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.

Too wet to close the bloody roof

Wednesday 20th February 2009. That’s a date I will never forget. Toothache can strike at any time, but when it starts suddenly whilst on a high-speed train cutting through the barren lands of Castilla La Mancha in Spain you really are stuffed. No access to a dentist there, no pharmacies selling painkillers and none of those old fashion door handles where you can loop a shoelace around to yank the offending tooth out with.

I was heading to Andalusia, Seville to be more precise, to watch England take on European Champions and World Cup favourites, Spain. It was also the last time I would travel to watch England abroad I had decided. I had grown weary of the endless suspicion, the security checks, the hassle of travelling abroad following a team involves. I’d also got fed up of the way our own FA had been running the game at all levels for years so just decided to give it up. The toothache, whilst I can never blame John Terry personally for my current condition, was the last straw. Away trips couldn’t get any worse, could they?

There had been good times. Representing (and managing) my country in Macedonia as the England Fans Veterans XI lost 5-1 to a team LIVE on Balkan TV who would later that same season qualify for the then UEFA Cup. Of course Germany 2006 was probably the pinnacle for most fans. It couldn’t get any better than that. And it didn’t. Zagreb in October 2006 was a nightmare – poorly organised, terribly treated and an awful performance. Paying the best part of £500 to go on a day trip to Tel Aviv to watch one of the dullest games of football ever didn’t help my mood either. For every Minsk there was a Barcelona, Berlin a Moscow. Slowly the other fans I used to travel with also started giving it up. Rob the Red, Paul Knight and even Dagenham Dan. When he gives something football related up you know it’s time to re-assess the future.

I saw the game last year in Copenhagen but that doesn’t really count as a) I was in the press section and b) I was living a 15 minute walk away from Parken at the time. Oh no, come renewal time in July I kept the cheque book in the drawer.

But then a little voice in that same drawer started talking to me. “Mmmmm…new stadium in Warsaw. Shiny and new. Stockholm…the new Friends Arena. Just a goal kick away from the office – you have to go there to do some training. And Airmiles. You have thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands…waiting to use on venues like, well Warsaw and Stockholm to start.” And then the email arrived…”It’s still not too late to be cheering on Roy’s Boys in the new National Stadium in Warsaw.” I swear that the email had hidden HTML subliminal advertising because before I knew I had paid my £70 renewal fee, booked my flights and dug out my Zloty’s. Time to broach the subject with CMF – extra special petrol station flowers for this one I felt. Continue reading

Pole Dancing in my pants

Some of the most beautiful cities in the world have the honour of being twinned with Warsaw, capital of Poland and proud host city of Euro2012. Berlin, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Oslo and San Diego are just some of the names culturally associated with Warsaw. And then we have the British offering – Coventry. If this is the only impression the Poles have of our green and pleasant lands then I apologise now. No disrespect meant to the home of Jimmy Hill, Willie Carr and Talbot but it is hard to compare the Coventry Ring Road in the constant grey drizzle with Gran Via and its never ending nightlife in Madrid or the sunshine of San Diego’s harbour. So I was sent on a mission to try to make the Poles feel that us Brits really do care. Oh, that and to see Legia Warsaw play against Zaglebie Lubin in the Polish Ekstraklasa.

Poland had hardly appeared on my footballing radar since my days of getting my passport stamped for European football commenced back in 2000. One single visit to Krakow back in May 2008 was the sum total of my experience, which is quite unforgivable and forgettable as I spent that weekend with Football Jo talking celebrity rubbish. With Euro2012 almost upon us, those good chaps at In Bed With Maradona gave me a gentle nudge and reminded me of my duty to produce at least an online guide book for the championships, just as I had done for every major European football tournament since 2006 (such as the now out of print 2006 World Cup Guide). Oops, there I have gone and revealed a huge trade secret. Yes I can exclusively reveal here, today that there will be a IBWM/TBIR with guest stars Ryan Hubbard and Danny Last inspired guide coming to a screen near you soon.

So to make it as authentic as possible I set out on a schedule to take in the 8 host cities and see how things were shaping up for the big day(s) in just three months. First up was a quick overnighter to Warsaw, where the re-arranged opening day fixture for Legia Warsaw was being played. The game was cancelled back in August due to appalling rain and the final stages of redevelopment of the Stadion Wojska Polskiego imienia Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego (aka handily known for us foreigners as the Pepsi Arena). Now this wasn’t one of the venues for the games next summer – Warsaw had decided to build the new 58,145 seater National Stadium on the other side of the Vistula River from the picturesque old town. Continue reading