There’s a well-known song – I think it was by Frank Sinatra, but it may have been Sid Vicious – that includes the line “Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…”
Well I’ve got three regrets I’d like to mention. Because much as it satisfies me to once again complete my ’92’, I can’t help but spare a thought for the ones that got away. By that I mean those classic Football League grounds that for one reason or another I never got to visit before they shut up shop and were consigned into history.
The first of the three was Scunthorpe United’s Old Showground. I was on my way there as long ago as 1976, and even got as far as the end of our street when my trusty old Mini suddenly turned untrustworthy and ground to a halt. There was something badly wrong with the engine, a problem that came back to haunt me on my way to London for a New Year’s Eve bash a couple of weeks later. So no Old Showground. The second was Bristol Rovers’ Eastville Stadium, which closed for football in 1986. During those years when I followed Forest far and wide, I can’t recall them ever playing at Eastville. I drove past the ground a fair few times in the early 1990s when it was gradually being eaten up by a voraciously hungry trading estate, and eventually just a token floodlight pylon was left standing. Even that has now disappeared.
The last of the three was Newport County’s Somerton Park. I had an offer of a lift there in April 1988 when Wolves were playing them in the old Fourth Division. I’d been working in the Black Country and had travelled to a fair few Wolves away fixtures, but for some reason on this occasion I declined the invitation. Less than a year later Newport County FC went belly-up and Somerton Park was to host no more footy. Doh!
Now that the club is reincarnated and playing back in Newport again, it’s taken me a while to catch up with their latest home, the Rodney Parade stadium primarily operated by the local rugby club. With my Senior Railcard still a couple of weeks away, what cheaper way to travel down to the Welsh city from my East Midlands base than by a supporters coach and as luck would have it, Burton Albion are playing there this very weekend. I’ve been on a few away-days with Burton Albion over the years, especially when they were in the Conference, so it’s like old times when I park up at the Pirelli Stadium and take my allocated seat on the coach. Unfortunately this is right next to the local ruffian whose general banter is liberally interspersed with the F word, and I see little point in trying to maintain a sensible dialogue. I AM impressed, though, when he tells me he is banned from his local pub’s away travel coach for fighting at Notts County a few seasons ago. Impressed in that I didn’t realise there was anybody to fight with at Notts County!
I keep him at arm’s length by feigning sleep for most of a tedious 3-hour journey, as we are beset by Bank Holiday weekend traffic problems and manage to arrive at Rodney Parade with barely 15 minutes to go until kick-off – so theres no chance to check out the local hostelries. The away turnstiles are behind the South End, an area of uncovered seating usually given to away fans, but today we are situated at one end of the impressive Bisley Stand, where apparently there is a bar at the top, although I don’t venture up there. Inside the turnstiles there is a good snack hut, which is selling cheese pies and cheese & onion crusty baguettes. I decide to sample both! Opposite the Bisley Stand is the older, two-tier Hazell Stand where the locals congregate, as they also do on the Town End terrace at the opposite end to the South End.
As we arrive a group of parachutists are doing their best to spook the police horses by swooping in low over the pitch in a demonstration of formation landing, and we also get a military marching band at half time. And that’s about as far as it goes in terms of entertainment as both teams serve up a dirge of a game where very little good football is played, although the home team do their best to liven things up by giving their right winger plenty of ammunition. True to form little comes of it. Newport’s first half strike is an own goal, while Albion’s equaliser comes after County fail to clear a corner. There’s a golden late chance for Burton to snatch an undeserved winner but the ball strikes the post.
So that’s my 92 up-to-date again, out of a current total of 569 football stadia, with not a roped-off park pitch amongst them (well, maybe Civil Service strollers, but they ARE a special case!) And regrets? Well, I’ve had a few, but then again, well worth mentioning…
Programme: Wow. More impressive than some Premier League efforts, and more expensive too, at £3.50. A glossy, weighty tome of some 100+ pages. Well researched and presented.
Floodlight pylons: 5 on poles on the Hazell Stand side plus 4 on the roof of the Bisley Stand
Birdlife: All scared off by the Red Devils parachute team
Club shop: No time to check this out
Toilets: Underneath the Bisley stand
Music the Players Run out to: They were playing the theme from the Liquidator at the start of the second half, but as the home fans didn’t sing along with the music (unlike at Stamford Bridge) I’m guessing this was incidental
Kop Choir: a small vocal contingent in the standing area of the Hazell stand, complete with a drummer.
Away Support: Must have been around 250 Burton fans at the game, with a noisy group within
What’s in a name: Newport’s Kevin ‘Touchy’ Feely. Presumably County’s Christian Jolley is the joker of the bunch