena, National Indoor Arena, Sheffield Arena, Newcastle Radio Arena, SSE Hydro or Odyssey Arena, you see what would have been possible here. If LA would have been at least situated a bit better in terms of road and public transport access and parking space, it would probably still be running successfully today.

      • Hi Torsten,

        Thanks for the information about the London Arena.

        Many people have good memories of the arena and I was surprised at some of the big names who played there.
        I agree with you that if the O2 had not taken off, the London arena might have had a future.

  5. Daniel says:

    Was there in 1991 for the WWF Wrestling UK Rampage Event. The commercial sill echoes in my head, “Be there, Wednesday, the 24th of April at the London Arena Docklands and live on sky movies plus” 😀 – Didn’t even know it got demolished, took me 10 years to find out, haha.. Always gives me a strange feeling to know that a place where i was once before, which was so lively, doesn’t exist anymore.

  6. Richard Moor says:

    Saw Pink Floyd there in 89. Was working in the City and the DLR was on strike so walked. Sore feet but happy memories.

    • Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the comment, I am constantly surprised who appeared at the Arena, did not realise Pink Floyd played there.
      Recently went to the Pink Floyd exhibition at the V and A, which is quite entertaining.

      Once again many thanks.

    • Simon Peacock says:

      I also saw Pink Floyd there in 1989. Best concert I’ve ever been to. My girlfriend at the time was so excited by the end of the show, she had an asthma attack and we had to go to hospital! At least she waited until after the show.

  7. Murray says:

    Hi, I also saw Pink Floyd here in ’89. Was a fantastic concert. managed to sneak a camera in too! was saddened to find out it was demolished a few years ago.

  8. Brad Scott says:

    Went there to see what turned out to be Naseem Hamed’s last fight.

  9. amanda j raymond says:

    Loved looking at the pictures of the Arena, brings back so many wonderful memories of my teenage years, I firstly saw New Kids on the Block in 1990 and all the Smash Hits Poll winners parties that were held there, I even won tickets to the show in 1991. I have camped out over night to buy tickets and actually met my best friend that night. One of my most favorite memories of this Arena was seeing Take That’s final rehearsal for their 1995 European tour, in fact the last time I saw Robbie perform with them until they reformed as he left that summer. There was only a handful of us, their bodyguard came out and asked us if we wanted to come in and watch the last full dress rehearsal. Life made right there. Also saw Robbie play there in November 2000. I saw a couple of Capital Christmas parties and Destiny’s Child, when Beyonce had just starred in Austin Powers. Just remembered I saw Boyzone there in 1996 too, oh dear, I was a bit of a teeny bopper and proud lol.

    • Hi Amanda,

      Although the Arena was relatively short lived, many people seem to have great memories
      of attending some of the shows.
      You seemed to have a great time and saw some of the great stars of the 90s, must be great memories.

  10. Rodu says:

    I worked in the London Arena between 1996 – 1998. The events were few and far between even then. I was in catering, casual work, staffing the burger stalls, or hot dog stalls around the arena concourse on the ground floor. There were 4 burger bars, 6 hot dog stands, 2 bars, one on each floor. Occasionally, for the bigger events, we would open a restaurant or two on floor 1. For the basketball games, crowds were always low. Typically it was just one burger bar open with up to 6 of us staffing it. Some events such as Cbeebies live and the like were also held, and the BIke (motorbike) shows were there – exhibitions.

    I did work one Brit Awards when it was hosted there, that was the Arena used in its full glory. The event was so big, they built hang out zones next to the arena on the dock side. There were two huge marquees, slpit on two floors for the celebs and music pees to roam. The first floor was decked out in artificial grass and looked like the Teletubbies land. I remember seeing Zoe Ball putting on the crazy golf. That was a wild night, I think I left at 4am!

    The other full house highlight I saw was Prince Naseem Hamed fighting a championship bought.

    Each event was different, from a staffing perspective you would see different crowds. From the Smash HIts awards (teens) to Boxing to the religious gatherings. It was all so varied. Again, the amount of work available was limited and Wembley Arena always had the most events.

    Yes access was bad, parking was limited and the DLR was infrequent. It always will have a place in my heart as I worked their during my student days at the University of Greenwich and we would walk through the tunnel under the Thames and then stroll or hop onto the DLR. I saw the behind the scenes of a lot of events, had to deliver musicians riders, the event management staff,arena cleaning and arena technical crew were all good down to earth people you could have a laugh with.

    • Hi Rodu,

      Thanks for your memories of the arena.

      It is always interesting to learn about what went on behind the scenes, it must have been not a bad place to work,
      many people seem to have good memories about working there.

      I think it just was the wrong place at the wrong time. The O2 has shown you can have a successful venue outside of London but transport has improved since the days of the arena,.

  11. Mike says:

    Another one who saw Pink Floyd there, went not long after to see floyd at the Paris Bercy, the experience there was so much better than at the London Arena, The London security were going about making sure that no one was standing up in the seating area and the whole thing was just soooo bright inside, any atmosphere was killed off, they also did their best to make sure there was no photography. Paris on the other hand had black out doors and was near pitch black inside and the feeling was so much more laid back and chilled.

  12. Darren spooner says:

    Hi there
    We had a trip to London from north Nottingham to see Pink Floyd on 8/07/89
    Always recall having to sit down throughout the show and even being told that we’d be removed if we stood up again. Weird to sit through a gig in those days but now more often than not.

  13. Harriet Pitts says:

    I saw David Bowie in his Sound + Vision tour here in 1990. It was seated – and all the more fantastic because when we arrived we discovered our seats were in row C – 3 from the front and right below DB himself! I have some amazing photos from that night taken on my old (and enormous) Nikon.

    • Hi Harriet,

      Thanks for the comment.
      Sounds like you had a great time, the Arena was not popular for a variety of reasons
      but lots of people have great memories of events there.

  14. Christopher Hopper says:

    Saw Simply Red there in 1996, tickets included coach transport from Kent.
    Great gig, had a set built like a roller coaster.
    Shame the venue didn’t survive.

  15. Etaoin O'Reilly says:

    I was on the DLR this morning and it announced “crossharbour for London arena” which confused me and lead to me googling and find this!

    • Hi Etaoin,

      Your comment bought a smile to my face because there are still signs on the Island that have the London Arena on them.

      I can’t believe that those signs have not been changed in the last 20 odds years and are the DLR still using old messages ?

  16. Francis Jones says:

    i saw INXS there back in the day, best live band I’ve ever seen!! spent almost an hour getting a cardboard inxs poster off the barriers and by then had missed the last dlr train and had to walk back to victoria station,

  17. Chris Deakin says:

    Saw Erasure (Wild Tour) and the Smash Hits awards party there in the 90’s. Great venue, shame it has gone

  18. Thomas Wood says:

    FROM A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT.
    I worked on the design of the foundations and structure of London Arena as a young Engineer in the mid to late 80s.
    Our office was based in Glasgow and I caught many early morning BA shuttle flights to London followed by DLR journey to Crossharbour just for site progress meetings.
    Happy memories of surveying the old banana warehouse which stood there before the Arena.
    Couldn’t believe it when my nephew told me it had gone.

  19. Alan melville says:

    I was there for the American wrestling in late 1989 traveled 450 miles to see.
    It was there I first time in the U.K really put a good show on full turn out of top talent including Hogan and the late Lord Alfred Hayes commentator , Gene Okurlund interviews and Howerd Finkel ring announcer,great show, then spent 1hr trying to get a taxi when it finished walking round the dogs! Just watched on vhs due to lockdown.

    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks for the comment,

      Hulk Hogan and crew must have been a great show until the grim reality of getting off the Island kicked in. Although from the comments, many people did not like the arena, but they did see some great shows there.

  20. bob colover says:

    I remember seeing Bob Dylan there, being quite close to the stage in seats and having Bobcats [ fanatical Dylan fans] just coming and forcing their way into where we were and sitting on top of me and my friends to be down the front. I am sure someone was filming the event. Also I went with a group of friends to the Eurythmics concert there. We drove to Lewisham and took the DLR to the Arena. Is there a list of concerts available on the internet?

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