In 2012 we went to 45 new grounds (not new builds, but new to us) on our trek around the European leagues. Some were good, some were bad (see the fifth day for our worst three) and some were simply in the middle. But there were a few that were simply outstanding. These were ground that for one reason or another made us want to buy a season ticket, there and then. We didn’t of course, as no amount of Petrol Station Flowers could possibly forgive us for owning season tickets for half a dozen teams. So we tried to come up with our top 3.
These three were for a number of reasons head and shoulders above the rest. Whilst the new Friends Arena in Stockholm was impressive, warm (a major plus for anywhere in Scandinavia) and ultra modern, we were looking for places with a bit more of a soul. So without further ado let’s introduce our winners for 2013:-
3rd best new ground visited in 2012 – Arbroath FC’s Gayfield Park
This had been on my list for years. The fact that it was slap-bang next to the North Sea, had a nightclub nearby called DeVito’s and was once the scene of a 36-0 world record score line was reason enough. And then Danny Last came along with a plan to see the Dundee derby. Fate decreed that Arbroath were also at home that weekend, and the rest is destiny. So what makes it so special? Average crowds rarely break the 500 barrier (unless the Old Firm are visiting as they have done in 2012), it is as cold as Posh Spice smile in July, let alone December and the football isn’t much cop. But it just felt so right being there, on an old fashioned terrace chatting away to the locals, even if they couldn’t understand a word I said, and them vice-versa. Yes it was minus five, yes it was dark by 3.30pm but oh yes, the sunset was one to die for. Everyone should experience Arbroath at least once in their footballing lives.
2nd best new ground visited in 2012 – Alemmania Aachen’s New Tivoli
Tivoli is Danish for fairground, and based on our visit to the German/Dutch border in ridiculous heat in August I can see why this is the New Playground. Inside, the sunshine on the yellow seats almost makes your eyes bleed, but when it is full and rocking, it personifies German football to a tie. Passion, atmosphere and Freundschaf. The supporters bar is one of the finest known to man, filled with memorabilia, waitresses bringing endless beers and even an appearance by Germany’s number one George Michael impersonater whilst we were there. The downside is that it is a bit far out and Aachen are currently a long way off a return to the Bundesliga. I loved it so much I still have my Stadium card, topped up and ready for my next visit.
The best new stadium we visited in 2012 – Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium
Could there really be any other choice? After a wait of two decades, this summer the Stones finally came home. After years of looking for a suitable venue, they found one right under their noses. Football stadiums should be easily accessible by good transport links, near a variety of good pubs and have a bit of individuality. The Gallagher Stadium ticks them all. The owners insistence on a 3G pitch in the face of sanctions from the FA was a brave move but has already reaped rewards as Maidstone have kept on playing during the poor weather, attracting crowds that some nPower League Two sides would be jealous of. Oh, and it has a decent bar!