Central Park (Cowdenbeath)

It’s hard to feel anything other than sheer misery at Cowdenbeath. A gig in Fife coupled with nothing on during the day meant me and Lee Kyle scrabbling around the Scottish Football League for fixtures and a new ground to tick off the list.

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Cowdenbeath vs Greenock Morton in Division One rang a romantic bell and so we were sold on it. We hotfooted it north and arrived at Central Park with minutes to spare, underwhelmed and over-charged, a whopping £15 lighter to watch one of the least entertaining games I’ve ever seen. In some of the least entertaining surroundings.

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It’s sort of a magnificent arena, but not for football. Central Park hosts regular stock car races and is purpose built for it, with a racing track around the pitch, and with big massive monster truck tyres surrounding the turf, it makes it almost a surreal experience.

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Indeed, the sparse and barely interested crowd are so far away from the action you wonder if the game is actually happening at all. The game was a battle of the bottom two and as we walked around the ground towards the main stand, The Blue Brazil (that’s Cowdenbeath) went two goals up. At any other club regardless of level there’s be pure delirium. Not here – it barely registered as having happened.

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This level of disinterest was matched by club staff. We tried to pop into the club shop to buy some tat, only to be told it wasn’t open on a match day, which is surely the main time you’re likely to have people popping in. Indeed, the program stalls were all shut and nobody seemed keen on helping. The only things available to buy were tyres. Central Park, ladies and gentleman – possibly the only ground in Britain with a tyre shop built into it.

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There was something slightly likeable about the ground – old school steps, terracing, knackered old stands, but yet something totally unappealing at the same time. The only ground in Britain with traffic lights pitchside should be much more loveable than it was.

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As such, we left with the home side totally unmoved by a 5-1 victory, on a grey rainy day, with more people queuing to get into the stock car race immediately afterwards than were leaving having watched the football. All whilst a massive fork lift truck dumped the big tyres without an ounce of care onto the pitch, almost as if to say “thank god the football’s over, let’s get on with some proper entertainment.”

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Why Cowdenbeath continue playing here is beyond me, I can only assume it’s because they can’t be arsed to find another home. I’m sure when the stadium is empty it’s probably more impressive, but to endure a football game here is torture.

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Keys Park (Hednesford Town)

Current leaders of the Skrill Conference North Hednesford have a terrific home in Keys Park.

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It’s a reasonably new facility, built with the money raised during their famous 1997 cup run that culminated in a thrilling fourth round tie against Middlesbrough. And it’s out in the middle of nowhere, a retail park football ground, everything I hate about the game nowadays.

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Yet it’s impressive, too. A big main stand is surrounded by a mix of covered seating and terraces, all spanking new and piled on top of the pitch to help create a cracking atmosphere.

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I’ve taken in a couple of games at Keys Park now and there aren’t really any bad views. Nice people involved with the club, it’s a wonderful day out and they have a terrific team as well. A behind the scenes tour was both welcome and my excuse for the photo-heavy edition this week.

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I’d definitely recommend a trip to Keys Park – it has charm and character (quite possibly the only ground in Britain with a stained glass window?) and as far as new builds on industrial estates go, it’s one of the best.

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This ground was visited as part of my FA Cup quest. You can read all about that here

Brammall Lane (Sheffield United)

Sometimes as a football fan you end up visiting some grounds more than others. I’ve visited hundreds of different stadiums around the world, but Brammall Lane is like a second home to me.

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I first visited back in 1996, as Sunderland were set to clinch promotion from Division One to the Premiership that day. My dad thought it would be the perfect introduction to life on the road, football wise. And I’ve just kept going back.

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I’ve no idea why. I can’t say I love visiting the place – Sunderland have never played particularly well there, I don’t have mates in Sheffield that makes this a nice jaunt, yet I’ve been loads.

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League cup, league, friendlies, possibly an FA Cup game too. I’ve taken in more games at Brammall Lane than any other football league ground barring the Stadium of Light. It’s a happy coincidence really but returning to Sheffield after playing the beautiful Lescar, seemed a perfect chance to take in this old haunt again.

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Worryingly, this was probably the most sober I’ve been at Brammall Lane since my first visit as a child, but it’s a beautiful beast. There’s old and new mixed in alike, an office block built into the side of one of the stands, yet at the other end hand-written posters inform you that there’s some football on, in a way that suggested it was a new fangled thing they were giving a go.

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Its only real down side to me is them renaming one of the ends The Jessica Ennis Stand. I’ve no idea why it irks me, but I don’t like it. Maybe she has a massive affiliation to the club, and fair play if she has, but I can’t help but think a club as big as Sheffield United must have another hero that stand should have been named after. Even The Brian Deane Stand would have suited me.

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That’s not to say they’ve abandoned their history – the ground has enough statues, museums and Sean Bean related things to satisfy anyone’s needs.

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It’s full of some terrific oddities mind. A disabled section sponsored by a healthcare company seems both suitable and inappropriate, but my favourite is them advertising a “wider turnstile.” A great idea until you take a step back and realise that the wider turnstile is actually slimmer than the normal ones! Makes you wonder if it’s a fatty trap!

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That shouldn’t detract from what is a perfectly good home though. It’s a travesty that this is a League One ground, but then it’s almost an oddity when it hosts Premier League football. Maybe the Championship is its perfect home.

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Either way it’s an absolute smasher.

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The Turnbull Ground (Whitby Town)

The Turnbull Ground, home of Whitby Town, was a pleasant surprise. For a small club in the Evo Stick League they have an absolutely cracking set up.

They have some covered terracing behind the dug outs, themselves a curiosity. They bear a plaque revealing that they were a gift to the club. That seems like an odd gift to buy someone – what if they’d said no? Maybe I’m being simplistic about it.

The biggest surprise was their main stand, the Brooks Mileson Stand. Brooks was a wonderful benefactor to grassroots sports, sponsoring various swimmers, athletes and sports clubs, including taking Gretna from the Scottish Third Division into the SPL, a cup final and Europe before he unfortunately passed away.

Put simply, he was a smashing bloke and it’s nice to see Whitby recognising his contribution to the game and their club. The stand itself is impressive. Quite shallow, so not many rows, but the rows that are there are steep and it’s a very tall structure. It’s surrounded by picturesque hotels and from the Brooks Mileson Stand you can also see the sea. Don’t quote me on this, but I think a sea view might be a first for this blog.

There’s enough curiosities about this ground for it to be well worth making the trip as a tourist. Former Sunderland and England B international Darren Williams is currently in charge, so it’s worth it just for that, but The Turnbull Ground is a cracking stadium that I’m incredibly fond of. Well worth a visit.20131108-163426.jpg20131108-163435.jpg20131108-163445.jpg20131108-165621.jpg20131108-165630.jpg20131108-165639.jpg20131108-165650.jpg20131108-165700.jpg20131108-165709.jpg20131108-165720.jpg20131108-165729.jpg20131108-165738.jpg20131108-165749.jpg20131108-165801.jpg20131108-165810.jpg20131108-165821.jpg20131108-165830.jpg20131108-165840.jpg20131108-165851.jpg20131108-165902.jpg

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Wembley (England and some other ones)

I’ll be honest here and admit straight off the bat that I’m not sure if this one counts. Despite this being the home of football, and me being here for a football game, I’m not sure the Jacksonville Jaguars vs San Francisco 49ers in the NFL counts as “proper” football.

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Previous to my visit for some American Football, I’d only ever been to Wembley once before, for Sunderland’s memorable 1998 play-off defeat at the hands of Charlton Athletic. It might have been a devastating memory, in a ground that was evidently on its last legs, but there was something brilliant about the old lady. Despite seeing hearts broken all around me, the sight of those famous Twin Towers poking their head above the stadium was absolutely magical.

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To say I was on the fence ahead of my trip back to Wembley would be an understatement. It drew widespread criticism for being delayed and over budget when it finally opened in 2007, and the Wembley Arch replacing the Twin Towers was, to me, pitiful. You can’t just replace something iconic with something big. Legends need time to become just that.

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However, as I emerged from Wembley Park tube station and the new home of football stood in front of me, it was hard not to get excited. It’s a beautiful looking stadium. The arch dominates the skyline and whilst I’m not convinced it’s a brilliant landmark its architects would have you believe, it certainly makes the stadium stand out.

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There’s no greater feeling than walking up Wembley Way, packed with excited fans, but it was inside the stadium that the real treat was to come. Having climbed what felt like an eternity of staircases, we emerged into the bowl of the stadium right near the top. The view was spectacular.

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It’s hard to say what makes Wembley such a special stadium, but it’s magnificent. The view was stunning, whilst we were high up in the gods we still seemed near the action, and there doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house. Perhaps more than anything, it’s just spectacular to be sat inside a stadium this big.

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I was totally won over by Wembley. I’m a massive fan of an old ground with character, than some pristine soulless theme park on the outskirts of town. But Wembley succeeds where so many new grounds have failed – put simply it’s beautiful.20131101-135118.jpg20131101-135128.jpg20131101-135139.jpg20131101-135151.jpg20131101-135215.jpg20131101-135226.jpg20131101-135248.jpg20131101-135259.jpg20131101-135314.jpg20131101-135324.jpg20131101-135336.jpg20131101-135350.jpg20131101-135402.jpg20131101-135425.jpg20131101-135449.jpg20131101-135501.jpg20131101-135514.jpg20131101-135533.jpg

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