Exacta Stadium (Chester City)

This was a flying visit as I was on a tight schedule on my way to a gig, coupled with the sun starting to disappear made it hard to get any decent photos.

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The Exacta is what was previously known as the Deva Stadium, a terrific moniker regardless of it not being spelt diva. It’s had a series of sponsored names since opening in 1992, obviously vital to club finances but really doesn’t help with identity.

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I remember Huddersfield’s McAlpine Stadium. A terrific venue and memorable name, albeit one of a sponsor. But once they started changing the name every few years, you lose track and, more importantly, interest.

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The Exacta’s main problem is nothing of its own doing though. Four pristine new stands, sat on the outskirts of an industrial estate. It was one of the first grounds built after the Taylor report and is one of the featureless soulless venues that the safety brigade would be delighted with.

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It’s a shame – it’s a lovely stadium, sat behind some pleasant greenery, and they have tried to inject some character with an ugly rhino with a tash perched outside the ground. But it’s very samey (the ground, not the bull). Almost suspiciously pleasant. When your ground’s main selling point is that it’s the only stadium that is both in England and in Wales, you’re struggling. Although annoyingly, I found out that it’s mainly just the car park that’s in England, which knocks some of the pizazz and shine off.

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I’ve a lot of affection for Chester as a club – they rose from the ashes when the fans reformed the club after it previously went bust – and they also have ex-Sunderland man and current Gibraltar international Danny Higginbotham playing for them, but I won’t be rushing to make a repeat trip to the Exacta.

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Spotland (Rochdale)

Spotland is a name that really belongs high up on the “to do” list for a blog like this. Home of Rochdale, that’s two lovely names in one go. I can only apologise I didn’t get round to it sooner.

And strictly speaking, I wasn’t in Rochdale, but passing the Manchester ring road meant I got within a six minute drive of Spotland and once you’re that close, well why wouldn’t you?

I pulled up outside the away end on a beautiful Friday afternoon and was almost underwhelmed. Spotland is made up of four relatively new looking stands. Not brand spanking new, but not as old as I’d hoped for. New enough to not have oodles of charm about them, but old enough not to be sterile and awful.

A club shop inside the stadium was closed but looked wonderfully full of Rochdale related tat. Who doesn’t want a Spotland wall clock? Other than that there wasn’t much going on. Quite literally really, as someone pulled the shutters down and locked the stadium up as I walked past.

And that just about won it for me. If your stadium has a woman who shuts the lockers on it to close it like a shop, that’s just the sort of mental touch that gets you big points on the football ground wall chart.20131018-092130.jpg20131018-092201.jpg20131018-092226.jpg20131018-092250.jpg20131018-092315.jpg20131018-092341.jpg20131018-092412.jpg20131018-092446.jpg20131018-092523.jpg20131018-092556.jpg20131018-092630.jpg

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Giant Axe (Lancaster City)

Right then, we should get things out of the way first. That’s not a spelling mistake – Lancaster City’s ground really is called Giant Axe.

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I have no idea why. It’s not particularly giant, and it’s not shaped like an axe, but as far as names go, wow! Giant Axe! That’s up there with, well, is there any comparison? The Machine Gun Stadium? The Rocky Arena? Giant Axe… that’s incredible.

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There’s not a lot to say about Giant Axe. It’s a perfectly tidy non-league ground, arguably on the side of fantastic. There’s a small covered area for standing, a big seated stand plus some proper terracing. In terms of terracing, it was proper good stuff rather than old path, which covers the other touch line. But either way, who cares if it’s good or bad – it’s called Giant Axe!

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One weird thing is the club’s obsession with portakabins. Their turnstiles are made out of portakabins, the club’s offices is the same, plus there’s a couple on top of each other on one side of the pitch. I’ve no idea if there was a shop in Lancaster with a special offer on, but god bless them the club got their money’s worth.

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Surrounded by greenery just outside of the city centre, even the portakabins can’t put you off. It’s a nice ground with a bit of character. Not exceptional but tidy and lovely and well kept.

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And that is about that. It should be a bad thing when the best thing about your ground is its name, but thankfully the Giant Axe is a perfectly pleasant stadium, regardless of not quite living up to its moniker.

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An Open Letter To Miley Cyrus (Tow Law Town FC)

Dear Miley,

Hi, hope you are well. I’m Andy Fury. You’ve probably heard of me already – I won the Hilarity Bites new act of the year award in 2010. It’s ok, I’m not a nutter, I’m in showbusiness too. In fact only tonight I’m performing my “absolute genius” (BBC) comedy at Ashington Football Club. But I’m writing to you today to talk about Tow Law Town FC.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of them – Chris Waddle used to play for them. They have a nice little stadium that they play in called Ironworks Road. As far as I can tell it’s nowhere near any Ironworks, which seems odd, but hey, I don’t make the rules, I just break them.

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Speaking of rules, I should point out that I don’t mind you breaking the rules. In fact I think it’s fairly good that you do. I’m fairly undecided on Wrecking Ball as a song, although if you pressed me I’d probably veer towards liking it. Regardless, if you want to lick hammers and ride wrecking balls, who are we to stop you? I bet if Sinead O’Connor could have swung round on the end of a crane at your age she’d be a lot less bitter about the situation now.

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One rule I should point out that you can’t break is Tow Law’s rule about walking behind their floodlights. The FA have banned anyone from doing it, although they’ve bricked off the area around the floodlights so you couldn’t even if you wanted to. Although you probably do want to – you’re Miley bloody Cirus!

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It’s a nice ground anyway Miley, that’s what I’m saying – they’ve hand painted their main stand, which is a nice touch, and there’s terracing if you choose to stand – sitting is quite conformist so I suspect you’d kick the stand to the kerb.

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One thing I would suggest if you visit Tow Law would be to ignore their claims about them doing an amazing curry and chips – it’s just curry sauce rather than actual curry (I was just as disappointed, don’t worry).

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Anyway, I hope this finds you in good spirits. My personal advice would be to ignore the mean bastards giving you stick. I find visiting soccer stadiums helps me relax away from show business life, although I suspect repeated trips to Harrogate could get expensive for you. I’m only about an hour and a half away. I’d definitely recommend West Auckland FC for a visit – I’m sure they’d sort you out a cup of tea for free as well.

All the best for your future career, and say hello to your dad as well. Top bloke.

Cheers,

Andy Fury

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St James’ Park (Newcastle United)

Having held season tickets at Roker Park and the Stadium of Light and very much considering myself a Sunderland fan, this was a difficult one to write.

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Not because I have any dislike of St James’ Park, far from it, but I fear any critique of the stadium will have me accused of bias. But I have to point out there are flaws, and not just the ridiculously narrow turnstiles for us famously slim line Geordies.

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The flaws are, of course, that this feels like two or three entirely different stadiums. Two sides of the ground have been redeveloped into towering skyscrapers that dominate the city skyline and are nothing short of spectacular. I have no doubt that if Newcastle United had managed to have four sides of their spectacular cantilevered stands this would be the best stadium in Europe, if not the world.

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As it is, it just looks a bit lop-sided and having two spectacular glass exterior stands alongside a concrete monstrosity is weird. I love the weird concrete 60s multi-storey car park look, it’s genuinely fantastic, but you turn a corner and there’s the modern Milburn Stand. Either stick with weird dated character or sexy sleekness. But the two don’t mix and match.

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I was pleased whilst walking past the Milburn Stand that a topless Geordie waltzed ahead, enforcing every north east stereotype ever, and I can only apologise for the smutty flesh-fest that this previously family-friendly blog has become.

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Another weird quirk of St James’ is how much of the ground is a car park. Any available space around the stadium is available for pay and display parking, you can even drive into the bloody stands and park up! I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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There are plenty of stairs around St James’, always a fantastic sight to see these packed with fans making their fortnightly pilgrimage, and overall you can’t really knock the home of Newcastle United.

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This could be a stunning world-class stadium. As it is, it’s still great fun, very nicely decked out and yet still full of character.

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Oh and they have a paper mâché Alan Shearer playing handball in the foyer. Or at least I think that’s what it is.

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