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Official Review by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Football in the Irish county of Limerick has an interesting and chequered past, with name changes, boardroom fall outs, success, relegations, European football and the standard financial torments throughout their 79-year history. Formed in 1937, the club were challengers in the FAI Cup when they were twice-beaten semi finalists and also runners up in the league during the 1940s. The club won their first league title in 1960 and only replicated this once more, winning it again in 1980.
Despite being in the province of Munster, a very sporting county overall, Limerick is very much a rugby city. As much as it is popular with local interest, football wrestles with this and the gaelic games. The club's initial colours were red and white, changed in the 80s to green and yellow, but they are regularly recognised in Ireland as wearing blue, white and occasionally black.
The club have gone by various names including Limerick City, United, and even Limerick 37 for the start of the 2007 season, after the FAI would not provide them with a licence to play in the league due to them not meeting their standard requirements. The current title of Limerick FC returned in 2009 and remains so to the present day.
The club are a full-time entity, something which is rare in Ireland's second football tier, and this is due to fresh financial investment which coincided with the return to their spiritual home of Markets Field in 2015. Limerick have always claimed that this is their natural home and returned here having left in 1984 after massive renovation works and an outright purchase by a local consortium.
Originally built in the late 1800s it was mainly used for gaelic games and rugby. Limerick played football here when they were formed and played at a number of venues including the impressive Thomond Stadium, the home of Munster rugby, and amateur football grounds Jackman Park, Hogan Park and Pike Rovers' Crossagalla. With a new Main Stand built on and around the original structure, it boasts new corporate, media and player facilities. There was also significant money spent on the pitch and the club were awarded the best playing surface in the League of Ireland for 2016.
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".
There are a few food and drink options available at Markets Field, served from an ice cream van, a small hut and a burger van. The ice cream van sells what you would expect; confectionary, crisps, juice and also some hot drink options of tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
The hut sells sweets only at shop prices and is good value. The burger van also has a wide variety of options. All burgers (cheese, plain/regular, chicken) are priced between 3 - 4.50 euros, hot dogs and breakfast rolls are 4 euros, chicken goujons and nuggets are between 3-4 euros, chips come in large and regular portions priced 3-4 euros and you can have them with a curry, garlic or cheese dip for 3.50. All hot and cold drinks are excellently priced between 1.50 and 2 euros.
The atmosphere at Markets Field is mainly generated by the club's unofficial ultras group, 'The Blue Army Loyalty Club.' After a successful season on the pitch, the club have been lucky to have quite a vibrant crowd, mainly due to more local people attending home matches. They have had a couple of tifo displays, occasional pyro and numerous chants and songs in support of the team.
Markets Field can be accessed at three turnstile entry points, two of them on Garryowen Road for home fans, the corner of this road and Markets Field Terrace being for both home and away fans. The Main Stand is relatively small, containing seating for around 1,400 spectators and doesn't run the length of the pitch. It has corporate and media facilities on one side and standing area for fans on the other. It has modern toilet facilities underneath and disabled toilet access next to it. Across from this is what's known as the 'Popular Terrace End' and has a distinctive large wall on the back with housing on the other side. It is also where the dugouts are situated and has a single perimeter barrier behind them for fans to stand round and watch the game. There is a grass embankment here too which runs the length of the pitch and is popular with supporters on match days when it is dry. There is also a small television gantry perched in the centre.
The Rossa Avenue/West Terrace home end is where you will find a large walk way for fans going between ends, buying food and using the facilities. The food bars are situated here as is a portacabin which acts as the club shop. This end is busy, but with it being almost at pitch level you won't see much of the play from here, more so with people regularly passing through. Opposite this and behind the other goal, the Marketsfield Terrace was similarly an open end terrace, but a small temporary stand containing seating for around three hundred fans has been erected in the last year. In front of this and on either side of it there are also designated standing areas.
The half-time entertainment comes from local junior teams playing 4 a side games. There are also announcements about upcoming fixtures, travel and pick up times for supporters.
There are pros and cons to the best area to watch the action on the pitch. As the Main Stand is elevated it provides shelter and a good angle, but there are seven thin supporting pillars which will partially obscure the view. Opposite here standing on the grass embankment also provides a very good view, but there is no cover and in poorer weather this would be thoroughly miserable.
From Colbert train station you are ten minutes walk from Markets Field stadium, and along the way there are various shops and bars. Limerick is distinctive for the amount of churches and cathedrals which can be seen from some distance, none more so than St John's which is over the back of Garryowen Road and features heavily in photographs of Markets Field, professional or otherwise. Hospitality is warm, with Tait's Bar & Grill, part of Pery's Hotel, a comfortable, welcoming and homely option offering a wide selection of food and drink options.
The Limerick fans have supported a very successful team on the pitch and can have no complaints with the season, so it is hard to establish what they are really like. As a result of their dominance of the First Division all comments and chanting are positive. The majority of the noise and atmosphere generated stems from the small group of ultras who congregate in a corner of the Main Stand.
The train station is ten minutes walk away while local buses pass regularly with the Dublin direct bus also stopping off a couple of times a day. There is no specifically designated car parking, but there are plenty of street parking options around the ground.
Tickets can be bought outside the ground right up to kick off and there are a couple of designated shops in the city centre which sell them too. Once purchased they are barcoded by stewards to enter.
Once inside you have the freedom of three ends, but the only area you can't access is where the away fans are allocated. The majority of the facilities are in the West Terrace end behind the home goal and getting around poses no problems.
The ticket structure at Limerick is very fair, with Adults at 15 euros for the Main Stand and 12 for the Terraces. It is 10 euros for students and OAPs, and 5 euros for under 12s. The club offer individual match packages for families, ranging from 15 euros for one adult and one child under 12, up to two adults and two children under 12 at 35 euros.
The family package deserves a point mainly because it helps entice more local fans and families to come out and support the team.
Markets Field is a decent venue to watch football and one a lot of ground hoppers may wish to visit as it only re-opened in June 2015 after the club spent more than three decades away from it. It is very laid back and I found the staff and stewards both friendly and helpful.
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