With the season approaching and very little going on in terms of new players and new chairman we thought we’d lock Ethan Thoburn in a room and not let him out until he wrote up a review of all the grounds we’ll be visiting next season. Here’s part one of three…
Accrington Stanley: Wham Stadium (Crown Ground)
Tuesday 13th August (EFL Cup) and Saturday 14th September (League 1)
Accrington Stanley’s Wham Stadium is a cheerful little ground with a capacity of 5450, with the vast majority of away the allocation being placed behind the goal on a standing terrace. On our previous two outings at Accrington saw the travelling faithful soaked, more so on the first visit to Lancashire in December when the duel was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch with the score at 1-1. The previous campaign saw us travel in numbers across the moors with an allocation of 2500 tickets so both the cup and league games should see a decent following. Buses will be leaving later for this game so a lie in for the league game can be had, at the ground the coaches park just a stone’s throw from the away stands with car parking also close by in the residential streets; as for travel by rail, Accrington is served by trains from Manchester and Leeds. There does seem to be a non league feel around the ground with a few pubs and a men only club close to the ground! The cup game may likely go to general sale but tickets will certainly be scarce for the league clash. John Coleman’s men will certainly be out to prove a point and certainly gave us a run for our money, going 2-0 during their visit to Wearside. Despite the ridicule of being on a milk advert, Accy established themselves as a modest mid table club in the 2018/19 campaign as a group of players with a high work ethic.
AFC Wimbledon: Kingsmeadow
Friday 10th April
Another standing terrace at the smallest ground in League 1 with a mere capacity of 4850 with an average away allocation of around 750 tickets, this is certainly a ground for those on high amounts of Black Cat points. Despite most of the away allocation situated in a standing terrace behind the dugouts there is a small area of seats towards the corner flag, behind the goal. Last season there was an upbeat atmosphere at Kingsmeadow with the season still young but this time the trip to Kingston-upon-Thames may be a bit more nerve racking in a crucial clash on Good Friday. If our last visit is anything to go off then The Dons maybe fighting for their lives, Wally Downes’ men only beat Plymouth Argyle to safety in the division by just three goals; after taking over from Neil Ardley in December, Downes failed to turn Wimbledon’s fortunes around and just saw off a relegation scrap. They’ve only been a league team for a few years following the reformation of the club, AFC’s budget probably won’t see them near the dizzy heights of the top half of the table but they are a physical team with big lads all over the park which will certainly cause us some problems. Last term’s ordeal was won 2-1 after an unlikely Lee Cattermole brace and guarantees an early start to catch the ALS bus from the Stadium of Light; personally, Wimbledon was one of my favourite away games last season and I look forward to this one. The buses park reasonably coach to Cherry Red Records Stadium and Norbiton Station is a 15-minute walk with regular trains to and from London Waterloo. There are very few food outlets in the ground but a decent chip shop up the road will serve as pre match scran; as for other facilities in the ground, toilets are essentially a portacabin. Car parking is a nightmare!
Blackpool: Bloomfield Road
Saturday 14th March
Last season’s trip to Blackpool on New Year’s Day was one to remember with 8000 Mackems making the trip to the North West seaside to witness a 1-0 defeat of the Tangerines courtesy of Josh Maja. The ground itself is fully seated and the visiting faithful were allocated the stand behind the goal and also the one running adjacent to the dugouts, the usual range of pies and pints were on offer from the kiosks. Bloomfield Road is a short walk from Blackpool North train station, whilst coach and car parking is across the road from the ground; the sea front is a 15 minute walk from the South Pier but a frequent tram service runs the length of the coastline. Pubs around the ground were packed to the rafters last time, but with the Golden Mile being just a throw away there are plenty of pubs and bars to accommodate our travelling supporters. With plenty to do pre match and a guaranteed large following, Blackpool is certainly one of the better away days to experience, especially as it’s a short journey across the A66. Terry McPhillips guided the Seagulls to a tenth place finish last season, a long way from the glory days of Premier League football less than a decade ago but quite the achievement considering Blackpool’s challenging circumstances with finances, the Oyston family in charge and their manager Gary Bowyer departing early into August last year. The huge amount of travelling support dwarfed the roughly 3000 home fans at the turn of the year but as things look up for Blackpool they may be considering and planning for a higher mid table finish for a successive campaign; with the end of the season looming, Blackpool could prove to be a stumbling block for us, especially if the North West team continue their upturned fortunes.
Bolton Wanderers: University of Bolton Stadium
Saturday 21st September
It’s been a couple of years since we visited this Greater Manchester town with our last trip ending in defeat midweek under Chris Coleman in the Championship thanks to a Lee Camp blunder, standard. With the expectation of a large allocation, tickets will be available in numbers and it’s certainly a great away day which is recommended for those looking to build the BCPs up, especially as it’s just a short trip to the North West. As for pubs and clubs around the ground, they are in their numbers and most are away fan friendly, Horwich Parkway station serves the ground with trains from Bolton which is a few stops down the line. Wanderers have certainly had more than their fair share of problems, mainly financial with last season’s game against Brentford being postponed due to unpaid wages. Phil Parkinson barely has a squad at the moment with loan players expected to fill up most of the positions as there are only eight players currently contracted to The Trotters’ first team. They were relegated last season from the Championship losing the last six games in that campaign and finishing second bottom to Ipswich Town but with a worse goal difference. With finances always a sore subject for the Lancashire side they will certainly be eager to get off to a flyer to return to the second tier to aide their situation. We’ve always tended to show decent at the Reebok Stadium in the past with memorable wins thanks to Sulley Muntari, Darren Bent and Bolo Zenden creating some cracking away days.
Bristol Rovers: Memorial Stadium
Saturday 16th November
One of the longer trips for the season to close to the Welsh borders, we travelled this journey twice last season, once for the league and of course the unforgettable Checkatrade Trophy semi final victory in March. The two previous ventures to the Memorial Ground have seen two 2-0 victories with Luke O’Nien and a peach of a free kick from Aiden McGeady sealing up the points in the league whilst loanee Lewis Morgan and Will Grigg notched to send the lads to Wembley. Away fans are positioned behind the goal and along a small, uncovered standing section alongside the pitch with a usual allocation of about 2000 tickets. Around the ground there’s plenty of burger vans and chip shops but pubs for away fans are located around the ground including one behind the club house, also note that alcohol isn’t served inside the ground. The actual experience of the ground is an odd one with the stands looking mismatched and resemblant of a cricket pavilion, old terraced football stand and a temporary stand; the travelling fans are placed in either the temporary stand if you opt for a seating ticket and on the terraced section alongside the turf if standing. The buses park straight outside the turnstiles and there is also car parking available around the stadium, the main train stations Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads require a taxi or connecting train to Flinton Abbey Wood station which is still a fair walk to the venue. Graham Coughlan’s men didn’t really pose much of a threat to us in our last two visits and Charlie Wyke could’ve had a hat trick off the bench in the league fixture but failed to convert any of the sitters he faced. At the Stadium of Light, we came from behind to defeat the pirates 2-1 thanks to rare Adam Matthews goal and a Josh Maja finish.
Burton Albion: Pirelli Stadium
Saturday 18th April
A ground that I never thought I’d be familiar with but here we are! The Pirelli is a fairly tidy little ground and fair play to the Brewers for incorporating a standing end into a reasonably new stadium, although seating is available in sparsity in the main stand. Getting to Burton isn’t a difficult task with trains, although some may require a change at Derby, the town centre and station is about a 20 minute walk to the ground; by ALS coach it’s a routine trip to the East Midlands with a comfortable journey time and is certainly one of the better grounds to get to. However, a small allocation has to be expected with around 1800 being the norm for the previous two terms. The trip last season ended in one of the few defeats we suffered in the earlier phases of the season despite Chris Maguire’s strike delivering him another EFL goal of the month award. Burton was a game to remember in the disastrous Championship year with a shock 2-0 raid in Chris Coleman’s second game in charge when James Vaughan and George Honeyman were on target in the pouring rain. Inside the ground, especially in the standing section is very small with the gents being particularly cramped for space and that’s without mentioning the bar! Alcohol is served both pre match and at half time but a pint before is recommended at the nearby Beech Inn where there’s plenty seating both indoors and in the beer garden and car park if necessary where a burger van also parks on matchdays. With the clash falling towards the final furlong, it will be a crucial game and Burton are no side to be sneered at, ending up in ninth place under the guidance of Nigel Clough, the son of the legendary Brian.
Bury: Gigg Lane
Saturday 21st December
The last time we met the Shakers in a competitive capacity was in 2017 under Simon Grayson when George Honeyman scored the sole goal of the match to take us to the second round of the League Cup. Before that we opened the Grayson chapter with a trip to Gigg Lane, slipping 2-0 behind before an unlikely Jack Rodwell header got us back in the running, a second half brace from the then relatively unknown striker Josh Maja sealed a 3-2 pre-season win in Greater Manchester. The stadium itself is fairly accessible from the motorways despite it being buried in a housing estate, however parking isn’t an issue; by rail the closest you can get is Manchester Piccadilly or Manchester Victoria but the Metrolink does take you to the station of Bury which is a quarter of an hour walk to Gigg Lane. Away allocations usually stretch to about 2000 where fans are allocated the Cemetery End behind the goal where the view is decent but towards the rear of the stand there are pillars that can obstruct your view. If you fancy a few pre match beers, plenty of pubs are away fan friendly on Manchester Road which is a stone’s throw from the ground. Following relegation from League 1 in 2017/18, consecutive managers Lee Clarke and then Chris Lucketti were dismissed following terrible runs of form during this period. Nevertheless, under the leadership of former club frontman Ryan Lowe the Shakers stormed to promotion from League 2 with impressive runs of form throughout. Following his success with Bury, Lowe took up the challenge of Plymouth Argyle who were relegated to the fourth division last season leaving the Gigg Lane hotseat currently vacant. We travel the short trip across the M62 to kick off a frantic festive period which will see us undertake some challenging fixtures and test our fitness.
Coventry City: St. Andrew’s (Birmingham City)
Saturday 29th February
After battling years of financial trouble Coventry still cannot seem to move out of the red and has consequently led them to relocate their home fixtures, not for the first time, to another stadium. Usually playing at the Ricoh Arena, the Sky Blues will be hosting teams from Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s Stadium which is over 20 miles from their Judds Lane home. A bitter rivalry has formed between us and Coventry over the years, mainly down to one man: Jimmy Hill whose name is still a touchy subject, especially with some of the older fans who can remember the former Match of the Day host’s antics back in May 1977 which saw us relegated. Last campaign our trip to Coventry ended in a draw in front of a large following of about 5000, Lee Cattermole netted just inside the second half but Jonson Clarke-Harris levelled up soon after, Mark Robins’ men visited the SoL and took all three points back to the Midlands with a freak game resulting in a nine goal bonanza of 5-4. They will certainly be a tough team to travel to, finishing eighth and narrowly missing out on the play-offs last season, but with technically no home ground it’s a mystery how City will fare. As for St. Andrew’s there’s not an abundance of visiting supporters’ pubs around about with a just hotel just a couple of paces from the away end that offer indoor and outdoor seating for drinks but also the Cricketers Arms is a short distance from St. Andrew’s which welcomes travelling fans and is a decent bar. The last time we were at the stadium was back in the Coleman era which unsurprisingly ended with a loss, Bryan Oviedo bagging a late consolation in a 3-1 drubbing midweek. The away allocation is somewhat predictable of around 3000 the usual allocation we get for Birmingham away despite this, we may apply for extra considering the prestige some Sunderland fans hold this tie and our large following to the West Midlands last year for an early kick off on Sky. Again, parking for both cars and buses is in nearby car parks and in the stadium complex at a fee; trains into Birmingham New Street will mean a half hour walk uphill to the ground or a tenner in a taxi, there’s also a few boozers around the station too.