On the fifth day of TBIR Christmas – The worst new ground visited

Our raison-d’etre is to seek out new grounds, whether they be league or non-league, in England, Scotland, Ireland or Azerbaijan. The thrill of seeing the floodlights for the first time, entering through the hallowed portal and the wonder of seeing something unique about the club. We never tire of seeing and experiencing this. There are grounds that inspire dreams, legends and inspiration. And then there are the small number that leave you cold.

We all know that the lower down the league you go, the harder it is to find people who want to help out run a club. But there are some real basic things a club could do to make their grounds a little more appealing. However, the winner this year should never have been in this list, but it is because of one basic design flaw. So here we have our 2012 winners:-

3rd worst new ground visited – Sittingbourne’s Bourne Park
picture-002Before anyone lays into me about the difficulties in trying to run a non league club I know full well the reliance on volunteers. But there are some basics that any club could do to make a ground more appealling. Clearing dangerous thorns out of the eye line of fans walking around the ground, ensuring that exits are blocked with rubbish, covering up scaffolding poles. Just really basic things. Of course it is possible that my visit in pre-season was before this work was done, but these things left me cold. Sorry.

2nd worst new ground visited – Ilford’s Cricklefied Stadium
20121006-224006Again, no disrespect to any club officials but it is really hard to love any ground with an athletics track but one where attendances rarely break the 50 mark makes it feel so much worse. Non League football in East London struggles at the best of times, and I have ultimate sympathy for the clubs trying to fight against the big boys but without something to attract the floating fans it is hard to see how that magic spark of non league love can be spread. Sorry (again).

The worst new ground visited – Warsaw National Stadium
8096885485_b36e7d347b_bLast year I received a deluge of website visitors from Poland as I waxed lyrical about the atmosphere in the Polish Army Stadium, home to Legia Warsaw. Unfortunately 12 months later the only thing I am writing about Warsaw is about the new National stadium and how bad it was. Of course my judgement may have been clouded by a small issue of the failure of one individual to close the bloody roof. But as it is, that trip to Poland cost me two days annual leave, around £200 and an iPhone. Just because one person decided not to press the button that closed the roof. I’m sure it is a great stadium but my impression, and that of a few thousands England fans who were similarly affected, is that it is the worst new stadium we visited in 2012.

The Bourne Identity

After three and a half hours of watching horses (and riders) jumping over the same fences I needed some excitement.  It is tough spending so much time around “horsey” types.  They tend think they are better than us footballing types, with their jodphurs on and sitting a glass of champagne, whilst we were tucking into our pork pies and it is not a world I ever want to have to socialise in.  So when our Olympic session ended at 2pm I eyed up a return to normality with a trip to a Non League Pre-Season friendly.  One had my name all over it – a “new” ground for me and also an opportunity to do some Ryman League scouting – Sittingbourne.

Just over an hour later I was pulling up outside Bourne Park, part of the Central Park complex in Sittingbourne.  Alas, it shares nothing but the name with the famous “lungs” of New York City.  Central Park, Sittingbourne is a Greyhound stadium, surrounded by industrial units, where as Central Park, New York is surrounded by world-famous museums.  However, as all good Kent Non League aficionados will know, Sittingbourne FC no longer play at the Greyhound Stadium – they play in the idylically named “lower field”. Continue reading

Derby Day part 5 – While Shepherd Neame watched their flock by night

Kent is one of the poorest counties in England when it comes to derbies at the moment.  Last season the high point was the first Ebbsfleet United v Dartford derby for over a decade, whilst Ashford Town’s demise meant that the game versus Maidstone United fell by the wayside.

There are teams dotted all around the county but rarely do they pop up in the same league.  We’ve been waiting for a juicy “Thanet” derby for a few years now, but Margate have stubbornly refused to go down, or Ramsgate go up so we will have to keep on waiting. But one game that gets the pulses racing in these parts is the Neame derby.  The Shepherd Neame derby aka Faversham Town versus Sittingbourne.

The brewers have been based in Faversham since 1698 and are one of Kent’s finest exports today with their Master Brew, Spitfire and Bishop’s Finger beers known the world over.  But few outside the county will know where the brewery is, let alone where Faversham is.  They should be ashamed of themselves for a town that once could boast to be the capital of England and today is home to England’s oldest person, 112 year old Violet Wood.  The town also hit the headlines in November when it was discovered that the copy of the Magna Carta they had turned out not to be a £10,000 replica, but a £20.1million original.  The things you find in your attic!  Neither town can decide if Sir Bob Geldorf lives close by, although I am not sure if they are embarrassed or trying to brag this one.  According to the website Knowhere.co.uk, Marlon Brando once dined in a restaurant in Faversham, or at least someone who looked like him.  Pass the butter madam. Continue reading

Goodbye Mr Chips

On the search for the missing Chip in Chipstead

Frankfurters are not from Frankfurt.  Hamburgers not from Hamburg.  Port is not from Port Vale and apparently Chips not from Chipstead.  Well that was the view of a recent visitor to the Ryman League One South side’s High Road ground in the middle of the Surrey countryside.

Football and chips go together in the Non Leagues like groundhoppers and plastic wallets to keep programmes pristine in.  Northern Steve has to have a portion at every ground he goes to and gets very grumpy indeed if there is no gravy or curry sauce available.  Lolly goes into a weekend long strop if there are no chips on the menu and Lewes’s Terry Boyle has been known to streak if there is a lack of fried potato products on offer at away games.

So when a free weekend in the footballing calendar arose for Mr Last and myself we decided to find out if the myth was true.  Did Chipstead indeed have no chips?  First on the agenda was actually finding a) Chipstead and b) locating the High Road, home of the club. Continue reading