Race to 100 err…103 grounds complete

Bloody England.

And Bloody Wales.

And Bloody Worcester City.

So I have been embarking on a trip to see as many football teams play in as many stadiums as possible. I had hoped to reach 100 by the end of the season, and I did! I thought I’d did it on a Tuesday in mid April when I went through the turnstiles at Deepdale (home of Preston North End), ticking off my 100th ground.

Or so I thought.

Turns out, like all brilliant minds do every now and again, I had miscalculated. I had seen 100 different teams playing at various stadiums. However, I’d actually ticked off a fair few already.

Let me explain using my beloved Wales.

Ask me if I seen Wales play at home, then I would say “Yes”. I had. However I’d seen them play in two different venues that they call “Home”: The Millenium Stadium & Cardiff City Stadium. Same applies to England (Old Trafford & Wembley) and Worcester City (St George’s Lane & Aggborough). Like Phileas Fogg, I’d well and truly screwed up my calculations and actually achieved more than I thought.

So in actual fact, my 100th ground – Ramsbottom United vs Colwyn Bay – was completed on a cold Spring evening in Late March, making Preston, Blackpool, and my trip to bloody Genoa rather redundant.

Oh well.

All in all, I feel a weird sense of pride with my achievement. It’s means nothing, didn’t make me healthier, didn’t raise money for a charity or even do something for somebody. It was selfish, it was selfish bloody minded stubbornness for something that impressed only me and a few other people. I don’t think I’d even put it on my Tinder bio.

But I don’t care, as for this journey, there has been a weird solace for me within a WhatsApp group. Two of my friends from university heard about the challenge and decided to go for their own challenge related to it. One of which was to hit 100, another was to hit 50. If absolutely nothing else, as I hurtle to my mid 30’s, I’m glad that I’ve managed to reclaim and spend some quality time with two great friends. That has been what has made the last 6 or so month’s special.

I’ve not decided if I’m continuing to 200, or 250, or whatever. This isn’t swimming: the next 100 will probably be harder, but I’ve paired with one of my friends and we’ve started a little instagram account for groundhopping. You can see it here at @ystbah. Please give us a follow!

Anyway, now onto some stats!

  • Most Northerly ground – Firhill, Glasgow (Partick Thistle)
  • Most Easterly & Southerly ground – GSP Stadium, Nicosia (Cyprus)
  • Most Westerly ground – Giants Stadium, New York (New York Red Bulls)
  • I’ve watched football matches in 13 different countries: Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, United States and Wales.
  • I’ve watched football at 59% of the teams in the Evostik Divison 1 North, my most populous league.
  • I’ve seen football played in 23 competitions: European Championships, World Cup Qualifications, European Championship Qualifications, Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, Championship, League 1, League 2, Conference North, Evostik Premiership, Evostik Division 1 North, Evostik Division 1 South, North West Counties Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, FA Trophy, League of Wales, Cymru Alliance, League of Ireland, Scottish Premiership, Bundesliga & Serie A.

Anyway, here’s a map!

Anyway, if you have any questions or anything, I’m opening the comments up to an unofficial AMA, if you have any questions for my escapades, leave them in the comments!

3 Favourite Wrestling Matches (I Saw Live) in 2017

So last Sunday (at the time of writing) I saw my last wrestling card of 2017 – with PROGRESS Chapter 59: Whatever People Say We Are, That’s What We’re Not in Sheffield crowning off a year in which I’ve seen 14 shows over 6 companies (though, to be fair, technically was 13, as one show I was a roster member for). It seems a lot less than I thought I’d seen, but turns out I didn’t do much at the beginning of the year.

Interestingly, as a year for a whole, it’s been – strange. First off, the most shocking moment was when “The Word” Rudy Wynne made his long await, chubby bearded arse comeback at Britannia Wrestling’s Against the Odds 2. Considering the length of time since I last stepped foot in a ring, I didn’t embarrass myself I don’t think, and I was welcomed back with open arms by the very friendly and talented roster. I hope I didn’t stink up the joint!

Also, looking back, the match quality has been good. Great in fact. Better than last year. But I feel that to actually pick 3 matches that made me go crazy or jump out of a seat, with a few notable exceptions. The matches I list below are matches that I – as a jaded wrestling fan – enjoyed and became unglued to at certain points during 2017. My goal is to actually become a fan again, rather than rate on workrate or some sort of points scoring for artistic impression, the top 3 matches listed below are matches that all had me smiling, cheering and generally going crazy over at certain points during the match.

First off the Honourable Mentions though. These are matches that I thought that were good, and stood out on their respective cards. I’d highly recommend checking these out: South Pacific Power Trip vs. British Strong Style (PROGRESS Chapter 45: Galvanize), Soner Durson vs. Marc Morgan (BWP: Against The Odds), Mike Bird vs. WALTER (PROGRESS: Cologne), Laura Di Matteo vs. Toni Storm (PROGRESS Chapter 52: Vote Pies), The Band vs. Dan Evans & Natalie Wild (BWP: Summer Break) and literally the entire of PROGRESS Chapter 57: Enter Smiling.

Very, Very, VERY Honourable Mention Trent Seven vs. Wolfgang: ICW Fight Club on Tour – Manchester

If I was to be asked who my favourite wrestler is in 2017, I’d probably say Trent Seven. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him had a bad match, and probably PROGRESS Trent Seven is my favourite wrestler – the beard, the dad bod, he just seems – so achievable. Plus he’s older than me too so it gives me hope that there’s still a run left in me. His “Yeah, I’m basically WWE, deal with it” is brilliantly played, especially as a good guy, has me in stitches.

Up until recently, the main event of the first show of the year (and first ICW show) was in the top 3. The reason I enjoyed it? The match was so much different to what we are used to seeing in Manchester – a kind of Hybrid British Strong Style (no pun intended) of people being hit hard and dropped on their heads. This was more of a hardcore match, that was brutal for what was effectively a house show taping in Manchester in front of a smallish crowd on a Sunday night. This was very watchable and I suppose also being front row and having two big bastards fighting above you was an incredible sight. It was a very good match and an end to a decent show.

3. Adam Chase vs. Chris Ridgeway – PROGRESS Chapter 59:Whatever People Say We Are, That’s What We’re Not

Last year, I picked James Drake vs. Fabien Aichner as my third favourite match of the year, beating Adam Cole vs. Will Ospreay at PROGRESS Chapter 40: Intercepted Angel. The reason being is that it was so unexpected. A match that comes out of nowhere to impress me kind of engrosses me more than when two seasoned veterans put on a match.

So fast forward to PROGRESS Sheffield, and some background. First off, Britain was in the middle of a snowstorm that engulfed pretty much half the country. This meant that people couldn’t get to Sheffield, including some of the wrestlers. This included the entire of British Strong Style, Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster. 4 WWE UK guys and a participant in PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles. So quite a few heavy hitters.

A few wrestlers though stepped up, and one that did was a Spanish wrestler by the name of Adam Chase. He stepped in against Chris Ridgeway at such short notice and had an incredible match. To go from a lukewarm polite applause to having the entire of the o2 Academy in Sheffield on their feet in 5 minutes was very impressive, and after 10 or so minutes of cracking action Ridgeway won. This match was so unexpected, but announced that Adam Chase belonged in PROGRESS. It was great, and I enjoyed it immensely.

You can see this match on Demand Progress.

2. Travis Banks vs. Matt Riddle – PROGRESS Chapter 52: Vote Pies

A lot of PROGRESS has been the Travis Banks show this year, his rise to the World Championship has (for right or wrong reasons) dominated a large amount of the stories surrounding PROGRESS. This was after his Super Strong Style 16 victory for Banks and the story was Banks and PROGRESS Champion Pete Dunne putting together each others matches. Whilst Banks gave opportunities to Dunne’s opponents, Pete Dunne usually put Banks in difficult matches. This I believe was the first or second match for this.

What followed was two of PROGRESS’ brightest stars of the year that weren’t in British Strong Style legitimately beating the living bejesus out of each other. This was simple, and even though it had a screwy finish the first 10 minutes of the match which had me jumping and screaming made it my favourite singles match of 2017.

You can see this match on Demand Progress.

1. wXw – Shortcut To the Top Match

It is hard to do Royal Rumbles. I should know, I bloody agented one not a million years ago. Having 30 men queued up, keeping an eye on cues and generally making sure everything goes well (clue: it usually doesn’t) is hard work. So I have a lot of respect even for the terrible Rumbles WWE put on occasionally.

But when it goes right, oh does it go right.

I travelled to Cologne for the PROGRESS/wXw double header, but whilst I went for the PROGRESS, the better show was the wXw one. The weekend culminated with a cracking rumble that had 30 top stars from all over Europe, a few surprises, a few fun eliminations, and a genuinely brilliant story told from #1 all the way through to the end. Furthermore, it was the culmination of a great weekend, where I met some great people, and whilst it may not be at the top of many lists, everything about that weekend was perfect. After all, wrestling is meant to be fun.

wXw Shortcut To the Top is available on wXwNOW.de.

Those are my three top matches for 2017, what are yours? Please leave them in the comments below!

PROGRESS Wrestling Events Calendar for Google Calendar (and others)

So I was…volunteered…recently to create a PROGRESS Wrestling Event Calendar to showcase all the events on Google Calendar (similar to how football teams have done). The hope is that once a year it’s updated with the show dates once known, that way if you’re planning holidays or less important things such as weddings you don’t book on the date of a PROGRESS show. It isn’t perfect (I’m sure I switch between 2 or 3 different times, and I haven’t included the shows for the end of 2017 I don’t think), but it should give you a rough idea of when PROGRESS have shows.

How to Install

Click here to download the ics file

Here’s how I’ve installed it in the systems I’ve used and tested with. Of course, I’m testing with systems I own.

Google Calendar

Click to download the file, and then go to Google Calendar, click “Settings” and then the “Calendars” tab. Create an empty calendar (call it PROGRESS Wrestling or something). Click Import Calendar. Browse to the file downloaded, upload it into the empty calendar created, and it should sync.

Android Phones

Download it and it should sync with your chosen Calendar App.

Apple Mac

Click to download the ics file. The file is downloaded, click to open it and it opens in Calendar for Apple Mac.

Questions?

I’m going to try and keep it up to date, but this is more of a labour of love rather than anything more than that, so please be patient (I run a business and have a day job too). But any questions (as well as any corrections) feel free to drop me an email and I’ll try and get back to you. Though to be honest I’m utterly crap at answering emails at the best of times. But yeah, this is a fan project, be sure to check out PROGRESS’ stuff as it’s mint.

Also if you want to buy me a drink (a few people have suggested it). Yeah, sure! Cheers! Mine’s usually a Tuborg. I don’t go to Camden Shows but usually in the shows up north.

Getting to 100

So, I had a realisation a few weeks back at The Kensite Stadium (home of the mighty Atherton Collieries FC) that I had been to a lot of football grounds. 94 in fact.

That’s quite a lot. Not as many as some, but a fair few, probably more than the average fan. Truth be told, the amount of football I’ve watched has dropped considerably, largely because Colwyn Bay FC have been poor the past few seasons (suffering two straight relegations after I waxed lyrical about their great escape a few years back), international football has been amazing (but there’s only a few games per year you can get to), and of course, love for the graps.

But, call me a bandwagon returner, but Colwyn Bay’s season has started…okay. We’ve looked pretty decent in parts, so I’ve turned my eye back to the old mistress that you never quite got over. But looking at the amount of grounds I’ve been to, there’s a fairly big number on the horizon.

100.

I’m currently on 94. After consulting with a friend it was decided that 5 didn’t count as I didn’t see a game there (Everton, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Anderlecht & Barcelona). As such, I’m on 89 as of time of writing.

I reckon I could hit 100 before the end of the season.

I worked out that I’m likely to hit 92 by Christmas (I’ve a wedding to go to and the day before is Chesterfield vs Morecambe, Hertha Berlin are playing in the Europa League when I visit Berlin, and a friend has invited me to New York Stadium to see Rotherham vs Shrewsbury Town). I reckon I could hit the last 8 before the end of the season.

There is one caveat to this though. Since most of England discovered that Ben Woodburn cannot play for them, Wales may qualify for the World Cup. It’d be quite nice if my 100th ground was actually in Russia seeing Wales play in a World Cup final, now, wouldn’t it?

But that’ll be known long before the end of the season. We’ll jump that hurdle when we get to it. But yes. 100 football grounds before the end of the season. Let’s go!

My Top 3 Professional Wrestling Matches of 2016

This year has been a great year for professional wrestling. It has seen the increase of the popularity of the UK Scene, as well as WWE being equally brilliant and poor, but overall this year has been great, with more great matches than any time I can remember.

I saw a fair amount of wrestling in 2016. Not as much as I would like, but a decent number. I mainly achieved a personal goal of mine and ended up going to Wrestlemania. Though the matches on that card weren’t the best, there were other shows that put on great matches. Of the year, here are my 3 favourite matches of 2016. This list are matches that I saw live (rather than those that I saw on TV). Remember, this is a list, so is subjective. If your opinions differ, then good for you!

3. James Drake vs. Fabien Aichner: PROGRESS Chapter 37 – A Sudden Sense of Liberty

There had to be a PROGRESS match on the list (PROGRESS being my favourite promotion of 2016), and rest assured that if this list had been a list of 5 or 10, then more PROGRESS matches would be present. However it isn’t, and it was a toss up between Adam Cole vs Will Ospreay at PROGRESS Chapter 40: Intercepted Angel, and this one.

Why Drake vs. Aichner got this nod is because whilst Cole vs. Ospreay was always going to be good (both talents get plaudits the world over), this was unexpectedly great. Drake is a relative unknown in PROGRESS, and Aichner was making his PROGRESS debut, his only previous appearance for me was in a losing effort against PROGRESS Alumnus Jack Gallagher in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.

This match was great, Aichner displaying a STUPIDLY GOOD top rope plancha, and whilst not a “flippy shit” match, what was done was done incredibly well. This was the show after PROGRESS Brixton that saw 3 of its most recognisable stars leave for the WWE. The show felt like it could be a hangover from Brixton, but this match cemented (and the show going forward) that the London based promotion was in good hands going forward.

You can watch this match by subscribing to Demand PROGRESS.

2. Mike Quackenbush vs. Johnny Kidd – Chikara: The Chamber of Secrets

Be a wrestling fan for any length of time (even shorter if you are involved in any way), and you start seeing the same storylines crop up over and over again. I pretty much predicted the ITV World of Sport TV Taping after the first match, wrestling can be obvious to the jaded fan. It makes sense, for casual fans having an easy to follow storyline increases the entertainment value, but for us, it can be predictable. Watch the ending of the first few Royal Rumbles to see it – 2 bad guys vs 1 good guy, and the good guy wins. Overcome the odds, if you will.

Which is why when something you have never seen before drags you in.

It requires some luck and clever booking. In this match, long time British Wrestler Johnny Kidd was wrestling his last match (actually his last but one match, but I didn’t know this, so go with it) against owner of Chikara & special attraction Mike Quackenbush. Both I’ve never seen fight before, and this match was under Admiral-Lord Mountevans Rules. For those of you who are unaware, it’s 2 out of 3 falls, with rounds, and with a time limit. It’s more similar to boxing than WWE.

What was to happen? The match had a time limit, with 8, 3-minute rounds, and as the match was 1 fall a piece, it introduced another variable to the match foreign to those who are used to the WWE style – the possibility of a draw.

The story was simple, could Johnny Kidd win his last match before retiring? As the match went on, the rounds would tick down, the crowd getting more into it and Kidd becoming more desperate, with Quackenbush holding on. In the end, well, go and watch it. It’s worth half an hour of your time.

This was a great piece of storytelling that was accentuated by both Kidd & Quackenbush’s in-ring skills.

You can watch this match by subscribing to CHIKARAtopia.

1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn – NXT Takeover: Dallas

So here’s the thing. WWE talk about “I was there” a lot. The notion that buying a ticket even to a house show means that you will witness history. Admittedly watching a house show or even a Monday Night Raw means that your history may be Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler for the 290th time, but they trade on it a lot.

At Wrestlemania, whilst the card was underwhelming, for most of the year I thought that I’d get to see The Undertaker’s last match (a winning effort inside Hell in a Cell against Shane McMahon), but it sounds like he will be returning for a future match, probably at Wrestlemania. So my “Historical Moment” took place earlier on in the weekend.

The WWE Debut of Shinsuke Nakamura.

NXT Dallas was my first experience of the Wrestlemania weekend, a build up of a week that saw wrestling fans meet up, share drinks and stories, and generally get hyped up before the main card on the Sunday.

NXT was the amuse bouche, in front of 4,000 of the most passionate fans. Slotted in the card towards the end saw Sami Zayn – an NXT stalwart – face the debuting star from Japan.

Here’s the thing, I’ve not been familiar with Nakamura, who is a superstar in his native country, but after this match I became a huge fan. A hard hitting style, and Freddy-Mercury levels of charisma, meant that his matches have become a much watch. Zayn did his part too, in a true babyface vs babyface, as Zayn eventually lost the match, doing the honours in his final match. Nakamura’s oh so catchy instant classic music ended first, before Zayn received plaudits from the 4,000 strong crowd before becoming full time on the main roster.

At the beginning of the match I wasn’t aware of Nakamura’s skills. By the end of the match, I wanted to be Shinsuke Nakamura when I grew up.

You can watch this match on the WWE Network.

Anyway, these are my 3 favourite matches of 2016. What are yours? Leave them in the comments!