- Martin McNelis
The Showgrounds – Sligo Rovers
Photos by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
The Showgrounds Church Hill, Knappagh Beg Sligo, County Sligo Ireland
Year Opened: 1928
The Bit O’ Red
Set in the northwest of Ireland is the scenic town of Sligo, a popular tourist area and home to Sligo Rovers FC, who currently play in the League of Ireland Premier division. Known as ‘The Bit O’Red,’ the club have played at The Showgrounds stadium since their formation in 1928, when two local junior teams Sligo Town and Blues merged.
The club are unique in that they have been fan owned by the local people of the town since 1968 and that they have only ever played at The Showgrounds throughout their history. They have no direct neighbours to share a derby fixture with, but enjoy jousts against the two northern clubs – Finn Harps from Donegal and Derry City.
Sligo Rovers are very much a community club and you will see advertisements for home matches and kids’ training camps in a lot of the local shops. Walking around town there are people of all ages wearing the team’s colours, whether it be home kits, jackets, or stickers in windows and cars.
The club’s halcyon days are oddly recent having come in the last decade and under the stewardship of two English managers in Paul Cook and Ian Baraclough.
Since 2010, Sligo Rovers have won the League Cup, the FAI Cup three times and the Premier League title in 2012. This gave the club an opportunity of some European competition, though their forays in both Europa League and Champions League qualifying were short lived, with early exits on each occasion.
With more disposable income generated through these successes, along with the backing of local sponsor Connolly’s Volkswagen, Sligo made some alterations to The Showgrounds, some of which were compulsory to comply with UEFA regulations. These included some new seating, a new club shop location and the waste land where the old ‘Shed End’ behind the goal at the Church Hill side getting a modern tarmac surface.
The Church Hill End was an old enclosure area and was demolished in 2006. It now has a neat, open space that includes a large club shop, ticket office, food outlet, toilets and an annex type building which acts as the club offices. The Main Stand, rebuilt in 2001, runs the length of the pitch and has a capacity of 1,800. It has a floodlight pylon either side of it, has no supporting pillars and has the players tunnel and dugouts in the centre.
The Jinks Avenue Stand is the oldest part of The Showgrounds, also running the length of the pitch and has seating for around 850 spectators. It has a low, narrow roof, four floodlights and a couple of supporting pillars. In the centre it has a television gantry with the club’s name emblazoned on it. The last upgrade here was in 2009 and this was to ensure the club met the minimum seating requirements for participation in the Europa League.
Food & Beverage 3
There is no alcohol sold in the ground, but there are plenty of options for hot and cold drinks, with a variety of food too.
A large portion of chips, either on their own, with curry sauce or cheese, will cost between €3 and €5. Fish is €5, burgers and cheeseburgers are €3, chicken burgers are €4 and jumbo hot dogs are €3. Confectionary is available from €1-€2, while soft drinks, tea and coffee are €2.
Both home and away supporters occupy the segregated Jinks Avenue Stand and this is where most of the atmosphere is generated. There is a good vibe generated at The Showgrounds in general, but throughout the ninety minutes most of the singing and drumming emanates from this end, orchestrated by the colourful, flag waving ‘Forza Rovers’ group, as both sets of fans try and make the most noise. Some away contingents are larger than others and this only adds to the occasion.
Three stands are seated; the Main Stand, the Jinks Avenue Stand, while the Railway End has uncovered seating. The Church Hill side is open and has a standing area, though the view is somewhat limited from behind the goal.
The Railway End was an old open terrace which was upgraded in 2012 with new elevated seating, and resembles a terrace similar to that of St. Patrick’s Athletic and Longford Town. The seating is comfortable and you can get a good unobscured view of the pitch regardless whereabouts you sit in this area, though it is still uncovered. There is also plenty of space at either side of this area, which is ideal for moving round the ground and for wheelchair access.
With nothing to obscure your view, the best place to watch the action is from the Main Stand. However, it is very popular and fills up a good twenty minutes or so before kick off, so you would need to be in early to get a good seat near the centre.
The Showgrounds is located up on a hill in among some modern and modest looking housing, a mere ten minute walk from the town centre. Sligo is a very active, scenic town, with a river running through the centre, and plenty of shops, cafes and bars. The Great Southern Hotel is five minutes walk from the Showgrounds and the floodlights are visible from the lounge. They also do food and drink at very reasonable prices.
Sligo fans are vocal, colourful and supportive of the team, singing for the majority of the game. Locals of all ages come out to support the club and it has a welcoming feel, with helpful, friendly staff and stewards. Away fans are searched thoroughly for missiles on entry.
Tickets for some games are sold at the gate, while other matches are all ticket events. Sligo play to crowds of anything between 1,500 to 2,500 depending on both how the club are doing in the league and the opposition.
Sligo train and bus stations are located next to each other just a few yards down from The Great Southern Hotel. The train station is on the main line to and from Dublin with regular stops throughout the day. From here to The Showgrounds it is less than ten minutes’ walk up the hill.
Parking is difficult due to the housing surrounding the ground, but can be found a few streets back. Once inside the ground you have access to just about every end. The only part you cannot access is through the Jinks Avenue Stand past the away fans to the Railway End.
Return on Investment 3
The price scheme for The Showgrounds is similar to other Premier league clubs, with tickets sold at the competitive rate of €15 for adults, €10 for concessions and €5 for children. The improved facilities make a visit more comfortable than before, with the added bonus of greater recent success on the pitch leading to a higher standard of opposition.
Much as the camaraderie from the staff and the local people in the town make a visit to Sligo highly recommended, match days don’t offer a great deal of enhanced experience for fans.
Sligo is accessible travelling down on the bus from Derry and Donegal, or the train from Dublin in the east, due to the good transport links in place. On a sunny day, sitting outside a cafe or having a beer outside is a very relaxed, pleasant experience. Getting a good game of football into the bargain is a bonus!