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Official Review by Matt Rees, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Rapid Solicitors Stadium, as per the sponsorship deal, is home to English Super League club, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. The ground itself is known for being called Belle Vue and has a capacity of 12,000. Belle Vue has been home to the Wildcats since 1895, and is also home to non-league football club, Wakefield FC.
Although the stadium is over a century old, very little has happened on the development front. Only one stand has seating (and even that has standing area underneath it!), and as a result of the lack of redevelopment, the Wildcats have been warned by the League numerous times. In the Super League, a team gets relegated every three years based on certain requirements and the stability of the club, and Wakefield have nearly suffered because of their poor stadium.
Recently, the club put a roof over the North Stand as part of the Super League Licence bid. Trinity have been looking to build a new stadium for many years, but haven’t been too successful. Originally, a new ground was going to be built for the start of the 2012 season, though nothing happened. Finally, a site for the new ground was approved by the local council, but the club just hasn’t got the money to build it at the moment.
As for the history of the club, Wakefield Trinity are known by many for 1968 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. In the last minute of the game, Wakefield’s Don Fox had the chance to win the game, by making a conversion directly underneath the posts. Amazingly, he missed it, and Wakefield lost to Leeds 11-10. In recent years, Wakefield have been a competitive team, making the play-offs a few times. Trinity have produced many great players; however, they have sold them to bigger teams in the Super League or abroad in Australia.
(Note: all exchange rates are as of the time of this posting, October 2013.)
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
At the Rapid Solicitors Stadium, the variety of food and drink is very poor. A few compact stalls and tatty cabins are scattered around the stadium and very little is sold.
Burgers for £2.50 ($4.00) and fries for £1.50 ($2.40) can be purchased from a hot food stall located just outside the North Stand. A cabin was introduced in 2011, selling sweets for a variety of prices and soft drinks for £1 ($1.60) in the family stand. As for alcohol, Carlsberg bottles are sold in the corner of the stadium in-between the North and West stand. This is clearly the most popular option, being sold at a reasonable £2.50 ($4.00). I was amazed at the small queues at Belle Vue, especially considering the lack of places to purchase food and drinks from.
Now, the huge advantage of the ground being so small and tightly compact is that the noise made is trapped. Belle Vue can be a fortress with a hostile atmosphere when local rivals and big teams come to town. To catch the best atmosphere at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium, you have to watch Wakefield versus Leeds or the Wildcats host Castleford. One of the two games, if not both, is broadcast on television, and the quality and excitement of the game played is superb. The atmosphere is unusual for such a small city. Both sets of fans chant at each other for the full eighty minutes, and when a try is scored, the roar from the home crowd is superb. Even when smaller teams come to town, Wakefield out-sing the away support and are a key factor for spurring the team onto victory.
It just happens that the Rapid Solicitors Stadium is located in arguably the roughest part of Wakefield. Belle Vue is located on the outskirts of the city and has a very unwelcoming feel to it. Outside the ground is council estate housing and a bowling alley that has been closed down for years for "refurbishment". As a home fan walking to the games, you get used to rough surroundings, but as a visiting away supporter, it must be nervy at times.
The reason I have given this section such a low score is because as you look at the stadium and the area, you want walk or drive past it as soon as possible. Aggbrigg (the neighbourhood surrounding the stadium) has a lot of bad press by the locals, as it is a poor area and is known for crime. Personally, I don't mind Aggbrigg during the day, but at night, it can be a place where bad things happen. I've walked home after night games, and I have to say I did not feel entirely safe walking past some parts.
My only positive about the neighbourhood is that Wakefield city centre is about a fifteen-minute walk from the ground. An attractive new shopping centre was built recently and is worth a visit. As the food isn't great at the ground, a few fast food outlets such as Subway, McDonald's, and KFC are all located in the retail park.
Remember, the Wildcats are the only major sporting team in Wakefield and are the pride and joy of the city. Each week, without doubt, the team is making a headline on the back page of the local newspaper - even when the season has finished! Mostly everyone in the city is fully behind the team, and the support received week in, week out is a reflection of this. The fans that come to watch are a dedicated bunch. They get behind the team, even when the Cats are playing badly, and really play the part of an extra player.
Another thing I love about the support is that the fans have a real bond with the players. Former captain Steve Southern said this about the North Stand: "My first game against Widnes everyone stacked that back end and when we ran out and looked at that end, me and Paul Aiton had goosebumps."
In recent years, the team has underachieved, yet the support is still strong. The fans have a real love for the club, and this is justified, because in 2012, Wakefield's average attendance was 8,172. This shows that on a home game day, over 10% of the city is watching their local sports team play! In addition to this, the away support from the fans is amazing, often filling away ends at other clubs. At one away game I went to, a large group dressed up in fancy dress and sung their hearts out for the full eighty minutes. Overall, Wakefield Trinity, in my opinion, has the best support in Super League.
Getting to the ground couldn't be much simpler. If travelling by car, a huge car park is located by the main road, right outside the stadium, and is free to park in. However, most fans choose to park by Heath Common Fields or on the roads by Portobello, both a ten minute walk to the ground. In and around the stadium, traffic is dealt with swiftly, mainly because there are so many traffic lights!
If travelling by train, I advise to stop off at Aggbrigg train station, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from the ground. However, another option would be to stop off at the main station of the city, Wakefield Westgate, which would be a considerably longer walk to the ground. If travelling by bus, services are frequent and the bus station is about a twenty-minute walk from the ground.
On a game day, an adult's ticket would be £22 ($35.10) from the shop, or £20 ($31.90) if you booked in advance. Personally, £22 ($35.10) for an adult is too much; however, the quality of rugby and pure excitement of the game is fascinating and worth a watch. For a junior or OAP, the price to get in is £12 ($19.10), and for an Under 5, it's free. Wakefield is a family club, and this can be clearly seen in the ludicrous junior season ticket prices. When I bought my first season ticket in 2008, it was only £20 ($31.90) for me to be able to go to every home AND away game. Now, it's only £30 ($47.90), and that is just ridiculous! Belle Vue might not be the most of loveliest of grounds, but with the atmosphere and hard hitting nature of the game, watching Wakefield Trinity Wildcats is well worth your money.
Firstly, the stadium has a four-tier hospitality stand. Here, you can have a three-course meal, before chilling on the balcony watching the game with a pint in your hand! I find this a cool feature, because it's the only stand in the ground which is actually good to look at!
Another extra is that the club has two club shops, one in the Ridings shopping centre and one just outside the ground. Here is where you can buy the replica and vintage shirts and the match day program for £3 ($4.75). I recommend visiting the one in the shopping centre, as the space is bigger and has a modern touch to it.
Also, the pitch at Wakefield is superb and always has been. Although the stadium lacks any quality, the playing surface certainly doesn't, and is by far the best in Super League.
Finally, after the game you can meet the players with no problem at all. This just shows the bond between the fans and the players. All you have to do is stay for about half an hour, watch the cool down and then you can get pictures and autographs with the players, topping off the whole experience. Until the new owner came a few years ago, kids were allowed to play on the pitch after the games, reliving the moments of their heroes!
The goal at the end of the day is to make the playoffs, and in the long run, win the Grand Final. Although making the playoffs isn't too much, winning the Super League title is a long way off - but it isn't impossible. Wakefield produces quality players, but then sells them on just as they reach their peak. In order for the club to move forward, Wakefield desperately needs a new stadium. It's just a matter of time.
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