Rugby fans line out for grandstand view
Ulster rugby fans will tonight celebrate the beginning of a new era in Ravenhill’s 86-year history.
Not only will the game against Bath mark the start of the Heineken Cup, but it will also be the official unveiling of the new £4.5m grandstand at Ravenhill.
First Minister Peter Robinson will be on hand to formally open the new stand and fireworks and juggling displays will add to the celebratory atmosphere.
The stand, on the Mount Merrion side of the ground, is a state-of-the-art facility that was built on a terraced area.
Most of the much-loved terrace will remain, but with the added benefit of a roof — good news for the hardy fans who have braved the temperamental Ulster weather conditions in the past.
The stand includes 20 14-seater corporate boxes — that have all been sold — and around 530 seats. There are two types of seats available, members and business plus. So far, two-thirds of the seats have been sold. The Members’ Club offers a full-length, glass fronted bar/lounge located on the ground floor, with an elevated view of the Ravenhill pitch.
Outgoing chief executive of Ulster Rugby Michael Reid said it was envisaged that the new stand would be a local version of the premium level at Croke Park.
“The idea is to create a quality club atmosphere for families as well as corporate members, with first-class catering area to the seats and vice versa,” he said.
Four entrances now lead from the new stand’s hospitality area, out onto the four rows of seats. This will make it easier for fans to move between the hospitality and seating areas.
The stand — which was funded by Sport NI, the IRFU and a mix of pre-purchased seats and boxes — is phase one of a major redevelopment plan for Ravenhill Park.
Planning permission for phases two and three, a car park and main stand area, has been granted but is funding-dependant.
It is hoped that the redevelopment at Ravenhill will lead to more Irish rugby Internationals being held there in the future. Ravenhill, which houses around 12,300 people, opened in 1923 and has hosted 18 international matches, the most recent being a World Cup warm-up match against Italy on August 24, 2007.
Since 1924 the stadium has hosted the Ulster Schools Cup final and the Ulster Towns Cup.