Gateshead International Stadium (Gateshead)

Gateshead International Stadium is a brilliant sporting arena. It’s just a massive shame that sport isn’t football.

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Gateshead FC’s temporary home is the North East’s premier athletics venue, but the problem is that it’s become more than temporary. The club have long talked about moving from the soulless stadium and into a home of their own. But they’ve been playing here since 1974.

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It’s almost a cliche to bemoan a running track ruining the atmosphere at a football ground and whilst it’s also true, the main issue for Gateshead is that they only ever open one stand.

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That means the bizarre sight of all fans looking out onto an empty stadium, at a football match taking place in the distance due to the athletics facilities between.

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The stadium itself is a wonderful building. A slightly garish but not entirely dated 1970s piece of architecture forms the main stand, with a mix of covered and uncovered seating making up the rest of the venue, a futuristic cover that hasn’t long been there against the opposite touchline.

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It’s such a shame really. The seating is comfortable, the sight lines are great but I’m clutching at straws here. The stadium isn’t set up for football in any way whatsoever, and for a club currently knocking on the door of the Football League, their home is a bit of an embarrassment.

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Poor (almost non-existent) drinking facilities, overpriced awful food and most importantly of all, that bloody running track. As a stadium it’s spectacular and a great place to visit. As somewhere to watch a football game it features low down the list.

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Bootham Crescent (York City)

It makes me laugh when people criticise this blog. Not that it gets much criticism, you understand, but it amusingly irritates football groundhoppers.

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If you don’t understand the terminology, then all you need to know is that groundhoppers are people who like watching football games in as many different stadiums as possible. It’s like a sporting version of trainspotting and something you presumably think I’m guilty of, but both I and the groundhoppers know different.

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I love different stadiums, it’s half the reason for this blog, but I’ve seen it mentioned on various forums that I’m not a proper groundhopper as I don’t watch games there. I know that, it doesn’t bother me at all, I’ve always considered myself a football tourist. It makes me laugh to think of it genuinely irritating people that think I’m counting myself amongst them.

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As a groundhopper Bootham Crescent is tremendous. I’ve taken in a couple of games there myself and it’s a wonderful old ground, but as a tourist it’s not a great one. Other than a slight peak of the home terrace there’s only the main stand on show.

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Granted, it’s one of the more unique stands in football and all the better for it, but it makes it a rather disappointing trip, especially as you can only walk around two sides from the outside and one of those is nothing but a giant wall.

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So for me, I’d have to give it a reluctant thumbs down. The fact that it was rename Kit Kat Crescent by sponsors Nestle for five years is endearing, and the ground once inside is wonderful, but to visit just the exterior you’re not going to see a lot.

 

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Frenchfield Park (Penrith)

We all criticise mercenaries in life, don’t we? Yet we’re all the same regardless of our walk of life? Sometimes we’re too eager or often not eager enough and things get in the way. People take the job that pays the most not challenges the most, comedians settle for not writing new jokes and performing with a dead-behind-the-eyes look and football ground tourists visit far flung stadia in the dead of night just to say they’ve been there.

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And so I turned up at Penrith’s Frenchfield Park on the way home from a gig, eager to get one more venue under my belt regardless of there being zero visibility. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of research on Google shows it’s a pleasant enough ground set in the rolling hills of Cumbria, but I got there in the middle of the night desperate for a football ground fix. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see a thing – in the middle of the countryside it was pitch black – I was near a big green rectangle and that was enough for me.

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I was like a junkie as soon as I got out of the car. Just happy to have my hit. I didn’t care that there was literally nothing to see, being there was reward enough for me. And so, blog wise, this isn’t a great one. I can only apologise for my cavalier attitude. I think it’s safe to say it’s cost us.

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I’ve borrowed some photographs of what the ground looks like during daylight. A big main stand similar to the one at West Auckland followed by a small sheltered standing area opposite that I couldn’t even see when I was there. It seems a pleasant enough arena in lovely surrounds and I’m sure one day I’ll pass during daylight to take it all in, rather than treating myself to a junkie-type fix in the middle of the night.

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For now though, this will have to do.

 

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Tannadice Park (Dundee United)

Your enjoyment of Tannadice will rely almost solely on your love of a quirky colour. In this case, orange.

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I should definitely be clearer. Firstly it’s tangerine rather than orange, but secondly there’s plenty more to enjoy if you’ve not just come on a colour pilgrimage. Even if you don’t like Tannardice, then Dundee Football club is within about 50 yards of it. Two for the price of one is good in anyone’s books.

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Aside from football tourism bargain-hunting, it was a slightly odd visit in itself. Usually I visit grounds whilst catching a game or on a non-match day when nobody is about, and they’re sort of the ones I really like. There’s something wonderful about seeing these massive structures designed to host thousands of people that actually spend most of their time completely empty and deserted.

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But we caught Tannadice at about 5.30pm on a Saturday, 40 minutes after their game at home to Kilmarnock had finished. It meant the ground was technically still open but most exits were now shut, but there were fans and players both milling around.

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As much as it was tempting to hang around to meet Jackie McNamara, that’s not what this blog is about. So myself and fellow comedian and football ground fanatic Lee Kyle decided to look for an exit that hadn’t been locked up to sneak in.

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Our first attempt had a security guard on the door and not put off by the bell end at Anfield, I asked if we could slip in for a minute to take a couple of photos. “Do you work for the club?” came the confused reply from him. Now this blog has been built up on a reputation of trust and honesty and I will never do anything that will have people question its integrity, so I told the truth, that we didn’t. “No then, sorry,” was the reply. It made me wonder what would have happened had we said yes though, as it looked like he’d have just let us in, which is weird.

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In the end we found one exit not yet locked up and being used by some TV people to shift their equipment out of. So we ran in, snapped some photos and ran out like two excited but naughty schoolboys. A three hour drive to spend three minutes in The Jim McLean Fair Play Stand? Fair play.

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Tannadice is a cracking ground really, enjoyable both inside and out. Old school but modern, plastered in tangerine in exactly the same way your Bloomfield Roads should be but aren’t. I really enjoyed it.

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Boldon CA Sports Ground (Jarrow Roofing)

Aside from the name being a mouthful, this is a rather lovely little non-league ground tucked away on the outskirts of the South Tyneside town of Jarrow.

More commonly and fantastically known simply as Jarrow Roofing, they’re a relatively new club, having resided here since being founded in 1987.

The ground itself is almost nondescript but packed full of character. In terms of seating, there’s a grandstand at one side of the pitch elevated nicely for a good view and the opposite side is a mix of one row of seats and a very small terrace.

Complete with corrugated roofs they are a one of a kind and whilst not pretty in the conventional sense, it’s easy to fall in love with them. It’s what’s best known as character.

The last stand of note is behind the goal. Decorated with “Ha’way The Roofers” in massive letters and a row of blue seats, it also sports a giant purple unicorn in one of the seats. I don’t want to mock too much incase of it being in memory of someone, but there’s no mention of it anywhere except several other fans asking what the hell it’s about.

Again though, it’s the sort of ridiculous little touch that makes this a memorable visit. It’s quite out of the way but definitely a worthwhile stop-off.

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Tinto Park (Benburb FC)

I thought that this blog would be a slightly long-term project, but one visit to the home of Benburb has me convinced there’s no point continuing.

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Normally I have plenty of grounds that I’ve visited to choose from, but having had my hair cut recently I’m trying to at least cover them in chronological order. But I’m so excited about Tinto Park that it’d be a crime not to cover it now.

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It’s also worth noting that this is a particularly photo-heavy edition of the blog. I make no apologies for this, as the home of Benburb FC is absolutely magnificent. Based in Govan in Glasgow, a couple of minutes drive away from Ibrox, myself and Lee Kyle stumbled across this beauty almost by accident. Indeed, speaking to a lot of football-mad residents of the city, including one taxi driver, many of them don’t even know it exists. And it won’t for much longer.

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The final game was played there a couple of weeks ago and it’s now due to be knocked down and turned into housing, so any visits absolutely have to be done immediately. The ground is stunning.

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There’s only one stand, and it’s overgrown and strewn with litter, but it’s enormous and beautiful. The entire stadium is surrounded by massive terraces, mostly overgrown with trees and grass, but it’s clear how wonderful this must have been. Behind one goal is a small clean terrace, but it’s barely worthy of mention.

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At its peak Tinto apparently used to pack 10,000 people in and it’s easy to see how they’d have fit in. The ground may be shabby and, frankly, a health and safety hazard, but it’s massive.

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I think its size is what wins it for me. It’s unusual to see a ground this big in such a poor state. The best way to describe its current state would be post-apocalyptic. But it’s absolutely fascinating to visit and if you’ve any interest in visiting football grounds I’d hot-foot it up to Glasgow before the bulldozers move in. Just don’t take a cab or ask locals for directions. A hidden gem.

 

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St Andrew’s (Birmingham City)

Well what a pleasant surprise this was. Despite only visiting St Andrew’s once previously, for a thrilling cup game that Sunderland won in extra time, my memory of this place wasn’t fond.

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I remember drinking out of date beer from the Morrisons supermarket opposite because no local pubs would serve us, and feeling intimidated in the car as we snaked our way home afterwards. It’s not the nicest away day as a supporter, or it wasn’t ten years ago anyway.

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Visiting as a neutral is a different story though. A wander around the ground is generally welcoming and enjoyable. It’s been rebuilt fairly recently but still has enough character about it that it looks like a football ground.

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The club’s initials are welded into metalwork, there’s an old stand probably not fit for use but still there. In fact, when I took in a game there it was closed completely, giving a rather surreal view as a visiting supporter! One slight note on this stand though – it houses a giant pink banner the length of the pitch that advertises giant banners. Surely the only people big enough for a football pitch-sized banner are the football clubs you’re paying to advertise in!

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In all though, it’s a pleasant enough ground. Plenty to look at from the outside, although the inside isn’t great. I’m aware of the club’s reputation to visiting supporters and have been on the receiving end myself, but as a neutral or someone just visiting the area to look at the ground from the outside, it’s definitely enjoyable.

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