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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
For many years, Tobacco Road FC has existed as an amateur club in Durham, North Carolina. When they first began play, they were known as Clockwork Orange, and became one of the best teams in the area with a roster full of former professionals and former college stars. In 2016, Tobacco Road FC began their stint as a professional team in the NPSL. Never mind that the area already had a professional team (Carolina Railhawks), or that the three local colleges notoriously captured the market’s attention. The club decided that there was room in the Triangle area for another soccer club, and began play in the NPSL. Tobacco Road FC currently plays at Durham County Memorial Stadium. Since its construction in 1959, it’s hosted a number of teams, ranging from high school to college to professional. While the capacity greatly outnumbers the demand for now, the stadium atmosphere gives Tobacco Road FC one of the best venues in the NPSL.
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".
Concessions are very basic at Durham County Memorial Stadium. Popcorn, nachos, candy, and drinks are all you'll find available. This isn't entirely the team's fault. They're limited by Durham County as to what they can do, and they aren't allowed to sell alcohol at all.
On the bright side, the prices are fair, with popcorn and nachos at $3, and hot chocolate, coffee, and bottled drinks at $2.
Simply put, the stadium is just too big for the team that plays here -- for now. For a generally unknown team playing its first year professionally, the crowds are decent, but there's plenty of room to grow. On the other hand, the large stadium helps create that professional atmosphere. Many NPSL teams play at small city parks with a few bleachers on the side. At Durham County Stadium, you'll get a much bigger feel with two massive stands, a great sound system, and a turf pitch.
With so many seats, the club only sells one side of the venue, but that's more than enough seats for the current crowd. That entire side is general admission, which is nice, because you can be as low or high up in the grandstand as you wish. There's an eight-lane track that separates the crowd from the playing field, so you won't find any seats super close to the action. The seats are all metal benches, but many fans bring their own stadium seats.
There's no supporter section, but with horns and other cheers (ex. TR...FC), the crowd can usually be heard at the big moments in the game. As the night goes on, the crowd gets louder and louder, especially in exciting games.
There's nothing in the immediate area, but thankfully, downtown Durham is just a short drive away. Durham has become known for its food, and there are plenty of options. Here are some of the offerings:
After each game, fans are invited to Bull McCabe's Irish Pub for a team meet-and-greet. The bar is popular among soccer fans, so it makes for the perfect place to hang out with the players. Since there's no alcohol at the game, Bull McCabe's has you covered, with 20 beers on tap, including some local ones from the growing beer scene in the area.
Another option is Tobacco Road Sports Cafe. This place was named one of Stadium Journey's top sports bars, and for good reason. The Durham location sits atop the left field wall at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the local baseball stadium. If the Bulls aren't in town, this is definitely a great place to relax before or after the game. If they are, seating is quite scarce.
Finally, Dame's Chicken and Waffles is the perfect combination of the old and new Durham. The old is represented in their classic southern food: fried chicken and golden waffles. New Durham, however, is a bit more sophisticated. It's become one of the more "foody" towns in the region, and Dame's is a great example of that.
For a team in its inaugural season, crowds of a couple hundred aren't bad at all. The team obviously wants that number to grow, but for a team with very little notoriety around the area, they have a good turnout so far.
The fans are either families or hardcore soccer fans. The families see it as a cheap event. Tickets aren't that expensive, and the product on the field isn't too far off from other professional leagues. The soccer fans see this as an easier team to follow than the Railhawks in Cary. We saw plenty of Railhawks apparel in the crowd when we visited, which isn't a bad thing at this stage. As the number of supporters grow, the team can make their own mark on the city and their fans.
Fans shouldn't have any issues getting to Durham County Memorial Stadium. Located right off of I-85, it's easily accessible from anywhere in the southeast. If you're coming from out of the region, RDU International Airport is just a short drive away, as well.
Parking is free, and the large gravel lot has plenty of parking. Once inside the stadium, you'll see the newly-renovated concourse. The walkways, concession stands, and restrooms look brand new. The only part of the stadium that looks like 1959 is the seating area, but that's not an issue, since metal bench technology hasn't really advanced much since then.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for kids, and kids under 5 are free. If you're looking to save a few dollars, adult tickets are just $7 online, and kids are $5. Along with free parking, Tobacco Road FC games are a pretty good value.
The player meet-and-greet is a great promotion. It's a simple, yet effective way to get supporters involved with their team. Fans can really become part of a club when they have a beer with the players.
Fans can get a free program as they enter the game. Though it's just a roster and a match schedule, both are very helpful to a new fan.
The staff at the games are incredibly welcoming. Most games feature disgruntled workers doing tickets or selling merchandise, but every person we came into contact with, even the PA announcer, was nice and very helpful. If you need anything during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
Only time can tell what will happen to Tobacco Road FC. Early on, they've got a good thing going. They draw decent crowds to their massive stadium, and if they keep things up, there's no reason they can't continue to grow. If things go right, they could definitely become another well-supported sports team in the Triangle area.
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427 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
317 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
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