With the season fast approaching 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 three of three…
Portsmouth: Fratton Park
Saturday 1st February
Certainly, a ground we have become familiar with over the last season with two trips to Hampshire for Jack Ross’ men in the 2018/19 campaign. The first trip was a disastrous 3-1 defeat despite being on top for the first half but Glenn Loovens’ dismissal just two minutes into the second completely flipped the match on its head. Gareth Evans converted from the spot before Ronan Curtis doubled Pompey’s advantage against our ten men; Luke O’Nien pulled one back but Ben Thompson netted to ensure all the points would stay in Hampshire for the then league leaders. The second visit to Fratton Park was the unforgettable 0-0 draw with Kenny Jackett’s men which saw the lads get to the play-off final at Wembley following a 1-0 win at the SoL in the first leg. Jon McLaughlin was called into action a few times, including a super stop from former Black Cat James Vaughan; Luke O’Nien was pushed into the home end when one of the charming regulars looked to have put a boot in. The allocation usually sees the full stand behind the goal which accommodates 3000 fans which we sold out on the pre-Christmas fixture but only 1500 made the tiresome journey for the play-off semi-final but admittedly it was a Thursday evening arrangement. Pubs for the away fans aren’t very plentiful around the stadium with The Good Companion which welcomes away fans, a quarter of an hours walk you’ll get to a Wetherspoon’s which is usually home fans only but you can get in wearing no colours, there’s also a Harvester nearby which welcomes travelling fans. Train travel to Pompey is often nearly as long as driving with a change needed in London and the tube over to Waterloo, which serves Fratton train station, a five minute walk from the football, it’s also served by Eastleigh trains which connect to Southampton Airport Parkway station for those flying down to the South Coast. The ground is a fairly old stadium which from the concourse has a view of a rather urban back lane, what more can be expected from a stadium in a fairly bland area.
Tuesday 20th August
A fairly short trip across the M62 to Greater Manchester is a must for those who aren’t too keen on travelling, taking just over two hours on the ALS coach. Last season saw late drama at the Crown Oil Stadium with George Honeyman’s last gasp winner sealing all three points following Charlie Wyke’s equaliser of Ian Henderson’s first half finish. This time a Tuesday night, we are still expected to sell out our allotment of 4000 tickets like last season, providing we get the same amount. A nice short trip and a decent opportunity to build up BCPs for those who haven’t got many. Spotland is about a half hour walk to the train station, which is served by trains from Manchester Victoria and Leeds, this is also one of the best bets for a pub too with the Flying Horse being the establishment I went to last season and would certainly recommend it. There are a couple of pubs around the ground called Cemetery Hotel which is welcoming to travelling fans but also the Studs & Ratcliffe, Arms however with such a big allocation these will fill up easily, a taxi to the town will only set you back a few quid though. You can also catch the Metrolink to Rochdale Interchange, which is a 20-minute walk to Spotland, and trams are more frequent from Manchester City centre than the trains. Fans are based in two stands along the side of the pitch, opposite the main stand and behind the goal, both with a decent view. Certainly, a game to get to this season, especially with the large allocation and the comfortable journey across to the North West.
Rotherham United: New York Stadium
Sunday 3rd May
We finish our campaign in South Yorkshire, hopefully as champions, but let’s not speak too soon. A newish ground which I’ve been to once in pre-season when Fabio Borini and trialist Charles N’Zogbia were on target to seal a 2-1 victory for Robbie Stockdale’s men with incoming boss David Moyes in the stand. The last time the two sides met competitively was way back in 2005 at the Stadium of Light in the Championship under Mick McCarthy when Dean Whitehead and Gary Breen scored with headers as well as a Sean Thornton brace with thunderbolts of free kicks. The last trip to Rotherham in that season was a 1-0 victory at Millmoor, which you can still see the remains of on your way in from the motorway, with Dean Whitehead striking past Mike Pollitt and keeping Rotherham grounded to the foot of the table. The Millers were relegated last season and have been somewhat of a yoyo club between the two divisions since Paul Warne succeeded Neil Warnock as Rotherham manger in 2016. Behind the goal in the Mears Stand are the away supporters who are usually given an allocation of 2,500 tickets where there’s a decent view of the pitch in a fairly modern ground, outside there is a bar on the riverbank which will be canny for the nice weather we’ll hopefully have in May. There’s parking for cars in nearby streets and buses park in an area just outside the away end, if you travel by train then Rotherham Central is a five minute walk to the New York and is served by trains from Doncaster and Leeds. Pubs for away fans are in abundance as the town centre is just a short walk from the ground, including a Wetherspoon’s called The Rhinoceros as well as plenty other bars. It’ll be a nice awayday to end the season on, but the Millers will be expecting to bounce straight back so hopefully we’ll not need a result from the game.
Shrewsbury Town: New Meadow (Montgomery Water Meadow)
Saturday 26th October
A decent little ground and a reasonably new stadium, last season’s trip to Shropshire was fruitful with a 2-0 victory thanks to an Omar Beckles own goal just before the hour mark before substitute Luke O’Nien secured the victory and topped off a decent day. New Meadow is a fair distance out of the town centre so a cab fare is needed to get there and will set you back just shy of a tenner, there’s a couple of Wetherspoons and Yates’ near the train station which welcome away fans, transport back to the ground isn’t easy as taxis seemed non-existent last year, a matchday bus runs from the small bus station near the rail station, which is only a couple of quid for a single or return. By train a change is required at Manchester Piccadilly and takes a while but is certainly quicker than by road. Around the ground is a pub called The Wild Pig which allows away supporters and across the road from that is a highly recommended chippy but I, personally, haven’t been before, although the pub is often converted to home fans only after a certain time on high profiled fixtures for them. About ten minutes walk away is the Charles Darwin which always lets away fans in but again I haven’t been to that particular pub and opted for the taxi into the town; there is also a fan zone which allows away supporters before the game. As for the allocation, it was around 1800 last term and tickets went sharpish so it may be another for those with a decent amount of BCPs.
Southend United: Roots Hall
Saturday 28th March
A rather disappointing finale to last campaign with a 2-1 defeat in Essex in what we hoped would be a promotion party, John White and Stephen Humphreys’ late strike kept the Shrimpers in League 1 by the skin of their teeth, Chris Maguire struck from the penalty spot to grab an equaliser but proved worthless. There’s a few pubs but most are primarily home fans for away fans which are a short walk from Roots Hall and those are The Blue Boar and The Spread Eagle which is a Toby Carvery which is a longer walk to the ground but tends to be less busy, there are a few chip shops and takeaways kicking about too. Trains to Southend Central are frequent from London Fenchurch Street, close to Tower Hill, but it’s a half hour walk to the stadium, but the bus station is near, the closest rail station to the ground is Prittlewell which is frequented by trains from London Liverpool Street. Inside Roots Hall, pillars obstruct the view from some seats but it’s nothing too bad, allocations usually stretch up to 2000 but last season despite selling out, there were plenty of empty seats, left vacant by those who rendered it pointless as we couldn’t get promoted and was seen by some as meaningless. Not one of my personal favourites from last season but still definitely not the worst, quite a journey away but I shouldn’t see it going past the low levels of BCPs. It could be a crucial game in the final few matches of the season with only five games following the clash in Essex.
Tranmere Rovers: Prenton Park
Tuesday 28th January
A new ground for me and a nice trip across to Birkenhead, Merseyside, the last time we travelled here was way back in 1998 in the Championship when Peter Reid’s men were defeated 1-0 by Rovers at Prenton Park. When we make the trip, we are expected to receive at least 2,500 tickets but that allocation could be extended if needed, we’ll be located in the Cowshed Stand where there’s apparently a decent view for visiting supporters. Outside the ground and main stand, there is an all club fan zone which you can enjoy a drink in, a Flaming Grill pub is a stone throw away called the Birch Tree as well as the Prenton Park Hotel which is a recommended location for travelling fans. Train travel means a fifteen minute walk from either Birkenhead Central or Rock Ferry which are both served by Liverpool Lime Street services and there are buses that run regularly from the stations to the ground. There is apparently plenty car and coach parking available close to the ground and is readily accessible. There should be plenty opportunity for those who haven’t been to many games as it’s about at the halfway point.
Wycombe Wanderers: Adams Park
Saturday 19th October
One of the dirtiest teams in this division, Wycombe is one of the duller places and one of the poorer away games of last season. Located in the Dreams Stand behind the goal and a small section of the Main Stand, travelling supporters get a decent view of the game even if football may not be the sport if we go off last season’s show. Last year there was a marquee outside which served drink and a few burger vans as well as the Scores Bar and Vere Suit inside the ground which charges a small fee for supporters. The closest and near enough only pub around the ground is the Hourglass which is around a 15 minute walk from Adams Park, there is a chippy across the road which is supposedly alright. High Wycombe is served by trains from primarily London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street but is a fair distance from the ground, so a taxi or local bus is recommended. Adams Park is on an industrial estate so parking is rather scarce but shouldn’t be a problem if you get there quick enough; buses park in a segregated area but still have to battle the chaotic traffic at the full-time whistle. Last season’s encounter ended in a one all draw with Alex Samuel giving the Chairboys the lead despite being lucky to remain on the pitch, following the fourth official indicating double figures of injury after a scrappy match, Duncan Watmore came off the bench to level it up and get a deserved point for the lads. In the dying few minutes of the game there were three dismissals after a huge fracas seeing Marcus Bean and George Honeyman seeing a straight red then a couple of minutes later Wanderers frontman Nathan Tyson was given his marching orders.