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Official Review by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Hillsborough is the home of Sheffield Wednesday in the Yorkshire district of Owlerton, which is where the club's nickname of 'the Owls' is taken from. The club and its ground are steeped in history. The club have played here since 1899 and the modern day capacity is a couple of hundred short of 40,000.
The team were relegated from the Premier League at the turn of the millennium and have suffered a number of highs and lows since, with the team even finding themselves in the third tier of English football in this time, under the tutelage of several managerial appointments. The club are presently in the Championship (second tier) in the 2015-2016 season, and have achieved some stability on and off the pitch in recent years.
Hillsborough can boast being a popular choice with the English FA (Football Association) as a neutral venue for cup Semi Finals and for Internationals, most notably during the 1966 World Cup. It was also used during the 1996 UEFA European Championships, hosting three fixtures between Turkey, Denmark, Croatia and Portugal in group play.
Hillsborough is synonymous with the 1989 disaster which saw 96 Liverpool fans lose their life due to crushing in the Leppings Lane end (known today as the West Stand) when they played Nottingham Forest in the F.A Cup Semi Final. The irony is, that for all the media and reporting on one of the most tragic events to take place at a soccer venue, Sheffield Wednesday were not even playing. The stadium has undergone a number of changes following the Taylor Report which saw all seater stadiums being compulsory in England following the events of April 1989. It would certainly not be out of place should Wednesday achieve promotion back to the top flight in the future.
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There are a number of food kiosks in each stand which are well staffed with easy access and minimum queueing.The concourses are wide to allow fans to pass through or stand at the side and eat. There are also a number of televisions mounted on the walls or suspended from the roof showing a mixture of old games and goals, along with the Sky Sports channels.
There are plenty of options to choose from including burgers, hot dogs, pizza and a variety of different pies. A lot of English clubs seem to have a deal with 'Pukka Pies' and their advertisements can be found around the internal walls and the pitch side hoardings.
There are also a number of different beverages to choose from, hot and cold, including different types of lager and beers. The prices are reasonable and in line with what you would pay in, say the city centre. Despite being served in the standard plastic tumbler for health & safety reasons, the lager is decent.
Hillsborough is a friendly venue, and this is noticeable from engagements with the stewards to the staff in the club store, programme sellers and food kiosks. All four stands are covered and provide a good view of the pitch, though there are two corners of the stadium that have had seats added to increase capacity and they are out in the open.
Some English stadiums have one specific point where fans congregate and generate an atmosphere, but Hillsborough has two, the North Stand and the Spion Kop behind the home fans' goal. Wednesday fans are also notoriously known for their drum and band that play a variety of instruments during games. They also follow the English national soccer team and can be heard during international matches. Hillsborough is impressive both inside and out, and is a must for any 'ground hunter.'
Hillsborough has signs of both modern development and the past. The Main Stand has upper and lower tiers and was designed by Archibald Leitch, a famous architect known for his work in a lot of soccer grounds going back to the early 1900s. The Main Stand's facade is very modern with a new roof, corporate/executive facilities and office space upgraded within the last twenty years. There is a large scoreboard which is elevated above a police control office and sits between the West and Main Stand. It displays the teams, subs, officials and during the match it provides advertising, announcements, old goals and re-runs of match action.
The North Stand is single tiered, which runs the length of the pitch and has SWFC in white against the blue seats. Both the West and Kop Stands behind each goal are converted terraces, from standing areas to all seated and each have four supporting pillars, which may obscure your view.
As the stadium is situated on the River Don, there is a small bridge that you need to negotiate to access the Main Stand. To the left of the bridge is where you will find the Hillsborough memorial to the fans who died there in 1989. It has become something of a shrine, with scarves and flags from many clubs up and down the country.
'Ozzie the Owl' is the club mascot and he can be seen pre match. There are announcements made before the match and at half time. During the match you will hear music played by the 'fan band,' which is not everyone's preference, but it does add to the occasion.
Tickets are available in all stands for just about every home game, with away supporters accommodated in the West Stand. The rows are spaced out well with decent leg room. The pitch is close to the stands which means you will get a more than reasonable view of the action. The two uncovered sections tend to be for overspill from the North and Kop ends and unsurprisingly are the cheapest areas within the stadium.
Wednesday's neighbours and rivals, Sheffield United are based near the city centre, however, Hillsborough is approximately three miles further out. Along the way there are a number of pubs, shops, fast food outlets and a couple of cash lines/ATMs. There is a train, tram, and bus service which runs regularly and all of these will take you within a few minutes walk to the stadium. You can also get a taxi, which will set you back around £8.
The Old Crown, Penistone Road is for home supporters and The New Barrack Tavern accommodates home and away fans. Both are about a five minute walk from Hillsborough. There are also a Burger King and McDonalds on route from the city.
Hillsborough features vocal fans, with songs and music created throughout play, which adds to the atmosphere and occasion.
Despite some hard times, Wednesday still attract a home gate of around 22,000 for home matches.
All entry points to the stadium flow well, with minimum queuing both internally and externally.
There are plenty of transport options. Whether you arrive by bus, tram, or train it will not set you back any more than £3, and all options are minutes walking distance to the ground. A taxi journey varies from around £6-£8.
There is also street parking and official parking areas in and around Hillsborough. Public transport is well served.
Entry to the ground is by ticket (scanned at the gate upon entry), but the club have been experimenting with a designated cash turnstile for certain fixtures.
Tickets, merchandise, and refreshment prices are reasonable and competitive with other similar clubs. With a vibrant, friendly atmosphere, if you can get a decent game to entertain you, a visit to Hillsborough provides excellent value all round.
Tickets for cup games are halved or discounted which encourages more families or young kids out to the games, as it can make it more affordable for the average family.
The official match programme is a very good read, impressively edited and produced. The shop also sells some DVDs and books for between £1 and £5.
The site of Hillsborough is now more than a soccer venue due to the events of April 1989. The subsequent police cover up that has seen the families challenge the official findings, has seen it become something of a shrine, with the name of the stadium regularly in the limelight. It is something that Sheffield Wednesday will have to live with, but it is an impressive, nostalgic stadium which is memorable for soccer reasons, given that it has hosted many matches over the years. Many a ground hopper will take pleasure on ticking this one off their list.
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601 Penistone Rd
Sheffield, England S6 2GA
+44 114 234 9148
710 Penistone Rd
Sheffield, England S6 2DF
+44 114 281 1967
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Victoria Station Rd
Sheffield, England S4 7YE
+44 114 276 8822