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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Located on the south side of the South Carolina campus with a bird’s eye view of Williams-Brice Stadium stands Eugene E. Stone III Stadium, or Stone Stadium, as it’s called on campus. Stone Stadium is also nicknamed “The Graveyard” because of the House of Peace cemetery adjacent to the field, just over the stone wall partially surrounding the pitch. The Gamecocks and Lady Gamecocks have played at Stone Stadium since 1981. In 1996, the university built a grandstand on the west side of the field opposite the stone wall, and the stadium currently has a 5,700 capacity.
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Concessions at Stone Stadium are the bare minimum, but very moderately priced. Hot dogs, nachos and popcorn are the standard options at both concession stands, with food and drinks starting at $3. For a more unique southern option, they do sell boiled peanuts, which are worth the try if on a visit to the Deep South. Alcohol is not available at Stone Stadium, as is the case for most SEC-sponsored events (or Conference USA, in which the Gamecocks play soccer).
As you'd expect from a football-crazy school in the southeast, don't expect to find a large sold-out crowd at a South Carolina soccer game. That doesn't mean there's nothing to see at Stone Stadium, however. The University awards loyalty points to students who attend the games, and offers a variety of promotions to make it an enjoyable experience. Sandstorm and 2001 (university themes) blare through the loudspeakers, and the popular mascot Cocky roams the stands, posing for photo opportunities and getting the crowd excited. There's a contest you can enter for prizes if you guess who's going to score the first goal of the game. It's an overall very relaxed and fun atmosphere.
Across from the grandstand on the east side of the pitch is a grassy, family-friendly area behind a fence that's an arm's length from the field. Below the scoreboard is a Gamecock bounce castle and large knoll, where you'll find a lot of kids practicing their soccer skills. This is definitely the area to bring a blanket and the kids to enjoy a game.
Stone Stadium is located in the heart of the Gamecocks Athletic Village on the south side of campus. Dorms are a short walk away, and to the south of the stadium, you'll have a birds-eye view of Williams-Brice Stadium. There's not much in immediate walking distance other than Wing Zone and Sonic, but you're a short drive from both Five Points (definitely the college bar scene) and the Vista (for the slightly older crowd.
I would strongly recommend staying at one of the hotels in the Vista if you're visiting. Either the Hampton Inn or Hilton is in the heart of the restaurant and bar scene, only a two-minute drive north of Stone Stadium. There are multiple restaurant options in the Vista, but a couple recommendations include Hunter-Gatherer for unique dishes and onsite-brewed beer, Blue Marlin for seafood and ambiance and Nonnah's for outstanding dessert selections.
There are a few different subsets of fans you'll encounter at Stone Stadium during a match. The variety of student promotions and loyalty points draws a decent student crowd from the nearby campus, who, while rowdy, aren't all fully invested in soccer. The noise level is enjoyable, but don't expect any real understanding of the game from the students, who make up the largest section of the grandstand crowd. You'll also find a smattering of local soccer fans who are just there for the game. They don't show a whole lot of Gamecock interest, but their love of soccer can be overheard in their conversations during play.
Probably the coolest place to hang out is on the knoll side of the pitch against the fence. There's a line of loyal Gamecock soccer fans along this fence who know all the players by name and are very vocal with the coach and the referee. If you're a first-timer at a match, they're your best bet for understanding the action and the team. Couple that with how close the match is to the fence, and you'll find that's the most enjoyable place to enjoy the game. You will, however, have to tolerate the hordes of kids playing soccer immediately behind you. Overall, a nice mix of fans makes for an interesting experience.
Most of those in attendance at the games are students, so you'll find parking fairly easy around the stadium. There's a garage and plenty of street parking just south of the stadium, and you may even be able to get one of the street spots along the railroad tracks just outside Gates 1 or 3. The concourse is wide and easy to navigate, with concessions and restrooms at each end being more than enough to accommodate the crowds. Crossing to the other side of the field can be tricky, as the path behind the north goal is narrow, so make sure the action is occurring on the other end of the pitch before you cross. On the knoll side, you'll find no concessions and only portable restrooms. The access ramp enters via the Heyward and Sumter Street entrance on the southwest corner of the stadium.
Tickets for a soccer game are $5 for adults and $3 for youths, payable at any of three gates. Parking is free and concession prices are more than reasonable, so overall, it's an incredibly affordable night of soccer. The atmosphere isn't anything over the top special, but a $5 relaxing evening of soccer is definitely a bargain for any soccer fan.
I'll give bonus points for the array of promotions and university engagement the soccer program receives. You can bet Cocky will be in attendance at every game, and there will be some sort of contest, giveaway or event to draw in the crowd.
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