‘The Bit O’ Red’ massive home revamp plan


Ireland Sligo Rovers FC The Showgrounds development Image: Sligo Rovers

The Irish professional football club Sligo Rovers published a detailed Masterplan on May 18th, 2021 including a proposed multimillion euro redevelopment of The Showgrounds stadium with the creation of an academy hub for the North-West region of the country. The plan was unveiled in The Showgrounds.

‘Sligo Rovers’ stated that the Masterplan presents infrastructural design proposals for the future of Rovers both at their home in The Showgrounds and a potential academy site. The price tag of the overall project as compiled by Rhatigan Architects stands at €17.3million.

The Sligo Rovers Football Club is an Irish professional football club playing in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland. The club was founded in 1928 and have been in the League of Ireland since 1934. The club is a co-operative venture, owned by the people of Sligo in Ireland.

The 4,500-capacity The Showgrounds is a stadium in Sligo, which has been home of Sligo Rovers since Rovers were formed in 1928.

The League of Ireland Premier Division, also known as the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, is the top level division in both the League of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland football league system. The division was formed in 1985 following a reorganization of the League of Ireland.

There is also a detailed analysis of the economic, social and financial impact that the proposed development could have on the club, the county and beyond, as well as the footballing impact.

‘Sligo Rovers’ further stated that the plan has been endorsed by the Sligo County Council and the Football Association of Ireland.

The redeveloped Showgrounds would have a seated capacity of 6,000, surpassing all the requirements of a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Category 3 stadium.

It includes the retention of the existing Tracey Avenue Stand and Railway End Stand, with alterations to both, the construction of a new stand at the Church Hill Road End and a new stand in lieu of the present Jinks Avenue Stand.

New floodlights, turnstiles, hospitality spaces, shops, corporate and sponsors facilities, offices, meeting rooms, upgraded media facilities, multiple changing rooms, and a gym would comprise part of the redevelopment.

The Showgrounds pitch would be extended and the playing surface changed to a hybrid pitch, an innovation that comprises 95 percent of natural grass and delivers more playing time.

A provisional agreement with Sligo Rugby to facilitate games in the rehabilitated Showgrounds has been reached, with the club keen to open up the facilities for the community. ‘The Bit O’ Red’ is also willing to stage provincial matches for regional use for the betterment of North-West sport.

The Masterplan reflects the club’s ambition to expand, as well as its initiative to maximize the potential of the North-West area to develop more local and international footballers.

This season over 50 percent of the registered Sligo Rovers first-team squad has been developed from the academy, with an average of 40 percent in each gameday squad.

Through this development, and the growth of commercial areas of the football club, Sligo Rovers aim to greatly enhance the opportunities for future generations of young male and female footballers and increase employment in the football industry in Ireland.

This Masterplan defines the direction of Sligo Rovers as a community- owned club and is centrally focused on providing an exalted and enchanting experience to fans on matchday. Outside of matchday, a pavilion and plaza area outside of The Showgrounds would include space for cafes, restaurants, meeting space, and business units.

The club is actively seeking land within the Sligo area for the development of a home for the expanding Sligo Rovers Academy.

Preliminary discussions have been held with the Sligo County Council and a site in the region of eight acres is desired to cater to the needs of the expanding size of the club.

The proposed Academy base would have three playing pitches with associated dugouts, as well as a single-story structure containing dressing rooms and other facilities.

The club aims to expand the number of teams under the Sligo Rovers badge to 13 by the middle of this decade and the creation of home is seen as key in order to create a pathway for children to be active and excel in sport.

Rhatigan Architects were appointed in June last year to prepare this Masterplan for Sligo Rovers. Sligo Rovers secured the funding to create the Masterplan from Sligo LEADER. The Sligo LEADER Partnership delivers a range of programs on behalf of the local and national Government that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for individuals and communities in County Sligo. Sligo LEADER made it possible to publish the plan.

Speaking at the unveiling of the Masterplan, the club Chairman, Tommy Higgins, maintained, “Today we present a vision that has been created not just over the last year but through the growth and enhancement of the club in its modern existence. We see unlimited potential in Sligo Rovers Football Club. Today the football represents a beacon and focal point of the community, something we have worked tirelessly to achieve.”

Added Higgins, “We also have a youth set-up which is developing countless footballers going on to play senior League of Ireland football each year, while still being in its infancy. Prior to COVID-19, we had 11 players involved with Ireland at the underage level during one calendar year and our desire is to invest further in the area. In the future we want to develop a facility that can raise standards even further across the board. That is by improving football players through investment in coaching, teams and the experience of the supporter to enhance our attendance figures.”

He continued, “As a community club we also seek to bring further benefits to our local economy and provide the opportunity to young boys aspiring to become the next Séamus Coleman (Irish footballer) to live out their dream, and for girls who need more front of house women wearing ‘The Bit O’ Red’ of Sligo Rovers as soon as possible.”

The Sligo County Council Acting Chief Executive, Tom Kilfeather, put in, “The Sligo County Council commends Sligo Rovers on the preparation of their Masterplan for the Sligo Showgrounds. Sligo Rovers are a valued presence in our community, and since the club was established in 1928, their grounds have been available for a range of other sports and activities. Throughout its history it has welcomed people from all countries and backgrounds, this tradition and ethos reflecting the cultural diversity of Sligo over the 20th century. The transformation of the ground under the Masterplan would be a major enhancement of the recreational offering in Sligo, and will be a landmark achievement for the club and the wider community.”

Added Kilfeather, “The Sligo County Council fully supports Sligo Rovers Management Committee in the delivery of the objectives set out in the Masterplan.”

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Chief Executive, Jonathan Hill, observed, “We talk a lot about football in the community, not just here in Ireland but across the globe, and Sligo Rovers are standard bearers in this regard. I am delighted to see the range of this Development Plan which reflects the club’s standing in the Sligo community in a fitting manner. Such development is a cornerstone of our vision for the future of all our League of Ireland clubs. Well done to all involve with this project.”

Walter Holleran, FAI Head of Facility Development, has promised to support the plan, “This ambitious Development Plan from Sligo Rovers clearly shows a footballing venue can be more than just a playing field for 22 players. Great credit must go to all involved to Sligo Rovers for their approach and visionary concept. The FAI unanimously supports this development plan and will continue to support its progress into development.”

The Football Association of Ireland is the governing body for association football in the Republic of Ireland.

Mayor of Sligo, Councillor Rosaleen O’Grady, welcomed the publishing of the Sligo Rovers Masterplan.

Mayor O’Grady added, “I would like to congratulate the Management Committee of Sligo Rovers on the launch of their MasterPlan for The Showgrounds. The outstanding progress Sligo Rovers are making on and off the field this year is a great source of pride for the club’s supporters and the wider community. Over recent years, The Showgrounds has been transformed into one of the finest league venues in the country, and the new Masterplan brings this ambition to a new level.”

The Mayor continued, “We have an exciting journey ahead of us: The prospect of European football, the very positive start to the 2021 league campaign, and the rollout of the initial phases of this outstanding Masterplan. The Showgrounds has been at the heart of our community for generations, and the vision outlined in this Plan will secure this wonderful facility for generations to come.”

FAI League of Ireland Director Mark Scanlon commented, “Sligo Rovers have long been one of the great clubs in the history of League of Ireland football and the passion and commitment which their players show on the pitch has always been matched by their supporters and stakeholders off it. This development plan carries on the great community involvement tradition at Sligo Rovers and will, I am sure, act as a prototype for clubs across the country. I look forward to seeing the same come to fruition in the coming years. Congratulations to all concerned.”

Rory Raftery, Member of the Executive Committee of Sligo Rugby Club, spoke warmly on his sport coming to the home of football in Sligo, which is referenced in the Masterplan: “On behalf of Sligo Rugby Club we would like to very much express our continued interest in the use of the facilities in The Showgrounds for the sport of rugby. While we have developed our own playing facilities at Hamilton Park, Strandhill, we are somewhat limited in terms of the size of the venue to attract considerable viewing numbers. We have previously explored the possibility of hosting a Connacht senior provincial game at The Showgrounds and we continue to do so moving forward. Not just a senior provincial game but there is considerable potential for a Connacht Junior game, ladies game, underage finals, Sligo RFC Connacht senior cup final game or even an All-Ireland League Bateman Cup semi-final/final, perhaps even an IRFU Ireland U20’s fixture, following the success of the FAI Under-21 games held at The Showgrounds.”

Added Raftery, “To this end, we lend our full support to the development of The Showgrounds with a potential use of the ground at some point in the future for rugby. We are very thankful to Sligo Rovers for reaching out to Sligo RFC to explore the potential use of the ground as and for the very welcoming and inclusive manner in which this has happened.”

In 2020, Sligo Rovers appointed a five-person committee to engage with Rhatigan Architects as they undertook a host of supporter and community studies.

The committee included Tommy Higgins, Mark Cummins and Roddy Murphy of the Sligo Rovers Management Committee, Gerard O’Connor of ‘The Bit O’ Red Supporters Trust and Ivor Parke, former committee member during the club’s 2012 league-winning season and long-time volunteer.

A sub-committee will now be appointed by the Sligo Rovers Management Committee to bring forward the Masterplan. Further updates will be issued in due course.

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