- Martin McNelis
Bishopsgate – Longford Town FC
Photos by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.57
Bishopsgate Strokestown Road Longford, Co. Longford Ireland
Year Opened: 1924
Longford Town FC
Note: In November 2019, the ground's name was renamed Bishopsgate after the club's new main sponsor.
In the Irish midlands and ninety minutes from Dublin is the county of Longford. The football team, Longford Town, were established in 1924 and played in the local leagues up until they were elected to the League of Ireland in 1984. Situated three miles from the town centre, the club – nicknamed “de Town” – have always played at their current and somewhat remote stadium, known locally as Strokestown Road since their inception.
Through sponsorship deals and grant funding, the stadium was renamed Flancare Park in 2001 and is still affectionately referred to by League of Ireland fans as ‘the Flan Siro,’ in reference to the famous San Siro stadium in Milan. Ironically the club colours are black and red stripes, but that’s where any similarities with the Italian side AC Milan end. In 2013 the club signed a sponsorship arrangement with the City Calling Group and since then the ground has been known as the City Calling Stadium.
Longford Town were promoted to the League of Ireland Premier in 2001 and enjoyed a successful early millennium. This coincided with the club upgrading and modernising facilities within the ground, replacing old terracing with new seating and bringing it up to the present 6,800 all seated capacity. In 2014 the club invested more money in facilities at the City Calling Stadium, with an upgrade to dressing rooms, the physiotherapy room and club offices.
Following promotion in 2001 up until 2007, the team went onto achieve a number of successes on the pitch, reaching no fewer than six cup finals, winning three and losing three. They won the FAI Cup in 2003 beating St. Patrick’s Athletic and in 2004 against Waterford United. Longford also claimed a cup double in 2004 when they beat Bohemians 2-1 at home, when it was known as Flancare Park. The club had three brief forays into the UEFA Cup (currently the Europa League), all ending in disappointing first round exits. Following relegation from the top flight in 2007, Longford had a pretty bleak spell, spending seven years in the second tier and despite promotion in 2014 it looks like another stint in the First Division beckons.
Food & Beverage 3
Food and drink options are available from two locations within the ground: the clubhouse, which is within the Main Stand, and from a small cabin just outside it. On offer at both are the very basic (and mostly homemade) essentials, including tea, coffee, soup, various sandwiches, crisps, nuts, chocolate, cans and bottles of soft drink, and all very reasonably priced between €1 and €2.50. There is no alcohol sold at the City Calling Stadium and nothing outside for three miles, so you would need to be fed and watered in town before and after a fixture in Longford.
Longford Town don’t attract much of a crowd, which has an impact on any atmosphere generated, but despite the remoteness of its location it is a very likable, homely and pleasant venue to watch football from. The club’s supporters group is known as ‘Section O,’ but apart from a couple of flags laid out, there are no audible fan groups congregated in any part of the ground, though there are a very few passionate individuals in attendance.
Once you enter the stadium through the single available entrance, you have the option to sit in the stand or walk round to the three other sides of the ground. These three areas have uncovered seating on an elevated deck consisting of seven rows, with a handful of entrance and exit walkways.
The Main Stand itself is relatively small and central with twenty feet of space on the left, which has a small covered shelter that has a couple of seats designated for elderly and disabled fans. The dressing rooms and players’ tunnel are situated at the right of the stand with the dugouts also in this area. It has eight truss type supporting pillars which will partially obscure your view. The seats have LTFC printed in black against red. The majority of both teams’ fans tend to congregate here and behind the left hand side goal.
Behind the goal on the right there is seating for around half that end, then there is a brick wall which is painted red and black. It is evident that this area is rarely used due to the discoloured seats, some of which are also broken. However it is an uncovered end and, providing the weather is dry, sitting around the halfway line across from the Main Stand provides an excellent, unimpeded view of the pitch.
In short, there is no neighborhood. The City Calling Stadium is located in farmland on the N5 Strokestown Road, which is three miles from the town centre. If it is the lively all-round package of a match day experience you’re after with local sightseeing, the City Calling Stadium is not for you unfortunately.
It would be hard to criticise the Longford Town fans as there is some internal strife at the club, with a recent managerial change and the team bottom of the table. Their current predicament is reflected by the low attendances of late, making it difficult to gauge the regular support at the City Calling Stadium.
The average home gate varies between 400-800 depending on the occasion, so the level of support can change dramatically.
Free parking is available outside the stadium and if this fills up there is roadside space too. There is no direct public transport link to the stadium, with all incoming bus and train transport options stopping in town. You could walk to it, but this is not advisable if it is dark; it would be better to take a local taxi which will set you back 7 euros.
On the approach to the City Calling Stadium there is a very generous-sized car park which caters for the majority of fans attending. There is only one entrance for supporters, which is through a couple of turnstiles facing you as you walk towards it. Once through, the Main Stand is on the right and you find yourself in a busy juncture with a spacious walkway. From here you can easily access all four areas and find the facilities from the programme sellers and club lottery ticket sellers to food outlets and toilets.
Return on Investment 4
Adult tickets cost €15, while concessions and students are charged €10 and children pay just €5. This pricing structure is more than fair as it is in line with the rest of the league. The prices of food and drink are very manageable, making the all-in cost of a day out to watch Longford Town very affordable, with decent enough toilet facilities too.
The remote setting was in line with the accoutrement of the main course on the pitch – nothing is laid on to present the occasion in a more entertaining light except the footballers themselves. If you are expecting a glamorous halftime show with fireworks and acrobats, you will leave sorely disappointed.
County Longford still shows signs of the recession over the last decade, but also shows signs of progress and recovery. It’s a friendly town and the club has friendly staff and stewards who are only too happy to sign post and advise. At the match of this review, the sky line at the City Calling Stadium as the sun was going down was stunning and was a pleasure to watch the game in such surroundings.