Amazingly, 5 years after its birth, Lost Boyos is still going (fairly) strong with the first groundhopping post – about my trip to Sunderland v Swansea – being published in January 2012. To celebrate my 5 years of blogging about my footballing frolics, flat caps and ale, I’ll be publishing a few Top 5 blogs, as if there’s one thing a football fan loves, it is a list (well, I know I do anyway). As Lost Boyos focuses solely on groundhopping these days, I will kick off this short series with an ode to my favourite grounds over the last 5 years.
Unsurprisingly, I’m regularly asked what my favourite ground is. It’s such a tricky question to answer as I suppose I have several ‘favourite’ grounds for varying reasons.
I’m not one to jump fully on board the ‘Against Modern Football’ bandwagon, as I do love turning up at big shiny stadiums for big glitzy games. At the same time, I’d say I’m probably happiest at a crumbling, old football setting. For that reason I’ve divided my Top 5 grounds into 3 parts: league, non-league and European. Undoubtedly, I’ll read these back tomorrow and change my mind or wonder why I’ve left a certain ground out, but these are certainly all in the ball park for the title of ‘my favourite ground.’ And yes, of course I’m expecting lots of ‘I can’t believe you chose that ground’ and ‘I can’t believe you prefer ground X to ground Y’ – but thus is the world of creating a blog ranking such things. Obviously it’d be great to hear your thoughts, so feel free to drop a comment at the bottom with your favourites, but without further delay, here are the grounds that get me going…
Top 5 League Grounds
I’ve done 70/92 (I lost three this season with York and Dagenham and Redbridge going down and West Ham moving stadiums) but here are my favourite from the ones I’ve ventured to:
5. Carlisle United – Brunton Park
Me and Gibbo’s Carlisle trip was memorable for a lot of reasons; well, it’s largely memorable as we drank enough alcohol to erase our memories of our night out there, I suppose technically making our trip unmemorable. However, we certainly do remember the football that we watched earlier in the day and it’s fair to say we both loved Brunton Park. A real potpourri of random stands and a rather chaotic-looking layout, yet ultimately remarkably traditional – and I’m always a big fan of ‘traditional’.
4. Everton – Goodison Park
I did my teacher training on Merseyside and my first classroom in my first school practically looked out on Goodison Park, so I undoubtedly have a soft spot for the old place. Probably the most traditional ground remaining in the top flight (along with Turf Moor), Goodison is a proper sepia-tinged trip into football’s past – especially in the battered away end. It’s just a wonderful setting to watch football, even if the aforementioned away end can offer some awful views of the action on the pitch.
3. Newcastle United – St. James’ Park
My favourite city in the UK is undoubtedly Newcastle. It’s one hell of a fun city, but easily the pièce de rèsistance of this delightful city is St. James’ Park. St. James’ Park is all about location, location, location. As soon as you approach Tyneside, you can spot St. James’ Park towering over the city like a huge, glimmering, footballing fortress. It feels huge inside it too thanks to the towering Sir John Hall Stand. I know lots of travelling fans complain about how the away fans are put right up in the heavens of the stadium, but I love the novelty of it all with the players far below, as if you are almost watching the game from a birdseye view. Plus, the top of that stand offers some epic views of Newcastle and the Tyne below.
2. Manchester City – The Etihad Stadium
Since my first ever trip there for Swansea’s first ever game in the Premier League (incidentally my first week living in Manchester), I’ve been in love with the Etihad. I’ve been many, many times since. If you are going to make a big, modern stadium this is how to do it in my eyes. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why I love the place, but I’m almost certain it has a lot to do with the San Siro-esque spiraling walkways to the upper tier. Plus, I still don’t understand why more clubs don’t build fancy fan zones adjacent to their stadium – surely it’s good for fans and a money making device for the club? The Etihad’s is easily the best, although predictably fairly steep for a beer. Perhaps most of all, I just think the Etihad is a beautiful, ultra-slick stadium to look at (waits for abuse from Manchester United fans).
1. Fulham – Craven Cottage
When I am asked what is my favourite ground and I can’t be bothered to go into the virtues of various football stadia and grounds, my default answer is Craven Cottage. I just absolutely adore the place and it used to be my favourite away day when the Swans would go there. The walk to the ground down by the Thames; enjoying your beer in the away end alongside the river; the old, rickety looking stands; and of course that famous cottage in the corner (wrongly, people believe this is where Craven Cottage gets its name). People will say that the atmosphere is dire there and yes admittedly it can be a bit subdued, but the flip side of this is that Fulham have a lovely, friendly set of fans, who are always good company in pre- and post-match drinking sessions.
Top 5 Non-League Grounds
Having spent the past 5 years living in Salford, most of my many non-league adventures – but not all – have been in northern England. Predictably, this meant that my Top 5 non-league grounds has a more northern bias to it, but here they are anyway:
5. Bath City – Twerton Park
The city of Bath is easily one of the nicest in the UK in my eyes, so I was delighted to find that I loved their footballing home too. Big, old stands, great club bar (featuring a rather novel pool table in the club’s black and white colours) and just a general feel of tradition to the place. With it having stood there since 1909, it’s another great example of a ground from a bygone era.
4. Colne – Holt House
Colne’s Holt House ground seems a bit of an untidy mess – well, I suppose it is, but that’s why it’s so brilliant. In a running theme for this non-league Top 5, the ground is wonderfully scenic with it atop a hill in the heart of Lancashire, looking down on one of the most Lancashire towns you could ever visit. The real quirk of the ground is the ridiculous sloping pitch – something emphasised by the uneven looking stand on the halfway line. Holt House is just a proper non-league ground with a friendly club and with good fans based there.
3. Turton – Thomason Fold
Still the biggest surprise of my 5 years of Lost Boyos travelling. I received a message from Gibbo one sunny April day asking did I want to go to Turton that evening. I had literally no idea who or what a Turton was, but I said ‘yes’ – not even knowing which part of the country I was heading to; although when he said it was for a Bolton Hospital Cup game, I felt it was probably going to be somewhere in the vicinity of Bolton. It seemed my deductions were right as we headed up into the rural hills north of Bolton and what a ground we found there – if you can call it a ‘ground’. Essentially, the place is a field with a tiny cabin with changing rooms and a tiny tea bar, but Turton’s Thomason Fold’s allure comes in the setting. If you are a groundhopper that won’t ‘tick’ grounds without stands, then you’ll miss out on gems like this. On one side of the pitch is a large hill that looks out on the pitch on one side and down the valley and the neighbouring reservoir on the other. On a particular hot sunny April evening, it was the perfect place to watch some (rather chaotic) non-league football.
2. Chorley – Victory Park
One of the most iconic and recognisable non-league grounds in the north-west is Ch0rley’s Victory Park – the most archetypal of non-league grounds. Victory Park, named so after being opened in the same year that Britain claimed victory in World War I, has probably one of my favourite main stands in football. It’s non-league beauty! Oh, and make sure to sample the excellent pies there too.
1. Mossley – Seel Park
This number one was never in doubt. Seel Park is a certified beauty. It’s a beautiful, traditional non-league ground, but what really makes it so bloody magnificent is the setting. Mossley’s home sits atop a hill in the Tame Valley, right at the edge of the Pennines, and offers stunning views of the surrounding hills. The hill up to the ground has to be one of the steepest on this planet though! There’s a friendly crowd there, a great, old school vibe, a good clubhouse and good food too. It’s just perfect. I’m just sorry my photos were a bit crappy on my visit and don’t do the ground’s magnificence anywhere near enough justice.
Top 5 European Grounds
In regards of the continent, I’d still consider my groundhopping exploits to be fairly minimal, but I’m very much working on that having now lived in Slovakia for 5 months. Still, there was enough to easily compile my favourite 5 from the continent, so here they are:
5. FC VSS Košice – Lokomotíva Stadium
It was worth traipsing all away across Slovakia to visit the wonderful city of Košice and to discover this magnificent stadium. FC VSS Košice play in the second tier of Slovak football, so crowds are small, but this almost helped emphasise the epic size of this arena. As this list will highlight, I love a huge bowl stadium and this is a classic example of one, with its blue and yellow colours backdropped by the surrounding hills holding some of the city’s residential areas. It would be my favourite in Slovakia so far if it wasn’t for…
4. ŠK Báhoň – Stadium ŠK Báhoň
This would have probably battled Mossley for my favourite non-league ground if it was in the UK, but, luckily for me, instead this ground is a short 10 minute train away from my Slovak home. The club play in the third tier of Slovak football – as good as non-league back home – so facilities are limited (just one large shelter with food and drink outlets under it and a building housing changing rooms) but who cares. The place is just wonderful. The real novelty of the ground comes from nature being used as part of the ground, with the large grassy banking being frequented by various benches to form a grassy, makeshift stand of sorts. I love this ground so much – although I’m not sure I’d enjoy its bucolic feel as much on a cold, winter’s day.
3. Hertha Berlin – Olympiastadion
From a Slovak village ground to probably the most iconic stadium I’ve been to on the continent. The Olympiastadion has hosted the Champions League final, two World Cup finals (including the ‘Zidane headbutt final’) and the infamous 1936 Olympics making this a true heavyweight of the stadium world. We were there for the humbler Bundesliga contest of Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg, but the grandeur of our setting still exuded. Although the stadium was significantly renovated for the 2006 World Cup, the history of the place still shines through with much of it celebrated as you walk around the outside of this imperious stadium. As well as that, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed any prematch rituals as much as Hertha fans singing their anthemic, scarf-raising Nür Nach Hause. Yes, the running track pushes you further away from the action, but I’ve always been able to cope with such a feature; so if you can deal with that, then I’d put the Olympiastadion high up on your European ‘to do’ list.
2. Honvéd – Bozsik Stadion
Carrying on my bowl-loving theme, I’m brought on to the Bozsik Stadion – the glorious home of the iconic Hungarian club, Honvéd. Admittedly, I stood no chance of not falling in love with the place, thanks to the immense atmosphere generated by the fans I was amongst – probably the most fun I’ve had in the stands since I moved over to Central Europe. However, take away the carnival of pyro and smoke bombs in the stands and I’d have still fallen in love with the Bozsik Stadion. It’s a huge, old, ramshackle place, but that’s probably why I loved it; well, that and those glorious, colossal floodlights.
1. Karlsruhe – Wildparkstadion
As I said in the blog about my visit to Karlsruhe’s Wildparkstadion, it was love at first sight. On a scorching hot day in south-west Germany, my heart soared as I made my way through the small woodland area behind the city’s huge palace and the floodlights of the stadium emerged. Once again, the stadium is a classic European bowl; it seems I just love those sort of grounds. Like any love, I struggle to put into words why I adore Wildparkstadion so much, I just know that I do. The photos on the blog probably do it more justice than my measly words ever will.
And so there you have it, my favourite grounds – as I write this now at least, before I curse my decisions later. As I mentioned earlier, it’d be great to get other people’s Top 5s too, so feel to drop a comment below. Another two Top 5 blogs to come soon,