Wheatley Park (Garforth Town)

I have to say that Wheatley Park is the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover. The unimposing home of non-league Garforth Town is something of a hidden gem.

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It’s a nice enough new-build tucked away at the end of a housing estate, but that’s not what gets the most points here. Back in 2004 the club’s owner managed to talk Brazilian legend Socrates into a 12 minute cameo appearance here against Tadcaster Albion.

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Alongside fellow Brazilian Careca and ex-Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe that’s a fairly star-studded line up and so it makes this particular stadium a bit more iconic than others at this level.

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Granted, it’s really just a clubhouse nicely connected to a grandstand, with hard standing and a short fence surrounding the rest of the ground, but you can look at the dugout that housed a genuine football legend.

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It’s also worth noting that in terms of watching a game, the stand’s elevated position ensures a good view coupled with obligatory stairs up into the arena itself winning it extra points from me.

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Take away its alumni and this is a very pleasant but forgettable stadium. But you aren’t allowed to just ignore that and so we have a wonderful footballing footnote on show here.

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Wheatridge Park (Seaton Delaval Amateurs)

Wheatridge Park is the sort of venue that will be sniffed at by many readers but I think its size makes it undoubtedly fascinating.

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Tucked away in the tiny North East town of Seaton Delaval it’s the sort of football ground that even the local residents barely realise is there. It’s all well and good celebrating your Old Traffords and even Boundary Parks, but I think Wheatridge is a necessary inclusion. Because ultimately, there’s no denying this is a football ground.

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There’s a fenced off football pitch, a small covered stand for spectators and hard standing as well. Sure, there’s very little else but it’s absolutely a football ground and there’s plenty to love about it. If those facilities aren’t good enough you can watch the entire game from the comfort of your car. What’s not to love about that? Drive in football – it’s the future I’m telling you!

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When I say there’s only one stand, I’m glossing over possibly one of its best features. On one side of the pitch is a garden shed, quite literally, with room for three seats. I’m not sure what the point of it being there is but regardless, you won’t see better than that on this blog and that’s a fact.

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The opposite side hosts the clubhouse, with a sheltered standing area that seats from the clubhouse have been placed in for anyone choosing to sit. To one side is a grassy area complete with picnic table, the other houses what looks like very old primitive terracing.

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Best of all was my half time cuppa though. Served from the refreshments window at the back of the stand and the coffee served in a china mug. I can’t even remember what it tasted like but if there’s a better served cuppa in all of football I can’t wait to see it.

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In all, a wonderful day out. I think grounds like this are just as curious and wonderful as their theme park counterparts and should be loved and treasured and celebrated.

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Craven Cottage (Fulham)

This is a tough one to rate as a tourist. It’s a terrific ground in a wonderful setting but there’s not enough of it to see from the outside.

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Set on the banks of the River Thames, Craven Cottage also borders the wonderful Bishop’s Park and it makes for an almost surreal football ground in the middle of leafy London.┬áIt’s also right under Heathrow’s flight path, so when you’re not surrounded by lush greenery you can geek out at the low-flying aircraft. But that’s not to take away from what there is to look at here.

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One stand backs onto the park, which makes it difficult to look at a lot of it, with Fulham’s main stand being a gorgeous Victorian-looking building from the outside, but also very little like a football stand.

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There is the sight of the famous Craven Cottage, as well as the Johnny Hayes statue (they’d demolished the bizarre Michael Jackson statue a week before I visited) which make it a nice and unusual place to visit.

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It must also be one of the few grounds I’ve encountered with a dog bowl outside to cater for any four-legged ground hoppers. I didn’t have mine with me but it’s a lovely touch.

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Moving round and there’s not a lot else to see. Another stand obscured by a park wall as the riverside walk continues and the river itself means you can’t walk behind the fourth stand. There are some of the narrowest turnstiles I’ve seen to date as well as weird ticket office windows, but what you can see from the outside is enjoyable. It’s just a shame the last stand is inaccessible really.

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It means it’s a really tough one to rank from the outside. Not loads to see, but it’s in such great surrounds that it’s almost impossible not to be happy just being there.

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Gayfield Park (Arbroath)

This is one of the most disappointing visits I’ve had in the history of doing this blog but for entirely the right reasons.

Gayfield Park looks absolutely magnificent, but I arrived as darkness did and so my photographs are awful. Obligatory snaps collected from the internet are included further down.

There was a very limited amount of light. Enough to see a very good sized terrace, and stumble our way to a seated stand. Behind the ground lies the North Sea and a massive amusement arcade. For me, both plus points.

Unfortunately there was very little to see with it being so dark, which is a shame as this appears to be an absolute stonker of a ground.

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Seagraves Stadium (West Auckland Town)

The Seagraves is a mighty beast and not far off being the perfect ground for this level. Small, not perfectly formed, but wonderful fun.

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It’s tucked away behind a housing estate and the initial response is one of bewilderment. Immediately in front of you is room for standing along one of the touchlines, behind which is a load of cars parked alongside the pitch. And nothing behind the opposite goal either.

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However, every ounce of charm is packed into the other two sides of the ground. An impressively-sized uncovered terrace hogs the space behind the other goal and provides a decent place to watch a game from.

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Then, alongside the other goal line, two stands. One, a small covered standing area that doesn’t particularly impress. The other, their grandstand, is something else. Painted in club colours of black and yellow it’s a thing of beauty. Old enough to have plenty of character, but new enough to not block your view of anything.

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The players run out from under this stand too, which always makes a game feel fancy when they emerge from nowhere rather than wander out from a corner of the ground. Something the new non-league stadia would do well to remember. It doesn’t matter how lowly you are, football is still theatre.

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There’s a ridiculous slope on the Seagraves pitch but a warm welcome in the clubhouse which means I’d wholeheartedly recommend a day out in West Auckland if you need a football fix and it’s easy enough to peer over and around for the tourists amongst us too.

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Hillsborough (Sheffield Wednesday)

This was one I did before the blog was even a thing. While you, dear reader, were just a twinkle in the internet’s eye.

I’d decided a while ago to visit football grounds while I was travelling to gigs and so on the way home from the Lescar in Sheffield I popped into Hillsborough.

There’s not much I can say about the ground as I parked up outside the ground, took a photo then left. And I’m nothing if I’m not a completist. Sorry if I’ve wasted your time on this one. I’ve included a couple of snaps (not mine) of the ground in daylight.

So a rubbish blog update really, and apologies for that. We’ll be back for a full report on West Auckland’s Seagraves Stadium on Friday.

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Goodison Park (Everton)

This was a breath of fresh air considering Everton’s sniffy neighbours last week. And it seems a different world despite them virtually sharing the same postcode.

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Goodison Park is on the other side of Liverpool’s Stanley Park and I must confess I’ve always had a soft spot for The Toffees when it comes to the Merseyside derby.

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There’s something about them living in the shadows of their brash arrogant neighbours that I can sympathise with as a Sunderland supporter. And although it’s 5,000 seats smaller than its city rival you’d struggle to guess from a wander around outside.

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There’s a huge new stand that towers above most of the terraced houses around it and whilst Anfield is clad in money-grabbing photo opportunity points and stadium tours and museums, Everton seem keen to let everyone be involved. Huge flags with the current squad are attached to the outside and the ground itself is adorned with a “history of Everton” timeline packed full of trivia and information about the club’s past.

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It means that a trip here can easily occupy an hour as you walk around taking it all in, with occasional pieces of art dotted around. This feels like a proper ground and is the first one I recall seeing with an endorsement from VisitEngland. Walls painted a brilliant blue and every corner feeling battle scarred yet simultaneously loved makes it a tremendous visit.

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It may be that Liverpool rubbed me up the wrong way, but in my book Goodison is undoubtedly the better out of the two famous old grounds for a day out.

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