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Official Review by Matt Rees, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Bramall Lane is arguably the most historic stadium in sports world nowadays. Why? Because it is the oldest major football stadium still hosting football matches. Bramall Lane plays home to League One club Sheffield United, or locally know as "The Blades" because of its worldwide reputation for steel production. Opened in 1855, Bramall Lane has seen record attendances of over 68,000; however, the current capacity is 32,702. Until 1973, Bramall Lane played host to not only Sheffield United, but Yorkshire County Cricket Club during the summer.
The Blades were a fierce English club in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when they were winning the league and FA Cup in successive years. Nowadays, United have seen a bad downfall, though nothing like that of Wimbledon (now the Milton Keynes Dons because of that downfall) or Portsmouth. They've floated in and around the Premier League — most recently in 2006 — but they have since dropped two tiers down to League One, where they have been since the 2011–12 season.
(Note: all exchange rates are as of the time of this posting, August 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".
The food at Bramall Lane is exactly how I expected it to be, hence why the average rating. Like all other football stadiums in England, there's not a great range of hot food and snacks, and the main purchase is beer. The prices are quite expensive, with a burger being £3 ($4.60), pie for £3 ($4.60), and hot dog for £3.50 ($5.30). Alcohol-wise, 500 ml Carling plastic bottles are on sale for £3.50 ($5.30), which is expensive compared to other grounds.
Although "The Blades" have seen a bitter decline in recent years, the fans have kept loyal, bringing a new atmosphere to League One. When I say new, I mean a "Premier League"-esque atmosphere. This is because the fans chant away all game, unlike other lower tier clubs, and there are many more fans in attendance. United stormed the npower League One average attendance table for yet another year, setting the mark at just under 19,000! The atmosphere created is remarkable, and as the stadium is tightly compact and old, the noise stays trapped. In addition to this, when the team scores, the roar made by the fans is unbelievable and motivates the team onto victory.
When I visited Bramall Lane, I was thoroughly impressed with how loud the atmosphere was, which gave the game a tenser, competitive edge. Bramall Lane definitely gets a ten on my "Noise-o-meter" scale! The stadium is at its best, however, when the "Steel City Derby" takes place. This is when bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday visit Bramall Lane, which results in a packed house and ferocious atmosphere. It's a real spectacle and grabs the eye of the nation when the game is televised.
I really can't complain about the surroundings of Bramall Lane. When arriving at the stadium, you can just feel its history. This is because the stadium is surrounded by old fashioned terrace housing, which personally I thought was that extra touch on my stadium experience. Also, it's just minutes away from the city centre, meaning you have the option of making a day of your trip to Sheffield. The city itself is known for one of Europe's best shopping malls, in Meadow Hall, so if you're trying to persuade your other half of coming along, it shouldn't be a problem. Around the stadium, it's extremely safe, and there is nothing to worry about as an away fan.
The reason I have graded these fans so high is because they are so loyal and loud. Yes, they may have a big stadium, but the amazing support Sheffield United receives is because the fans are true to the club, and it runs through their blood. The fans have stayed passionate, even after two relegations in four years. Without the huge average attendance, Bramall Lane would be a terrible stadium to visit, because it would be mostly empty and just have no noise generated. The noise made when The Blades attack is intimidating for away supporters and makes Bramall Lane an absolute fortress. The fans are a friendly bunch and play the role of the crucial 12th man. The hardcore fans pack into the "Kop Stand", and they are heart and lungs of the songs/chants sung at each game.
Sheffield is an easily accessible place. However, like most other cities, it can be very busy at times. Around the stadium, the traffic is dealt with very well and doesn't cause any problems. Parking wise, there are a couple of official car parks near the Kennedy Kop and South stands, but if you want to avoid the high prices, there is a lot of street parking available - which I advise. If you're not going by car, get off at the Sheffield Mainline station, where it's a ten-minute walk to the stadium.
The pricing structure at Bramall Lane is that of many Premier League teams. They rate games in category A, B, and C (A being the highest quality). Most games are category B and the prices are £18 ($27.50) for an adult, £15 ($23) for a concession and £9.50 ($14.50) for an under-16. The Blades are a top team in League One, with a lot of young talent and really should be in the Championship aiming at Premier League status. The quality of football is of a very good standard, and although the prices are quite expensive, you definitely get your money's worth.
Bramall Lane is a stadium that can boast so many different things, it's quite fascinating. Firstly, the away stand is dedicated to Sheffield born, Olympic hero, Jessica Ennis-Hill. As an away supporter, it gives your stadium experience just that little extra touch, which I find very cool. The historical impact always plays in the back of your mind, as after all it is the oldest major football stadium in the world and once a county cricket stadium. In addition to this, another key extra is that it's just minutes away from the city centre, which is a must see.
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