There was a bang at the front door. Urgently I rushed to see what the commotion was. When I got there the garden gate was swinging on its hinges but there was nobody to be seen. At my feet lay a parcel, my name attached to it. So I picked it up and went back indoors. Like a child at christmas I ripped at the brown outer layer. The piece of parchment telling me that my sister and her no good husband had been killed was cast asunder. Any thoughts of bringing up an infant ignored, wizard or not. And there it was. My baby. A love child. It could well have been the result of a drunken one night stand between a Lonely Planet guidebook and a football ground guide. I was now the proud owner of British Football’s Greatest Grounds.
I began to itch as I leafed my way through the grounds documented between the covers. My desire to travel, my desire to attend a football match both gnawing away at me. Covid-19 taking on the guise of Borat, “you will never get this, you will never get this la la la la la.” I had to remind myself that just as in Borat’s story my enforced travel and football abstinence would not be forever. “But one day he get this, we all laugh. High five.”
Mike Bayly’s book looks at one-hundred must see football venues. Covering England, Scotland and Wales, the usual suspects are here as well as the hidden gems. Without too many spoilers the first two listed grounds are polar opposites in many ways. Tottenham Hotspur’s brand spanking new state of the art stadium is separated from the enchantingly named Ewe Camp, home of Northend Thistle FC, by a side of paper. The beautiful game tagline runs deeper than just what occurs on the field of play.
Seed after seed was planted. “I’ve got to go there when I can,” became the catchphrase of my inner-monologue that nobody asked for. By the time I closed the back cover I had planted an entire orchard worth of football grounds on my hit list. Internally as I read about each ground I was processing the journey I would need to take to visit it. Day trips, overnight trips, weekends away. That list soon found its way on to paper, the genesis of a ground hopper’s wet dream. The next step will be to map out other activities that are available in the surrounding area of each ground. The planets that will revolve around the sun, in this case watching a football match at each stadium.
When it comes to grounds visited I have been to some weird and wonderful places but I haven’t actually ticked off that many. So I was surprised to realise I have frequented 17 of the 100. My mission, should I choose to accept it (oh go on then) is to work my way around the remaining 83. British Football’s Greatest Grounds will be the Bradshaw’s guide to my Michael Portillo although I cannot promise such lively attire on my travels. Salmon trousers have never been my strong point.
Some of the grounds within the book piqued my interest more than others. A pilgrimage to 83 stadiums across three countries will take some serious planning and realistically stretch across a number of years. With that in mind there are some that I want to ensure I visit sooner than others. There’s no favouritism here. Not. Another Borat quote, I apologise. Each comes with a unique selling point that found me unable to resist adding them to the sharp end of my ground hopping bucket list.
British Football’s Greatest Grounds is a must read for anyone with even the slightest interest in the places where football is played. While it could be considered a coffee table book, for me it was a page turner, engrossing me with fantastic photography of the featured grounds, hand in hand with the story of each venue. Like a holy text I handled it with great care on my first go around. I feel much like the village bike, my copy will become very well fingered over the years as it becomes an integral part of not only my football attending life, but also my travelling one.