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 Phineas 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!

The Genova Project

As the developer of a popular email list building plugin for WordPress, I usually spout how email marketing works really well, it was just before Christmas that I experienced it first hand.

I was feeling a bit down before Christmas. I had used up all my holiday and it was wet, cold and miserable. An easyjet email said "We're now flying from Manchester to Genoa in late March". "Au contraire!", I said, "am flying from Manchester to Genoa in late March". Bish bash bosh, done. I've something to look forward to, and come late March (last week), I was ready for my trip to Genoa. Much, much needed.

I arrived in Genoa late on Thursday on a comfortable flight, and whilst I arrived successfully, I had a problem with the ticket machine. First tip: The ticket machine didn't take €20 notes and the cash machine only dispenses in €20 notes. I ended up changing the €6 bus to the centre to a €40 taxi unfortunately, and I only realised after getting into the taxi I that there was a shop there, d'oh! I could have changed €20 for a €1 bottle of water and change for the bus. Ah well. Live and learn.

Rest of the short break was incredible though, and my thoughts (obviously) quickly turned to food. I ended up going to the wonderful Pasta Street, a reasonably priced eatery with a Carbonara to die for. After deliberately getting lost on the way back to the hotel and finding a wine bar for a nightcap I had a relatively early night.

I'm so glad I had an early night as on my second day I was off to Portofino, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's an hour or so away by train or 20 minutes by boat….I didn't have a boat. Leaving early was a great idea as I arrived just before lunch, and the clouds were beginning to turn a deep dark grey. I managed to avoid the weather though and walked to the lighthouse and back. My only regret? I wish I done it 10 years ago, when I still lived in Wales and hill walks were a normal occurrance.

Lunch was Pasta and Pesto (one of the Genovan specialities, along with Foccaccia) at Ristorante da I Gemelli di Paolo & Matteo Portofino. Food was okay but the view more than made up for it, overlooking the touristy harbour and the waves cooly rocking the shore.

After an ice cream and souvenir shopping I headed to Santa Margherita Ligure, a larger port and fishing town about 15 minutes away. I headed there for a leisurely stroll along the promenade (the rain was still holding out but threatening), and a cheeky Peroni. It was a pretty place but I wouldn't drive here – the bus from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino was borderline lethal, and I apologised to a small lass who's head met my shoulder after a hard brake.

The evening out was spent having a decent meal (surprise surprise) before relaxing in a funky little dive bar called Alla Goccia Chupiteria. It wasn't a late one, as my Saturday was huge.

Saturday was meant to be a day spent worshipping the Italian religion of football, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. My original plan was to go to the Genoa Football Museum, Genova vs SPAL in Serie A, and then Juventus vs Milan on the telly box. Unfortunately, the Genoa Football Museum was shut. Instead I consoled myself by going to Galeone Neptune – which is a huge Galleon Pirate Ship (replica) used on films. I had a great time, even if Trip Advisor says it's not worth it. I feel it is probably my love for Sea of Thieves which what appealed to me, but I had a great hour or so dicking about on the boat like I was a child again.

I then went to eat in Eataly, which was a decent group of restaurants located on the harbour. I had Clam Spaghetti which was amazing, and then headed to Genoa vs SPAL for the football – which you can read about here on my football instagram account – You're Supposed to Be At Home. Give it a follow!

The evening was spent trying to find somewhere that showed the Juventus/AC Milan game, but I was surprised very few bars had TV's with football on. It was strange. Instead I ended up at the wonderful 28 Erbe, chatting to the locals, people watching, having a few beers and ruing the fact I found my favourite bar on the last day of my holiday.

The final day was spent back in Eataly having some more gorgeous fish, as well as spending a short while walking around the pretty Palazzi dei Rolli, before getting a flight back home.

So what of Genoa then? Well, I loved the food and drink, I don't think I ate a bad meal in 3 days. I wish I had one more day to visit – 4 days I feel is enough to see all the wonderful city had to offer, and I wish I had been a bit quicker on the uptake of various attractions such as the massive aquarium. I also now fly up stairs and hills after dealing with the hilly nature of the city for a few days, but I had a great time. I was on the first flight to the city from Manchester, but if you're on one of the later ones – do it.

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!

Only Here for the Kraków (Oh, and a Wedding)

The final trip abroad for me this year saw me spend a fair few days in Kraków, in Poland, for my brother and now-sister-in-law’s wedding. Poland struck me as one of those places I’d go eventually, and seeing my brother tie the knot seemed like more than a good excuse to go.

I’m not going to talk about the wedding. I don’t feel it’s the place to talk about it here. Besides, if you really want to, they may share a video on their YouTube channel. But I will say fact it was wonderful and followed the Polish tradition of weddings going until silly-bugger-o’clock in the morning, but here are some highlights for me.

20160825_104034

Things I did in Krakow

On the first morning, I took a walking tour from The Free Walking Tour Foundation. It was there we found out about the history and culture behind Krakow, as well as the weird quirks. One such quirk is the bugle player playing every hour. We also found out lots the castle’s connection to Australia, as well as lots about John Paul II.

The second day I took in a museum, the rather brilliant Krakow Pinball Museum. We’re fortunate in Manchester in that we’re close to the rather brilliant Arcade Club, but this was good fun. I’ve given full thoughts over on Retro Garden on the Krakow Pinball Museum.

Towards the end of the holiday I took another free walking tour, this time of the Jewish quarter. This tour was recommended to me to get a better understanding of Krakow. This was interesting but I feel I should’ve done this on the first day, though we were fortunate as I did this on a Monday, where many of the museums and Synagogues on the tour were open for free, and the company were licenced to take us around, which was great. I ended the day going into the  Oscar Schindler Museum, which is free on Monday. The museum focuses mainly on Krakow during the Second World War. It only has 2 or 3 rooms dedicated to Oscar Schindler. It is well worth going to, especially on a Monday.

20160829_190941

 

Where I Ate In Krakow

Food wise, I spent a lot of time in the Alchemia Pub & Restaurant, which had a great range of not-exactly-Polish cuisine, with great beer. I also found a delightful coffee shop called Cytat Cafe which was quirky and gave you quotes with every coffee.

I also loved the food at Pimento Argentine Grill – I loved the Sweet Potato and Chorizo.

But the main event, the wedding, was the highlight of the week. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Dallas Flyers Club

So after New Orleans was the main event of the holiday: a trip to Dallas to tick something off the bucket list: Wrestlemania!

We actually spent a week in Dallas, but the first 3 days was in a pretty sweet AirBNB and we spent 3 days chilling in the city (including the newest entry on my favourite BBQ Pit ever, Lockhart Smoke House), but that was largely having a few drinks, a round of mini golf, and generally getting ourselves into a food coma.

IMG-20160330-WA0017

On the Friday, we arrived in Dallas’ Sheraton hotel for the Wrestlemania weekend. We attended an all you can eat BBQ meal at Texas De Brazil. This came a close second in “Best BBQ food of the trip”, as it was slightly different. However I think the 3 day food coma after Lockhart scared me a bit so I avoided eating too much.

After that was probably the show that most of us were looking forward to that weekend, the NXT Takeover: Dallas. NXT is WWE’s separate brand which it’s developmental brand and the participants are often well liked by the hardcore audience. One such participant is Shinsuke Nakamura, widely regarded as the best wrestler in the world. Imagine if Freddie Mercury was Japanese and really good at kicking people in the head. NXT Takeover Dallas was Nakamura’s debut, facing long time favourite Sami Zayn.

IMG_20160402_000302

This match didn’t disappoint, and was easily the second best match I’ve ever seen live. The crowd was lively for this match and it went longer than 20 minutes. It’s well worth checking out! The rest of the card was pretty good too, with the two title changes being standout matches, if the main event was affected by the early cut on Samoa Joe.

The next day I woke relatively early and headed to Wrestlemania Axxess. This was relatively disappointing mainly because the queues were incredibly long. It was expected to be fair and I am glad I went early as the afternoon session was just crazy. I did get to meet Goldust though which was cool, although the picture hasn’t shown up online yet.

20160402_212545

The evening we got all suited and booted for the WWE Hall of Fame. This was actually a pleasant surprise on how good this was. It was good listening to the stories and tales, admittedly one speech dominated all – The Fabulous Freebirds speech was 45 minutes of just “I’ve a live microphone, I don’t care”.

After the event we headed to the House of Blues for probably one of the more crazier moments of the weekend, a Ringside Chat with Jim Ross. It was in the notorious House of Blues in Dallas and although the drinks were probably the most expensive of the weekend (even more than Wrestlemania beers in the AT&T), everybody was suitably sloshed. Jim told a few stories and then brought on his guest – Rob Van Dam – and then things kinda went drunken and rowdy. Not rowdy enough for the gentleman sitting next to me, who slept through most of it, but nevertheless it was rowdy. After a while Hurricane Helms and Jeff Hardy (who were not scheduled to be there) turned up and then it went really downhill with the Q&A section seemingly falling by the wayside. Nobody really complained though as it was a fun evening. I just wish I could remember more of it.

20160403_010027

Onto the big day – Wrestlemania 32 at AT&T stadium. We started early, attending the Wrestlemania Terry Funk Tailgate which saw BBQ food, live wrestling, and an appearance and a meet and greet by legendary Terry Funk. The BBQ was wonderful (though the mash potato was cold? Was this a Texan thing?), and a nice surprise was that fairly well known wrestlers showed up including So Cal Val, Sami Callahan and (I think) Johnny Gargano. All – as well as Terry Funk – were lovely people. But after being fed and chatting with a few people, we headed over to the AT&T.

20160403_120242

It has been documented that getting into the stadium was a nightmare. That it was. It opened late (not too late, about 15 minutes or so late), and it was blistering heat outside. After running to the concessions for a drink, we then went and took our seats a good half hour before the show started. Thankfully we were lucky, as even as the show started people were still filing in, some not getting to their seats until well into the show.

So what of Wrestlemania itself? As a spectacle, it was wonderful (and weirdly despite being 7 hours long, it didn’t drag). However there was some strange decisions made, and the main event was the only match that I felt was really poor. I enjoyed the pre-show, the Intercontinental Title match and the Women’s match. The battle royale was fun, AJ & Jericho was a masterclass, and Shane vs. The Undertaker was a stuntfest. The rest was middling to poor though. Overall it wasn’t a dreadful Wrestlemania, and there was enough “Spectacle” to make it feel special.

20160403_185800

The next day was the final day, and we arranged to meet a few people from the BBQ for drinks and this is when I really began to appreciate the trip, after having  a few drinks, we headed to a memorable Monday Night Raw in the American Airlines centre. This show, which usually drags (as it’s another three hours) seem to fly by, with genuine shocks, returns and a rabid crowd, made this probably the second best show of the weekend.

All in all, 3 very different shows, but why you should attend Wrestlemania weekend if you’re a fan? You meet fans from all over the world. You can actually have conversations about a crazy sport and not bore people to death. Now I can count friends from all over the globe as fans of a crazy “sport”, from Americans who offered me couches, to Aussies who were super nice, and Irish people who came up with the best Roman Reigns chant I’ve ever heard. And that makes me so happy. In short, to borrow a chant, the people who went to Dallas, were awesome.

Other Notes

  • The single most frustrating thing about the weekend was the hotel. The WiFi was paid for which sucked immensely. If you have a large international contingent, WWE, please wrangle free WiFi.