Tag Archives: Groundhopping

The ’92’ completed and future footballing goals

Last night, on a cold Tuesday night at Barnet, I completed the 92. For those of you who don’t have a clue, it means, I have now watched a game of football at all current 92 Football League grounds. (Until West Ham move to the Olympic Stadium next season, but I want to savour this moment until then!). You can call me sad, crazy, weird, up to you. But it was a personal feeling for me to have accomplished this feat.

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The Hive – The 92 in sight

Obviously it would be better to visit all 92 grounds with the Swans (I have been to 77 with the Swans*), but it’s almost impossible to do this with just 1 club. Some Portsmouth fans at Barnet yesterday were on 91, all with Portsmouth. The majority of clubs don’t go on massive rises and falls so quickly and teams like Arsenal and Everton never get relegated, so if you were a fan of these teams you would never complete it with 1 club.

*I also went to the ‘old’ grounds of Brighton, Chesterfield, Colchester & Rotherham with the Swans

Anyway. My first ever visit to one of the current 92 was on the 6th Spetember 2003 at Yeovil Town’s Huish Park, the Super Swans being their opponents that day. The home team won 2-0 on that occasion, but I remember it was sunny…… I was only 17 then (yes really) and I got the travelling ‘bug’ from then on.  At that stage I never even knew there was such a thing as ‘The 92’ and I had no other interest at the time to watch other random football games.

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Ah those were the days…..!

I’ve been lucky enough to witness the Swans rise from League 2 to the Premier League and was also lucky (or unlucky) to be able to go to the likes of Hartlepool, Carlisle and Blackpool. Places that are extremely difficult and very pricey to get to by train. It was only when the Swans got promoted to the Premier League back in 2011 that I started looking at how many grounds I had left and it was then I made the conscience decision to complete all the grounds. As back then I never used to miss any Swans matches, so playing on Sundays and Mondays would give me more opportunity to complete it.

During the time the Swans got promoted, the likes of Colchester, Brighton and Chesterfield had all had ‘new’ grounds, so I had to visit them. I had already been to Layer Road, the Withdean and Saltergate respectively.

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Fast forward 12 and a half years later and I was so close to achieving one of my (recent) life goals. This season I have been to Brighton, Oxford, Rotherham, Wimbledon and Fleetwood Town, so Barnet’s ‘The Hive’ was my elusive final ground to complete the set. Annoyingly (for me) Portsmouth, Barnet’s opponents, had the audacity to beat Ipswich in the FA Cup 3rd Round, meaning the game would be re-arranged for a midweek rather than be played on a Saturday.

On the weekend I spent a few days in Germany, where I watched 3 Bundesliga games, (so much better than the Premier League, but that’s a blog for another day) and as I like to do things weirdly, I travelled all the way from Heathrow to Swansea on the coach on the Monday, before heading back up to London again the day after. Long story, but never mind.

I had visited Barnet’s old ground Underhill back in March 2012, but a year later they decided to announce a change of stadiums and last season they got promoted back to the Football League.

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Me at Underhill, back in 2012, against Torquay (I haven’t changed a bit)

I arrived my usual early self at The Hive (Barnet’s nickname is the Bees – get it?) but waited for my Twitter friend Emily and her Dad (who both support Portsmouth) to arrive, I was glad to share the experience with people I know on this momentous – okay maybe too strong a word – occasion. They may not have been glad of my company though!

The Hive has a capacity of just over 5600 and is quite bland in all honesty, at least Underhill had a bit more of a (cliché alert) character about the place.

The game was in no way a classic, I really could not watch Barnet every week, they just tried to stop Portsmouth by fouling them at every opportunity. A typical Martin Allen team I suppose. Their goal came in a strange way too, Portsmouth’s throw-in got reversed to a Barnet throw by the referee as the Pompey player was not taking it from the correct place. The ball was thrown in long, a Barnet player was fouled in the box. Penalty. Ex Portsmouth player John Akinde – who was hopeless all night – scored.Barnet6

John Akinde scores the penalty

Portsmouth had all of the ball and all of the play, but failed to make the Barnet keeper work (sound familiar?), as well as simple passes going out of play. They are definitely one of the more frustrating teams to watch (This was my 5th Portsmouth game of the season). It finished 1-0 to Barnet in the end and boos echoed from the away end, but my personal feat had been achieved. Finally. Until August at least.

I can’t prove that I’ve been to all 92 and I probably don’t fit all of the criteria needed on the ‘official’ 92 club – yes there is really an official club – but I don’t care. (Apparently it still counts if you’ve not visited a team’s new ground!) I’ve seen a football game at all of the current 92 Football League grounds, some memorable ones and some I wish I didn’t remember at all (York 0-0 Carlisle for one!). Unfortunately I don’t have all of my tickets stubs either, back in the old days I just used to pay on the gate for a Swans away game. None of this online booking malarkey.

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Proof I went to Barnet at least

I will probably make myself sound old here, but I sort of wish I had a photo of me at all of the 92 grounds, but ‘back in my day’ there were no cameras on mobile phones, not many people really had digital cameras, just those wind along ones and Twitter was something only birds did. (I could always go back again to the grounds and do this I guess….)

I can now tick this off my bucket list, bur I need to find a new challenge. Getting a girlfriend could be up there (but do miracles happen?). Best to stick to a footballing one, if anyone has any ideas, let me know. I will achieve my other aim of seeing Wales play in a major tournament in June (WE QUALIFIED!). Watching a game in every UEFA Nation was suggested to me on Instagram. The UEFA 54? I’ve done 28 already, but it’s difficult to just pop over onto a plane to Kazakhstan! As well as watching a game on every Continent. I don’t think the Penguins have a team in Antarctica, so it would just be Africa left for me on that one.

At least it has given me more time to do other stuff. I quite fancy going to some intense Derbies. Celtic v Rangers, Partizan v Red Star Belgrade, Fenerbache v Galatasaray – though I do value my life somewhat.

Thanks for all of the well wishes on Twitter/Facebook, for some reason some of you have been just as excited as me. I’ll still have to go to any new grounds that get built and any newly promoted team from the Conference (please not Gateshead or Grimsby).

 

A trip to Guernsey

Most people spend their Valentine’s weekend in fancy restaurants, I am not most people so as the Swans were out of the FA Cup I went to Guernsey in the Channel Islands for a very random trip – with football included of course. There is a back story to why I chose Guernsey, during my trip to the World Cup in Brazil last year (Have I not mentioned it before?) I met a guy called Phill in the hostel in Brasilia. He is a Southampton fan who lives in Guernsey and it was a perfect opportunity to meet up, as I said I would visit one day – and I am a Man of my word.

These days I like to combine my travelling with a football game if I can. Guernsey FC have a team who play in the Ryman South, despite not actually being located in England. I’m sure you can think of a few other teams who are similar……

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St Peter Port, Guernsey

I caught a flight from Birmingham Airport on the Thursday after being in the city for the West Brom away game the day previous (I have told you before that my middle name is ‘organised’). After a short delay and a very bumpy landing on one of those propeller planes I had arrived. Phill was there to pick me up and I stayed with him and his parents in their lovely house right on the coast.

Exploring Guernsey

Friday was my day to explore the wonders of Guernsey, Guernsey is located inbetween France and the U.K. along with some other Islands in the Channel – Jersey, Alderney and Sark to name a few. They are a British Crown Dependency with their own Government, currency etc. A long history and wars with France and Spain in the past and they are the only British Territory to be occupied by Germany during the War. Many people think Guernsey part of Britian, but it isn’t. They are their own seperate Nation with a population of around 65,000 but part of the British Commonwealth.

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Castle Cornet

I caught a bus into the town centre, the journey only cost £1 – take note First Cymru! After the rain had subsided slightly I just went for a wander around the marina, took some photos and just went for a long walk for some more photos of breathtaking views as well as almost being blown over several times.

Guernsey on the whole I thought was an interesting place, I did notice some subtle differences to back home though. Most of the street signs are in French, but everyone speaks English. The pavements are almost non-existent and the roads are narrow, the Post Office boxes are blue and they have £1 notes instead of £1 coins. Which you are unable to spend over in the U.K. but it is possible to spend our money over in Guernsey.

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A blue Post Office Box

So Saturday approached and I thankfully noticed that the kick off time for the Guernsey game was 1pm (I’m sure I checked this before I left). Before the game Phill drove me to this very nice and Chapel, which is said to be the smallest functioning chapel in the World (according to Wikipedia) and is called ‘The Little Chapel’.  Just 16 foot by 9 foot (but has two floors). It is decorated by seashells, pebbles and broken China.

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The Little Chapel

Guernsey FC and football in the Channel Islands

Guernsey FC were only formed back in 2011 and became the first team from the Channel Islands to play Mainland Britain. (Jersey and Guernsey Rugby teams play in Britain too). They have won 2 promotions since starting out in the Combined Counties League Division One. They currently play in the Isthmian League Division One and to get there they had to play 16 games in 30 days (someone tell Sam Allardyce!). Last season they reached the Play Offs but lost to Leatherhead.

The Guernsey FA was established way back in 1893 and a few players from Guernsey have played in the top flight in England. Obviously Matt Le Tissier being the most famous (who is Guernsey’s club President). Guernsey do play football at the Island games every other year and have won it twice – beating Isle of Man and Ynys Môn (also known as Anglesey).

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More Guernsey coastline

Regarding Channel Island footballers, my favourite and maybe unknown fact is that any person born in the Channel Islands is eligible to play for any of the Home Nations that they choose (this is true, unlike when people say Januzaj could play for England when he couldn’t). The only two that have played Internationally are Graeme le Saux (from Jersey) and Matt Le Tissier.  There are three footballers born in the Channel Islands who play in the Football League at present (that I know of). Brett Pitman (AFC Bournemouth), Peter Vincenti (Rochdale) and James Hamon (Exeter). Whether they want to play for Wales is another matter though!

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Footes Lane

Guernsey play at Footes Lane, capacity of 5000, which they rent off the local Government. (The Guernsey Rugby team also play here) It has an Athletics track around the pitch and the ground has just one stand, they average crowds of around 800. Another reason why I wanted to watch Guernsey FC play, apart from trying to get up the ‘Football Hipster’ ladder is that Guernsey FC pay for all the opposition players and directors to travel over, as well as putting them up in a hotel. I am not sure how long they will be able to sustain that for. Not forgetting that they have to pay for their own players to go to the away games in England.

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Another ground to tick off (my 160th)

Guernsey don’t pay their players and are one of only two amateur teams in the Ryman South. Burgess Hill Town are currently top of the league, also in the league are South Park, Corinthian Casuals and my favourite named team – Three Bridges. Before the game I met up with Nick Legg,  Guernsey FC’s Communication Manager, who wanted to take Phill and I’s photo. Apparently it will be in the next programme (fame at last!).

Guernsey’s opponents were Horsham FC, which ironically I had seen play twice before. In the 2007/08 season Swansea were drawn away to them in the FA Cup 2nd round. We drew 1-1 away on a wet and muddy Friday night and then beat them 6-2 in the replay. (Horsham have the accolade of being our first ever FA Cup opponents at the Liberty Stadium). I spoke to one Horsham fan in the club house before the game who had been to both of those games, he only had nice things to say about the Liberty. I ‘Havant’ got a clue who knocked us out of the next round that season though (sorry!).

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Phill (@Phill_Loveridge) and I

Horsham brought around 50 away fans to Guernsey, including one from Malaga. (I was disappointed I hadn’t travelled the furthest). Personally if Guernsey were in our league, I would think it would be the most appealing to travelling fans. And from what I was told, Horsham brought the biggest following of away fans to Footes Lane so far this season.

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The matchday programme

Horsham were bottom of the league, but after appointing two people to become a joint management team (yes that’s right TWO people!). They have been on a recent resurgence.

The Game

I’m not very good at writing match reports and I find it even more difficult when I don’t really know who is who. Guernsey did score through Mark McGrath- after just 15 seconds – his 20th goal of the season with a shot from outside the area. Roary the Lion was entertaining the crowd and did accidentally slipped whilst jumping the hoardings – much to the amusement of the Green Lions faithful. There weren’t that many chances in the first half and Guernsey were 1-0 up at half time and looked comfortable.

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McGrath scores for Guernsey

The 2nd half started in almost the same fashion as the first, with Guernsey going 2-0 up through Dave Rihoy on the 50 minute mark. I was getting more amused with the home fans getting annoyed with the officials. No matter what level you are at, it’s always the same. Though ‘You must’ve come on the same plane’ rarely gets said at Non League matches I would guess.

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Horsham’s away following

Personally I didn’t think the officials did much wrong, sad as I am in this regard I did notice that the assistants switched sides in the 2nd half. But I don’t think any others noticed as the 2nd half assistant on the stand side was getting grief for things his colleague had done in the 1st!

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Roary the Lion

A few half chances for both teams before Horsham had a glimmer of hope when they were awarded a penalty a few minutes from the end. A silly challenge from the keeper (Chris Tardif, ex Portsmouth) as the player was going away from goal, they duly scored. About 2 minutes after this though, Horsham were denied what looked like a clear penalty. Everyone around me were saying they were lucky to get away with that one.

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Tony Nwachukwu scores for Horsham from the penalty spot

The final score was 2-1 to Guernsey and that win moved them up to 10th in the table,  10 points off the Play Offs positions with 11 games to go, so a tough ask but I hope they can do it. Guernsey FC are now my adopted non league club and I do like the colour green!

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Channeling my thoughts

I’d like to thank Phill and his parents for putting me up, I do really appreciate the hospitality. I would urge any groundhoppers to go and watch Guernsey if they can, the boat takes 7 hours from Portsmouth if that’s your kind of thing! Everyone was really friendly and it’s a little bit different in the sense that it is not in the U.K. I’d love to see them get as high as they can, but it will be very difficult. Seeing them in the Conference one day would be a great achievement.

Visting Guernsey has made me want to visit the other islands in the Channel, so hopefully one day I will be able to go back. Now anyone want some £1 notes……?