As an Aston Villa fan I have been exposed to most of these emotions already. Throwing away seemingly unconquerable leads, winning when it appears the least likely and the pleasure of relegating bitter rivals (take note Birmingham and Coventry). I have been extremely fortunate to visit many football grounds along the way, and here follows a detailed look back at what I thought of them. I make no apologies for my honesty and I do not pretend to have been everywhere, so enjoy.
In an attempt to offend as many people as possible in some logical order, I have listed clubs alphabetically:
Arsenal F.C. - The Emirates Stadium:
Aston Villa - Villa Park
I pondered whether to review my own teams ground. But I have been enough times to give an accurate appraisal, despite my obvious bias, here is my take. What is good? It is modern, easy to get to and of late the atmosphere is back. For a few years the club lost its way, attendances were wobbly and the atmosphere went with it. Now though, it is much better, and on its day it is back up there. Whilst a modern ground, Villa Park has suffered at the hands of the developers. No one architectural style means 4 very different stands, and some partial filling in of the corners, which I'm not a fan of. The Holte End and new Trinity Road stands are superb in their own right visually and for viewing football.
Barcelona - Nou Camp
I will keep this short because this could turn into a long romantic piece solely on this fine stadium. My personal favourite. Architecturally, in a city full of it, it stands out. It is massive, bold and a just wonderful arena for seeing a match in. The home crowd love their team, the atmosphere is great, you will not be disappointed. This is how Manchester United must wish their stadium looks and how the city that surrounds it is. The Nou Camp is more than a treat, it is a true footballing orgasm.
Birmingham City - St. Andrews:
I will put down my bitter rivals hat for one second to review St. Andrews. Well, perhaps. It was very very run down until recently when they rebuilt one of the stands, but it is fair to say that this is was one of the Premierships most sub standard of stadia until they were relegated. It is a bit of a mish mash of architectural styles also from the outside and sits atop a hill in Birmingham (the stylish Bull Ring in the distance). It is not as easy on the eye as the Emirates shall we shall. Inside for you can get a good atmosphere, and it certainly holds a character in terms of football viewing of the past. However, if you are going to make a special trip as a footballing experience it is certainly best avoided. Plagued by mixed attendances and no under soil heating also make for additional reasons not to go.
Blackburn Rovers - Ewood Park
Image by shawdm via Flickr
I think the picture just about sums up Ewood Park. Empty. It seems like this team just cannot do anything to attract supporters. Not that as a club they really do do anything of note I suppose. What is there to say about this ground? If it were a woman it would be a 5 out of ten. You would go there one night, probably regret it and end up going just once more by accident. I was once told (when waiting to go inside), when leaning on a wall minding my own business, not to lean on the aforementioned wall as it was private property. That steward got to see my "utter disbelief" face. I don't mind Blackburn as a club, not for one second, but this place has genuinely zero atmosphere, ever. It is like all excitement is left at the turnstiles upon entering and it is quite how I imagine watching football would be if I were deaf. This is certainly one of the least memorable places any away fan can find themselves at.
Bolton Wanderers - Reebok Stadium
Now Bolton genuinely is always overcast and drizzling. Which is a first negative but having been here on two or three occasions I have to say its a great little modern stadium. Like the picture shows it has a cool modern build which does appeal to me. In terms of watching football, great clear views which you would expect from such a new build, so good in that respect. Additionally it has been built amongst a retail development, this is a bit crap on the one hand in terms of the tackiness, but it is a doddle to find and park at. Most football grounds are an utter pain for driving convenience, even for home fans. However, Bolton as all football fans will know has issues with varying attendances which can make for little or no atmosphere at all from the home team. Additionally, and I'm not sure if they still do this, when they score people run up and down with flags. It has a real Phoenix Club feel about it. All in all though, if you want to go and watch your team this is a peace of cake trip in a decent stadium.
Bradford City - Valley Parade
I was struggling in terms of a description for this ground. It is a place I associate with overc
Burnley - Turf Moor
Image by The Killer Biscuit via Flickr
I'm not bitter, they turned the Villa over in the cup a couple of years ago. We were abysmal. What I do remember, other than parking on a cricket pitch (random) was that this was a top notch away trip. The kind of ground that I would happily go to over probably ten others in the Premiership right now. It has escaped the standard out of town shopping centre build that many others have fallen into, it is a proper football ground. Atmosphere, passionate, loud, intimidating at times. I liked it a lot. A lot of Premier league teams seem to have played Burnley lately and not fared all that well. Tottenham, you know how lucky you were. I know why, because there are no prawn sandwiches here, no seat warmers and the away dressing room showers probably only serve icy showers. This is a great ground that is well worth going to as there are not many left. I tip my claret and blue hat to this fellow football league founding club.
Charlton Athletic - The Valley
Image by foshie via Flickr
Having heard horror stories in terms of how to get to, find and park at this place I had avoided it for ages. Turns out the stories are true, it is a pain beyond pains for an away fan. Plan your journey with military precision and plan it some more. In terms of a ground it is decent enough. Again it is one of the partially redeveloped types, and is set as many older grounds are in the middle of random residentialness. It is not one to make a special trip for by any means, has no redeeming features and nothing memorable in terms of atmosphere. Having read that back this is a borderline avoid.
Crystal Palace - Selhurst Park
Image by flierfy via Flickr
Wow wow wow. That's all I can say. This place is beyond bad. It transcends "shitty stadium" and enters the realms of utter sty. I was looking down at my review of Goodison Park (dump) and maybe was too harsh, because Selhurst Park is an absolute disgrace of a ground. Put it this way, it is ugly, cramped, overpriced - a genuine irony considering the team has the word "Palace" in its name and the architectural wonder associated to the Victorian era. I cannot understand why anyone in control of this place has the nerve to open it and charge money - football included! Something else I remember is how dirty the inside of this place was, and for an English ground that is rare now. This place is ugly in looks and filthy. You will genuinely feel like you have been robbed of your money when you take your seat, and will be counting down the minutes until you can leave with 3 points. This is one place not even to notch us as "I've been there", hopefully if fewer people go then it will fall back into the fiery pit it came from.
Derby County - Pride Park
Image by cowrin via Flickr
Home to the team that recorded the lowest points tally in Premier League history. Still they attract more through the doors than Blackburn, presumably because you are guaranteed goals in some form. Joking aside, a decent stadium that fell out of the same mould that made the likes of St Marys (Southampton) or The Reebok (Bolton). This is another of those odd ones where you find yourself in a retail park kind of scenario. Furthermore there are some strange parking arrangements here. Meaning, you park miles away and are led on a labyrinth style trek of canal, meadow and river trails to reach the ground. Most odd. It isn't an amazing ground by any stretch, but you get good clear views and the local youfs tend to turn out and yell things from their corner.
Espanyol - Estadi Olympic
First of all I must confess to not having seen a game at this stadium - I visited purely out of interest as a football fan with an underlying interest in architecture. Built for the Olympic Games this is a fine stadium, housing Barcelona's bitter local rivals. Outside it is tidy, bold and crisp. It looks the business shall we say. Inside is as impressive, a sweeping bowl - but note the distance from the pitch. Being from England it would annoy me being so far back from the action, but the arena is a spectacle in itself, perhaps making up for that. Something I remember from my trip was standing and pointing up at a caged area and a local remarking; "Oh that's where they put the away fans to keep them safe". Oh right.
Everton - Goodison Park
Time for controversial corner. This place is often quite romantically talked about in the media, like Anfield is. I find this place an utter utter dump of a stadium. This is a great shame because this is a founder member club, and the sheer squalor of this ground is beyond belief. You get a decent atmosphere here, and that is the only redeeming feature. Let me list the negatives. Various restricted views, pillars everywhere. 21st century. Wooden seats, are they still there? 21st century. Toilets/troughs. 21st century. Local area, "oh my god, please don't stab me or steal my shoes." And Villa park is in Aston so I know what an utter shit hole of an area is, Goodison Park...well it's lucky nobody has stolen the sign. I say again, it's a true shame and I feel sorry for the home fans who must travel to other much smaller clubs with zero history and wonder why they can't just flatten the place and have something that resembles a stadium. And that's not to say you have to rip out the passion and build an Emirates or a Reebok, just something that isn't so downtrodden and frankly awful. I can honestly say that if you go to see your team here, you will be shocked at how poor a ground this is for a game of Premiership football to be hosted, and I've been to St. Andrews.
- AOL Arena/Nordbank
This stadium is good, very very good. It looks magnificent, it is beautiful outside and inside the views are superb and you feel close to everything. Built for the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, it is another example of quality stadiums built with ease in other countries. For atmosphere also it was superb, 50,000 locals who were very loud indeed. I also think the design of the stadium keeps the noise in, and it really adds to the game. This stadium is located well outside of the city however and is a fair distance, at least 40 minutes travel from the centre. Should you get the opportunity to go here it is a fine trip, and Hamburg itself is certainly a place I would re-visit.
Ipswich Town - Portman Road
This ground is like Wolves' Molineux. Except that to get here you drive for hours through the featureless landscape. I've been here a few times, it is a pretty standard away trip, nothing memorable. And that is kind of the problem here, I have no reason to say this is one you must go to. Atmosphere, not really. Amazing ground...not that either. In fact...it is all a bit dull really. Oh that's it, they love singing about how much they love Norwich City. Don't go out of your way to make this one.
Leicester City - Walkers Bowl (Stadium)
Image by diebmx via Flickr
Walkers Crisps, that is the name of the stadium. It was called the Bowl for a bit, as in a bowl of crisps. It is truly crap beyond belief to sell the naming rights to a junk food supplier. However, funny name aside, not a bad ground. Easy to get to, modern, no complaints there. Take note Everton. Good clean views. Take note Everton. Home support is decent [take note Newcastle], and you do get a good noise inside, perhaps as a result of some amazing architectural acoustic qualities I'm too inept to identify. Maybe its because more than a few people sing. It is worth going here, if only for the snacks.
Leeds United - Elland Road
Shaped like Molineux's bigger better brother, this is a classic ground. It might not look pretty, but it serves a purpose, football. Now I must confess to not having been for a couple of seasons but this was one of my favourite trips. Big old classic club, decent journey, proper football ground. Make no mistake there is room for improvement, but relegation obviously puts things like that on hold. This is definitely a trip worth making. I'd go here over Old Trafford. The locals may sound a little odd, hell, some of them even look strange, but they care about their team. A good trip to do.
Liverpool - Anfield
Look at the image, romantic is it not? People question in the media; Why would Liverpool want to leave here? Anyone who has been there will no why. Despite their successes on the pitch in the past, of all the big clubs, this must be one of the worst football grounds of the lot. It is so below par it is genuinely unbelievable, and it is of no surprise how desperate the club is to leave its long time home. It is a complete lie if any Liverpool fan is to tell you that this is a great stadium - it is not - The Emirates is impressive, Eastlands surpasses it with ease. The local area is literally street after street of boarded up houses. If you were to be dropped here by surprise you would assume one of two things, a nuclear bomb has gone off here a long time ago or it was an uninhabited paintball park. I am probably talking favourably of the area, it is so run down, if you thought slum housing was gone from Britain you need only go here. I often wonder on European nights at this stadium what visiting fans from other countries must think of our nation? They must depart genuinely believing we all live in such squalor. And the next thing, Liverpool does not have a great atmosphere - this is a myth, and one I wouldn't have believed had I not been there a few times myself. It is eerily quiet, and having chatted to numourous away fans about this its amazing how many are in agreement. To conclude: If you want to go watch your football there are far better places to do it!
Manchester City - Eastlands
Image by Coradia1000 via Flickr
Built for the commonwealth games held in Manchester a few years back this is a very very impression stadium, there is no doubt about it. Holding around 50,000, though rarely full, it is still very impressive to the eye and whilst Manchester United would never admit it, with a slightly higher capacity they would have snapped the hands off anyone offering it. I have been fortunate to go here a couple of times, and whilst at first it lacked any character in terms of the home teams colours etc, moves have been made to make it more personal. It is a great place to watch football, with I recall a decent atmosphere. The sweeping bowl offers great views
Image by guitarfish via Flickrwithout being too far away from the action and is honestly impressive. There are few grounds where I go (as you may gather from these reviews) that I wouldn't mind Villa Park looking like, but in terms of a stadium that is fitting for the spectacle of football this is certainly one. Architecturally inside it reminds me of the Nou Camp, just minus the top tier, and the designers clearly drew some tips for the circular columns on the outside edges of the ground from the San Siro. Not bad points of reference for any stadium really. Drawbacks, this place is out of the way, built in and around nothingness. It is on the edge of what isn't the most desirable of residential areas, I'd go as far as to say that it was a bit of a hairy walk. Other landmarks are also rather dull; Asda and some fast food places. This ground also wins the award for strangest free standing art outside its gates, which is a continuing health and safety headache I believe. Well worth the visit.
Manchester United - Old Trafford
Old Trafford is a funny old place. For all the success on the pitch it doesn't necessarily translate into a great stadium with a great atmosphere. I'll make my comparison to Barcelona's Nou Camp - a massively impressive visual spectacle that imprints upon your mind forever - just walking up to it gets your heart beating. And inside, it is breathtaking. And they are one of the worlds elite. Man United are as successful on the domestic and world stage but the stadium certainly does not have the wow factor. It is a classic example of stage by stage redevelopment to increase of capacity, that gives it a strange shape. As I have mentioned in other ground reviews it doesn't endear itself to the eye, adds little to character and is something that we saw a lot of in the 90's at English football grounds. An instantly noticeable problem for atmosphere is one suffered also by Arsenal; daytrippers. People who have no association with the club other than being able to name their favourite player or pulling on the shirt that morning. The noise is limited therefore, and what is made are often lifeless sounds that the 5 year old on his first visit can sing. It is a shame, because you talk to older people who remember going here and they loved it for the noise and passion. It has the feel of a shopping mall inside, you know...that sound of light chatter and lattes being sipped. As an away fan you can also be expected to be frisked 3 times before you get in by lines of tangomen and Police (stewards for the non football versed). Not that I think anyone has an issue with security but this doesn't happen at any other ground, or at the home supporters ends. I think it is fair to say that you imagine it will be a major stadium, but it is a big let down on what you might expect.
Middlesbrough - The Riverside
One of the many "build an identikit" stadiums to pop up in the 90's the Riverside lacks quite a bit. Rarely full, it has the feel of "oh shall we pop in if we remember there's a game on" kind of atmosphere from the home fans. In short it is a pretty lifeless place, which frequently has me shaking my head at how such an invariably supported team must motivate itself to give a crap about the way it plays. Perhaps that is why 'boro are so unpredictable! So, the atmosphere is not worth making the trip for. And the stadium is pretty standard Pride Park / St. Mary's build. Positives? If your team travels with a few thousand, and most Premier league teams do, you can make this ground very much your own for 90 minutes. You can out-sing the home hardcore followers of Burberry clad Burger King employees. And there is always something amusing about watching the highlights that night and it being clear for all to see that the only empty seats were the home stands. So, in summation; a peculiar away trip but one worth doing I think. Oh and your pounds will go further in Middlesbrough.
Newcastle United - St. James Park
Image by TGIGreeny via Flickr
If there was a bigger myth in terms of stadium grandeur and atmosphere then it is here! The picture is a good insight for those that have never been. Only a fraction of the ground is redeveloped! This is the only side you ever see on TV, Fifa games etc etc - this is no San Siro, no Nou Camp - not a patch. You are miles from the pitch, and at times the sheer nature of the near vertical build is nauseating. And, its 400 million stairs to the top, if you survive the trek. It is intended to be impressive but you sit in an oversized stand, miles from the action and it completely ruins any spectacle that the game may produce. Plus you have to look at the rest of the ground which reflects the club, small and mediocre (history?? = none). And that's the other problem, no atmosphere here because what is there to celebrate, what has there ever been? It is a shame. It is worth going just to get to the top and go "oh"...it really is quite bizarre when they could have just built something normal, because it was intended to be impressive and is just plain idiotic.
Norwich City - Carrow Road
Oh this place takes the prize for dullness. It takes hours to get here from anywhere. They are in love with Ipswich Town. Everyone mopes around...though, can you be surprised?? I'm sorry to make this personal Norwich fans, but you don't have any friends, no one really dislikes you because it would imply there is a chance of liking you. You are the boring relative that you have to visit every now and then. Boring ground. Boring atmosphere. I was so happy to get home to civilisation and the prospect of watching a game of football against a real team for the real world. Ok, I'm just being rude now.
Nottingham Forest - City Ground
Ah, look at that water passing by, quite romantic indeed. It is quite a metaphor for how football has passed this club by since the glory days of Clough. Still you didn't come here for history lessons. This is a good trip, no doubt. A proper football club that has a decent ground. This has always been an easy trip and ranks probably as one of my favourite grounds. The support is ok, nothing mind blowing, but their team has had a bit of a "head in hands" kind of feel to it in recent years. So we will let them off. Certainly a lower league club (as strange as that is) which is worth the visit. It is not the most architecturally stunning of places, but then, did you expect it to be? Just watch you don't get *shot/stabbed in the town centre. It can be a bit fruity. And there is also a high ratio of women to men locally so...
Portsmouth - Fratton Park
This is the current "Selhurst Park" (home of Crystal Palace) of the Premiership. Housed in a suitably rough area, this shed of a stadium is dated, dilapidated and a real let down. Upon arrival you will wonder what it is they spend their money on at this club, it certainly is not the facilities. My abiding memories are plants/weeds growing through the concrete of the away end. Oh, and that the toilet was literally next door to the fast food flap. "Faeces with your burger sir?" It is a genuine shit hole, laughably so. What I do find you get here is a good atmosphere. Portsmouth are a strange old Premier League team, intent on self destructing with odd managerial appointments (Tony "Clueless" Adams") and an odd ownership arrangement. But the fans still turn up. Granted the capacity is barely 20,000 (including toilet seats) - but they make more noise than Spurs and the much masturbated over "Kop" scarf wavers. That abysmal "Play up Pompey..." chant aside you can tell they care about their team, and it is not the most comfortable of places to go as an away fan - but that is all part of the fun. The surrounding area afterwards is narrow streets and alleys which always makes for a fun end to the trip. So for my oddest recommendation yet, go here, it is a dump, but a "proper" away trip.
Queens Park Rangers - Loftus Road
Image by friedelfreiraum via Flickr
I have had the displeasure of going here a couple of times. You roll up and for a team with Lofty (haha, do you see that pun there) ambitions, this place is more than a bit crap. Tin canny. It is more than a bit of a mess to look at as well. You are also left regretting not packing that money belt from your recent trip to Lagos. Ok, maybe its not that bad. I recall looking around and drawing comparisons to Valley Parade once inside, not a plus point QPR fans! It was not as bad, but it did have the mechano set feel and if I had the right spanner with me I could have taken some Loftus Road home with me. Still, maybe with new owners and the fashionable image being aimed at will change all this. Here's hoping eh? That aside there has on both times I've visited been a good atmosphere, and I would despite the grounds overly shittyness, go again. Maybe.
Southampton - St. Marys
After a couple of visits here this is truly a strange one. Is this an improvement over the Dell? Is the stadium, though not a huge capacity, a bit large for the club? Why was it built on an area contaminated by cyanide? All questions the oracle will one day answer no doubt. The Saints probably fell foul of getting relegated at the wrong time. A muppet chairman Lowe, on a par with Doug Ellis, probably did little to help. So, you have a standard Premier "identikit" stadium hosting Championship games at (I'm told by a home fan) at Premier prices. It is no wonder that all we ever see when attending or on TV is a sea of red seats. As such the home atmosphere is like all these new builds a bit of a mish mash, with seemingly no home congregation of loyal fans. This is by no means an avoider, but until this club finds itself again its not a priority to go here and "experience" it.
Tottenham Hotspur - White Hart Lane
Maybe it is because as a supporter I've found myself seemingly trudging here on "rearranged for TV" Monday night fixtures regularly that I came to loathe the trip here. It is a decent ground, above the standard of the Bolton's and Wigan's by far and attendances generally hold true. I am always wary of teams that install the Barcelona/Real Madrid esque aeroplane seats for their staff and players in the dugouts. Particularly when a team has not performed on the pitch to warrant such comfort. Indeed, the whole set up is very nicely packaged - kind of like a Big Mac, very appealing on the outside. It is only after you have experienced it that you realise it is a load of hype. To be fair it is a decent ground, but in terms of atmosphere it is probably less of a West Ham. It is certainly the kind of stadium you visit and know that the moans and groans of the home crowd will help your boys take the points. Worth a visit, one of the better Premier League stadiums to watch a game in.
Walsall - The Bescot Stadium
Image by Paul Robert Lloyd via Flickr
This is the scene every year of Villa's final pre-season friendly, and also the home of Villa's reserve teams outings. A decent small stadium that is a peace of cake to get to and park, being surrounded by a large retail park. Whilst not the most stimulating of architectural creations, it serves its purpose, and it does it well. Of late, due to the chairman largely, the home gate has had a bit of a one man and his dog feel. Still, this place is worth the visit due to sheer ease of arriving at and viewing football within. A one to do definately. Though, much like Wolves, it is a good idea to bring along your Lonely Planet Black Country phrasebook should you want a half time "Balti Pie".
West Bromwich Albion - The Hawthorns
What it certainly lacks in visual appeal it certainly makes up for as a good away trip. Growing up in the Midlands and supporting Villa I have been here a few times and know a lot of Albion fans. Two things that stick is that their attendances hold steady, and they care a lot about their team. This is why they are a bigger club than Birmingham ever will be. The Hawthorns is a decent places to watch with a good atmosphere, unobstructed views and the ground has retained some classic character in that you are close to the pitch and the opposition supporters. I like it a lot. It is easy to get to and though parking can be a pain in the derrière. This is a classic away trip right here.
West Ham United - Upton Park
Image by scart via Flickr
A very old style of football ground, not unlike The Hawthorns, but perhaps retaining a little more character. This is another ground I like, and there always seems to be a decent atmosphere. This is by no means the luxury away trip, the ground is not new or flashy, it is a fit for purpose type in that respect. But you do get fine views and noise generally from a passionate (for London) home crowd. It is a regular question as to how big a football team West Ham are, and not one I care to debate here, but it was always a fixture I enjoyed growing up and even now. A proper match against a proper football team. I think it is knowing that you will be in a ground facing an opposition support who you know care about what happens on the pitch as a matter of pride on a match by match basis rather than counting the silverware. This is a pain of a ground to get to but why spoil a positive review...
Wigan Athletic - The JJB Stadium
Image by markhassize11feet via Flickr
Often half empty, football is not the biggest interest for the locals it seems. You will rarely find an atmosphere here. This is an out of town developed stadium that is fit for purpose shall we say. Every time I've been it has been freezing cold as well, but that's the climate and not Wigan's fault I suppose. The stands are built at quite a high angle, so you get a good view here, noticeably better than a lot of other Premiership grounds. Another rarity is an away supporters club at the away end - hot food and beer a stumble away from your seat. It is a very simple idea, that works. That aside it is not a memorable ground for much else but it by no means a bad ground to visit.
Wolverhampton Wanderers - The Molineux
Image by dominiccampbell via Flickr
Now this is a good away trip. Generally good attendances, your not feeling like you were the only one to bother like at the Riverside or Ewood Park. Wolves, so the history books say, were once a big club. Today...well they are somewhat in the shadows of even their local rivals WBA, everyone's favourite 6 point yoyo team. The Molineux is a doddle to get to, close to bars/pubs and is just a good trip. The stadium is not the amazing feat of architecture that it was once intended to be. In fact I would certainly say that it is not dating as favourably as they would hoped. Still it retains a real football ground feel as opposed to some of the identical structures played in by medium to small sized regional clubs in the Premiership. Be careful not to engage the locals in conversation though, they are genuinely incomprehensible, but they get a point back for caring about their team.
I intend on adding further reviews of other grounds I've visited assuming I can motivate myself into adding Wycombe Wanderers....Oxford Utd.....Sheffield Utd....Peterborough...etc...
I thank you for reading, and I look forward to disregarding any feedback you may have for me.