England’s first purpose-built, out-of-town stadium of the modern era was opened in Scunthorpe in 1988. Pre-dating even the Hillsborough Disaster itself, Glanford Park since hosted three seasons of Championship football over the last decade, testament to the tenacity of a football club who represent a relatively unsung county in the English game.
Until recently Lincolnshire’s only representative in the Football League, Scunthorpe United are known as The Iron, in recognition of the industrial nature of the town they serve. Closer in character to Hull over the Humber than the agricultural swathes of south Lincolnshire, Scunthorpe also considers nearby Grimsby as a local rival. The pair has only met four times in major fixtures this century, though, unlike the more regular meetings with Hull City.
Formed by a merger of Wesleyan stronghold Brumby and another local club in 1899, Scunthorpe joined forces with North Lindsey United a decade later. The club that eventually entered the Football League in 1950, after several failed applications, was Scunthorpe & Lindsey United. For the sake of brevity, the current name was adopted five years later.
United were based at the Old Show Ground, in operation since the 1860s. Close to the town’s railway station, its site now occupied by a Sainsbury’s supermarket, it was a typical Victorian-era venue in the heart of an industrial community.
The move to Glanford Park was radical for 1988 – there hadn’t been a new stadium built in the Football League for more than 30 years. Set by the M181 motorway west of town, it ushered in a new era of clubs rushing to cash in on the real-estate value of their centrally located, dilapidated grounds and relocating. An adjoining retail park and easy motorway access also became underlying factors.
Nearly 30 years later, in October 2016, Scunthorpe United presented plans for a long vaunted new stadium that would replace the now dated Glanford Park. A short distance further out, closer to Althorpe’s train station than Scunthorpe’s, Lincolnshire Lakes will differ radically again from its predecessor. For a start, the new development has a projected cost of £1.2 billion – Glanford Park was £2.5 million.
This figure does not only refer to the proposed 12,000-capacity all-seater stadium for Scunthorpe United but the six Trentside villages and 6,000 new homes around them. Whereas Glanford Park was built at in an era when planners thought that new technology would free up for leisure time for everyone, today’s requirements are affordable housing.
For United’s multi-millionaire owner Peter Swann, who arrived in 2013, this massive investment is just another high-risk decision. Brave enough to sack popular manager Brian Laws in his first year as chairman after a cup defeat to then non-league Grimsby, Swann has found consistency in current manager Graham Alexander. The former Scottish international defender began his career at Scunthorpe when Glanford Park opened and his return bodes well for the ambitious club.
Missing out on the 2016 League One play-offs on narrow goal difference to later promoted Barnsley, Scunthorpe are in line for a two-game showdown in the end-of-season run-in in 2017. Glanford Park may yet see a fair bit of second-tier football before United head for the Lakes.
Scunthorpe’s nearest airport is underused Humberside, 28km (17 miles) east towards Grimsby, with no direct public transport links. The nearest train station for Humberside Airport is Barnetby, 15min away (£8 single) from Scunthorpe. From there, a Cable Taxi (01472 500 500) costs £10.
Busier Doncaster-Sheffield Airport is 43km (27 miles) west. First South Yorkshire bus X4 runs from the airport to Doncaster Frenchgate Interchange (Mon-Sat every 30min, Sun every hr, journey time 20min, £4). From there a half-hourly train to Scunthorpe takes around 30min (£11 single).
A train from London Kings Cross also requires a change at Doncaster, overall journey time 2hr 30min, advance singles as cheap as £15 online. From Birmingham New Street, you also have to change at Doncaster, overall journey time 2hr 30min, cheapest advance single £30. From Manchester Piccadilly, the hourly train (1hr 40min, £10 advance single) is direct.
Scunthorpe station is a short walk south of the town centre. Glanford Park is a long walk west of town. There’s a limited regional bus network provided by East Yorkshire Motor Service, Stagecoach and Hornsbys, running to the Tescos and/or A18 retail park near the stadium, with a limited weekend/Sunday service. Most leave from Scunthorpe bus station at the south-eastern edge of the town centre, a 7-10min walk from the train station.
A PlusBus supplement (£3) to your train ticket allows all-day travel with all three companies.
Taxi firm Ashby Cars (01724 644 444) has its office right on Scunthorpe High Street and quotes £25 for Humberside Airport, £35 for Doncaster-Sheffield.
The nearest hotel to the stadium is the Travelodge Scunthorpe, right next door, with limited free parking for guests. At the next roundabout towards town on the Doncaster Road, The Berkeley is a better bet, its convivial bar a handy pre-match stopover for home and away fans. On the first floor are eight en-suite rooms, affordable rates including breakfast. Strangely, each room has WiFi but no TV.
Outside town on the stadium side, by the site of the Old Show Ground, the Royal Hotel has seen far better days and is more used as a pub/restaurant.
Conveniently located by the train station, the Bridge Hotel comprises a handful of en-suite rooms, bar and dining room for the inclusive breakfast. A controversial Channel 4 show filmed here in 2016 saw a change of management that September.
More reliable than the Bridge if still a little worn, the Wortley House Hotel stands in its own grounds on the Brumby side of the station, with its own restaurant and cocktail lounge.
Further out by Lakeside Parkway, the Premier Inn offers free parking, right by the A18 that bypasses the town centre for the stadium.
Pubs and bars are spread all round the town centre. Up from the station towards town, the cosy Honest Lawyer is a handy place to start, with TV sport, a good choice of beer and excellent food.
Further up Oswald Road, the Blue Bell Inn is Scunthorpe’s main Wetherspoon, close to the junction with the High Street/Doncaster Road. To the left, Class 6 is a party bar with a younger crowd and football on TV. To the right, Abacus is similar in style and clientele, also with TV sport. Further down the High Street towards the bus station, The Tavern reopened in 2016 after a £200,000 refurbishment and provides cheap beer with sport action. The Penny Bank is another wallet-friendly spot with football on TV and karaoke after dark.
Further down the main street on the stadium side, the Baths Hall is a live venue created from a pre-war bathhouse.
The other side of the station, near The Pods, family-friendly Queensway in the Hungry Horse chain shows sport while serving standard meals and regular beers.