On Saturday 13th September 2014, Swansea played Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge with both clubs having a 100% start in the Premier League and both joint top of the Premier League. In terms of groundhopping this was also a milestone for me, as FINALLY I could say that I had visited all 20 current Premier League grounds. Chelsea had proved irritatingly elusive over Swansea’s first three years in the Premier League, as work and two inconvenient Boxing Day trips hindered my efforts to get down to the Bridge.
On the train home from London to Manchester on that September evening, in a drunken malaise and with more Marks and Spencers’ Belgian lager in a bag next to me, I began to play around with all the Premier League grounds in my head and eventually ask myself “what is my favourite Premier League ground?” Easy. Fulham. Craven Cottage everytime. Then my drunken mind reminded me that they longer resided at the top table of the Premier League and it was back to the drawing board. I soon realised that with The Cottage out of the running this was far more difficult.
By the time, I had arrived back in Manchester Piccadilly station I had compiled a Top 5 and by the next evening, following a day of the debate carrying on my head, I had compiled a Top 10 – potentially, blog-worthy I thought. I didn’t bother writing such a blog – until now. So with my mind clear of alcohol and with a more reflective hat on here are my personal Top 10 Premier League grounds (admittedly, the order has changed constantly and would probably change again if you ask me again tomorrow).
My Ground Criteria
Admittedly, this criteria is not going to be followed too stringently, but I certainly do have my certain tastes and my own little checklist of what makes a ‘good ground’ – and this criteria probably changes for my visits to the glamour of the Premier League compared to my travails in the lower echelons of this country’s footballing pyramid.
Firstly, I think anyone that has read about my travels over the past few years on this website knows that I like a ground with ‘character’ – little quirks and idiosyncrasies in every stand and every corner. With many of the Premier League clubs now playing in plush, sparkling new stadiums, ‘quirkiness’ is hard to come by and once again I find myself yearning for Fulham’s Craven Cottage. However, some of the glistening stadia of the Premier League do certainly come with some interesting structures and designs – and, in some cases, under cool floodlights. This brings me on to the next part of my criteria.
The facilities. If you are going to sit in a multi-million structure, you are generally going to want the finest amenities and not the crumbling concrete corners of grounds housing small gutters acting as toilets. A new stadium should have the finest facilities, but as mentioned earlier, you can’t be a spot of old school charm too.
As Channel 4’s Phil and Kirsty famously used to declare: Location! Location! Location! You cannot beat a stadium or ground placed slap bang in the middle of a busy city, such as the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff – easily the best located stadium in the UK in my eyes. Sadly, money leads to many of the new-build stadiums being dumped on retail parks and industrial estates on the outskirts of the nation’s towns and cities, but there are still some brilliantly located stadia still to be found in the Premier League. Also, I think anyone that has read this blog before knows that I like a pub or six, so a ground in the vicinity of plenty of drinking holes is always a huge plus point.
So without further ado, here we go…(cues the Pick of the Pops music chart countdown music).
10. Sunderland – The Stadium of Light
Described to me as a fantastic new build before my first visit, I initially wasn’t that awe-inspired by the stadium that replaced the Mackems’ former home Roker Park. However, a second and third visit and the place won me over (although I do sometimes question whether Swansea winning on my second visit played more of a role in that). I think my second visit was made all the more enjoyable by the moving of the away end up into the heavens of the North Stand. The walk up to the heady heights is made all the more entertaining by the amusing quotes written on the walls, such as “Do you think Graham Taylor would like this?” and as you head up the final staircase, “36ft – this is the same height Chris Waddle’s penalty reached in 1990”.
The Stadium of Light really is a great looking ground too with the its modern look and location on the banks of the Wear. Plus, nearby you have a variety of pubs and the Stadium of Light metro station and you will not meet friendlier folk than those in the North-east of England. Definitely worth heading into Sunderland itself for a few drinks prematch with the locals.
Best nearby pub: The Colliery Tavern – just across the road from the Stadium of Light and the Davy Lamp monument outside the ground, the Colliery Tavern is a small pub, which is always jam-packed, but which also opens smaller bars outdoors. Always a friendly, but lively atmosphere there.
9. Manchester United – Old Trafford
I’m now entering my 4th year of living in Salford and for those 4 years my local league club has been Manchester United, with their iconic stadium located just 3.5 miles from my doorstep. Watching your team (in my case Swansea) play there always feels like a big occasion with the place exuding the club’s rich history – from the statues of Law, Charlton, Best, Busby and Ferguson outside the ground to the Munich tunnel and clock.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest drawbacks of Old Trafford is the tourist-y feel to the place at times with the home support rather muted at times, but, to be honest, I don’t think there are many grounds in the Premier League that really have a vociferous atmosphere. Hopefully, United’s newly introduced designated ‘singing section’ will help liven the place up.
All in all, an absolutely epic arena to watch football in with fine facilities.
Best nearby pub: The Trafford – one of my favourites. Don’t expect to get in if you are an away fan, but on my various trips to the Theatre of Dreams as a ‘neutral’ I always make sure to call in. Red walls, red memorabilia everywhere and even a red pool table – if you are a United fan, then this place would be heavenly to you. Plus, its located less than 5 minutes up the road from the ground and just across the road from Lou Macari’s Fish and Chip Shop.
8. Crystal Palace – Selhurst Park
“It’s a dive,” was the general response I received from other football fans when they described Selhurst Park to me, before my first visit to the ground last season. Well, fortunately, I love a dive.
Many are of the opinion that Selhurst Park is very much in need of a face lift, but is it really? It’s crumbling, ramshackle stature is surely what gives it so much character; especially when placed alongside some of the identi-stadiums of the Premier League. Plus, as far as atmospheres go, the Palace fans are the loudest in the league in my eyes, thanks largely to the ‘Holmesdale Ultras’.
I was delighted that Palace remained in the Premier League just to revisit their home – although I would like an actual seat instead of just the frame of the seat next time I sit in the away end please. Not that I’d sit on it probably.
Best nearby pub: William Stanley Wetherspoons – I’ll admit here that I’m not that knowledgeable on pubs in this area, but did enjoy my visit to the William Stanley Wetherspoons about ten minutes from Selhurst Park. A good Spoons pub.
7. Aston Villa – Villa Park
Villa Park has become a Premier League institution with Villa and their home ground being ever present since the dawn of the Premier League in 1992. If you want a sizable, yet traditional ground, then Villa Park is the one for you. Four single standing stands give the place a unique feel with the most impressive structure being Villa Park’s famous Holte End.
Located just a ten minute train journey away from Birmingham New Street station too, the place is easy to get to. Always a good day out and a great place to watch football.
Best nearby pub: The Witton Arms– This brilliant pub is located just down the road from the Villa Park away end. The place is huge with the pub split in two on matchday – one half for home fans and one half for away fans. The away fans even get the large beer garden complete with a gazebo with its own bar. The only thing that lets the Witton Arms down is the fact you have to pay £2 to go in.
6. Burnley – Turf Moor
Old school. That is the best way to describe Turf Moor. The place is joyous and similar to Selhurst in its traditional appearance, if not a little more tidy. Also, you cannot fault the adjoining cricket club for a superb prematch atmosphere with home and away fans mixing together. I’ve only been to Turf Moor once before and that was a few years ago now (and I shall tell the story of that most eventful of days when I write my blog about the place when I revisit in February), but Burnley v Swansea was probably the first fixture I looked out for when the fixtures were announced, as I’ve been desperate to return to Turf Moor.
Best nearby pub: The Turf Moor Cricket Club – Can’t fault its location. Literally yards away from the away end. Cheap food, cheap beer (if I remember rightly) and if you’ve got kids with you, just let them run free around the cricket ground. Avoid the Swan pub if you’re away fan at all costs – once again, I’ll tell that story once I finally blog about Burnley.
Lost Boyos visit: coming in February 2015 – last visited in February 2011 in the pre-Lost Boyos days.
5. Everton – Goodison Park
Goodison is a delightful ground with a great mix of old and new, all wedged inbetween the surrounding terraced housing of Everton Valley. Plus, it is one of the few grounds in the Premier League I’ve sat in all of the stands. I particularly enjoyed once watching Everton v Spurs from the heights of the the Main Stand. The away end isn’t much to write home about, but it is gloriously ramshackle. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for the church in the one corner of the ground, which still holds services on Sundays which stops Everton from kicking off early on the Sabbath.
Best nearby pub: The Valley – OK this is a sentimental choice. This is the pub opposite Notre Dame school, where I did part of my teacher training. The place is just up the road from Goodison and it is tradition to call in after any game at Goodison (or Anfield for that matter). It’s the tidiest, but it is definitely one of the most welcoming. Keep an eye out for the Swansea scarf on the wall signed ‘#lostboyos’ (I got a free shot of Sambuca for adding to their wall of memorabilia).
4. Liverpool – Anfield
During my teacher training years, I used to walk past the Kop every morning and afternoon on my way to and from work in a school just down the road, so I do have a soft spot for the place. There is just something special about the place you can’t put your finger on. Admittedly, I’ve never found the atmosphere that great, but You’ll Never Walk Alone is always prone to giving you goosebumps; I was lucky enough in my Liverpool-dwelling days to watch a game on the Kop – a truly brilliant experience. Then you have iconic hallmarks such as the statue of Shankly, the Shankly Gates and the poignant memorial to Anfield. I for one am delighted that the club are remaining at the ground for the foreseeable future instead of relocating to nearby Stanley Park.
On a more negative note – avoid the ‘Restricted View’ tickets for the away end at all costs. Unless, you enjoy crouching down to avoid the obstructing overhead stand for 90 minutes or you like feeling like you are watching the game through a letterbox
Best nearby pub: The Sandon – the pub where Liverpool FC was formed, located just yards down the street from Anfield itself is a superb place for a prematch pint. The place is deceptively large with cavernous rooms. Sadly, the pub has stopped away fans entering over the past few years.
3. Newcastle United – St. James Park
Location, location, location. In regards of where it is, St. James Park cannot be beaten (apart from maybe by the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff). Located in the heart of Newcastle – possibly my favourite city in the country – you can be drinking in one of the Toon’s many great bars one moment, then be in the ground in the next. The stadium is top notch too. Towering over the rest of Newcastle imperiously, it is a mighty impressive sight. As an away fan, you are also treated to the ridiculously high up top tier of the John Hall Stand; many complain of the view of the action from up there, but I love the view you get of the city well below you.
Always my favourite away trip of the season thanks to a great city, great people and a great football stadium.
Best nearby pub: The Old George – with so many pubs and bars to choose from on Tyneside it was hard to choose here, but me and my fellow travellers always enjoy a prematch beer or two in the Old George. The 16th century heritage pub has good food, plenty of ales and continental lager and the place is generally an all-round pleasant place to drink on matchday. Honourable mention to the slightly shabbier Rose and Anchor – always have a brilliant time in there too.
2. Arsenal – Emirates Stadium
As far as new build stadiums go, the Emirates is a thing of beauty. Admittedly, it does exude a sense of ‘luxury superdome’, yet it is still one of my favourite stadiums to visit in the country. Unsurprisingly, the facilites are an absolutely pristine too. Yes, the place doesn’t have the most vociferous of atmospheres to say the very least, but I’ve always found the home support good fun and very welcoming in the bars around the Emirates. The ground celebrates Arsenal’s illustrious history with images of Arsenal greats brandished on its exterior, as well as statues of Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Herbert Chapman.
A great place to watch your team play as you do genuinely feel like you are on the grandest of stages. Easy to get to on the train with nearby Arsenal station and Finsbury Park, plenty of pubs nearby and a fine example of how to do a new stadium. Just a shame about ticket prices there (apart from us Swansea fans who are usually charged £25).
Best nearby pub: Twelve Pins – large pub by Finsbury Park station and just 10-15 minutes walk to the stadium. Welcoming atmosphere with plenty of big screens if there is any football on the TV. Slightly let down by plastic glasses being used, but guess that’s to expected in a pub near a 60,000 seater stadium on matchday.
1. Manchester City – Etihad Stadium
I feel this place rarely gets the credit it deserves. Even having visited countless times now with the place not far from my home on the Salford/Manchester border, I still find myself getting excited on visiting. Certainly one of the most interesting looking new stadiums out there and I’m particularly big fan of the spiraling walkways up to the upper tiers.
City are not hailed enough in my eyes for their fan zone – City Square – either, located just behind the ground: plenty of food outlets, bars, a big club shop and always live entertainment on stage – not many clubs can offer that prematch within the gates of their stadium. The Etihad Campus has now been expanded too with the new academy stadium and pitches just a footbridge away.
My favourite stadium in the Premier League.
Best nearby pub: The Corner Shop – My ‘Lost in…Pub of the Year 2013/14’ – you can’t fault the Corner Shop. Located on a housing estate across from the Etihad, don’t be put off by its unassuming and slightly unfriendly looking demeanour. The Corner Shop is a great pub. I’ve taken Swansea fans there most seasons and all have loved it and stated how welcoming the Man City fans were. It’s not a visit to the Etihad for me now – whether I’m in the home end as a ‘neutral’ or as a Swans fan in the away end – without a visit to the Corner Shop.
So there you go – there are my Top 10 Premier League grounds. I’m sure some will agree, but many will disagree and that’s cool. It’d be awesome if people let me know their thoughts. Are there any harsh exclusions? Is Goodison Park better than Anfield? Was I wrong to exclude my own team’s stadium? And feel free to let me know your Top 10s – or Top 5s if you can’t be bothered with 10.