Wednesday, 23 July 2008

My grounds list - total 285

I fail to see that anyone aside from myself might be interested in this, but that hasn't stopped me before. So, just for the record, here is the list of grounds I've seen matches at. Click on a ground or team and it might just take you to the report:

Slovakia (3)

Hungary (3)

Czech Republic (6)

Denmark (3)

Sweden (2)

Poland (3)

Turkey (2)

Belgium (14)

FC Porto (Estadio di Dragao)
Benfica (Estadio da Luz)
Academica (Estadio Municipal de Coimbra)
SC Beira (Estadio Municipal de Aveiro)
Boavista (Estadio do Bessa XXI)
Sporting Lisbon (Estadio Jose de Alvalade)

Holland (11)

Longford Town (Strokestown Road Ground)
Sligo Rovers (The Showgrounds)
Kilkenny City (Buckley Park)
Finn Harps (Finn Park)

Scotland (7)

Arsenal (Highbury & Emirates)
Aston Villa (Villa Park)
Birmingham City (St Andrews)
Blackburn Rovers (Ewood Park)
Bolton Wanderers (Burnden Park)
Chelsea (Stamford Bridge)
Derby County (Pride Park)
Everton (Goodison Park)
Fulham (Craven Cottage)
Liverpool (Anfield)
Manchester City (Maine Road)
Manchester United (Old Trafford)
Middlesbrough (Ayresome Park)
Newcastle United (St James’ Park)
Portsmouth (Fratton Park)
Reading (Elm Park & Madjeski Stadium)
Sunderland (Roker Park)
Tottenham Hotspur (White Hart Lane)
West Ham United (Upton Park)
Wigan Athletic (DW Stadium)
Barnsley (Oakwell)
Blackpool (Bloomfield Road)
Charlton Athletic (The Valley)
Colchester United (Layer Road & Colchester Community Stadium)
Coventry City (Highfield Road)
Crystal Palace (Selhurst Park)
Hull City (Boothferry Park)
Ipswich Town (Portman Road)
Leicester City (Filbert Street & Walkers Stadium)
Norwich City (Carrow Road)
Plymouth Argyle (Home Park)
Preston North End (Deepdale)
QPR (Loftus Road)
Scunthorpe United (Glanford Park)
Sheffield United (Bramall Lane)
Sheffield Wednesday (Hillsborough)
Southampton (St Marys)
Stoke City (Victoria Ground & The Britannia)
Watford (Vicarage Road)
West Bromwich Albion (The Hawthorns)
Wolverhampton Wanderers (Molineux)
Bournemouth (Fitness First Stadium)
Brighton and Hove Albion (Goldstone Ground, Withdean Stadium & the American Express Community Stadium)
Bristol Rovers (Twerton Park)
Carlisle United (Brunton Park)
Cheltenham Town (Whaddon Road)
Crewe Alexandra (Gresty Road)
Doncaster Rovers (Belle Vue)
Gillingham (Priestfield)
Huddersfield Town (Galpharm Stadium)
Leeds United (Elland Road)
Leyton Orient (Brisbane Road)
Luton Town (Kenilworth Road)
Millwall (The Den)
Northampton Town (County Ground)
Nottingham Forest (City Ground)
Oldham Athletic (Boundary Park)
Port Vale (Vale Park)
Southend United (Roots Hall)
Swindon Town (County Ground)
Walsall (Bescot Stadium)
Barnet (Underhill)
Bradford (Valley Parade)
Brentford (Griffin Park)
Chester City (Sealand Road & Diva Stadium)
Chesterfield (Recreation Ground)
Dagenham and Redbridge (Victoria Road)
Darlington (Feethams)
Grimsby Town (Blundell Park)
Hereford United (Edgar Street)
Lincoln City (Sincil Bank)
Macclesfield Town (Moss Rose)
Mansfield Town (Field Mill)
Notts County (Meadow Lane)
Peterborough (London Road)
Rochdale (Spotland)
Rotherham United (Millmoor)
Shrewsbury Town (Gay Meadow)
Stockport County (Edgeley Park)
Wycombe Wanderers (Adams Park)
Aldershot (Recreation Ground)
Cambridge United (Abbey Road)
Crawley Town (Broadfield)
Exeter City (St James’ Park)
Halifax Town (The Shay)
Kidderminster Harriers (Aggborough Stadium)
Oxford United (The Manor Ground & Kassam Stadium)
Torquay United (Plainmoor)
Woking (Kingfield Stadium)
York City (Bootham Crescent)
Canvey Island (Park Lane)
AFC Wimbledon & Kingstonian (Kingsmeadow)
Windsor & Eton (Stag Meadow)
Bognor Regis Town (Nyewood Lane)
Worthing (Woodside Road)
Lewes (Dripping Pan)
Eastbourne Borough (Priory Lane)
Wembley Stadium (Old & New)
Hastings United (The Pilot Field)
Lancing (Culver Road)
Southwick (Old Barn Way)
Arundel (Mill Road)
Yeovil Town (Huish Park)
Grays Athletic (New Recreation Ground)
Sutton United (Gander Green Lane)
Merstham (Moatside)
Havant and Waterlooville (Westleigh Park)
Dartford (Princes Park)
Hampton and Richmond (Beveree Stadium) (2)
Harrow Borough (Earlsmead Stadium)
Forest Green Rovers (The New Lawn)
Shoreham (Middle Road)
Wick (Crabtree Park)
Walton Casuals (Waterside Stadium)
Welling United (Park View Road)
Braintree Town (Cressing Road)
St Albans (Clarence Park)
Bromley (Hayes Lane)
Leatherhead (Fetcham Grove)
Wealdstone (Grosvenor Vale)
Weston-Super-Mare (Woodspring Stadium)
Eastleigh (Silverlake Stadium)
Maidenhead United (York Road)
Staines Town (Wheatsheaf Park)
Weymouth (Wessex Stadium)
Basingstoke Town (The Camrose)
Bishop's Stortford (Woodside Park)
Whitehawk (The Enclosed Ground)
MK Dons (Stadium:MK)
Farnborough (Cherrywood Road)
Swansea City (Vetch Field & Liberty Stadium)
Millennium Stadium Cardiff
Llanelli AFC (Parc Y Scarlets)
Bangor City (at Belle Vue, Rhyl FC)

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Valencia CF

Valencia 4-0 Gimnastic de Tarragona (30:09:06)

Manolo, el del bombo joins the European Football Weekends team.

Manolo's Bar - every drum a winner!

La Mestalla home to Valencia CF.

Why I thought you supported Atletico!? Yeah - whatever!

A marching band, La Mestalla and I.

Steepness, steepness they call it steepness.

The Valencia 'Yomus' ultras.

Ciudad de las artes y las ciencias - buildings more attractive than the football stadium shocker!

My European Football Weekends fall into two categories. Mostly, I go with the lads on what can turn into quite beery occasions. Alternatively, some trips I attend with my wife and these ones tend to be more cultural jaunts. This EFW fell into the later department.

It's not very often that I count the football stadium in the city as not being the most beautiful building. However, in Valencia this is very much the case. Aesthetically, I can't find fault with the Ciudad de las Artes y las Cinecias (City of Arts and Sciences). Local architect Santiago Calatrava has changed the face and landscape of the City with a series of stunning buildings built on what previously a marshy bogland.

The complex includes a museum (Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe), the beatlesque type Imax cinema and planetarium (Hemisferic), a multicultural arts complex (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) and lastly an 'Oceanografic' aquarium type arrangement which is actually worth paying to get into - it's exceptional.

Aside from the above we also did a couple of walking tours around the historical centre of Valencia. You'll almost certain to end up in the Plaza de la Virgen at some stage, and from that location there is simply loads to see and do. The Lonely Planet Best of Valencia pocket guide has some superb City walks which you can follow.

Make sure you down a glass of Horchata whilst you are in town. It's non alcoholic, but on a hot morning - almost guaranteed in these parts - it's a most refreshing local beverage.

Now then, onto the football (about time - Ed.). Until 2009 when they will be moving to a new stadium - Valencia play at the Mestalla. It's old, full of character and has very steep stands. It's fairly easy to just take a stroll down from the City centre but if you are feeling lazy on a hot day then hop on the underground to Aragon.

I got there reasonably early so I could not only pick up a couple of match tickets (22 euro each), but to pay a visit to Manolo el del Bombo's bar which is across the road, and opposite the small ticket huts. Manolo is the chap you see at every Spanish national game banging his drum. I had my photo taken with him as did plenty of others, and brilliantly he donned a new hat for each picture. The bar doubles up as a football museum and I can't think of many better places to spend a couple of hours drinking prior to the match.

As I sat there with my wife, eating very agreeable tapas dishes, sinking nice cold beers, watching Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid on a big screen and cocking an eye towards Manolo serve behind the bar - I did rather find a few answers to the question I ask myself quite often; 'Why do I like Spain so much'?

Unusually for a Spanish league game, the away side Gimnastic had brought a large travelling support down the coast with them. Any trifling doubt that violence might ensue was quickly dispelled when one chap turned up with a 6ft teddy bear which was roundly applauded. Strange but true. I must remember to take mine to West Ham next time we are at Upton Park, or maybe not eh?

As we took to our seats, just below the travelling hordes prior to the match a marching band appeared on the pitch and treated the locals to a few tunes. Marching bands are big news in Valencia and they went down a proverbial storm. As they paraded around the pitch, they would stop at twenty yard intervals and turn to the crowd, who in turn rose out of their seats and rewarded them with some overhead clapping.

Gimnastic Tarragona started the match by running around like headless chickens. It was as if it was their annual sports day, and the only thing missing was a bean bag on their heads. Their enthusiasm started to diminish after just three minutes though as Fernando Morientes helped himself to the games opening goal.

After that it was one way traffic. David Villa engaged in blazes of wizardry, he would go one way and the crowd would go the other. Villa is a brilliant player and a definite favourite here at European Football Weekends HQ. After he had scored a couple of goals he was withdrawn to a heroes reception. I'll give you an idea of how much he is liked at Valencia, the ovation he received was nearly as good as the marching bands!

Valencia declared at 4-0, and the away fans, just happy to be there clapped their team off the park and everybody seemed pretty chuffed with life. It was far too hot for running battles outside the stadium so we decided to ingratiate ourselves with the locals and head to the bars. There is a bar for every occasion in Valencia, it's a great place to stay up half the night sinking a couple of beers so we duly did just that.

It's worth mentioning our hotel at this juncture should you ever choose to pay a visit to Valencia. We stayed in the Home Deluxe Hostel. It's smack plum in the middle of all the action and every room is individually designed. You'll have to book well in advance but it's cheap as chips and very welcoming.

So with a new stadium being built which looks stunning and the City's other team Levante still to see, I shall definitely be returning. A City of architectural triumphs, guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches and two football teams. Take your wives and girlfriends lads - Adios.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Past EFW Classics Part 6

Celtic 1-0 Hibernian (10:02:07)

Kilmarnock 1-3 Rangers (11:02:07)

'Say Aye to a Killie pie'

Kris Boyd opens the scoring for Rangers away to Kilmarnock.

One end of the Rangers fans at Rugby Park.

Whoops, I appear to be on the pitch again!

Nick blends in with the locals (beer had been taken).

Parkhead - that will be Celtic then.

There is a game going on down there somewhere.

Bar 67 on Gallowgate where our first post match pint was sunk.

Babbity Bowster pub on Blackfriars Street, Glasgow - recommended.

Glasgow is a City I keep on returning to - I love it! I've never been made to feel more than welcome there. Edinburgh may be aesthetically more pleasing on the eye but Glasgow just edges it as a City for me. There are literally hundreds of great pubs, genuinely great people and they have a couple of football teams who don't really like each other - have you heard of them!?

I flew up to Glasgow from Gatwick on the Saturday morning with my old pal Nick. We checked into our hotel located at Glasgow Central Railway Station early doors and decided that with it being 10am it was too early (even for us) to open our drinking account for the day.

We jumped in a taxi and headed to Scotland's national football stadium; Hampden Park. There is a football museum there which is simply the best I have ever been to. I've probably waxed lyrical about it on these pages before so I won't go on about it too much here. Suffice to say if you are ever in Glasgow then do yourself a favour and go. We met up with a chap who works for the Scottish FA on that day and we are still in touch with him to this day.

After Hampden Park, we nipped across the road to say hello to Mr Beer as we still had a couple of hours before our first match of the weekend; Celtic v Hibernian. It took us two attempts to ring a taxi from that pub to Parkhead. The first company we rang didn't like the fact we were going to Celtic and started chuntering down the phone - clearly a Rangers taxi firm - whoops! A couple of Celts in bar offered us a lift in their supporters coach but we declined their kind offer and jumped in another taxi.

This was my fourth visit to Celtic for a match but it was by far the most disappointing in terms of atmosphere ie there wasn't any. Celtic were 19 points ahead of Rangers in the SPL and their fans were clearly saving themselves for the midweek visit of AC Milan in the Champions League. They won the game 1-0 with a Craig Beattie goal.

They don't serve beer inside Parkhead. Consequently for a game such as this. The ground fills up about five minutes after the kick off and empties out about ten minutes before the final whistle. If you ever go, try to go on a European night when the fans are fantastic from start to finish and you get a couple of renditions of You'll Never Walk Alone.

After the match we headed down Gallowgate to a couple of Celtic pubs which aren't really for the feint hearted but have to be seen to be believed. The first of these was Bar 67 which has murals on the wall of past Celtic greats. It's a great place to have a drink but we only had one pint in there as we were on a mission to drink in as many pubs as possible. The second bar we popped into was called 'Bairds Bar' it was packed full of Celtic memorabilia and Celtic fans singing their songs.

After those two bars, it was time to move on from football pubs and relax a little. From then on we must have visited up to ten more pubs on the way back to our hotel and each one was excellent and unique in a Glasgow sort of way. The first was the Babbity Bowster on Blackfriars Street which had some splendid live music. The second was The Press Room in Albion Street which was full of drunks singing in the corner and the other eight pubs were I'm lead to believe even better. It was another classic EFW elongated drinking session. Good old Glasgow!

To be honest our hotel was a shocker. It was freezing cold and blah blah blah, moan, moan, moan, moan, on and on and on. We kept ourselves warm by laughing. Nick mentioned that in the Press Bar where we were the two most sober people in there; punters were only speaking in vowels A-E-I-O and U.

The next morning my hangover disappeared immediately when I realised we still had another match to attend. We were heading over to Kilmarnock on the train to see their home game with Glasgow Rangers. The concourse at Glasgow Central Railway Station had a mixture of Celtic fans returning home after the previous days match and Rangers fans heading to Kilmarnock for their encounter. It's at times like this when I'm thankful I'm a Brighton fan and to be frank nobody gives a monkeys about Brighton aside from Crystal Palace and they were nowhere to be seen.

The train from Glasgow to Kilmarnock only takes around 40 minutes and it's one of those two carriage jobs. There weren't that many Rangers fans on board our train as we'd left very early for the match to have a few beers beforehand but we thought there might be some fun and games on the train back with around 4,000 Rangers fans at the game and just two train carriages to fit them all into.

Upon arrival to Kilmarnock, we made the 15 minute walk to Rugby Park. Nick spotted a 'magic door' open and before I could say a word he had slipped through the gate and when I went through it to see what mischief he was up to - he was there standing on the pitch. I joined him on said pitch and we took a couple of photos before we were intervened by the Strathclyde Police. They asked us what we were doing to which we replied "Having a brilliant time thanks" - they chuckled and pointed us in the direction of our pre-match pub.

That pub turned out to be a new hotel which stands adjacent to the ground and is a great little place to have a pre-match Guinness or five as it turned out. We were having such a giggle that the pints just kept flowing down the hatch. They were showing the previous nights Scottish football on a big screen in there and fans from both teams were having a bit of a sing song and it was all rather civilised in my opinion. Full marks to Kilmarnock.

The actual match was a belter. Rangers won 3-1 with Kris Boyd scoring a hatrick. Kris Boyd scores for fun for Rangers but is hardly ever afforded 90 minutes on the pitch. Despite by now being 22 points behind Celtic, Rangers had filled to ends of Rugby Park and made a great noise. As did the Killie fans to be fair.

We met a couple of Killie fans in our stand at half time. They initially thought we were Rangers fans but after all that had died down they turned out to be a right laugh. They pointed out to us that we were sitting two seats behind a member of ex-popsters Deacon Blue. They were also giving terrible stick to the Scottish press, Walter Smith, Ally McCoist and pretty much anyone else who walked past. By stick I mean banter and funny banter at that.

If ever you go to Kilmarnock FC by the way have a pie. There are 'Say Aye to a Killie Pie' slogans all around the stand and with good reason. We said aye to one and then to be honest said aye to another one.

On the way back to the station the Rangers fans were in good voice. I felt for the owner of an Off Licence who had to cope with an invasion of about 60 lads who were all doing the 'Bouncey Bouncey' outside the doors, trying to get in to rid them of all their cold beers.

As predicted the train back to Glasgow was Bobs Full House - absolutely jam packed. Fans were singing, bouncey bounceying and we were trying to keep as low a profile as we could. As it happened some fans did talk to us and turned out to be fine and badges were exchanged. Ne bother pal.

Back in Glasgow we had a couple of hours to fill before heading back to the airport to fly home. We popped into the famous Horseshoe Bar by the station for a few more bevingtons and contemplated what had been another brilliant European Football Weekend. Does Scotland count as a European Football Weekend!? It does after several pints - cheers!