Sandy Park (map it)
Sandy Park Way
Exeter, England EX2 7NN
Year Opened: 2006
There are no tickets available at this time.
Official Review by Jeremy Inson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Exeter Chiefs are the biggest sporting team in the south-west of England and play in English Rugby Union’s Premier League. The development of their home at Sandy Park has mirrored the growth of the team on the pitch and their ambitious intentions off it.
The Chiefs moved to the edge of town in 2006 from their previous home, the County Ground, where they had played since 1893. As the Chiefs moved up the divisions there was the realisation that the dear, old Country Ground just wasn’t big enough to hold the anticipated crowds they planned to draw.
Currently the stadium is made up of the grandstand on the west side, flanked by two standing areas. On the east, there is a small seated area that runs the length of the pitch. At the north end there is a covered terrace and on the south there is another covered seating area.
In only their third season in rugby’s top flight in 2012, the Chiefs and Sandy Park have become a popular venue for visiting fans, though the club isn’t sitting still. There are plans afoot to turn the venue into a 20,000 capacity stadium in the next few years, with a wrap-around roof over seated and standing areas. The way the club has progressed in recent years, there is no reason to think that they won’t regularly fill it.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of what is on offer, but it is certainly plentiful. Plus there are a number of bars and food stands around the ground which makes queue times refreshingly short.
Food choices comprise the standard rugby club choices of Cornish pasties, burgers and hot dogs, plus a magnificent chicken curry and rice, which cost about £5 ($ 8). For the more sweet-toothed fans there are various chocolate bars and other candy on offer for about £2 ($3.50) or so.
It is a similarly familiar variety when it comes to drinks. There is the usual mix of lager, bitter, Guinness and cider for about £3 ($5) a pint, though the range of local ales does offer something a little different; Meanwhile teas, coffees and fizzy drinks cost around £2.50 ($4).
Like most rugby clubs, the powers that be have no desire to turf out their fans immediately after the final whistle and so leave the bars open late into the evening.
The Chiefs' supporters are clearly enjoying their rise to the top table of English and European rugby and have no trouble roaring their support. The club is helped in that they are the only team in any sport's top flight in the whole of England's south-west. The nearest city with a professional sports team is two hours away in Bristol, so they attract support from across the county and beyond.
The whole club's identity is built around the native Indians and their mascot the Big Chief is popular with the kids and helps gets the crowd going before kick-off.
Sandy Park is 10 minutes by train from the centre of Exeter and while it sits among an out of town shopping complex there is nothing much to keep people there.
Exeter itself is a small pleasant town of about 110,000 residents and its city centre is filled with the usual high streets bars and restaurants. John Gandy's on Upper Paul Street is a daytime bar and restaurant that converts into a lively bar and nightclub, while down the road is Bill's, a restaurant that starts serving traditional English fare at breakfast and runs through to dinner and also has a well-stocked bar to boot.
For those of you looking for a more traditional pub, The Ship Inn near the Cathedral has a wide variety of ales and south-west ciders. There are a number of similar pubs in the Quay district a short walk from the city centre, just follow the plentiful number of signs.
Exeter's fans have waited a long time to reach the top tier of English rugby and now that they are there, they are determined to enjoy it while it lasts. Support comes from miles around and makes for an eclectic bunch, who make the opposition supporters more than welcome and are happy to discuss the finer points of the match with their opposite numbers late into the evening.
Reaching Sandy Park from the centre of town is a pain-free 10-minute train ride from Exeter Central station. Trains leave every 20 minutes or so and cost £5 ($8) for a return ticket. From the stadium it is a five-minute walk, just follow the signs and the crowds.
There are also free buses for ticket holders from the central bus station both before and after the match. For those who like to stick around to enjoy the post-match revelry the buses continue to run at least for a couple of hours after kick-off.
For those driving, Sandy Park is just off junction 30 of the M5 motorway and parking will set you back anywhere from £5-£10 ($8-$16).
A trip to Sandy Park for an Exeter Chiefs match is well worth the effort. Tickets for most of the ground are not outrageously priced and will still leave you change from £30 ($50).
It is like taking a step back in time from this age of mega-stadia and every match, not matter how minor, being hyped up beyond reason. Arrival is easy, getting to the bar is easy, views are good wherever you are and getting home is ridiculously simple, even for those who have sampled a little too much of the local brew.
The locals are friendly and with the team now mixing with the big boys of English and European rugby the sport is of a high quality.
In keeping with everything else to do with Sandy Park there isn't a massive amount to do away from the stadium.
There is a gym and shopping centre nearby, so there might be the chance for a game of tennis or a new pair of shoes before going through the turnstiles.
The club itself has a small, but well-stocked club shop named The Trading Post where you can buy pretty much anything with the club emblem on it; folks in need of a new pizza cutter won't be disappointed.
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1-3 Martins Lane
Exeter, England EX1 1EY
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