In the shadows of its newer, prettier, World Cup soccer-hosting sister, Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa remains a staple to local culture and lore. Since 1888, Capetownians have visited the grounds at Newlands to cheer on their local rugby and soccer teams, filling the seats now 52,000 strong. Since its inception, Newlands has changed ownerships (and names) several times, but has held tried and true to its roots: a welcoming mecca for the passionate and faithful fans that call its bleachers home. Whether they are there to watch the Stormers smash heads with rival rugby clubs, or to marvel at one of their three premiere soccer clubs, fans return to Newlands in droves.
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".
Traveling in a foreign land, I didn't know what to expect heading into Newlands hungry. The offerings are interesting, and cheap. Subs, ranging from chicken salad to steak and cheese are proudly displayed, with illustrations of each on the large white board next to the concession stand.
The basic tuna or chicken salad cost 25 Rand ($3.50) up to the steak and cheese which runs at a very reasonable 35 Rand ($5). Popcorn, cotton candy and chocolate bars are also offered in the concession stand, for around $3 a piece. In the stands, the hawkers dispense hot dogs for 15 Rand ($2), ice cream for 30 Rand ($4.25), and Biltong (jerked meat) for 40 Rand ($6.75).
Water and Coke are your beverages of choice, each for around $1.25. Accessibility is the main drawback in this category, as there are few concession stands to speak of. Also, no beer in the stands. There is a bar built into the underbelly of the stadium that fills to its 250 person capacity within seconds of the halftime whistle. The stadium is generally understaffed to accommodate 52,000 fans yearning for snacks and beverages.
Far from state-of-the-art, Newlands' aging cosmetics add to the historic allure of this stadium. The backless bleachers are covered in vulcanized rubber pads which seem intended to provide comfort but instead ensure that you are sitting inches away from your neighbors regardless how familiar you are with each other.
A single jumbotron circa 1990 shows replays some three minutes after the play and you need to squint to make out the score. Nothing intelligible comes out of the loudspeaker, not because the announcer was speaking in tongues, but because the stadium has outgrown the PA system. All of these deficiencies, though, are embraced by the locals as character-building details of their beloved Newlands.
Because parking is scarce, your journey to the stadium starts some half-mile away but you are immediately immersed in pre-game hoopla as the die-hards funnel towards the stadium donning their newest jerseys, flying flags and chanting fight songs. The fan walk is lined with food vendors and merchants selling their wares, rugby-related and otherwise. There is even a "sausage guy" prepared to make yours to order. Once inside the fervor is palpable. The songs, the flags, the facepaint... and this is during the exhibition matches. The fans cheer when the coaches took the field; they cheer louder when the players came out to do calisthenics; they blow your eardrums out at kickoff.
For 80 minutes, every play is for the championship. Every penalty is the loss of a first born. Every home score is the birth of another. To toe the line of blasphemy, 2007 ALCS in Boston just eked out more energy than this regular season match between inter-country rivals. Of particular note to this sports fan...NO VUVUZELAS ALLOWED. Well done Newlands.
So why not a 5/5 you might ask? Because when the going gets tough, the fans go silent. Not fair weather by any means, but a defeatist lull enough to break any team's spirit. Any break in the action - an injury timeout, an officials' conference, an opponent's score - and it's as if the stadium was never filled to begin with. No music, no chants, no cursing at the ref...just abysmal silence that renders the stadium a sleeping giant. True to form, though, the slightest gain by the home team and you are shouting at the guy sitting very, very close to you: "well played."
Two words: Cape Town. Beach, mountains, and bars are all within a stones-throw of the Newlands neighborhood. Even though the city boasts a population of three million strong, everywhere you go, Newlands Stadium seems right in your backyard. Within walking distance of the stadium, hungry and thirsty match-goers can stop in at the Golden Spur, the Springbok Pub, Nino's Forrester's Arms, Cubana, Sobar or the Stardust Cafe, all boasting full and diverse menus. Newlands is surrounded by schools including the University of Cape Town, as well as other sports facilities such as the Newlands Cricket Grounds, so the area is always active.
The stadium sits in the warm confines of the "city bowl" a natural valley formed by the Table Mountain Nature Reserve and spectators can enjoy a view of the gorgeous Cape Town landscape as they cheer on their local teams. The natural beauty of Cape Town is something worth traveling for, which is why Newlands Stadium gets a perfect score in this category.
Because of the cozy confines of Newlands, much of this commentary will blend into the last. Fans here are from all walks of life. Unlike many of the venues in the states, the fine line between the haves and the have-nots is blurred. However disparate their respective upbringings, the fans here have a common purpose - willing their team to victory. It is a testament to the post-Apartheid South African spirit.
As with most stadiums located in cities, accessibility by car is not a hallmark of Newlands' draw. That said, if you know where you are going, and know the secrets, parking is reasonably affordable (30-40 Rand/$4-$6) and surprising close to the stadium.
Located right off one of the city's major highways, the stadium is accessible to guests from all directions. One of the drawbacks of this set up is that there are few ways in and seemingly fewer ways out after the match. You need to arrive early to avoid gridlock and if the game is one-sided, it is a good idea to leave early as well. Far from a novel concept, it is a price to pay for having such a facility so close to the hub of the city.
A better option, and one employed by the locals, is the public transportation system that literally drops fans steps away from the stadium. Benefiting from a World Cup makeover, the public transportation system of Cape Town has expanded and become more efficient providing reliable access and egress to Newlands' patrons.
An interesting study in currency exchange, for the price of parking, ticket, food and beverage for two at Newlands one could buy ONE bleacher seat ticket at any popular baseball stadium in the states. For South Africans, though, the entire enterprise costs the average sports fan relatively the same as it would for a trip to the ballgame in a mid-range market stadium in the US.
Either way you look at it, with everything Newlands has to offer in atmosphere, and for the level of talent and athleticism you are guaranteed to see, the benefit in pulling out the wallet to visit Newlands far outweighs the cost.
The addage "you get what you pay for" rings true in Newlands. Even the "luxury" boxes are quite ordinary. There is one jumbotron for the entire stadium and the facade of the sponsors and advertisements are dingy and in need of replacing. High schools have better public announcement systems; the outdated speakers at Newlands make the announcers and the stadium music sound like Charlie Brown's teacher.
The cheerleading squad even needs work. Nine women came out onto the field pre-game to do their routine to warm up the crowd. One fell as soon as the music started. Once back on her feet, the embarrassed cheerleader joined her comrades in a series of cartwheels for three minutes and then they retired to the corner of the stadium where they never left. Not a back flip, not a lift, not so much as a handspring...just cartwheels.
By sticking to what they know, and shedding the excesses of trying to appeal to everyone, Newlands provides the perfect place to watch sports, and just watch sports.
*Photo attributed to Deon Maritz
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Ashley Cooper House, Main Road
Cape Town, South Africa
1 A Sport Pienaar Rd
Cape Town, South Africa 7945
021 671 4251
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