LAST May, Andy Harkin was watching Millwall batter Blackburn Rovers. He opened his phone and bought train tickets to London.

For several years, his firm – Harkin Associates – has helped Championship clubs ready their stadiums for the Premier League.

One potential client was Millwall, who for much of the 2022/2023 season had been in the promotion hunt. At half-time, the London side were 3-1 up at home and cruising towards the play-offs.

“Millwall needed to hold on and we would have been having a meeting about a multi-million pound contract to upgrade their facilities – but they somehow conceded three goals and it was all over for another year,” recalled Andy.

And when he says multi-million-pound contracts, he’s not wrong.

“When Middlesbrough were last promoted in 2016, the club had been up-and-down over the years but the work needed to upgrade the media facilities still cost several million pounds,” recalled Andy.

“But then the projects are often huge, as the gap between what is needed for a Premier League club and the Championship is staggering – it really is a totally different ball game.”

Having launched in 1988 by Andy’s father, the Middlesbrough-based design and architecture firm has carved out a niche as a go-to firm when it comes to ensuring grounds meet the Premier League’s rigorous criteria for competing in the top-flight.

The firm has also been responsible for designing a string of well-known buildings across Teesside, from schools to shops – such as the award-winning Psyche, in Middlesbrough.

Much of the work is linked to the media facilities. For example, in the Championship, clubs only need to accommodate around a dozen TV cameras – a figure that balloons past 40 following promotion.

The Northern Echo: Andy Harkin and his firm Harkin Associates help Championship clubs ready themselves for life in the

“Clubs require an auditorium with minimum 70 seats, as well as 25 workspaces for journalists to work and get their match reports out, plus Premier League sides need five off-the tunnel interview rooms along with two TV studios,” added Andy.

“And the turnaround time can be really small – in Boro’s case, they needed a lot of work doing in just 13 weeks – so clubs turn to us because we’ve done it so much, we now have a blueprint to work off and they know they’ll be ready for kick-off come August.”

In Middlesbrough’s case, two new broadcasting studios had to be installed along with an external staircase for access.

Besides the creation of an XXL press room, social spaces and player entrances had to also be installed at the Riverside – while outside, a dedicated space had to be created for Sky and BT Sport’s vehicles.

And it also meant major structural modifications were needed for the cameras, along with new floodlights.


The level of attention and detail required is enormous. For example, issues with the positioning of the camera – linked to the level of sunlight – meant a sun shade had to be installed at a substantial further cost.

However, the expertise and efficiency displayed by the Teesside firm has attracted a host of other footballing powerhouses to the company. Clubs like Aston Villa and Sheffield United turned to Harkin Associates to sketch out improvements to their grounds after years in the Premier League wilderness.

Additionally, Leeds United utilised their services to create new TV studios and media facilities – although the fight for promotion can quickly mean projects fall by the wayside.

“I remember watching Sheffield Wednesday in the play offs once, when they were fighting to go up. My friend had backed them to win and said they’d lost about £20 – I thought ‘Well, that cost me a £100k contract!’

“But we’ve established ourselves as one of the main specialists when it comes to providing design solutions for stadiums and training grounds, and we do get a lot of requests to meet from clubs through the season – especially after January, when the promotion picture is starting to shape-up.

“However, a lot of clubs don’t like to meet that early. They worry it might jinx their promotion hopes.

“And you get a lot of clubs, the likes of West Brom and Norwich who yo-yo between the two leagues. The amount of work they need once they regain promotion often isn’t that great, but the Premier League update their rules and guidance each season, so there’s always usually something.

“For example, we met with clubs we’d previously worked with last year when they were in the play-off picture to review the compliance documents, and even though some were in the Premier League less than a decade ago, there were still a few big changes – even things as small as being allowed two extra seats in the dugout.

“But the big changes come when you’ve either been out of the top-flight a while, or if you’ve never secured promotion to the Premier League. Given how close the league is this season, there are a few clubs who fit that bill – so we will be hoping for a few meetings before the start of 2024/25.”