Sunday, 6 June 2021

MY BLOG'S TENTH ANNIVERSARY

THE WYCOMBE WANDERER AT 10

The 7th of June 2021 will represent this blog's tenth birthday. A few months earlier, on 5th April 2011 at the game between Hereford United and Wycombe Wanderers, I had decided that I was going to complete the 92, inspired by Blackburn Rovers and Winchester City fan Robert. I was on 161 grounds at the time and after ticking off a local game at Hemel, the first of the 92 that I completed in a groundhopping sense was Old Trafford for the League 2 playoff final between Torquay United and Stevenage (ground 163). That season and all those preceding it were very Wycombe-heavy - that season saw me do 71 games, 62 of which involved a Wycombe Wanderers team whilst the remaining 9 were when I went with mates to see games, quite often when there were ex-Wycombe players involved. My record for Wycombe games in a season was 78 during the 2003/04 season, but thanks to a large group of ex-Wycombe players at Windsor & Eton and my friend Paul offering to pay all my expenses if I took him to AFC Wimbledon games, I managed 117 in total that season. So it's not surprising that Kingsmeadow is my second most visited ground with 29 visits in total. I was a Wycombe Wanderers die-hard from December 2001 until August 2008, not missing a single first-team game, home or away during that period. I also went to see plenty of reserve and youth teams games - travelling as far as Ipswich for a 4-3 win for our second team and travelling as far as Rushden & Diamonds for a 0-0 reserve team friendly on an outside astroturf pitch. Eventually, though, I got fed up with doing the same old grounds and wasn't enjoying it anymore and so on 16th August 2008, I decided that I was going to miss the next game away at Chesterfield. The ground that finally bought it all to a head was Chester City's Deva Stadium, a ground I never enjoyed visiting, despite a favourable record there. Nowadays, I have a much nicer opinion of it, Chester looks like a fine city that I'd really like to explore and on Twitter, some of their fans rank amongst my favourite people on my timeline. But in the days before Google Maps and reliable internet on Mobile phones, a ground on an industrial estate miles from anywhere was not my cup of tea. I remember my first alternative game. I was working with my mate Paul at ASDA in Luton helping out with their refit. Despite having finished work in time to get up to Chesterfield, I knew I had to break my ties somehow. So I chose a game local to Luton - Barton Rovers v Burnham Ramblers in the FA Cup Preliminary Round. I've always loved the FA Cup, but even after this visit, the groundhopping bug had not bitten me yet. Back in those days, a stop at a ground on the way to another game was as good as a visit for a game for me. I still continued to do the vast majority of Wycombe games home and away, up until I started this blog, spending any Saturday's I didn't fancy at home, saving money and listening on the radio.

Watching Wycombe though had given me a great opportunity to visit plenty of new grounds - before I started hopping, my record in a season was 19 new grounds during the 2004/05 season, following our relegation to the bottom tier of the football league. I'd always enjoyed seeing new grounds, but I'd just been satisfying my urge by stopping at grounds to take pictures - around 700 in all if I recall correctly, sometimes to the chagrin of my fellow passengers as we pulled into the 8th ground of the day on the way to Bury - I recall my mate 'Clifty' not being especially pleased to see Chadderton, incidentally, a ground that I've yet to return to for a game. I regret not starting groundhopping sooner, with a full-time job from 1997 and being able to drive from 1999, I missed out on a whole load of grounds such as Enfield, Tooting & Mitcham and Wokingham Town's old venues, all which would have been very easy to do and those are just a few of many. I'd have loved to have gone to Wycombe's Loakes Park but I got into football around 15 months too late. The most notable example of me missing out on a ground that annoyed me was during the 2005/06 season when I decided to watch a game in every round of the FA Cup (at the same time as watching every single Wycombe game). I'd seen various non-league games up until the 1st Round and was hoping to go on a run with Wycombe, but typically, they let me down, losing 3-1 at home to Northampton Town. So I had a free hit on 2nd Round day and was planning to head to Burton Albion v Burscough with my mate Paul. But with that game called off at midday, we had to make alternative plans. There were a couple of options - either Nuneaton Borough v Histon at their old ground or a revisit to Walsall v Yeovil Town. For whatever reason, we chose Walsall and had a decent time, but had it been later on, I'd have been on my way to Manor Park. 

The following season (2011/12)saw me finally do more random games than Wycombe games (43 v 42) and then gradually over the years, this culminated in 2016/17 season when 145 of my 178 games were 'random' although my record haul of new grounds was 121 during the 2014/15 season. At first, I was concentrating on completing the 92 and down to step 4 of non-league. This continued for a couple of seasons until the Northern Counties East Hop in 2013, brilliantly organised by Chris & Laurence of Groundhop UK. I'd initially only gone as I was desperate to see the big Scarborough Athletic v Bridlington Town game, but I fell in love with the league and grounds and so expanded my horizons down to step 6. Other hoppers have also been a huge help, especially my regular hopper Anwar, who first came in September 2012 to a local game at Leighton Town. Back then, I was on 216 grounds, but over 700 grounds later, he has been with me for nearly 250 of them and been great company as well as providing help with fuel costs. I've enjoyed my hopping ever since, but wish I'd made different choices some of the time to get better value for my money and also to make a day of it. For example, I did a lot of the London grounds in the car when a great day could have been had in London on public transport. A train or bus is always my preferred option at the weekend, at least it was up until the current pandemic. Midweek nearly always forces me into the car and being the only driver out of my hopping pals, it always results in me being behind the wall which would be nice to avoid once in a while. In terms of grounds missed out since I started hopping, there was one that I was disappointed not to make. Cambridge City's City Ground was only around up until the end of 2013 but it never seemed to come up as an option when it came to choosing a game but I reckon if I'd put my mind to it, I could have found an opportunity. Generally, though, I've been very happy with my choices and with all the recent restrictions, I wish I'd done more and will be hoping to do 200, maybe 250 games next season, all being well. 

I started this blog in June 2011, when I was bored during the summer break. Initially, I'd wanted to count up how many grounds I'd been to and this led to me creating an Excel spreadsheet which in recent years has migrated to Google Sheets for ease of use. I'm fairly confident that it's 100% correct from the 2004/05 season onwards with the exception of one Sunday League game that I saw Wycombe Wanderers Official Supporters Club play. Before that, is a bit sketchy. I saw 117 games (I know as I was aiming for 118 in tribute to the popular TV advert of the time) during the 2003/04 season and have recalled most of them. However, I could initially only find 116 possible games and some of those might not be 100% correct. Prior to that, I'm pretty confident, with one exception. I used to watch my brother play for his kids' team for a few years in the 1990s but didn't record all the games. They were all on fields and perhaps I'd have been more strict on what I define as a ground if I'd recorded these and thought about it more. Maybe I'd have been less disappointed too when I turned up at basic pitches on the Peterborough & Welsh hops and counted them as a ground. Probably, I'd have just counted them as a game seen and not a ground visited but it's too much work and hassle to go and remove them from my list and records. So it's probably best just to say that my list doesn't include kids games and leave it at that. I am happy to do anything from a railed pitch, or a pitch with an area of cover upwards, so I'll have plenty of choices in the future. Even then, I'll do something more basic if the situation is right.

So, back to my blog then and it was very much inspired by Chesterfield fan Ryan's 'Ryan147' blog. I'd previously had a blog called 'Chairboys Forever' during the 2007/08 season about me visiting every single Wycombe game. Regretfully though, I deleted it. Like with groundhopping (which I started around the same time), I wish I'd started it earlier. With over 160 games to catch up on, I rushed out blogs, but wish I'd taken it more steadily and done them as I'd revisited, with the exception of grounds that had been demolished. The first blog I did was Wycombe Wanderers as my first ground it seemed logical at the time. It took me 8 months - until the following February - to catch up. Luckily, the blog records when I initially published the entries so I was able to look back and see that the first blog that I did in real-time was Braintree Town on 16th July 2011. I've since redone this blog and several others and it wasn't until around 2016 that I got a formula that I was happy with. Before the game, I'll try and research the club history and get that written, as much as anything to try and give some relevance to the ground and club that I'm attending. I'll then write a brief intro in the days leading up to the game to note things that have been happening and why I chose the game. Then on the day, I'll try and get the main part of the blog started. On the day, I'll take a notepad and pen to take notes about the journey and the game, if I'm taking public transport I'll take my laptop and try and type as I go. Normally though, I'll have to finish it when I get home, sometimes the next day if it's a midweek game. The original intention of the blog was to keep a record of my footballing adventures to look back on and that is still the case - it's as much of a souvenir for me as a programme. The other intention was to promote non-league football and meet new people. I know it's not the best or most-read blog on the web but I enjoy doing it and am pleased that a few other do too. Like with a lot of things, I'd always like a bigger audience and it'd frustrating when some clubs don't take a few seconds to retweet - I am promoting their product after all. But there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm not that bothered. 

FUTURE PLANS

I started writing this in February, but hopefully, by the time next season starts, things will be back to normal. I'm hoping to return to using public transport at weekends. Whereas I used to go into London from Amersham, I'm going to try and go from Wycombe in future. This will allow me to leave the car at home and call in at my favourite local, The Rose & Crown, before making my way home. The exercise will do me good as I can walk the 4 miles to town, Amersham is around 6 miles away but walking is impossible due to there being no pavement along the main 60MPH road that separates home and the station. It will cost me a bit more, but I can halve the increased cost by taking a bus to Uxbridge. Sadly, there appears to be no cheap way of getting a train from Wycombe into London as I can do with trips to Birmingham. A network railcard is a possibility, but it only applies to the South. Talking of Brum, I hope to start visiting and going via Britain's second city more often, given the value fares that take me there. As things stand, I'll not be renewing my Wycombe Wanderers season ticket. As brilliant as the new owners are, they are offering less games 'free' than were offered under the supporters trust. What with my new work hours ruling out Sunday and Bank Holidays, I will be struggling to 'break even' and another thing I hope to do is do a road to Wembley in the FA Cup or FA Vase - basically, picking a team at the start and following the winner of the tie all the way to Wembley. In terms of costing my trips and making the most of the time away, I am thinking of doing more when I visit a town and in turn, not adding the cost of my hotel to my football costs. This would allow me to get something a little nicer in a better location.

To celebrate my blog's tenth anniversary (7th June 2021), I've decided to pick ten categories and select ten choices for each category. 


ONE: 10 BEST GROUNDS

1: HITCHIN TOWN - TOP FIELD

My top ground is Hitchin Town's Top Field ground and this is unlikely to change due to its uniqueness. I first visited in the summer of 2012 for Hitchin's 1-0 defeat to Luton Town in a friendly and then again in September 2015 as they beat Peterborough Sports 4-2 in an FA Cup replay. Plenty of the club's imposing yellow and green colours \re in evidence around the ground and as well as a classic old stand and large open terrace behind the goal, there is one and a half sides of unique wooden terracing too. There's also a decent club shop at the ground too.

2: HAYES - CHURCH ROAD

Sadly now gone and replaced by a newer ground on the site of Yeading's old ground, Church Road was a victim of being situated on valuable land and ageing stands. I first visited in April 1994 with my Dad, though this was a long time before I got properly into hopping and I was just seeing a local match with my Dad. There was terracing on three sides, including a large area of cover along the side and also an elevated stand, holding around 500. The highlight though was the club shop which had a huge range of old programmes, books, magazines and all sorts of other stuff, all at pocket money prices. Even with my 14-year-old's pocket money, I was able to get a couple of boxes of stuff. I paid further visits, including the last ever game against Gateshead in 2011.

3:  IPSWICH WANDERERS - HUMBER DOUCY LANE

I visited here in September 2014 on a groundhoppers day and it was easily my favourite of the grounds that day. There was plenty of vintage signage and the whole ground was painted in the club colours of blue. A large amount of the ground is covered too, quite rare for this level and all homemade too. The only bad point is that it is a bit out of the town centre which is worth a visit.

4:  STAVELEY MINERS WELFARE - INKERSALL ROAD

My visit to Staveley came in August 2014 for an FA Cup game against Worksop Town. The NCEL was then and probably still is, my favourite league to visit. The game was on a Friday night, another big bonus for me. The ground is pretty well situated, not far from the centre. It's another ground with plenty of colour, the blue and white stripes in evidence all over the ground. The club shop, bar and tea bar are also excellent, giving you ample opportunity to support the club financially and get something decent in return.

5:  MELKSHAM TOWN - THE CONIGRE

Another ground that has sadly now gone, I visited here in November 2013 as they were one of the few clubs to play on a Monday night. It was a bit of a last-minute dash as other options were off due to the weather, but I'm glad it ended up like it did. First impressions were great, just £4 entry including programme. The bar was also very good. The ground itself has a long area of cover behind one goal with the club name spelt out. There was also a seated stand and plenty of colour around the ground too.

6:  GRESLEY - THE MOAT GROUND

I visited here in April 2015 for a midweek game against Chasetown. Sadly the epically named mascot 'Elvis Gresley' was not in attendance but it was still a great ground to visit with no two parts of the ground the same and plenty of colour. There's also a decent club shop with a good selection of old programmes and books.

7:  ST ALBANS CITY - CLARENCE PARK

Tickets are fairly expensive for this ground, at least for the level, but it's still well worth a visit. The ground is right near the town and a few minutes away is a brilliant pub called the Mermaid which has a great selection of ciders. I first visited in 1999 for a testimonial game against West Ham and bided my time before a revisit for an FA Cup game against Carlile United in 2016. It is situated in a pleasant park which seems a world away from the town. There's plenty of terracing and a decent amount of cover too.

8:  SWANSEA CITY - VETCH FIELD

The former ground of Swansea City was not in the most salubrious area, being situated smack bang near the local prison. The fans had a bit of a reputation too, glaring menacingly out of the local pub window at any away fan that dared to walk past. But it was a classic old ground, the best stand being behind the goal opposite the away end. It was a kind of two-tier structure but with the seated portion was up really high from which the view must have been great. It also featured a strange floodlight which added to the character.

9:  KINGS LYNN TOWN - THE WALKS

I visited here in 2013 when they were in the NPL Premier and the tickets were above the average price then. Nowadays they have risen three divisions to the National League and the prices are now even more ludicrous with seating at £25 and terracing at £22 with no concessions. They also charged £15 for a standard programme for their debut game in the National League. But let that not take away from a great ground, a large elevated seated stand on one side with a pitch length covered terrace on the other. It's also brilliantly located close to the town which makes for a great day out.

10: LIVERPOOL - ANFIELD

Not as classic as it was now that it has been modernised, but this place still oozes history and atmosphere. It also has all the benefits of a modern ground with good facilities, but it still retains a lot of charm. I visited in 2013 for a Europa League game against Zenit St Petersberg and even then, the atmosphere was electric under the lights. Sadly, despite Liverpool's 3-1 win on the night, they went out on away goals. There were loads of nice touches including DJ George Sephton who has been the Liverpool matchday announcer since 1971 and with his distinctive voice and policy of playing music from local bands, his presence really adds to the matchday experience. I was disappointed to lose all my photos for the night thanks to a phone crash.

And just a brief bit on the grounds I have enjoyed the least. I was going to include a list of 10 but I fell someway short. The worst ground I have been to is Riverside's Queen's Park. I've visited a few fields during my time hopping - that is a ground without either a rail around the pitch or a stand. The worst of these was the first in my records, visited during the 2014 United Counties League and Peterborough & District Hop, organised by the excellent Groundhop UK. Unlike some fields which have some sort of enclosed feeling by being the sole pitch at the venue or thanks to natural scenery, this was one of many pitches at the complex which backed onto a housing estate. It rained too, which didn't help my mood.


It's another Groundhop UK hop that provides me with my second least favourite ground, another field, but this time with bags of character and lovely scenery. However, Felinfach on the 2015 Welsh Hop was a bit of a pain to watch a game on with its 'humped' pitch - meaning that you could stand on one touchline and only see the top half of the players on the other side. The club were excellent hosts and made a delicious cowl, but it made watching the game a bit of a pain. The final ground worthy of mention was West Ham's London Stadium, with its huge gap between the pitch and the stands and then gaps in between the upper tier and lower tier. I went to the opening game there and it just felt a completely soulless place without the intimacy of their former Boleyn Ground home.

TWO: 10 BEST FOODS


1: Homemade Steak Pie (Goole)

The Goole pie is legendary in Non-League circles and quite rightly so. For around £3 you get a delicious slice of pie which is homemade with love and is as good as anything you will find in a top-end restaurant. A nice bit of gravy on top adds to it and makes it even better.


2:  Thai Green Curry (Bishops Lydeard)

A special for the Groundhop UK Western League Hop, this was a delicious Thai Green Curry and one of the healthier options that I've had at the footy -served out of a huge metal skillet and costing £5 a bowl.


3:  Sausage and Chips (Bradford Park Avenue)

One of the pricier portions of chips I've had in a football ground (£2.50) but they were excellent and the only time that they have been hand-cut. A couple of sausages were also good and only cost 50p extra.


4:  Lamb & Mint Pasties (Glossop North End)

May excellent pies were on offer at Glossop, thanks to a local butcher. All were excellent but the pick was the lamb and mint pasties.


5:  Malteser Cake (Selkirk)

One of many delights offered on the Lowland League Hop of 2015 and a rare sweet treat on this list, Selkirk had a selection of home-baked cakes for just 50p each. The Malteser traybake was fantastic and superb value for money.


6:  Bread Pudding (Bognor Regis Town)

Another cake, this time at Bognor Regis Town back in 2012. This delicious homemade treat was well priced and sold out well before I fancied a second slice.


7:  Fat Annie's Hot Dog (FC United Of Manchester)

I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the opening game against Benfica at Broadhurst Park and it was a great night out. One of the highlights was the plethora of food stalls, the best being Fat Annie's Hot Dogs, a fiver a pop but the sausages were top quality, more of a German-style Bratwurst.


8:  Currywurst & Chips - Offenbach Kickers

A sole 'foreign' entry on this list, unless you count Scotland, this lower-division ground, not far from Frankfurt deserved up a delicious Currywurst along with a pint of Apfelwein. It was just a shame it was a bit of a rush after delays at the airport due to the snow, meaning I had to go straight to the ground, rather than dropping my bag at the hotel.


9:  Bacon Cheeseburger - Gorleston

You can't really have a list of football foods without a burger and this great example is the best burger I have had in a football ground.


10:  Worcester Park

More the sheer choice of items, rather than something individual, the prices were also great at Worcester Park, I had egg burger, chips and curry sauce for around £3.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Chips at North Leigh, Burger at Soham Town Rangers, Pie at Pinxton, Chilli Con Carne at Oldland Abbotonians, Faggots & Peas at Burton.

THREE: 10 GROUNDS TO VISIT - ENGLAND


1:  PARKSIDE - KENDAL TOWN

I visited Kendal Town for pictures back around 1996 when I was up in the Lake District for a family holiday. It looked a charming ground then, in a lovely part of the world. Added to that, the New Union pub in the town won CAMRA's coveted 'Cider Pub Of The Year' in 2019 (the most recent awards given the whole Covid garbage) so I wouldn't go thirsty. With the distance being so far, it would almost certainly be an overnight trip, preferably when the weather was good to avoid a wasted journey.


2:  YOCKINGS PARK - WHITCHURCH ALPORT

Not the first ground I've been tempted to visit after reading Joseph Gibbons' blog on the place - he could make Alcatraz sound like a great day out, though he draws the line at Kidsgrove Athletic, his least favourite town. Back to Whitchurch, it looks like a charming ground with a decent main stand. It also looks a decent town with a number of great pubs worth visiting, so another day out on the train.


3:  WINCH'S FIELD - HERNE BAY

Another classic ground that I visited for pictures on the way back from a game at Margate, It also has the bonus of being able to easily do it on the train, though it's a tad expensive if you've not got a travelcard. A nice day at the seaside and a great range of pubs mean that it will be another one where I'll be leaving the car at home.


4:  IRONWORKS ROAD - TOW LAW TOWN

Another classic ground that I stopped at on the way to another game, this time when I was on my way to Gateshead in 2012. A lack of decent pubs, public transport or accommodation probably means that this one would be best done by car, probably with an overnight stop. A ground that is on many hoppers bucket lists, though those that have been there recommended wrapping up warm, even in mid-summer as the ground is pretty much exposed to the elements.


5:  SIR TOM FINNEY STADIUM - BAMBER BRIDGE

Yet another ground that I've been to for pictures, this time on the way to Preston around 15 years ago. We got a lovely welcome and the ground was great. As you have no doubt noticed by now, pubs play a big part in where I want to go and you can't get much better than helping the club out while you enjoy a pint of real cider in the club bar, even if it is only Old Rosie.


6:  THE POLEGROVE - BEXHILL UNITED

Another nice day out on the train by the sea, even if the choice of pubs isn't so abundant as some of the others on this list. The ground features a lovely art-deco stand too and the club seems decent on social media.


7:  BRIAN ADDISON STADIUM / SCHOOL ROAD - SQUIRES GATE

One that I'd like to visit for the club as opposed to the ground. Squires Gate are fantastic on Twitter and I've contributed a few articles for their programme and website in the past year. The ground is decent too, located right near AFC Blackpool and Blackpool Wren Rovers which would be handy to pop in and get pictures from. It's also located right near Blackpool which has a ton of accommodation at great prices for an overnight stay.


8:  BICKLAND PARK - FALMOUTH TOWN

Being a huge cider fan, Bristol would be the ideal place to visit for the day out, however, whilst there are a number of reasonable venues out that way, none are going to make this list. So, I had to compromise and find another town with a few decent outlets in Falmouth. I get a cracking ground whilst making this concession with a sizeable and characterful main stand being the high point.


9:  OLIVERS MOUNT - HANDSWORTH

With Sheffield being the birthplace of football, there's plenty of great grounds to visit around here. I've selected one that has a lot of history but has recently been taken up by Northern Counties East League side Handsworth. An older stand has sadly been supplemented by an Arena stand, but it's still a great venue and again, Sheffield is a great city for pubs.


10: BEATRICE AVENUE - EAST COWES VICTORIA

The Isle Of Wight has been a long term aim for me, but I've always been put off by the extortionate ferry prices. However, the railcard that I'm planning to purchase should hopefully bring the cost down. Newport IOW would have been my first choice but that went last season. Instead, I've selected East Cowes Victoria as opposed to Cowes Sports as that looks slightly better. It will be a good day out for sure, though I'll have to pick carefully, weather-wise, so as to avoid a wasted journey.


FOUR: 10 GROUNDS TO VISIT - OUTSIDE ENGLAND


1: ABERYSTWYTH TOWN - PARK AVENUE

This one in Wales has been on my hit list for ages but I can never seem to get round to doing it. The distance and time from home do not help - over 4 hours with it being on the west coast of Wales. The ground has plenty of character, hence my fellow hopper Chris is keen to do it. However, I think that it might be a solo trip on a Friday night, complete with an overnight stop, due to the distance. The only question is when, thanks to the nutcase in charge of the country, there hasn't been a game with fans in Wales for well over a year as I type this in March 2021.


2: SG KELKHEIM - SPORTPLATZ GUNDELHARDSTRASSE

Not the greatest ground on this list, but still well worth a visit, the main attraction is that it is situated in the town that is twinned with my home town, High Wycombe. It's also located close to Frankfurt where I had a great time back in 2016, thanks to being able to sample Apfelwein, the German version of cider that comes from the area.


3: CLUB AMERICA / MEXICO NATIONAL TEAM - AZTECA STADIUM 

A rare venture out of Europe in my favourite grounds to visit, but a trip to Mexico would be great, to see the stadium where Diego Maradona scored his iconic brace back in the 1986 World Cup. I also love Mexican food and so it would be great to sample some genuine cuisine.


4: AJAX / DUTCH NATIONAL TEAM - AMSTERDAM ARENA

A modern stadium, home to the famous Dutch side, Ajax. I've long wanted to go to Holland and the atmosphere in this ground looks fantastic, especially when the crowd gets singing the Bob Marley classic 'Three Little Birds'

 
5: GLENTORAN - THE OVAL

A great looking ground that rightly has many admirers amongst the groundhopping community, it would also allow me to visit the only part of the UK that I've not visited yet in Northern Ireland, a place with plenty of history and a relatively hassle-free trip in terms of logistics.


6: FC BIZAU - BERGSTADION

I recently purchased the book 365: The World's Greatest Football Grounds, hoping to gain some inspiration for places to visit. It duly provided this example from Austria. They play in the 5th level Landesliga in Austria and their ground is a real delight. Stunning scenery and plenty of great vantage points in this small but characterful stadium in the Bregenz Forest area.

 
7:  PORTLAND TIMBERS - PROVIDENCE PARK

I really want to explore the USA more and do a game over there and Portland Timbers would provide a great opportunity to do just that. They have plenty of the American razmataz over there, including cutting up logs when they score. There's also a great cider scene over there, which would help me make even more of what would be a pricey journey.


8:  SD EIBAR - ESTADIO DE IPURUA 

The smallest stadium in La Liga, but still a very attractive one set in lovely countryside. I wanted to visit the Basque / Asturias cider region and this was one of the nearest grounds to it.


9:  AMIENS - STADE DE LA LICORNE

Another cider region in Normandy that I want to visit. I've had a look around the grounds in the area and this looks to be the best - a modern, futuristic and stylish design.


10:  B36/HB - GUNDADALUR

The final ground that I want to pencil in for a club game is Gundadalur, home of the clubs B36 & HB. I've long wanted to go to the Faroe Islands for its stunning scenery and having had a look around the stadiums on offer, this appears to be the most attractive and interesting with a unique floodlight setup. 

FIVE: GROUNDS / CLUBS I WANT TO REVISIT

These are grounds that I want to revisit because I haven't been in ages and therefore, haven't done a proper blog. They are in no particular order, but I have tried to select the ten that would be the best for a day out. Actually, there's only 9, so I've selected one from my early days of blogging for the 10th.

1:  AFC Bournemouth (last visit 2009)
2:  Newcastle United (last visit 2006)
3:  Birmingham City (last visit 2006)
4:  Oldham Athletic (last visit 2004)
5:  Dorchester Town (last visit 2004)
6:  Weymouth (last visit 2004)
7:  Folkestone Invicta (last visit 2010)
8:  Wigan Athletic (last visit 2002)
9:  Huddersfield Town (last visit 2002)
10: Stourbridge (last visit 2012)

SIX: TEN GROUNDS / GAMES I WISH I'D GONE TO


1: LOAKES PARK - WYCOMBE WANDERERS

Saturday 24th March 1990
Wycombe Wanderers 4-0 Chorley
GM Vauxhall Conference

My biggest regret in football was that I didn't get to my team's iconic Loakes Park ground, starting watching football 15 months too late and even then, only being persuaded by the fact that my Dad promised me a Mars Bar. And I wonder why I am getting a bit chunky in (early) middle age. Back then, I would have been a disinterested ten-year-old, more content fiddling about with my ZX Spectrum or watching my favourite TV programmes of the time - The Krypton Factor, Fun House and Knightmare. I had no connection with the club, not even knowing where the ground was and none of my mates at school supported the team - the success of Liverpool on 'The Big Match' a lot more appealing to them than actually going to a game at a (then) struggling Vauxhall Conference club who had just been knocked out of the FA Trophy by a team of police officers.

As a result of that defeat to the Metropolitan Police - at that time a side that contained several actual 'coppers' as opposed to nowadays when anyone can play for them, Wycombe sacked manager Jim Kelman. In his place, was appointed Martin O'Neill, thanks to a chance meeting in a Carrow Road toilet with club director and ITV Sport commentator Alan Parry. O'Neill would pick up his first of 15 trophies for the club and we also reached the (Conference) League Cup Final and despite winning the home leg against Yeovil with an exciting 3-2 scoreline before losing on the away goals rule, it probably would have been too late a night for me with school in the morning. Therefore I've gone for the 4-0 win over Chorley who were later relegated at the end of the season. Goals from Dave Carroll, Mark West (both of who I'd see play in a Wycombe shirt plus a brace from Martin Lambert gave a good win which would have hopefully kick-started my love affair with Wycombe Wanderers and football about 18 months earlier than in real life.


2:  MAINE ROAD - MANCHESTER CITY

Saturday 24th April 1998
Manchester City 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers
Nationwide League Division 2

Believe it or not, Wycombe Wanderers and Manchester City once played in the same league - that was back during the 1998/99 season when the two teams were plying their trade during the third tier. This was a fallow period for the Cityzens - only a few years previously that had had a decent side with the likes of Tony Coton, Niall Quinn, Uwe Rosler, Steve Lomas, Georgi Kinkladze and the like. They'd suffered a steep decline though, as had Wycombe, though the playoff chasers of a couple of years previous had suffered a less dramatic slump than their famous counterparts.

I'd already seen Wycombe beat Manchester City at Adams Park the previous November, thanks to a Michael Simpson penalty saw us win 1-0. But for whatever reason, I wasn't really that bothered about away games or even football at that time. Hence, when it came to the day of the game I was working at my local shop 'Huttons' as and remember listening to the commentary on a crackling old radio whilst serving customers at the till. Up in Manchester, Wycombe were pulling off a minor miracle thanks to goals from Andy Baird & Sean Devine and a determined rearguard action. We only stayed up by a single point in the end but the Manchester City fans were not too pleased, throwing bricks at the supporters' coach and smashing the windows from what I remember. I did get outside the ground later that year when the family were in the Peak District and I had to pick up my computer from nearby Aria Computers in Longsight. I took the opportunity to go and get some pictures of this iconic ground from the outside and visit the club shop.


3:  ELM PARK - READING

Tuesday August 20th 1996
Reading 1-1 Wycombe Wanderers
Coca-Cola Cup 1st Round, 1st Leg

Elm Park was a classic ground in a brilliant town for drinking, not that I'd have been able to take advantage at the time, having just turned 17. I didn't work at the time, still being at school but no doubt I'd have been able to wangle the money off my parents. It would have been a local trip on the supporters' coach for me to see Wycombe, struggling in the third tier under unpopular manager Alan Smith, grab a credible 1-1 draw at second-tier side Reading. We won 2-0 in the second leg to set up a two-legged tie against Nottingham Forest with me managing to go to both legs on that occasion.


4:  FINCHAMPSTEAD ROAD - WOKINGHAM TOWN

Saturday April 17th 1999
Wokingham Town 0-0 Edgware Town
Isthmian League Division 2

It would have been a tight old squeeze getting this fairly local ground in, as I only passed my driving test on 9th April 1999 and they left their ground at the end of that season. I wasn't into groundhopping at the time, though I did like going to random games, usually if they had a good club shop or ex Wycombe players involved. The only game that I could have made under those circumstances was the game against Edgware Town on Saturday 17th April 1999. For whatever reason, Wycombe didn't have a game on that Saturday, so I'd probably have been working again though with me putting in around 70 hours a week at the time, I could have been rightly disgruntled had I not got it off. Sadly, it would have been a 0-0 draw on my visit, but I guess beggars can't be choosers.


5:  MILTON ROAD / CITY GROUND - CAMBRIDGE CITY

Tuesday 6th December 2012
Cambridge City 3-0 Bedworth United
Southern Premier

Finally, a ground that went after I started groundhopping in 2011, though I wasn't really doing that many Non-League grounds in that first season, mainly concentrating on completing the 92. The following season, I teamed up with fellow hopper Anwar and expanded my horizons to a lot more non-league football. With the ground going in 2013 I wouldn't have had much time to complete it and I remember that it barely ever came up as an option when we looked at possibilities for our games. Looking back, I could have done it on 6th December 2012 instead of going to Wycombe's 0-0 draw at Aldershot and no doubt I would have if I had been better at hopping back then.


6:  MANOR PARK - NUNEATON BOROUGH

Saturday 3rd December 2005
Nuneaton Borough 2-2 Histon
FA Cup 2nd Round

Back in the days before I started hopping properly, a visit to a ground to get photos was as good as one to see a match. Also that season, I was aiming to see a game in every round of the FA Cup (a feat that I managed up until the Quarter Final). Typically, my own team Wycombe (who I followed home and away during this period) lost to Swindon Town in the first round and so I had to find a match to go to on 2nd Round day. Along with my mate Paul, I selected Buron Albion v Burscough as I'd not been to that ground. However, with that game biting the dust at midday due to a waterlogged pitch, we had to find an alternative. There were three options on the table and I'd been to all three for pictures. Shrewsbury Town v Colchester United was discounted being too far so it was just between Walsall v Yeovil Town and Nuneaton Borough v Histon. Stupidly, we chose the former, as it was the more 'glamorous' and familiar tie. We had a good day, but looking back, it was a real missed opportunity to visit a classic ground and I regret not going to this day.


7:  SOUTHBURY ROAD - ENFIELD

Saturday 23rd August 1997
Enfield 3-3 Hendon
Isthmian Premier

A lot of grounds disappeared in the late 1990s, Enfield's classic Southbury Road being no exception, with it disappearing in 1999. It would have been nice and easy to do on the train and so I've looked back to the 1997/98 season when I was still a non-driver at 18 years of age for my game. Thanks to my own records and the brilliant Isthmian League archive, I've pinpointed the visit I wish I'd made. I was on a modest £35 a week wage with an office apprenticeship job at the time, but this wouldn't have broken the bank. However, Wycombe were at Blackpool that weekend, which I guess would have been a weeks wages and was probably the reason I didn't go, along with the fact that going clubbing with my mates was more of a priority at that time. The match I didn't attend was a brilliant 3-3 draw with Hendon and coupled with a great club shop from what I have seen would have made for a great day out.


8:  HIGHBURY - ARSENAL

Tuesday 27th November 2001
Arsenal 2-0 Grimsby Town
League Cup 4th Round

A bigger ground for once, I actually visited here for pictures before it went, around 2005 I think. The ground was known as the 'Highbury Library' due to the poor atmosphere, but I really liked it after seeing it in the film 'Fever Pitch. There was some stunning architecture on the outside and marble halls on the inside. As with all these, I've tried to be as realistic as possible and wanted to do a game under the lights. I've gone for the 2-0 victory over Grimsby Town in November 2001 as it only drew 16,917 spectators and would have been easy to source a ticket for. Arsenal won 2-0 thanks to goals from Edu & Sylvain Wiltord, so hardly a classic, but still one that I'd love to attend, even then, had I been offered the chance.


9: KINGSWAY -  BISHOP AUCKLAND

Saturday 8th April 2000
Bishop Auckland 3-2 Frickley Athletic
Northern Premier League

A trip right up to the northeast for my penultimate nomination. Kingsway was a classic ground, shared with the local cricket club, with the club leaving in 2001 and remaining nomadic for the next nine years - a real disservice to a famous club who won the FA Amateur Cup a record ten times. For my game, there's no particular reason for this one, but I wanted to make it for after I'd got my driving license. I also wanted one with a fair few goals and also when I wasn't at a Wycombe game. Upon checking, Wycombe won 2-1 at Chesterfield that day, a ground I wouldn't visit for another couple of years.


10: TOOTING & MITCHAM - SANDY LANE

Saturday 7th April 2001
Tooting & Mitcham 3-3 Leyton Pennant
Isthmian League D2

Another classic London ground that I didn't visit, this was another one that would have meant a great day out in London. The match that I've selected was the day before I went to see Wycombe Wanderers v Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final. Again, it was well before I started groundhopping but I've selected it for the sheer amount of goals in the game in a season that saw Tooting & Mitcham crowned champions. I've since visited the new stadium on a couple of occasions and it is a more than worthy replacement.

SEVEN: TOP 10 ATTENDANCES 

86,106 - England 3-0 Russia - World Cup 2008 Qualifier (2007)
71,790 - England 1-0 Denmark - Terry Venables' England managerial debut (1994)
67,823 - England 2-1 Slovakia - World Cup 2018 Qualifier (2017)
67,318 - England 1-3 Brazil - Umbro Cup (1995)
64,327 - England 0-0 Norway - Friendly (1994)
55,632 - Celtic 3-0 Lincoln Red Imps - Champions League Qualifier (2016)
53.914 - West Ham United 3-0 NK Domazle - Europa League / First game at London Stadium (2016)
53,262 - Kidderminster Harriers 2-3 Stevenage Borough - FA Trophy Final (2007)
49,202 - Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Middlesbrough - FA Cup 3rd Round Replay (2020)
48,834 - Newcastle United 1-0 Portsmouth - Premiership (2006)

EIGHT: BOTTOM 10 ATTENDANCES 

5 - Alfreton Town 2-3 Grantham Town - SCL Youth League @ Hucknall Rolls (2018)
5 - Loughborough 1-3 Old Aylestone - Leics & Rutland Intermediate Cup (2019)
8 - Prestwood 1-1 Watlington Town - Friendly (2020)
10 - Meridian VP 2-1 Lydd Town - SCEFL D1 (2018)
12 - Stalybridge Celtic v Chorley - Conf U19 Cup @ Stockport Town (2019)
15 - Sunderland Ryhope Forresters 1-4 Easington Coll CIU - Sunderland O/40s Lge (2018)
15 - White Ensign 6-2 Lopes Tavares - ECL Challenge Cup 2nd Round (2018)
15 - Eton Wick 1-4 Britwell Res - East Berks League D2 (2019)
15 - West End v Chepstow Town - Welsh League D2 (2020)
17 - London Tigers 4-4 Hillingdon Borough - SSML Premier (2014)

NINE: 10 BEST GAMES

Wimbledon 2-2 Wycombe Wanderers (2001)
Bognor Regis 4-4 Godalming Town (2012)
Wycombe Wanderers 4-5 Macclesfield Town (2006)
Wycombe Wanderers 2-2 West Bromwich Albion (1992)
Pencader 7-3 Ffostrasol (2015)
Woodford United 4-5 Leighton Town (2012)
AFC Uckfield 4-3 Langney Wanderers (2018)
Tottenham Hotspur 4-3 Wycombe Wanderers (2016)
Wycombe Wanderers 4-2 Coventry City (1993)
Buckingham United 3-4 Mursley United (2021)

TEN: BEST PUBS VISITED WHILST GROUNDHOPPING

The Post Office Vaults, Birmingham
The Harp, Trafalgar Square
The Old Poets Corner, Ashover
The Crown & Kettle, Manchester
The Silly Country, Droylsden
The Orchard, Bristol
The Kings Ditch, Tamworth
The Nags Head, Reading
The Bulls Head, Burslem
The Petersgate Tavern, Stockport


No comments:

Post a Comment