On the ninth day of TBIR Christmas – The best new ground visited


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
8259709182_29758065c9_bThis 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
7826305414_68b451846c_bTivoli 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
7570384206_77e6f16d20_bCould 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!

A brief distraction….


I never like to miss an opportunity to see a new ground so when worked posted me off to Aberdeen for a few days on business I carefully studied a map to see where I could sneak a ground or two in my travelling time. 

So for your enjoyment please find my tour photos below.

Montrose
The club’s halcyon period was the mid 1970s when, under manager Alec Stuart, Montrose reached third place in the old First Division (one below the Premier League), and were a feared and respected cup side. In the second round of 1974-75 Scottish Cup, Montrose recorded their largest victory when they beat Vale of Leithen 12-0. The club won their first and only championship under the guidance of Iain Stewart in 1984-85, as they triumphed in the old second division. Relegation followed in 1987 as the part time club found themselves outgunned in a league largely consisting of full time teams. Under co-managers Doug Rougvie the former no-nonsense Chelsea full back Montrose won promotion to Division One in 1991, but were relegated after one further season in the higher league.

Montrose have spent the vast majority of their recent history in the relative obscurity of the Third Division. At the end of the 1994-95 season, they were promoted to the Second Division after finishing as runners up in the Third Division. However, the team’s first attempt at this higher level was not successful, and they finished bottom of the table and faced a quick return to the Third Division.

The club have remained at this level ever since, and have achieved little success in the league. Their most notable recent success was a surprising 5-1 win away at Second Division side Forfar Athletic in the First Round of the 2004-05 Scottish Cup.

Links Park is one of the few grounds in Scotland that can boast a new generation artificial playing surface. They are also one of the nicest clubs in the league to deal with. The stadium is a 10 minute walk from Montrose stadium which is located next to the inner bay. Simply walk up the hill into the High Street and take a right hand turn into John Street which becomes Union Street. The stadium is visible as you enter Links Park.

Arbroath
They were founded in 1878 and currently play their home matches at Gayfield, Arbroath, Angus. They play in maroon strips, and are nicknamed “The Red Lichties” due to the red light that used to guide fishing boats back from the North Sea to the burgh’s harbour. Arbroath share an old and fierce rivalry with local neighbours Montrose

Their most notable achievement is that they hold the record for the biggest victory in World senior football, when on 12 September 1885 they beat Bon Accord 36-0 in a Scottish Cup match with a further goal disallowed for offside. Jocky Petrie scored 13 goals in that game, also a record as the most goals by a single player in a British senior match. By coincidence, on the same day in another Scottish Cup match, Dundee Harp beat Aberdeen Rovers 35-0.

The team has had mixed success in recent years. In the 1996-97 season they hit the bottom of the Scottish senior football standard as they finished bottom of the Third Division. However, the following season they were promoted to the Second Division against all expectations. They spent three years at this level before winning promotion to the First Division – arguably the club’s greatest achievement in recent history. They finished 7th in their first season in the First Division, 13 points clear of relegation troubles, which was rather impressive for their first ever venture at this level. However, in the 2002-03 season, the team struggled badly, and finished bottom of the table, 20 points adrift of penultimate side Alloa Athletic. In the 2003-04 season, Arbroath narrowly avoided back-to-back relegations, as they escaped the drop on the last day of the season. In 2004-05, however, there was no such escaping, as a 3-0 defeat at Dumbarton on 30 April 2005 condemned them to the Third Division for next season.Arbroath finished 4th in Division 3 but went on to win the end of season play off and thus were promoted again to Division 2.

Arbroath’s ground Gayfield Park is the closest to the sea in Britain, a neat and picturesque old-style ground exposed to the elements, with terracing on three sides and enclosed stands on all four sides. On stormy winter days, waves can be seen beating on the walls surrounding the ground. Clearances in the teeth of the gale, let alone polished football, become impossible. Goalkeepers can find it hard to spot the ball to kick out and even then goalkicks occasionally fly out for corners. Throw in the ubiquitous seagulls and, in clement weather, the rides on Pleasureland next door, and Gayfield offers a unique, bracing and surreal spectacle with wonderful views when the game pales.

To reach the stadium turn right out of the stadium and take the right hand bend and follow this down to the sea – the stadium is straight ahead of you and is a ten minute walk at best.