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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Top Ten....................Away days

I know I have been a bit slack of late, see above, so I am reviving the Top Ten thread that I started a couple of months back. To relaunch this series of postings, I am going to rate my favourite venues to watch a game of football. The criteria is that it must still be standing, which rules out sure fire top tenners Highbury and Maine Road. And that is it. I have ruled out Valley Parade, as it is my teams home ground, and there fore cannot really be considered an Away day. So here goes, my ten best, up till now, places to watch the beautiful game.

1.Griffin Park, Brentford, London
To an old romantic like me, this is how it should be. A small ground, capacity under 13,000, smack in the borough of the team it represents, surrounded by a pub on each corner. And great pubs they are, proper football places, full of fans downing some pre match ales. The stadium is an old four sided one, with some terracing, that crowds right up to the pitch. This lends it's self to hurling cheers and jeers at the players, and also baiting the home fans, who are sat mere feet away. Grounds like this are becoming a rarity, and this one needs to be enjoyed quickly, as the club owners are looking to find some soulless multi purpose shed on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere.

2. Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
This is a personal choice, moist of the Bender Squad who have been to both prefer the Camp Nou, but to my mind, this wins hands down. It is a massive structure, and although there are one's with a bigger capacity, this one just seems bigger. The place has a definite aura about, although the game we watched, featuring all the original Galacticos, was a bit of a dud, so the atmosphere was a bit flat. The next time I visit, I will make sure that it is for a higher end game, although I know I will pay a pretty price for the privilege.

3. Goodison Park, Liverpool
Anfield, which is just across the park, has the reputation one of the worlds great football venues, but I like the more down to Earth home of Everton, which to me is a little more genuine. Because their support is not as disparate as Liverpool's (who at full time jump into their motors and take off back to the four corners of the country), there is more going off both before and after the game, especially in the pubs round the ground. Everton fans also come across as less arrogant, actually showing a bit of an interest in your team, even when they are uber unglamourous Bradford city.

4. St James Park, Newcastle
A bit of an anomaly, a massive stadium that is still down town. And with Newcastle having one of the best pub/bar scenes in the land, it is an excellent place to visit. The away section is up in the Gods, and the Geordie's staunch belief that they have a God given right to one of the games Goliaths is a bit grating, but I will take this place over a million Reebok Stadiums. In fact the biggest problem you will have on an away day here, is not getting too drunk, and missing the game.

5. Loftus Road, Shepard's Bush, London
Another London venue, down to the facxt that they are all located in residential ares, which always have a good selection of pubs near by, which helps foster a feeling of being on a proper day out, rather than just an excursion to a different stadium. I recommend the Springbok, which is within spitting distance of the ground. The layout of the stadium is also different. It has the look of a two tier shoe box. The vibe around the place is also more laid back than most of it's City rivals, which is why it places higher than some it more illustrious rivals. That and the day we went was the day that the bantams took charge of their destiny the season we made the Premier League.

6. Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
It goes against all that I preach, this one, and it is the only purpose built out of town facility you will find in this list. Why? It may well have something to do with the gorgeous spring day weather, or the exciting 2-2 draw that was played out. More likely it was down to the fact the me and Shouty were in the middle of a three day bender, and were pretty clattered by the time we arrived. Still, the Gladbach fans know how to raise the roof, and combined with our Herculean intake of beer, combined for the perfect day at the football. Fucking magic it was.

7. Camp Nou, Barcelona
I found this place a little bit of a let down. May be because it was our first annual footie jaunt to a foreign stadium, and I was expecting a little bit too much. Don't get me wrong, it is very impressive, and when the crowd sing the club song before kick off a chill runs up the spine, but for me it still lacked a little something. But the lads who went thought it was fantastic, and it still sparks a healthy debate as to which is better, Nou camp or the Bernebeau? You know my preference, and I would suggest to anybody reading this, that they sample both. Great clubs, great cities.

8. Allianz Arena, Munich
All right I lied. I couldn't resist including the home of TSV 1860 on my list. Yes it is a multi purpose out of town stadium, that takes about 40 minutes to get to by train, but two of the greatest days of my life were on the days that I went to see my second favourite team play. One was during the Oktoberfest, which is the most legendary day of the Bender squad, and the second was not far behind it. My advice is to tie in a an 1860 game with a trip to the Oktoberfest, where after the game the tents are rammed with local fans.

9. White Hart Lane, London
Yet another London ground. This one, unlike the other two listed, is not a friendly or laid back place, witness the "No Away Fans" in the pubs closest the ground, but this give it a frisson of danger, that is lacking in most grounds these days. Not as menacing as the old Man City ground at Maine Road, but it keeps you on your toes. The pub near the Tube station, which was playing a load of Chas and Dave songs was priceless.

10. Blundell Park, Cleethorpe
Home too the oldest stand in England, that is still in use, Grimsby Towns ground is a proper throwback. It is tatty round the edges, but has a charm all of it's own. The main reason it ranks so high in my list is the bar under the away supporters stand. It's like a little pub right in the middle of the ground. The stand also has a really low roof which is great for acoustics.

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