Sunday 19 May 2013

Port Talbot Town - GenQuip Stadium

Port Talbot Town FC
The Genquip Stadium
Victoria Road
Port Talbot
SA12 6AD

01639 882465
Official Website

Ground Number: 277
Saturday 18th May 2013
Port Talbot Town 0-1 Bala Town
Welsh Premier League - Europa League Playoff


I thought that after Sunderland last Sunday, my season was over. But Anwar contacted me in the week, asking if I wanted to go to the Europa League Qualifier game between Port Talbot and Bala. After some thought, I was up for it and decided to go, planning to park up somewhere between the ground and town and go into the town beforehand. I had been planning to do a game with a Welsh team in Europe in the summer, and with nothing else to do, this would be a good taster. I listened to Swansea Sound on Friday night, and had my tweet read out too. I was also chatting to a Port Talbot fan on Facebook and was planning a meet at the game. I had been planning not to drink much that night, but got on the rum and had a good evening talking to mates. 
On the day, I left on time, but had to stop for fuel, meaning that I was a bit late picking up Anwar, albeit by only 10 minutes. We left at 9.40 and went up via Gloucester and Lydney, so as to avoid the expensive Severn Bridge toll. Arriving at 1.10PM, I decided to go straight into town so as to save time. Luckily, there was free street parking. I was looking forward to going to Cash Generator to see if there were any retro games worth picking up. There was nothing I fancied, but I did at least pick up a few bits from 99p stores and some lovely Welsh cider from Tesco. Sadly, the same couldn't be said of Wetherspoons, who despite being billed as having some, didn't have any in. I decided to get on my way at that point, stopping first at Afan Lido's ground to get pictures. The ground is only 750 yards from Port Talbot's ground and is pretty decent for Welsh Premier League level. We got to the ground at 2.20 and were disappointed to see that programmes had already sold out. On the upside, it was only a fiver to get in. First thing I did was to go into the club shop and get a pennant for £3 After taking some pictures of the ground, I went in the bar and got a pint of pear Magners and some chips, which were the cheapest portion I have had this season at only 80p. A lot of Swansea fans were there too, seeing as it is only 10 miles away. Both they and the Port Talbot fans were really friendly and made us feel very welcome. Especially the Port Talbot Ultras who invited us to join them for the game and who gave their side great support throughout the game, some of the best support I have seen this season.

The game was worth £100k to the winners, which is a hell of a lot of money for a league where most clubs attendances are rarely above the low hundreds. This was reflected in the game, which was a tense, cautious affair although Port Talbot had the better of the opening exchanges and hit the bar early on. Bala had won 12 games in a row coming into this and although it didn't show early on, they came more and more into the game as the half wore on. But it was goalless at the break, and the second half looked unlikely to separate the sides, despite chances at both ends. Port Talbot had strong claims for a penalty when Cortez Belle was felled in the box when clean through. He had won every other challenge that afternoon and had a good chance to score, so it looked like the inconsistent referee had got it wrong. And from that chance, Bala broke away up the field and despite 3 great reflex saves from the home keeper, John Irving broke the home side's hearts with a clinical finish into the corner. I was rooting for Port Talbot at this point and so was really disappointed for them, especially as I was looking forward to some extra time and possibly penalties. The final few minutes ebbed away without much happening and so it was Bala who progressed to the Europa League. I went on the pitch at the end, welcomed by the stewards, which was nice. Who knows, I may go to Bala to see their European game, I certainly want to see more of Wales. We left around 5.30 and after dropping Anwar off at 8, I was back home by 8.20.

So this was my first Welsh Premier League ground, and I had certainly enjoyed it. The Welsh channel, S4C, certainly do a huge amount, having their highlights show "Sgorio" (scoring in English) Despite the show being in one of the most difficult languages to learn in Welsh, I have still seen it on a few occasions. A mixture of great goals and horrendous mistakes, featuring a fat Bangor keeper (sometimes) and a tendency to have grounds with lots of unused seats and cars parked at the side of the pitch. And they even do a number of live games too, including the one I was at. Despite this coverage, people are still staying at home or sticking to rugby, especially as there is no competition from English sides for the likes of Aberystwyth and Bala, with attendances 500 at the most. Perhaps an idea would be to have the league played over the summer, with the mid-season break at the start of the year. Certainly a lot of Swansea fans would support Port Talbot when they have no game, and it would put them in good stead for the Champions League and Europa League games which are in early July, currently, they don't even have much of a pre-season to prepare for these.


THE GENQUIP STADIUM is a decent ground for this level, having seated stands on both sides of the pitch, with grass banks at either end. Behind one end, you get lovely views of the Welsh Valleys. Even with their biggest attendance of the season, there was more than enough space for everyone. The club shop is decent, offering good value and a selection of old programmes. The tea bar as well is good value, and the bar has a wide selection, even if it didn't do the Welsh cider that I like, which would be simple to stock as it is in bottles.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Sunderland - Stadium of Light

Sunderland FC
The Stadium Of Light

0871 911 1200
Official Website

Ground Number: 276
Sunday 12th May 2013
Sunderland 1-1 Southampton
Barclaycard Premiership


The day was finally here for me to complete the 92. Sunderland had been left to last, purely as it was one of the furthest away, but I was certainly looking forward to it. There was a choice of 2 games left at the end of the football league season - Stoke on a Monday night and Southampton on a Sunday. The Monday night would have been easiest as I wouldn't have needed to take any time off of work. But I had some holiday to spare, and the days I wanted were available so I decided to make a weekend of it. Plus the fact the Southampton's style of football should produce a better game that Stoke's agricultural style. Or so I thought.

I had spent the night before in Whitley Bay after going to Consett the previous day. I woke up at around 8am and was on my way shortly after 9. After visiting Sunderland RCA's ground for pictures (which sadly was all locked up) I found my pre-planned parking spot in a road called Tunstall Terrace. This was near a Metro station and the plan was to get a day ticket for travel to the City Centre and game. But when I got there and checked Google Maps, the City was only 20 minutes walk away. By the time I walked to the city centre, it was still only 10.40 and the shops didn't open till 11, so I waited around, going on Facebook on my phone. When everything opened I didn't spend long in the shops, just getting some chicken for breakfast and the Non-League Paper. By 11.45 I was in the ISIS pub and after a  pint of cider and a pint of Belgian fruit beer, I decided to start making my way to the ground. It had been a great pub, with me getting to try some nice stuff and I'd recommend it to anyone who visits Sunderland. By then I was a bit peckish, so I got some chips and a beef roll.

I got to the ground at 2.30 and went in. I was surprised that even at kick off, there were still plenty of empty seats in the upper tier for the game that could guarantee their Premier League safety. I had hoped to start and complete the 92 with Martin O'Neill as my first game was with Wycombe under him. Sadly, around a month ago they parted company and had appointed former Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio as their new boss. He made an immediate impact, as they beat local rivals Newcastle 3-0 on their own patch. They had been bought back down to earth with a 6-1 hammering at Aston Villa. On paper they were a very poor team, with unusually a lot of rubbish signed by the otherwise peerless Martin O"Neill who has built some stellar teams down the years, not least at Wycombe where a memorable 5 years were had, and some of the finest players to pull on the quartered shirt were signed. Really for Sunderland this season, the only person to have done himself justice was keeper Simon Mignolet. Sadly this translated into a very dull game. Southampton were by far the better team, despite daftly sacking Nigel Adkins for a man, who months on, still can't speak a word of English. It was all square at the break and Sunderland did improve slightly after halftime. They took the lead through Phil Bardsley on 68 minutes after Mignolet had made several good saves to keep them in the game. But Southampton soon equalised through Jason Puncheon. Overall it was a very poor game to complete the 92, though it had been a good day and nice to finally complete every ground in the Premiership and Football League.

After the game, I walked back to my car, which turned out to be over a mile away. I got there at 5.30 and after a quick drink of Irn Bru I was on my way. My sat nav quoted over 5 hours journey but after a slow journey out of Sunderland thanks to a pathetic 'no car lane; sitting totally unused while people sat and waited in traffic, I made quick work of the motorways, getting home at 9.50. Despite wanting to reach 125 games this season, I decided this would be the final one at 122. It had cost me over £2245 to see all the games, talking into account tickets, travel and matchday spending. I had seen some great games and a few poor ones too. I had visited some great places too, meeting new people and making some great friends.

My next season targets? I may expand on this in a later blog post, but for now I will put my thoughts here. 
Firstly, to bring the spending down to £1750. I did initially target £1500 but I have had to buy a season ticket this year, whereas last season I got one free for collecting lottery money for the club. This will be achieved through better planning. I did very well on my weeks up North in terms of hotels. Travelodge helped me greatly on this, very rarely paying over £20 a night. But fuel is very expensive these days. And I had made some costly journey's, most notably going all the way from Burnley one night, into Grimsby to see a mate (one of my best meets of the season though), then to Parkgate near Rotherham for an afternoon game, back up past Grimsby to Barton, just under the Humber, before going back to my hotel in Doncaster. The next day I had a game over the other side of the country at Liverpool Also, related to the above, trying to take people with me for most of the games. I achieved this in part this season but still went solo on a lot of trips, again the fuel costs mounted up. As for ground targets, the projected leagues give me a target of 3 in the Conference Premier, 6 in the Conference North, 5 in the Conference South, 6 in the Isthmian Premier and finally 3 in the Southern League Division 1 Central. That's 23 that I certainly want to do before next season ends.


THE STADIUM OF LIGHT is a smart modern stadium, handily located within walking distance of Sunderland City Centre. With a capacity of 49,000, it is amongst the biggest grounds in the country. The atmosphere within the ground is one of the better I have been to and views and legroom are excellent. The home supporters are very friendly and this is mirrored in the club. On the Saturday that I took some of the photos below, I was on my way from my hotel in South Shields to Hartlepool v Wycombe. I stopped at the Stadium of Light to grab some pictures and was delighted to be invited in and shown inside the ground. A really nice touch as they were preparing for a game later that day.

There is a large club shop at the ground, selling all sorts of things. I didn't try the official tea bar or bar, but the City Centre is within walking distance and there is plenty to suit all tastes there. I'd recommend a visit to Sunderland, it was a great day out. Though I'd hope for a better game if I went there again.

Monday 13 May 2013

Consett FC - Belle Vue Park

Consett FC
Belle Vue Park
Ashdale Road
County Durham

01207 503788
Official Website

Ground Number: 275
Saturday 11th May 2013
Consett 2-2 Spennymoor Town
Northern League - Division 1


As I faced a long trip to Sunderland to complete the 92 league grounds, I decided to stay overnight to make the drive a bit more tolerable. I had decided to tie it in with a game, and with options being very limited at this late stage in the season, I decided to go down to step 5 and the Northern League. The bonus was this would be one of the last matches at Consett's Belle Vue Park ground, as they were moving at the end of the season. It would also give me a chance to see FA Vase winners Spennymoor Town again after I had seen their big game against Darlington back in February. I left a bit later than intended, after sleeping through my alarm, leaving about an hour later than intended at 8.50. My sat nav decided to send me through Aylesbury and apart from a bit of traffic around the country roads there, it was a good journey. I got to the ground at 1.20 and parked up and walked the 15 minutes into town. During the journey up, the charger had not been in my phone properly and I discovered I only had around 30% battery, something that would prove to be a problem for the rest of the day.

I checked out a couple of shops for some old games bargains, but there was nothing worth buying. I did get some cherry cakes from a local shop though before going to a pub, the Grey Horse for a couple of pre-match drinks. I had a pint of Weston's Traditional Scrumpy, before having a bottle of Sandford Orchards Fanny's Bramble for the bargain price of £1.50 for a bottle, very nice it was too. By this time it was half an hour before kick-off, so I made my way to the ground, arriving about 2.45. I was annoyed to find they had sold out of programmes, and so had to pick up an old issue, which at least had the same cover as today's one. I took some pictures of the ground before getting a pie and chips for £2.50 from the tea bar. Spennymoor were without a keeper due to their number one choice being in hospital as his wife was having a baby, and the backup was away on holiday. That meant that defender Carl Beasley wore the number one jersey for the game. Spennymoor were very poor first half and Consett deservedly took the lead on 34 minutes when Aristotle Guerin-Lokinga drilled a shot into the bottom right-hand corner. And the lead was doubled soon after as the same player capitalised on a defensive mix up to get his and his teams second. The vase winners and 2nd placed visitors looking a shadow of the side that they should have been. At half time I decided to nip out to a cash machine as I needed some money to pay for my B&B. Also, I picked up 3 500ml bottles of diet Irn Bru for a quid at a great shop called 'Barry's Bargains'. After making my way into town again and back to the ground I just missed Spennymoor getting a goal back on 55 minutes through Chris Mason's deflected shot. The same player scored again with an excellent header to make it all square. It had been a good game and a much improved second-half performance from the visitors. The home support had been good as well, vocally backing their team for much of the game.

I then drove straight to Whitley Bay, where my B&B was, after a not so fun journey through Gateshead's dodgy and unpleasant road system. Luckily Whitley Bay was a bit more car friendly, with free street parking right outside where I was staying. And it was only minutes from the town centre too. Such a pleasant change from most towns that seem to despise the motorist, with expensive parking, restrictions galore and unused bus lanes (like the pathetic 'no car lane' that I would encounter on my way home from Sunderland tomorrow) My B&B looked a bit gloomy when I was walking along the corridors to my room, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was en suite, for the bargain price of £18 per night. There was also a TV to watch the FA Cup Final on, and most important of all for me at the time, a place to plug my phone in to charge. If you want spotlessly clean and luxuriously furnished, this probably isn't the place for you, but if you are happy with reasonably clean and comfortable with everything you need then the Ocean Inn is a good choice. After watching Wigan's brilliant 1-0 win over Man City in the Cup Final and having a shower at half time, it was 7.30 and with my phone battery at only 40%, I still made my way out. I went to the Briar Dene pub in Whitley Bay which was in my CAMRA app as a good cider pub. But it was a disappointment as they only had Weston's cider that I had already tried, they stopped serving food just before I arrived. And I couldn't find a plug to charge my phone with. 
It was at that point that I decided to get a Metro tram into Byker, where I knew of a pub that was good on the cider front. By the time I got to the station it was 9pm and with my phone battery almost dead I decided to turn it off for the journey as I had no clue where the pub was at the other end. I got to the other end just before 9.30 and with the last tram leaving at 11.15, time was not really on my side. I still had time for a couple of pints though, namely Roger's Dry Cider and a Farmhouse Perry. It was a really good pub called The Cumberland Arms, and as well as good drink, they had some live music and vitally, a plug for me to put my phone charger in. I left at 10.45 and despite promising myself that I would try and have something decent to eat on this trip, I reverted to the easy option and got some KFC and chips as I wasn't sure how much time I had left to get back to the station. After the journey home, and some more chips at the other end, I got back to my room at 11.45. After plugging my phone in and checking Facebook etc, I watched a bit of TV before falling asleep at around half midnight.


BELLE VUE PARK will soon be no longer, but it is a fairly unique non-league ground. It has 3 sides grass banking with hard standing in front. The other side is where the main stand is. This has terracing at the front, with a raised seating section at the back and though it looks quite dated is interesting in its design. There is a pretty standard bar underneath this, which serves the usual range of drinks that you would expect in a clubhouse. The tea bar has a good range of food, taste pretty average but at excellent prices. And they sell a range of club merchandise and back issues of programmes at a table just inside the turnstile.