Excelsior Stadium (Airdrie United)

There’s very little to be said of the Excelsior Stadium whilst remaining polite, which is odd considering there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

If I was to give the stadium the benefit of the doubt, I’d say that when it’s packed full of raucous Glaswegians roaring their team on, it’s no doubt a joy to be present.

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Realistically, there was nothing to suggest that any of that statement is true. It seems unfair to judge an entire football club based on a deserted stadium on a Wednesday morning, but that’s all I have to go off.

The stadium sits on the outskirts of a very grim looking housing estate, the sort I had to deliver to on my round as a paperboy but always feared and left till last. The weather was biting cold, the skies were grey and the cladding on this dull identikit ground matched that.

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And I think that’s the problem. There’s nothing that suggests an element of personality, individuality, colour or imagination on the outside of this stadium. No character, no emotion, no history. I suspect if I visit this ground in 20 years time it will look exactly the same.

The inside looks pleasant, but who wants pleasant? Four almost identical stands, devoid of everything bar seats.┬áThe main stand is grand and a dominating sight, but there’s absolutely nothing impressive about it. I should have loved Airdrie United and their home, with the history they have of going into liquidation then rising from the ashes once more.

But on a bitingly cold day there was absolutely nothing here that made me want to stay any longer than the time it takes to snap a photograph.

 

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Partick Thistle (Firhill)

Firhill Stadium has been home to Partick Thistle since 1909 and the Main Stand, at the very least, exudes the sort of old school charm that is frighteningly lacking in the modern identikit stadiums now.

Proper old turnstiles, a bank of terracing that sadly is now disused save for a TV gantry, and an open gate that meant we could just wander in. Perfect! Unfortunately due to having loads of other grounds to visit we probably spent the least amount of time here, but it certainly won us over.

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The only downsides were the club shop being closed (we can’t be the only Partick Thistle tourists, surely?! Oh, right) and finding out afterwards that the club very rarely use the Main Stand on match days now. This means two things – firstly, the club play their games in front of two empty stands, which is outright weird. Secondly, the grandest of grandstands sits largely unused.

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I’ve no doubt it’s probably in a terrible state and crumbling to pieces, but the old romantic in me thinks that if you’ve got it, flaunt it. And Firhill definitely has plenty to flaunt.

A gem of a football stadium.

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GLASGOW SPECIAL

There’s only a handful of pictures here and mainly story. Sorry about that. I’ve detailed the actual grounds on separate pages, it seemed only right to give a brief summary of the afternoon’s events in general though.

It started in Glasgow city centre at 12pm. I was doing an afternoon show with fellow comics Lee Kyle and Nick Cranston. Our next show wasn’t until 8pm, giving us a lot of time to kill. And I don’t want to be critical of Glasgow’s tourism hotspots, but given the choice between taking in as many football grounds as we could inside 5 hours or visiting, erm, other stuff, there was only one thing for it.

We strapped ourselves into Nick’s shitty little car and headed off to Partick Thistle. After a slight delay whilst armed police stopped the road as they staked out a bookies with machine guns, we reached Firhill Stadium, on the recommendation of fellow comic Ray Bradshaw, who also gave us the lowdown on a rough order to visit the stadiums.

Obviously there’s more detail on the grounds on each page but from fantastic Firhill we hot-footed it to Airdrie United’s Excelsior Stadium. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even notice the name until we got home, but if we’re talking about grandeur, they’re absolutely deluded. The area around the stadium seems one of the grimmest settings I’ve ever seen for a football ground. Ordinarily we’d hang around, have a wander round the ground and get some snaps. This place was so grim it seemed a chore to get out of the car.

And so onto Albion Rovers. We drove through more of grim urban Glasgow scenery until we reached Cliftonhill Stadium. I say reached, we had to stop at a B&M Bargains to check we’d not driven past it. It took all of two minutes to survey what was in front of us before we hit the road in search of a Hamilton Academicals mug.

We’d desperately wanted a cup from a lower league Scottish team but no grounds we visited that day even had a club shop, let alone being open. However Hamilton advertised a shop that was open till 5pm, so when we arrived at 4pm and figured out how the hell to get to the ground from the Morrisons opposite, it’s safe to say we were livid at the sight in front of us. Shutters down.

No Hamilton mug, and hailstones, meant only one thing. With Celtic Park briefly visited the night before, and the prospect of Shieldfield Park, the home of Berwick Rangers, on our way home, we were easily able to hit half a dozen grounds within 24 hours. That deserved a carvery. And so we headed for warmth and meat.

But no fucking cup. Bastards.

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Leicester City (King Power Stadium)

Next on the list of football grounds was, so far, comfortably the biggest of the lot, Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium.

Except it’s not. It’s the King Power Stadium or some crap like that. It’s a frightening glimpse of the problem with just naming a ground after a sponsor. What will the Emirates be when they eventually up sticks and a new person puts the money into Arsenal? Unfortunately for the new guy, it’ll still be the Emirates.

Anyway, this evening’s trip to Leicester was exciting. The gig was fine but a new ground to add to the list was the most pressing attraction and I was driving home with fellow comic and generally good egg John Whale. I mentioned as we were walking out of the venue that I’d like to go home via the Walkers Stadium, just to get a couple of snaps.

“I’m not driving so I can’t really oppose it, but I do strongly oppose it,” came the almost instantaneous reply. I mentioned nothing more then as we got to the car he realised I was serious. We got in the car, fired the sat nav up and began to take a 2 mile detour towards Gary Linekar’s spiritual home and suddenly John began to get excited. We were on our way.

It was delightful to see, even though he constantly tried to hide it. We arrived at the stadium which was plunged in darkness and as I got out to get a couple of snaps John refused to get out of the car. Suddenly his excitement of three minutes earlier had evaporated into childish mocking and outright petulance.

I got out of the car to take in our surroundings, John stayed in the car eating crap food from a local petrol station. There’s not a lot to be said about Leicester’s new home, especially in the dark, which is a shame as I wish John had missed loads. It looks nice and fancy and big, and had loads of people milling around; the car park was full despite it being 11.30pm on a Thursday night.

I tried to be quick to avoid further aggravation from my guest, who frankly should have been more fucking grateful of the lift and at least offered to take a few photos for me. So what can I say about Leicester? Part of it was locked, part of it was busy and part of it was covered in really odd-looking bright blue tiles.

The tiles are presumably an attempt to give the ground character which it totally lacks, but nonetheless it was nice to tick another stadium off the list and get back on the road before John actually broke out into tears.

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Worcester County Cricket Club (New Road)

A gig at Worcestershire County Cricket Club could mean only one thing – a trip to Worcester City FC after the gig for a little treat for Fury!

I rarely get the “after show buzz” that I’ve heard so many comics talk about. That adrenaline rush that keeps them awake for hours after the gig has ended, that endless search for an outlet for the massive high that they’re on. There’s no doubting that performing stand up comedy is one of the best feelings in the world, but there’s also no doubt that my bed runs it a close second. As a result, the second the show finishes I want to be on the road home.

And thus this blog entry turns sour. I’d honestly planned on visiting Worcester City’s St George’s Lane. They played their last ever game there the night after my show, and a few audience members mentioned they had tickets. Indeed, there are very real fears that the club might not exist beyond next year. I’d read up on it. But, as the show ended and I fired up my sat nav, I totally forgot I had somewhere else to be.

So, with the gig being in a sports stadium, and our dressing room being the actual dressing room for the stadium, I suppose the photos I nabbed on my brief spell at the home of Worcestershire County Cricket Club will have to do.

I know virtually nothing about cricket, and I think I can safely say this is the first actual “proper” cricket ground I’ve been to, so I have very little to compare it to, but it was pleasant. There seems to be some rebuilding work going on, and there were endless car parking spaces reserved for tea ladies which scored automatic bonus points on the mental scale.

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There was also a nice enough view of the ground from my spot in the car park. And there was the bonus of being able to meander round that sacred of sports stadia – the dressing rooms. It was slightly worrying that the kit was laid out on the floor in what looked like body bags, but hey, I got to see what the back of a score board looked like. Oh, and Worcester Cathedral, which overlooks the ground from a very prominent position.

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In short, I’ve totally ran out of ways to describe a cricket ground. There’s some photos. It was nice. Sorry for being an idiot.

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AFC Fylde (Kellamergh Park)

A weekend of gigs in Liverpool should, by the letter of the law, mean a trip to either Anfield or Goodison Park for a meander around however I ended up staying with my dad in Blackpool.20130423-022848.jpg

“Not to worry,” I hear you cry, “we’ll settle for a saunter round Bloomfield Road.” Erm, not quite. After arriving late in Blackpool on Friday night and drinking way into Saturday morning, me and Papa Fury were nursing sore heads but in need of a football fix. With Blackpool away to Brighton, we decided to take in the nearest game to us, AFC Fylde vs Stafford Rangers in the Evo-stick League.

Fylde, located on the coast about 10 minutes from Blackpool, presented an enticing day out. Managed by Dave Challinor (of 1990s long throw in fame) and backed by a wealthy chairman, their current ambition is to reach the Football League, and with plans to relocate from their Kellamergh Park home this may be my only visit there.

Our arrival presented us with a well-run club in a tiny stadium, albeit packed out with around 400 of the friendliest football folk you could wish for. Perched in the middle of farmland with plenty of onlooking sheep, there were three brand spanking new stands (one genuinely about the width of the goal) with standing on the far touch line.

There was a ridiculous oversized scoreboard and the bizarre sight of a TV gantry. Coupled with old farm buildings for changing rooms and a refreshment hit and some portakabin executive boxes, it was a ground oozing enough quirky charm to appeal to me!

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We plonked ourselves beside the away dug out and were bored senseless by their gobshite manager, albeit mildly amused by his constant whining and bullshit, which was peaked by one of the club officials telling some passing fans at half time “we’re gonna need a big performance from you lads in the second half.” A chairman giving his fans a half time pep talk? He managed to sound an even bigger tit than Delia Smith, despite his apparent sobriety. Shame on you, weird Stafford fuckwit! The worst bit was realising that with Rangers being slap bang in the middle of the table, they had absolutely zero riding on this result.

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Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable albeit dull game in pleasant surrounds. Whether Fylde achieve the dreams their backer has for them I don’t know, but Kellamergh Park, aside from being the most difficult name to spell in world football, was a pleasant experience. There’s absolutely nothing to it for a fan of stadia, so I couldn’t recommend it for stadium spotters, but it’s well worth a visit if you’re after taking in a random match at a welcoming club.

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Greenock Morton (Cappielow)

Today I had a day to kill in Greenock which could mean only one thing – a visit to the home of football, Cappielow.

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I’d never been to Greenock before – and I dare say it’ll be a while before I’m back – but that’s not for want of trying.

A couple of feelers were put out for things to do on a rainy Wednesday in this sleepy little town on the river Clyde and no responses were offered, save for “go somewhere else.” One friend even suggested it was similar to my home town Hebburn, albeit 20 years ago.

It’s safe to say Greenock’s certainly an industrial town. Even scattered amongst newer developments are reminders of the city’s past (and possibly present). The walk from the town centre along the river to Cappielow was bracing, but in horrendous rainy weather my enjoyment was limited. My hat seemed to serve only to soak up water and keep it on my head, rather than protect me from the elements.

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Arriving at the home of Greenock Morton I felt at home almost right away. Whilst it’s almost certainly one of the only football grounds with a Volkswagon dealership built into its turnstiles, it smacks of old school charm with a massive terrace just about visible.

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A walk around the ground didn’t give much away as to what was inside. It’s absolutely featureless from the outside, and had it not been for an open gate for the club’s community staff I mightn’t have any inkling as to what was within, as even the lampposts are kitted out to prevent anyone peering over.

It turns out that that’s completely pointless, as a bank opposite the stadium provides the perfect vantage point of a wonderful football stadium. A huge exposed terrace, seats either side, and a perfect green pitch. This is how I remember football. I can only imagine the place absolutely rocking when it’s full. I was in love immediately.

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No club shop on site so it was a 30 minute walk into town, through their Back To The Future themed shopping centre (if Oak Tree Mall isn’t remotely named with a nod to the Twin Pines Mall then they lose major points) and off to a random sports shop to find a Greenock Morton mug. I realised then that I’d fallen in love with the place big style. I &didn’t just want a cup that I’d bought for novelty value alone. I wanted something to cherish forever. So I snapped up two pairs of GMFC socks and got the hell out of there.

I should stress I didn’t need two pairs of socks, they were sold as a duo. I’ll write to the club to complain about that little scam. But in the meantime, god bless Greenock Morton Football Club and all who sail in her.

A wonderful football ground and a smashing (albeit rainy) day out.

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