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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The highs and lows of Shamrock Rovers can be mirrored by its struggles in finding a home ground to call its own. Initially, the majority of games were played at Ringsend Park before the club spent the 1915/16 season at Shelbourne Park Stadium, now exclusively a greyhound racing venue. The Rovers then played at Windy Arbour near Dundrum before using a pitch on Milltown Road which was in the heartland of their supporter base.
Finally, in 1926 the club opened its brand new ground in Milltown situated in Dublin's south side. The land was leased from the Jesuit Order and the ground was mainly built by the club's supporters. In the 1930s the Cunningham family bought Shamrock Rovers and the stadium was renamed Glenmalure Park after the ancestral home of the new owners.
Glenmalure Park was the base for huge success for the Rovers, although some of its biggest European Cup matches, including their debut in the competition against Manchester United, would be staged at Bohemians' superb and commodious Dalymount Park.
The Cunningham Family sold Rovers to the Kilcoynes in 1972 and by 1987 the new owners had also purchased the land from the Jesuit Order. In the 15 years of Kilcoyne ownership Glenmalure had become run down due to a lack of maintenance and investment. The motive soon became clear when a plan was announced to sell Glenmalure and move the team across town to Tolka Park to groundshare with then occupants Home Farm.
The Rovers fans boycotted and picketed games at Tolka Park which ended up bankrupting the Kilcoynes. Supporters collected money to buy Glenmalure, but when they could not match an offer from a property developer, the stadium’s fate was sealed. Glenmalure was razed in 1990.
The now nomadic Rovers moved from Tolka Park to the magnificent arena of the Royal Dublin Society Showground in Ballsbridge, a venue first opened in 1881. Primarily, it is an equine events venue, but has also staged rock concerts, religious gatherings, and since 2005 has been the home to Leinster rugby. The new grandstand was built in 2006, but the vintage and stunning Anglesea Road stands, with their glorious elevated terrace, dates back to 1927.
Shamrock Rovers left the RDS in 1996 and limped on playing "home" games at Shelbourne, St.Patricks Athletic, and Morton Stadium, an athletic venue in Santry with a long history of hosting League of Ireland matches. In March 2000 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cut the first sod at Rovers' new Tallaght Stadium, but it would be nine years before the first match would be staged there.
Financial problems beseeched the project, planning permission expired, and to cap it all in 2006 a local gaelic football club Thomas Davis GAA took legal action against the club and South Dublin County Council stating the new facility should have a pitch big enough to stage senior GAA matches. Thomas Davis eventually lost the case and the original football only plan proceeded. The club had hit the rocks though and were only saved by a consortium of 400 fans who took over the debts of the club ensuring its survival.
Tallaght Stadium finally opened in March 2009 with a game against Sligo Rovers, ironically the same opponents for the last game at Glenmalure Park. In July of that year the club held a lucrative "Festival of Football" welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid, and Hibernian to the new stadium. The fan run club has tried to be innovative as well, becoming the first club to run a "B" team in the First Division of the League of Ireland.
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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".
Tallaght Stadium has two stands down either side with both ends empty. It is therefore sensible that the catering facilities serve both stands and solely occupy the otherwise empty south end. There is a burger van facility which has a friendly and efficient staff. To the right of this is a snack bar selling chips, confectionery, soft drinks, tea and coffee.
There is a really good variety of hot food from burgers, hot dogs, bacon rolls, and fries. However, no alcohol is on sale in the ground, but the kiosk sells cold soda drinks from Coca Cola, 7Up, Fanta, and Bovril.
If you haven't eaten in The Square, the local shopping center, before the game then the quality of food available at the stadium is surprisingly good. Irish beef is rightly famous for its taste and succulence and a burger comes highly recommended.
The smaller of the two stands houses the younger element of Shamrock Rovers' support and they call themselves "Ultras" with flag waving, drumming, singing, and even the occasional pyrotechnics add to the atmosphere.
The stadium is open ended which makes the creation of an atmosphere difficult as there are no natural acoustics and the two stands are distantly separated. The two modern stands are, however, extremely comfortable and consideration to leg room was clearly evident in the construction. There is a small scoreboard and stopwatch on the television gantry at one end of the stadium.
Music is played before the game, mainly consisting of rock music. Teams are announced and welcomed over the tannoy. The club uses an enthusiastic mascot called "Hooperman" who dresses in superhero type garb.
The west stand is the main grandstand and this affords excellent views of the game. The central section is given over to "executive guests." The east stand has the issue of the sun for most games, but also houses the pitch level disabled supporters accommodation.
Tallaght is some twelve miles south west of Dublin itself and therefore Tallaght really is a town within its own right. With such a vibrant, lively city relatively close in Dublin, the majority of visitors will invariably head there for entertainment needs.
The town center, known as The Square, has numerous shops and eateries and is a five minute stroll from the stadium. If staying local, The Square offers the usual Burger King, Nandos, and McDonald's outlets. It also boasts the Irish favorite Abrakebabra as well as Eddie Rocket's City Diner, Mao, and the New Maharajah Indian restaurant.
When in this part of Ireland a visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin (12 miles away and easily reached by road or the local tram "Luas" service) is absolutely essential. It is a fully escorted tour through the brewing process of this world famous drink. Enjoy a sample in the Storehouse's Sky Bar which has superb views across Dublin including the Aviva Stadium, the national soccer stadium, and Croke Park, the home of GAA Gaelic football.
The Maldron hotel group has a hotel that quite literally overlooks the stadium, and bedrooms in the upper floors will afford an excellent view right into the stadium. It is a high end establishment offering swimming pools and health suites. Rooms range from "classic" through to suites.
Tallaght Stadium east stand is where you find the SRFC Ultras, a group of young fans who follow the ultra lifestyle in terms of noise and attire. As Ireland's most successful club the expectation on the team is high and when things do not go to plan the west stand is not adverse to sounding its disapproval.
For league matches, Shamrock can attract gates of 1,500 to 3,000 dependent on the opposition. Derby matches against the likes of St. Patrick's Athletic and Shelbourne will invariably attract the higher end of that range.
The engagement of the Ultras in the east side is excellent, noisy, and supportive even when the side is letting them down. Their actions have been criticized in some quarters, however, as over exuberant.
The stadium is easily reached off the Tallaght exit of the M50 which is a toll road. Parking and tram options are very close to the stadium which makes the venue extremely easy to locate.
Dublin Bus operates several routes which service the stadium:
No.27 from Clare Hall
No.49 and 54a from Pearse Street
No.65 from Poolbeg Street
No.76 from Chapelizod
No.76a from Blanchardstown Centre
No.77a from Ringsend Road
You would need to factor in at least 90 minutes to arrive by bus as Dublin traffic is notoriously bad.
The Luas tram Red Line to Tallaght stops within a short walking distance of the stadium at The Square. The tram from Connolly Street to Tallaght takes around an hour.
Parking at the stadium is strictly by permit only; however, free parking is available on Level 3 of The Square shopping center, just a five minute walk away from the stadium. There is a dedicated ticketing counter within the Rovers' megastore on the west side of the stadium. There are no body searches actioned even though security and barriers are in evidence upon arrival.
You can move around the west stand to the south end to access the food outlets and in turn you can walk around to the east stand as well. There is no segregation for away fans who are housed in the left hand end of the west stand.
As a traditional powerhouse of Irish football, Shamrock charges the upper end of admission prices, but at 15 Euros (ten for concessions) this is still reasonable for the standard of football.
The prices in the stadium for food and drink are acceptable. There is a flat rate pricing policy for all sections of the stadium, but there do not seem to be options for upgrading to VIP, so one can only assume this is invitation only. No discounts, other than child and pensioner concessions, are available.
The club produces a very informative and well produced program, however at 4 Euros it is rather expensive.
After the protracted journey to getting their own home, Tallaght Stadium has become a fine venue for the 17-time League of Ireland champions. Even though it is a little airy due to the open ends, it certainly fits all their current needs and is also UEFA compliant for their frequent sorties into European competition.
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