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Official Review by Stephen Gillam, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Arena Manawatu (known outside the Rugby World Cup as FMG Stadium due to sponsorship reasons) won't be hosting any additional 2011 Rugby World Cup fixtures, but this can still serve as an invaluable guide if you're in the area. FMG Stadium is the home to Manawatu Turbos who compete for the ITM Cup.
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".
I've said before that Wellington Regional Stadium probably has an IRB-ratified menu. Suspicions of a nation-wide conspiracy were intensified when the exact same options were made available at Arena Manawatu. But this time, there was a little bit extra.
If you feel like supporting your local economy or giving to the natives (depending on where you're from), there are vendors scattered around the place to satisfy equally your taste for variety and your lazy opposition to walking too far.
Beer was also available, with $7.50 getting you a can of Heineken (same price as Wellington). But seriously, who the hell buys alcohol at 1 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon? Only in Palmerston North I suppose.
Again, if you want food my advice is to bring cash to the ground. You'll save yourself a world of hurt.
While Arena Manawatu is primarily a rugby ground, fans are treated to a dirt racing track between the stands and the pitch. Despite that, it's still a reasonably good ground for 'feeling like you're there' and it means the ground has a fairly small, rural feel to it.
Seats in the grand stand will give you an excellent view of the match, but tends to be fairly quiet. If you don't mind risking a bit of rain (a likely prospect in Palmerston North; essentially a sink hole between two mountain ranges), the terraces are pretty festive.
When I talk about FMG Stadium, strictly speaking I mean 'Arena 1' since Arena Manawatu is a large complex of sports grounds that, from memory, go as far as the gym at Arena 5. This means that in the stadium's vicinity there is a series of basketball and netball arenas, training pitches and even a hall "" not terribly exciting if you're after a more thorough experience than simply turning up to a game.
Nearby venues for food and drink are also fairly remiss. There is China Town, a Chinese restaurant on Cuba Street. I won't say I've ever been interested in eating there, but it's close to the ground if you're feeling adventurous. Further down, there are a few cafes scattered around Cuba Street.
But if you want to kill a few minutes before or after the game, the National Rugby Museum on Cuba Street (right by Gate 2) is a moderately priced attraction that could be worth a look if history of the sport is your thing.
A short walk down Cuba Street will get you to Rangitikei Street, close to The Square (the city's centre is imaginatively named since it's a square) where you'll find an array of pubs, bars, clubs and other facets of Palmerston North's night life. If you're after a pub for a drink and/or a decent hot meal before or after the game, this is Palmerston North's strongest hospitality-related aspect in my opinion.
For most games, expect a reasonably calm, well behaved crowd that doesn't cause much trouble but doesn't go out of the way to create an electric atmosphere. You can easily have a friendly conversation with the person next to you about the game, the city, or almost anything to do with sports.
Better yet, the local team is one of the worst professional sides in world rugby, so no matter how badly a player does, don't expect a hostile reception as it's all been seen before.
On an unrelated note, before you die make sure you go to a game involving Argentina. The fans brought their footballing culture to New Zealand during the 2011 Rugby World Cup; they sang, they danced in their seats, they coloured the stands with their national flags and it was generally great to be around. They are a very cool bunch of people.
Unless you're living or staying within a few blocks of the ground, you'll need to either take a car or get some form of public transport. If you're taking a car, you can park on the nearby streets for a modest fee, which isn't enforced on Sundays.
Since everyone has the same idea, if you don't arrive early then consign yourself to a long search for parks and a fairly long walk to the ground. If you can't parallel park, make it longer still. The city's bus terminal is about 25 minutes' walk away from the stadium, so again give yourself plenty of time.
$41 for a World Cup ticket is about as cheap as you'll find, and my seat was excellent. Not the seat itself (that was cheap plastic and got pretty annoying near the end of the game), but I was close enough to the game to catch a feel for it without any awkward visibility problems. The big screen's easy to see and doesn't regularly break down anymore either. Score.
I was left with the impression that Arena Manawatu had put a lot of effort into this one. The volunteers were passionate, the walking lanes were well filtered (within and around the stadium), and the seats were more accessible than usual.
For added novelty points, in place of a Heineken tent, sales took place in a giant beer can. Only in Palmerston North I suppose.
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12 Rangitikei St
Palmerston North, New Zealand 4440
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