Thursday, 1 May 2014

Touring the Grounds - 2014 Edition

It's not always easy to do exactly what you want to do. Nor is it cheap.

A few weeks ago I visited my local stadium, Roots Hall, home to Southend United FC. I noticed that despite the ground being a 10 minute walk away from both my house and my office, the photos of the stadium on my guide were rather poor and needed updating. Then it struck me. It's been 5 years since my Dad and I originally set off on a whirlwind tour of the country visiting all 92 grounds in 11 days.

5 years has flown by and so much has happened. I'm in to my 30's now, I'm married, My brother now lives in Sydney, my Nan has passed away, my Grandad's had a pretty serious heart operation, my wife has had injections in her back to ease the pain caused by a car crash back in 2006 and Vodafone have taken over the company I work for.

Through all that, I retain my love of the beautiful game and football stadiums in which it's played!

In September of this year I'm planning a new tour of the grounds. It's something I've really wanted to do for a while as there are a large number of things I missed the first time round. And obviously, a lot has changed. For example, on my original tour, I visited the likes of Edgar Street, Edgeley Park, The Don Valley, Underhill, The Withdean, Ricoh Arena, Saltergate and many many more stadiums that either no longer exist or have dropped out of the football league. In fact over 40 of the original 92 have changed in one way or another.

Also, my style of photography has changed. It's not difficult to see the difference between some of my original tour work and more up to date photos. Another reason why I'm desperate to get myself round to re-visit them.

Since 2009, I have built the Football League Ground Guide ( in to one of the best sources of information for stadia on the Internet. In addition, the site now houses the largest collection of independently owned stadium panoramic photos on the world wide web!

All advertising revenue and proceeds from photograph sales have been donated to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital meaning that in the first 5 years of the guide, I've managed to raise in excess of £15,000. Long may it continue.

I have written to many organisations looking for some form of help to assist along the way, from hire car companies and hotels to food establishments. As I receive responses, I'll update the blog!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

"Today was about our lack of ability to not produce the ability we've got!"

As the football season draws to a close, it's been interesting to see the difference in fortunes of the teams that have moved in to new stadiums in recent times. Looking at the Championship alone at time of writing, 6 of the top 7 have moved in to a new home venue in the past 15-20 years. The notable exception being Burnley.

It gets me thinking about how huge the gap is these days between the teams at the top of the Premier League and those in Leagues One and Two. Having researched many of the teams in the 92 over the past few years I've learnt a lot about the changes in the game. As an example, Manchester United were relegated in 1973 and despite the fact that they bounced back the very next season and that they've had a relatively poor season this year, relegation is still completely unthinkable.

Money is obviously the be all and end all for every teams. In some cases, it buys trophies and success, whilst in others it helps to keep success coming. At the other end of the spectrum you have teams like Accrington Stanley. When I visited the Crown Ground recently as part of the 92 ground tour, it was obvious how desperate they were to raise money just needed to help them survive. We parked in a car park outside the stadium where all proceeds raised were being put towards buying the groundsman a new lawn mower! It's a sorry situation but one that was enlightening to be a part of even if only for a couple of hours. Whilst sitting in the reception area a guy walked in, handed over £1000 in cash and walked straight back out. Fans, club staff and even players wives were helping with the fundraising showing just how alive club loyalty is. In the wake of the ITV digital disaster, I remember a similar situation at many of the football league clubs including Gillingham.

I've looked at records from days past of clubs reaching cup finals despite being in the third tier of the game. Those days are long gone.

What can change this pattern from forming and becoming more and more friendly everyday for the teams with rich foreign investors? Capping wages would be a start. The talk of bringing in a rule on how many English players you need to have in your side would be good for the national game but I'm not a believer of it ever being fully implemented.

As a fan of a team that would be punching well above their weight if they made it back into the Championship again let alone the Premiership, I look for any small rays of hope that are possible. Staying in League One would be considered a success for me this season but I dont only ever want to watch lower league football with my team. So what do I hope for.. A cash friendly Gills fan thats been hiding under a rock for the past 20 years or all the capping they can implement to hopefully one day bringing the four divisions back closer together?

At the moment the top 6 or 7 will just keep getting bigger and stronger and the only interesting talking point is going to be which of them will or wont make the Champions League qualification spots.. Where's the fun in that? And more to the point, where's the hope of any team like mine ever being anything other than an also-ran. Sometimes I wonder if we're even that...

The gulf in quality of team stadia is indescribable as well. I make no apologies for saying that I love my teams football ground, Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium. In no way do I claim it to be or make it out to be the most aesthetically pleasing stadium to the naked eye, but having visited all other league grounds over the past few years it made me realise how much I appreciate having the chance to walk through a fairly run down high street, after a health conscious fry up, knowing that by the time I reach the train station at the top of town I'll be able to see the floodlights towering above the stadium, guiding the way down two or three short residential streets. It doesn't sound glamorous and in the mind of a plastic, success driven, Premier League team supporter it's likely that not a lot could sound worse. In fact, it probably isn't even glamorous to me, but why would I want it to be? A dodgy parking space, greasy spoon bacon and eggs, a pint with no bubbles, your team winning 2-1 after trailing at half time and 5 live sports report filling you in with the days other results whilst you drive home. That's what football's all about isn't it?

Ten years ago now, a national newspaper published a story revealing the worst grounds in the English football league. Even in 2004, with a set of terracing behind the town end goal and away toilet facilities reminiscent to the bucket and spade method found at some coach stops in France, I could have reeled off a list of at least 20 other teams situated in worse areas, with worse facilities and a worse stadium. The outrageous article went on to add that "Gillingham was the biggest dump in English football” and that it made “Middlesbrough look like Monte Carlo”. But I like it.

Don't get me wrong, some new builds are essential due the lack of expansion space or cost of re-developing the old stadium, so not all teams can stay in their spiritual homes. But the need for teams like Darlington to build a 25,000 all seater, completely soulless and pointless leisure centre with a council restriction on the capacity for the club reduced to 10,000 seemed little short of crazy. There was no history at the stadium and barely any association with the club it was meant to be benefiting and that's before going inside and witnessing the non existent atmosphere. It must have be soul destroying for any fan of that club to see how much their new stadium had taken away when it had promised to be so advantageous. The move ultimately bankrupted the club.

The sound of ticket tearing at the turnstiles has been replaced by a small human version of the Dartford toll. Enter your ticket or card, wait for the green light and proceed through the barrier. The sight of four floodlight pylons has been exchanged for a hundred of those B&Q spotlights that often illuminate your neighbour’s back garden. The list really could go on....

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Wembley Stadium Ground Guide

Stadium Info
Wembley's 90,000 capacity makes it the second largest stadium in Europe (after Camp Nou) and the largest and tallest for size, in the world, with every seat under cover. It is one of the most expensive stadia ever built, costing close to £800 million. The land has been used for football since as early as the 1880s. The previous Wembley Stadium (originally known as the Empire Stadium) was one of the world's most famous football grounds, being England's national home for football, and, because of the geographical origins of the game, was often referred to as "The Home of Football". Though the original structure was closed in 2000, it was not demolished until 2003, after which construction began on the new stadium, originally intended to open in 2006. This was later delayed until early 2007. The final completion date of the stadium was 9 March 2007.

Visiting Fans
Visiting supporters are advised that there are no bad seats in the entire stadium. The middle tier is at the best level but as such its also the most expensive and therefore, most of these are sold to corporates. The back of the lower tier and front of the upper tier are considered the best places to be as you'll more than likely be in amongst the 'real' supporters and the view is still superb.

Where To Drink
There’s also a selection of pubs near to the stadium, with the Greyhound and a selection of others on Harrow Road, south of Wembley Stadium Station. Wetherspoon’s JJ Moons and Eddies (which comes highly recommended compared to the other pubs in the area!) are on High Road, between Wembley Central Station and the stadium but another option is the green man pub although you'll have to climb a rather steep hill on the east side of the stadium to find it. It's situated just off dagmar avenue opposite stadium way.

Wembley Park Station has a McDonalds and Wimpy as well as several chicken and pizza places on Wembley Park Drive. Wembley Central has KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and a Wok’s Cooking all situated on High Road on the walk up to the ground. There’s also a couple outside Wembley Stadium station. All are within a mile of the ground and for the difference in price compared to what you'll find inside, make it well worth the effort.

Parking is as much of a nightmare here as I've found at any other stadium on my travels as street parking is simply non existent. For that reason, since my very first visit back in the early 90's I've taken the train. If coming from a distance, a lot of fans tend to park at one of the stations on the outskirts of north London and get the tube down. This really isn't a bad idea and it guarantees avoiding match day traffic after the game as well. However, there are a few private car parks in the neighbouring streets though you'll need to be prepared to pay up to £12 per vehicle.

By Train
The nearest / closest train / tube station to Wembley Stadium is Wembley Park. The station serves Olympic Way, Club Wembley entrances and northern entrances E – K and lies on both the Jubilee (Grey) and Metropolitan (Purple) line. The main interchange stations are Waterloo and London Bridge on the Jubilee Line and Liverpool Street and King’s Cross St Pancras on the Metropolitan Line. The journey takes 26 – 32 minutes from those stations with the exception of King’s Cross which only takes 18 – 23 minutes. Services run regularly with additional services on ‘event days’ which means you shouldn't have to wait any longer than 10 minutes for a train.

From the station, lifts take passengers from platform level to the ticket hall. Cross the ticket hall to enter the lifts which will bring you down to Olympic Way. From there, it’s approximately 600 metres to the Stadium. Alternatively, Brent Community Transport are operating a shuttle bus service on major event days from Wembley Park to the Stadium.

For more photos from Wembley Stadium, click the link below!

Monday, 21 April 2014

York City - Bootham Crescent Ground Guide

Stadium Info
Bootham Crescent is a traditional old style lower league football stadium and oozes character. Either side of the pitch are the Main Stand and the Popular Side. Both are all seated affairs although the end of the Popular side has a very small section of terracing. There are 5 pillars across the front of this stand and 3 across the front of the Main stand. If you manage to avoid seats with views restricted by these, you'll have a lovely view of the action. The Grosvenor Stand is an uncovered terraced stand behind the goal and houses the away fans and opposite this is the David Longhurst stand. This is a terraced stand but is undercover and is generally where the best atmosphere can be found.

Away Fans
Upto 2,000 away supporters can be accomodated here and they are allocated the Grosvenor Road terrace. This is situated behind one of the goals and is the only area of the ground without a roof. However, for an additional fee you can be one of upto 200 away fans that get to sit in the end section of the Popular Side.

Where To Drink
Ideally located at the ground, on the corner of Grosvenor Road and Newborough Street, there is a supporters bar which generally lets away fans in. I always advise to keep club colours covered just incase however. It offers a range of hot and cold drinks and a small amount of food as well as the usual chocolate and crisp style snacks. Surrounding the ground there are 1 or 2 pubs dotted around and a fish and chip shop is close by on Gillygate.

The stadium is situated in the middle of a residential area and parking isn't usually a problem although you will need to be aware and avoid the residents only sections. A good bet is either Horner Street or Garth Terrace off of Burton Stone Lane. Most roads close to or off of these are ok to park in.

By Train
The nearest / closest train station to York City's Bootham Crescent Stadium is York. There is a rather lengthy walk from the station to the ground, however. To reach the ground, take a left out of the station onto Station Road and follow the road round and over the bridge. The road becomes Museum Street as you come off the bridge and you'll need to take the 3rd left onto St Leonards Place. Follow this road (which becomes the A19) for around 5-10 minutes until you see Bootham Crescent turning on the right. The walk will take you past a large number of pubs to help pass the time!

Alternatively, jump in a cab. This will set you back around £8.

For more photos from Bootham Crescent, click the link below!

Wycombe Wanderers - Adams Park Ground Guide

Stadium Info
Adams Park has been home to Wycombe since 1990 and has a capacity of 10,000. There are no bad views from within the stadium with the pleasing lack of pillars. Away fans are housed in the Dreams stand behind one goal. This stand is all seated, as are the Bucks new University and Frank Adams stands that run along side the pitch. The Valley terrace behind the goal opposite the visitors is the only standing area that remains. This tends to be where most of the atmosphere arrives from.

Away Fans
Upto 2,000 visiting supporters can be catered for and they are situated in the Dreams Stand behind one of the goals. When a larger following is expected, an extra 800 spaces are allocated at the end of the Bucks New University Stand. The view from either stand is actually very good and unobstructed whilst the facilities and refreshment outlets are adequate and fairly priced.

Where To Drink
There area 2 burger stall situated at the main entrance into the Adams Park car park. Both are very good and offer reasonable prices. However, I recommend arriving early and heading straight for 'scores' which is the Wycombe supporters club situated under the bucks new university stand. They allow away fans in and offer a good range of hot and food as well as beers and lagers. There is a wide range of memorabilia adorning the walls including a signed piece from the 1966 world cup winning squad that's worth a look.

Parking is available in the car park at the stadium priced at £5 per vehicle. However, the stadium is based on an industrial estate and many of the other units provide spaces for as little as £3. Definately worth having a look before deciding on one as there's a rather nice burger stall outside the main entrance and what you save on parking could buy you lunch.

By Train
The nearest / closest train station to Wycombe Wanderers's Adams Park Stadium is High Wycombe which is around 3 miles from the ground and runs from Birmingham Snow Hill to London Marylebone. There is a taxi rank outside the station.

Alternatively, you can get the football special bus that runs from the station to the ground on match days. The Football Special (No.501) departs the Railway Station for the stadium at 13.55 on Saturday matchdays and 18.40 for midweek games (costs £3.50 return). The Special returns 10 minutes after the final whistle.

For more photos from Adams Park, click the link below!

Torquay United - Plainmoor Ground Guide

Stadium Info
Plainmoor stadium is different from many others in that the directors box is tucked in behind one of the goals in the Yelverton Properties Family Stand. It's a very small and basic stadium but does the job a fourth tier side needs it to do. The popular terrace runs along side the pitch and is similar to the away end. Opposite this is the main stand. It runs only half the length of the field and although seated towards the back, it does have a small amount of standing at the front.

Away Fans
Visiting supporters are allocated 1,200 standing tickets in the Sparkworld terrace end. The Stand is covered and offers good views of the pitch. When there is a large away following, fans are allowed to stand in the open area between the Sparkworld End and Grandstand. This area has no roof, and as it is a predominately level area, the view can be restricted. It is also in the open area between the two stands that the catering and toilet facilities are located. These are shared between the two stands so queues can be lengthy.

Where To Drink
The Club has its own pub and restaurant called Boots and Laces (Boots is the pub and Laces the bistro restaurant). This is housed under the Family Stand at the end of the ground where the reception and club shop is. Boots serves food and drink and away fans are generally welcomed. Laces is a bistro restaurant above the pub and the quality of meals here are very good.

Within the vicinity of the Plainmoor ground there are a number of public houses that accept football fans. These are mainly located on St Marychurch Road and in the Babbacombe area. Most visiting fans go to the George Inn on Babbacombe Road about 5-10 minutes from the ground.

There is no parking at the actual ground itself although much like many other grounds at this level, it's built into a residential housing area and therefore offers plenty of street parking in the surrounding streets. Arrive early for the best spots allowing a quick escape after the game. Although, you'll rarely struggle to find a space.

By Train
The nearest / closest train station to Torquay United's Plainmoor Stadium is Torquay rail which is approximately 2 miles and around 45 minutes walk away from the ground. Torquay station is not on the National Rail mainline service surprisingly and it is usually inevitable that it will be necessary to change trains at Newton Abbot and catch a local train service.

Torquay is built on seven hills and by the time you have reached Plainmoor stadium you will feel as though you have walked up most (if not all) of them. It is a very picturesque walk from the station but in my opinion, a taxi from the rank outside is probably the best option. It also allows more time for a couple of extra drinks in one of the pubs at the stadium.

For more photos from Plainmoor, click the link below!

Southend United - Roots Hall Ground Guide

Stadium Info
Roots Hall is situated within a terraced housing estate and has many entrances to the ground in between various houses. All stands have supporting pillars including the relatively new South Stand which possibly has more pillars and more faults than any of the others. If you sit toward the back of the lower tier there are too many pillars to have a clear view and if you sit at the back of the upper tier you have to duck down to see the goal at the far end. However, all four stands remain similar in height and close to the pitch.

Away Fans
Visiting supporters are situated in the north stand which has a capacity of 2,000. There is little leg room between the rows and frequent banging of knees on the row in front and getting kneed in the back from the row behind. Situated directly below the electronic scoreboard, the view isn’t the best, largely due to supporting pillars, but due to the old domed roofing it does make for the best noise with even a handful of supporters. There is a Transport style cafe with tables and chairs offering the usual selection of pies, burgers and hot dogs.

Where To Drink
Located on East Street and just a 2 minute walk from the ground is The Fish House which many consider the best fish and chip shop in the Southend area. To wash down your chips there are a couple of pubs to choose from up by the ground. The Blue Boar is the birthplace of SUFC and is a small family run friendly pub that serves hot and cold food and shows Sky Sports. Away fans are allowed in and it's literally 2 minutes from the ground. The Spread Eagle is another small-ish locals pub with food and Sky Sports. Although away fans can be allowed in, home fans have priority in a first come first served policy.

Parking is available at the ground behind the north stand at a cost of £5 per vehicle. However, street parking is in abundance being situated in the residential area that it is with no permit holder sections, you'll just need to avoid the yellow lines. Providing you do this, you'll find a spot within 10 minutes walk of the ground without any problems.

By Train
The nearest / closest train station to Southend United's Roots Hall Stadium is Prittlewell, on the Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria Line. Services run every 20 minutes and take around an hour. The ground is a 5 minute walk from the station, turning right on exiting onto East Street. Turn right at the junction with Victoria Avenue and the ground is on the left hand side.

Away supporters should walk down Victoria Avenue past the main entrance before turning left into Fairfax Drive. The entrance to the North stand is on the left.

For more photos from Roots Hall, click the link below!