Boundary Park (Oldham Athletic)

Well wouldn’t you bloody know it! In my last blog I stated that it’ll be a long time until I find a club with staff as pleasant and helpful as Gretna. Oldham Athletic might just top that.

I found myself driving past Oldham rather than to there, but with my sat nav saying that Boundary Park was a mere three minutes from the motorway and with time on my side, I decided to take a quick detour.

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I parked up in what appeared to be a deserted car park set aside for staff of the neighbouring hospital. At 7pm on a random weekday night I fancied my chances of parking up for five minutes ¬†uninterrupted. I’d not been out of the car a minute when a little jobsworth in a hi-vis jacket approached to ask what I was doing.

“Just having a quick look at the football ground,” came my hesitant reply. “Are you taking photos of it?” was his response. I’m no expert in law but I know it’s definitely not a crime to take a photograph of a football ground and so I replied affirmatively. “We’ll I’ve got a key if you want to come in.” Well I bloody never!

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He unlocked one of the exit gates and in we waltzed, straight to the back of one of Boundary Park’s impressively sized stands. The lush green turf laid out in front of us, and we chewed the fat for a good half hour. He’d seen Oldham at well over 100 different grounds and was a proud member of the 92 club (he’s visited every football league stadium).

As for Oldham’s home – it’s impressive. One of their stands has been knocked down to make way for a new one in 2014. Whilst it’s always weird just looking at a pile of rubble, if they keep the character the other three stands possess in spades then this will still be a terrific home to play in.

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A tiny sliver of terracing remains albeit unused nowadays, and the home end with pillars will make for some awful sightlines, but this is a reminder of exactly what football used to be; beautiful and friendly.

With time ticking away so much I ended up running late but it was well worth it. A top, top bloke whose name escapes me (possibly Ian but probably not) but it was an honour and privilege to meet him. I ended up so late I didn’t have time to get any exterior shots but I’m sure you’ll agree I absolutely struck gold.

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Raydale Park (Gretna)

Gretna currently play in the East Of Scotland League, part of the Scottish non-league set up. Despite them being sat on the west coast this is the perfect sort of crazy this club thrives on. After all, the last time I visited Raydale Park just three years ago this was an SPL ground.

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Yes, as in Scottish Premier League. I visited Gretna by mistake once with a friend, as they were the closest team whose game had beaten the snow. We arrived 30 minutes late and enquired on arrival about programmes. We were told there were none, until a scruffy bloke sidled up to us on the terrace and said he should be able to get us one.

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Ten minutes later and we both had one in our hands, free of charge no less. The scruffy bloke with a roll-up in his hand who got us the programme? None other than Brooks Mileson, Gretna’s then owner and chairman who subsequently bankrolled the tiny little village team from English non-league football to playing in the Scottish top flight, cup finals and even European football.

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Ridiculously, Raydale never hosted an SPL match due to a rule that clubs must play in a 6,000 dearer stadium (the entire population of Gretna is a quarter of that), and after Brooks’ death the club folded, reformed and battled their way back into Raydale after a brief hiatus in neighbouring town Annan.

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Not a lot has changed since I last visited Raydale some two or three tears ago. Amazingly, the temporary stand they had built to satisfy demand for a cup game against SPL side Dundee United is still in place, now with a roof. In fact, the only thing not there is the old terracing behind one of the goals. It gives the ground a slightly spooky feel to it, as if it’s missing something, and frustratingly it will be a long, long time until this is ever replaced, if at all.

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One of the most pleasing things is as I walked around the outside of the ground, snapping away, I was promptly invited in by the groundsman for a wander around. We had a chat about the old days, I got some fantastic photos and he backed up why I fell in love with this friendly little club. I dare say it’ll be a long time until a club invite me in off the street when I’m taking photos again.

God bless Gretna.

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Woodhorn Lane (Ashington)

Depending on how into this blog you are, this one might count as cheating a bit. I didn’t have a gig here, but with a day off and the ground being a two minute walk from my house, it was far too tempting to turn down Ashington vs Berwick Rangers in a pre-season friendly.

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I have gigged at Woodhorn Lane, home of Ashington AFC, before, and have attended plenty of games there in the past. The Colliers moved to Woodhorn Lane a couple of years ago in a move that I’m sure only really angered me, despite its convenience location-wise.

They previously played at Portland Park, a grand old stadium that was a product of a previous era, a thing of absolute beauty. Whilst the club will no doubt say it was necessary financially and while there’s no doubt the facilities have improved considerably, it’s still sad that what was previously a home of two fantastic old grandstands is now a big Asda.

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As for Woodhorn Lane, there’s virtually nothing of note about it. Two virtually identical stands either side of the pitch, one houses terracing and the other seats. Pleasant clubhouse facilities behind one of the goals, the only thing of character I saw were two horses grazing at the main entrance. You don’t get that at Old Trafford.

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I don’t find Woodhorn as offensive as this post may suggest. I’m well aware of the financial perils of clubs lower down the football ladder. I’m just sad that it doesn’t have the same swagger as its predecessor.

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Brunton Park (Carlisle United)

Well this was a very quick one indeed. I’d driven through Carlisle quite a lot but never bothered to stop off at Brunton Park. Nor had any football adventures dictated that I had to either.

However, a late drive home from Scotland included a drive through Carlisle so it seemed rude not to.

I was tired, and in a rush to get home, so I literally stood outside and got a photograph. Other than one big stand looming in the shadows, I saw very little else of the ground worth commenting on.

The club shop in the car park looks nice, the Welcome To Brunton Park sign looks nice, can we just assume the rest of the ground is nice? Yes?

Good, I’m off back to bed then.

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Booth Street (Congleton Town)

This was a flying visit to a town I’d never heard of and in particular a football club I consequently didn’t know existed but what a lovely little corner of the world.

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Congleton itself seems pleasant, even if their 24 hour Tesco seemed to have more staff stood at the entrance smoking cigarettes than were working inside. No such complaints for the staff of Congelton Town FC, as, erm, the place was deserted.

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There’s not a lot of stadium to actually talk about, but it still has a certain charm. The main stand contains a load of seats and what appears to be a kitchen worktop sawed off and converted into a press area, then a covered standing area to its left with a covered area for disabled fans to its right.

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On the opposite side of the pitch is a bigger covered area for standing, with what appeared to be corrugated iron balanced precariously on top of some scaffolding behind a goal to provide more shelter.

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And that’s about it. A beautifully manicured garden on the way into the ground, there’s no doubt more horticultural effort gone into the club’s entrance than any other non-league club in the country.

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Tiverton Park (Bath City)

A Saturday night in Bath followed by an early start in Manchester the following morning left me with something of a dilemma, football wise – Bath City or Bristol Rovers?

If it had been any other Sunday, I’d have done both plus dropped by Ashton Gate for a bit of Bristol City. As it was, I had the mrs in tow, and needed to be in Manchester early on so I really had to narrow it down. After giving it way too much thought than was necessary, I decided that the name of the game is really visiting the stadia of the place I’m in, and so I settled on Tiverton Park. And I’m sort of glad I did.

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It’s a grand old ground, one that almost looks too big for the level of football it hosts (Conference South), but it seems proper. There’s old terracing to give it the feel of a proper ground, a big massive grandstand and good old fashioned turnstiles. Also, you have to walk up steps to get in.

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That might not seem like a massive deal, but my earliest memories of watching football as a child involved walking up steps, reaching the top and then seeing a lush sea of green below. I don’t know what it is about that elevated position that makes the grass greener or the view any more exhilarating, but it’s something missing on a lot of ground level football stadiums.

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With time being of the essence, there was little time for anything other than a mooch around the main stand, although it appears that there’s only really one side of the stadium you can get in through. I could be wrong – one thing is for certain though, and that’s Bath’s insistence on being pleasant and welcoming to officials with various signs discouraging disrespect or foul language. It’s a really lovely touch that wins them massive points from me.

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One let down was the bloke who wandered out of the main entrance and stood there with a cigarette, glaring at me as I took my photos. Maybe he’d have been alright if I’d approached, maybe he was waiting for me to make the first move, but he had an air of hostility about him that made me glad to get back in the car.

Aside from him, this is a beauty of a non-league ground.

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