Belfast Telegraph

Neglected, decaying and home to wildlife, the football ground that played host to Manchester United

By Adrian Rutherford

It was one of Irish League football's best-known grounds, once playing host to the stars of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

But today the home of Omagh Town is unrecognisable, abandoned to the elements and left to ruin.

These haunting images show what has become of the old St Julian's Road stadium, more than a decade since it last hosted top division football.

Its once famous pitch is now a riot of weeds and brambles and home to a range of wildlife.

Stands which used to come alive to the noise and colour of fans on Saturday afternoons are now lost amid a sea of shrubbery.

The shocking images were taken by Omagh photographer Jason McCartan.

The plight of the old stadium has angered many in the town, who believe more should have been done to prevent it falling into its current state.

Former sports journalist Terry Patterson covered Omagh Town fixtures for 16 seasons. He described the state of the ground was "shameful".

St Julian's Road was the home of Omagh Town before the club folded in 2005, and had a capacity of 5,000.

The club first leased the site, which had previously served as a rubbish tip, from Omagh District Council in 1987, with the stadium opening three years later.

In 1999 it hosted three sell-out matches against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool to raise money for the Omagh bomb appeal.

A star-studded Man United team won 9-0, with Teddy Sheringham scoring four times.

But the demise of Omagh Town following their relegation in 2005 spelt the end of football at St Julian's Road.

Mr Patterson said: "The last time I was there was in 2007 and it was a shambles. The pitch was knee-deep in grass, the stands overgrown and the old Press box had become a drinking den - it really was a pitiful sight. It is very sad what has been allowed to happen. I remember David Jeffrey telling Jackie Ballard, who was the groundsman, how he always liked bringing Linfield down because it was one of the best playing surfaces in the Irish League.

"The environs weren't all that salubrious, but the playing surface was very good. There is no reason why the council, who couldn't wait to get their hands on the place, couldn't have let it out to some of the junior clubs."

The site has been left vacant since April 2005 when Omagh Town bowed out of the top division with a 1-0 defeat to Institute.

A dozen or so fans attended what proved to be the final farewell to the stadium.

A match report from the day states: "There were almost as many officials as fans present."

Since then St Julian's Road has been left to ruin. The shocking state of the stadium was captured in images taken by Mr McCartan last week, and have been widely shared online.

Jason described having to fight his way through weeds and overgrown shrubbery to reach the old stands.

He described the atmosphere at the site as "eerie".

"I enjoy photographing old buildings, abandoned farmhouses and things like that, and St Julian's Road had been on my bucket list for a while," he said.

"I took the photos last Thursday and it was a really hot, muggy day. As I was taking the pictures this sheet of dark clouds came in and it really added to the eerie atmosphere.

"It is almost like a forest. I had to fight my way through trees to get into it - it was a real struggle to get to one of the stands. It was almost overgrown."

Mr McCartan recalled attending several games at St Julian's Road, including the Omagh bomb fundraisers against Manchester United and Liverpool.

He said he was shocked and saddened by the state of the ground.

"The spot where corners were taken is now a mess of brambles," he added.

"There are birds nesting in the stands. The pitch is home to small animals - I saw hedgehogs, rabbits and frogs. It is hard to believe this is the same pitch once graced by Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool just 15 or so years ago."

Belfast Telegraph


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