Newcastle United fans have long been starved for success, punished by eccentric owners, baffling decisions and under-achievement. However, they have never wanted for excellent shelter.
In November 2011, St James' Park became known as Sports Direct Arena after a new sponsorship agreement. However, thanks to the massive outpouring from the supporters of the club, a new company bought the rights in October 2012, and restored the old name.
St James' Park has grown from a modest base to become a beacon of the North-East of England, dominating the skyline in a manner befitting of a town which is intoxicated by football. At the turn of the millennium, double-tiers were added to the Milburn and Leazes stands at a cost of £40m, adding 15,000 to the capacity and bringing the stadium into line with the very best England has to offer.
Plans have also been mooted for a re-development of the Gallowgate End, raising the capacity even further to 60,000.
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".
This is a mark of standardised, pricey Premier League fare, with little space for originality. A pie and a drink will bring you little change from a £5 note. For something cheap but heart-warming you might want to indulge in a cup of Bovril - the quintessential half-time meal for the English football fan.
Ingrained in the stadium complex, Shearer's Bar (named after club legend and record goal scorer Alan Shearer) offers something a bit more up market. Pub grub, pool tables and various television screens are situated across a three-floor complex. Most main meals cost £5. A deal of two for £6.95 is also offered on select dishes. It's perfectly situated for a pre-match refreshment.
Luckily, as you will find out, many more exciting delights await outside the ground.
Uniquely for such a prominent Premier League club, St James' Park is the centrepiece of the city with everything else revolving around it. This makes for an excellent atmosphere as both the city and its one and only football team merge wonderfully. The club's famous black and white stripes are ubiquitous. This is a city that seems to be either watching football or talking about it seven days a week. The sense of occasion is never dimmed. Once in the ground, the enormity of the place speaks for itself - few cheap thrills and gimmicks are required. By the time the teams emerge to Mark Knopfler's "Local Hero", the heart rate certainly rises by a few beats.
The stadium's prominence in the city also means that you are only a short walk away from a smorgasbord of facilities. Adjacent to the ground is Stowell Street, better known as "China Town". Here you will find a mind-blowing array of Chinese eateries. Otherwise, the city centre is five minutes away. Finding something not to your taste is nigh-on impossible. Newcastle really cannot be matched for its convenience.
This is where Newcastle United Football Club is in its element. "Toon" fans have long been regarded as some of the most intransigent supporters in the country. In spite of a famine of success for decade after decade, support rarely shows any sign of declining. Away fans are placed in the Sir John Hall Stand. They have long spoken its unparalleled spaciousness which makes up for being seated in the Gods. Furthermore, Newcastle is one of the longest away trips generally, so you can often count on visiting support being at its most visceral, providing the edge that all great football matches need.
Few faults are to be found here. For long-distance fans, Newcastle airport is seven miles from the city centre. The train station is a ten minute walk from the ground.
Perhaps your simplest bet for travelling around the city is the metro system. A "Daysaver" ticket can be purchased for £3.50 which gives you unlimited travel. Alight at Monument station when going to the ground.
It is possible to park almost in the shadow of the stadium but you would be advised to find somewhere a little further out as the exiting masses will make driving near the stadium an unmitigated nightmare. You may want to consider the Park and Ride system - signposted as you enter Newcastle. This will allow you to deposit your car and take a metro service into the city centre, eliminating the pain.
Newcastle University provides a consummate guide for travel of all dimensions.
Once at the ground, do bear in mind that supporters in the top tiers will have to face football's version of Everest with seemingly endless flights of stairs. It is balanced out however by the extraordinary sense of accomplishment once you have wheezed your way to the top.
Newcastle's pricing is not out of touch with its contemporaries. A well-placed seat in the corner of the ground shouldn't be more than £30. Bearing in mind the vibrancy and breadth of facilities to be found in the city, boredom should be the least thing on your mind. Newcastle should be high on your list when considering Premier League venues to visit.
Programmes are available for £3, providing all the essential match-day information. Daily stadium tours are also offered at a price of £10 for adults and £7 for concessions. You will have to pay a little more if doing it on a matchday. Where things fall down is the lack of big screens in an otherwise modern football ground, save for a humble display of the allotted match time. Televisions are available on the concourses however, where you can watch the rest of the day's results arrive.
Soccer has never been better than at Sports Direct Arena, more commonly known as St James' Park. The arena has one of the more unique designs in sports and if you think you know that from looking at pictures, you don't. This arena has to be experienced live. The arena itself makes for a spectacular atmosphere and in combination with the fans you will have a very special experience.
As long as you have a map the arena is easy to get to, as it's located on walking distance from the heart of the city. Just by the arena you have two excellent bars/restaurants for pre-game. Shearer's is located in the same building as the stadium and The Strawberry is located right across the street.
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