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Official Review by Rich Carpenter , Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Pride Park was opened by the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1997, and with a seating capacity of 32,600 it is the sixteenth largest football stadium in England. Although the stadium is primarily used by the club, the stadium has played a part in hosting a variety of events in the stadiums 20 year history; events such as senior international football fixtures featuring England v Mexico and Brazil v Ukraine as well as being the host venue for the 2009 FA Women's Cup Final. Pride Park has also hosted some high profile concerts with Rod Stewart and Red Hot Chili Peppers performing there. The area the stadium is located within has seen several redevelopment projects in recent years that include a multi-use sporting arena as well as a number of retail outlets and restaurants making the area ever more appealing.
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".
Food and drinks are available at multiple outlets both inside and outside of the stadium. Inside you'll find the regular food and drink kiosks within the ground floor concourse areas, similar to most British football stadiums. The fare is typically branded but there is not a great deal of space to move around. The floor space is an area for fans to congregate causing a queue for food or toilets thus making this area very congested.
Payment via debit card is an option which makes life easier for those who don't carry cash. There are no real unique items of food and drink - the usual burgers, hot dogs, chips, sweets, chocolate, hot drinks, wine, lager and cider are available. Pies are available at one branded outlet offering a variety of fillings but with only two kiosks available your options are limited.
Burgers and hot dogs are priced at £3.70 and £3.50 respectively with pies at £3.80. There are four alcoholic drink choices along along Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite and water for soft drinks. Prices are quite high as you'd expect within the stadium at £4.10 for a lager/cider, £4.70 for wine, and £2.10 for a bottle of Coke.
Fortunately food within the stadium isn't the only option. I am impressed that Derby has a variety of outlets and shops either located on the outside of the stadium or in very close proximity. Burger and hot dog vans are located on each side of the stadium with a Starbucks, Subway and Gregg's Bakery all on the outside perimeter of the stadium.
I'd certainly recommend eating before entering the stadium!
It is a modern stadium constructed in a bowl shape design which certainly helps contain the noise generated by the supporters.
On this occasion it was a fierce local derby match between two rivals so the atmosphere was intense with many fans in full voice before, during and after the game. A sell out of 5,500 for travelling fans with 20,000 home fans were present at the match of this review which at 25,500 was a little under the capacity of 32,600. All fans were seated and offered good views from anywhere within the stadium. (See video clip)
The main stand is slightly larger than the other stands and holds more fans. In addition, it contains a row of individual corporate boxes as well as a three-tiered level of lounges and more corporate boxes in one corner with a huge LED screen directly above.
The playing surface looks in excellent condition and it is worth noting that Derby County are the only current British stadium to have a SIS Grass constructed pitch. Floodlights have also recently been updated and are lined across all four stands and are all LED fittings. Pitch perimeter LED advertisement boards are in use as well as the large LED screen advertising a number of commercial partners and the score line and action replays.
A roof covers all seated areas with the main stand also occupying a section for VIP and hospitality guests. Pre-match there is nothing out of the ordinary as fans in the stadium bowl generally chat amongst themselves whilst watching the teams warm up. The PA announcer reading out the teams with the local Ram mascot makes his way around the stadium encouraging the fans. Music is also played before the game and at half time with what seems excellent sound quality from the array of speakers hanging from the stadium roof all around the stadium.
You're not going to get a poor view at Pride Park, with all seats offering very good views of the game. If you want to be close to the action then go for the seats within the first 10 rows or if you like to get a better overview of the match from a tactical point of view then head towards the back.
The stadium is located just 1.5 miles outside of the town centre, within a newly developed area adjacent to Derby Arena and a retail park. The area appears very safe with local transport links and the town centre clearly sign posted. The stadium can be reached on foot within around 30 minutes from the town with the nearest train station just a short 15 minute walk away.
In the vicinity of the stadium are a number of popular chain restaurants as well as a couple of hotels and a shopping mall not too far away offering a variety of food outlets and shops. A Frankie & Benny's (popular Italian American restaurant), Chequito (Mexican), McDonalds and a Harvester pub/restaurant are all within a close distance of the stadium offering either food or a drink for those looking for something a little more adventurous than your typical match day hot dog. These are popular restaurants and are typical of what you'd find in most UK cities.
A cinema in the local shopping mall (Intu Derby) offers some additional entertainment. There is also an arena on the same site as the stadium offering a variety of music, comedy and sporting events throughout the year. For those with their own transport and wanting to travel a little further, there is the East Midlands Aeropark situated adjacent to East Midlands Airport where you'll find Donnington race track.
Holiday Inn Express Pride Park and Premier Inn Derby East are within walking distance of the stadium and both offer good value accommodation. Closer to the town there are a range of other accommodations from small Bed & Breakfast lodgings to hotels. Derby is a relatively small town so if you're arriving a day before the game then a stay within this particular area is recommended giving you immediate access to the local shops, bars and restaurants.
Football in general offers a unique atmosphere when it comes to fans. Chanting and singing to encourage your team as well as displaying your dislike for the opposition's team and fans is all part and parcel of the English game.
Pride Park does not disappoint, with both sets of fans raising the noise level throughout the entire match, and showing their strong loyalty to their respective teams. This was helped by the match attended being a domestic cup fixture between two local rivals which greatly increased the level of the atmosphere.
This fixture was slightly below the average attendance of 30,000, though with it being a televised game on a cold and wet Friday evening I'm sure that affected the overall number, which on a Saturday afternoon would have probably seen a sell out. Derby appears third in the league when it comes to average attendances in the Championship which only shows off their loyal and avid support.
The crowd is loud as the teams are introduced to the stadium with both sets of fans chanting and cheering as their teams appear from the tunnel. The game is filled with chanting and singing from both sets of supporters throughout the fixture and at even more heightened levels when each team scores. The game ended 2-2 with early and late goals which kept the atmosphere lively throughout.
Fans typically stay in their seat during each 45-minute half, ensuring they do not miss the live action with a few thousand or so making their way to the concourses before the end of the half to beat the queues to the kiosks.
The stadium is within easy reach of the local airport, train station and the local motorway network as well as being located within the Midlands which provides a relatively pain free journey from anywhere in England. Transport links throughout the region are good as they are to the local cities of Leicester and Nottingham too. The train station and town centre are both within walking distances which offer good transport links to and from the local area as well as the local airport and London.
The club produces an excellent supporters' guide advising of everything you're likely to need on a match day including all relevant transport links.
I was travelling from Leicester so it was extremely useful to take advantage of the clubs 'Visiting Supporter Guide' and was able to park at the designated away fans area, just a short walk from the stadium for a cost of £5. Upon entering the stadium I was greeted by a row of stewards and police who were carrying out random body searches of supporters. It was pretty painless and although entering the stadium just 20 minutes prior to kick off it was straightforward with no queues.
I would suspect there was a much heavier presence of both police and stewards to keep both home and away supporters separate as well as being readily available to deal with incidents. You have to enter the stadium at the gate number listed on your ticket. By doing this, stadium management can evenly manage the thousands of supporters through its many turnstiles.
Seeing as you must enter the stadium via the gate listed on your ticket you do not have the option to move around the stadium therefore you are restricted to your particular section. This is even more controlled within the away support area which is a relatively small area. Typically, within football, home and away fans do not mix.
Tickets for the match were a reasonable £20 for adults, £15 for seniors and £12 for children. Since this was a cup fixture, match day prices were generally better value for money. Recently there has been a nationwide debate on football ticket prices with the 'Twenty's Plenty' campaign aimed at football clubs at all levels of the game to recognise and reward the amazing contribution of away fans by getting together to agree an across-the-board price cap on away match tickets of £20 (£15 for concessions).
Unfortunately, home game tickets are not capped and to watch Derby County you'll pay between £24 - £42. Overall, for the cost I paid of £20 for this particular fixture I felt it was fairly good value compared to League match day ticket prices. You generally find that ticket costs are lower for unsociable kick off times too, such as this one being a Friday evening kick off at 19:55. It was a very lively and competitive game so the cost reflected the experience rather well.
It's worth noting that both clubs involved in the fixture were actively involved in engaging with supporters via social media in the days leading up to the match, as were both local police forces.
I find it very useful to follow the team I am visiting on twitter in the days leading up to the fixture as well as my local police force who exchange relevant supporter info via links to relative websites for parking, places to eat and drink etc.
Overall, I was impressed with the setup at Pride Park. It is a modern stadium with a dedicated fan base. Plenty of obvious signs of commercial growth in and around the stadium are all geared up to offer a variety of match day needs for all supporters which help enhance the match day experience.
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Unit 3A, Pride Park, Derwent Parade
Derby, England DE24 8BW
Royal Way, Pride Parkway
Derby, England DE24 8JB