Sunday, 29 September 2019

Done The 92

Saturday saw me complete a five-year journey to see every single Premier League/Football League ground – I visited the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, bringing to a close a run that started (97 games ago, actually) at Preston North End’s Deepdale.

Chronicled in my doing the 92 book series ‘Playing Offside’ (available on Amazon Kindle for a very reasonable price – the final part with the Tottenham game released in the next few months!), along the way I’ve tried to delve into the history and current standing of each club, their hopes and aspirations and what effect they have on their local communities. I’ve met many interesting people, heard some very interesting things and almost been assaulted by a mascot.

With Bury sadly being expelled from the EFL and Coventry playing their games at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s, it’s been more of a ‘doing the 90’ this season – but my point all along was to visit all of the current grounds in the top four leagues, so I’ve achieved that at least!

As there are two relegation places that feed into the National League, teams and their grounds were always going to be passing each other during the last five years – but I think I’ve done okay on that account. Throughout the series, the grounds that have disappeared from the 92 (that I already went to) include four clubs who have gone down into the National League (Barnet, Chesterfield, Notts County and Yeovil Town), one club who have gone down to the National League and since returned (Leyton Orient), Coventry’s Ricoh Arena that they no longer use and Bury’s Gigg Lane, of course.

This journey should have ended at the end of last season but as the months grew on-and-on and ground-after-ground was ticked off, Tottenham still hadn’t completed their stadium – considering it was supposed to be opened in September 2018, the constant delays caused a sense of frustration amongst their supporters, let alone myself! In my own selfishness, I was sort-of hoping that they would delay the opening until the start of the 2019/20 season – that way, I could complete the 92 in 2018/19 by visiting their ‘temporary home’ at Wembley Stadium. But no, they opened the new ground in April and I was left to contemplate another month-or-two’s worth of Groundhopping at the start of this season!

In the end, I didn’t mind that the end of this 92 was slightly delayed – along with a visit to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, I would need to go to National League play-off winners, Salford City (which is a local club to me anyway) – I had already seen National League champions, Leyton Orient, in 2015 meaning that I would only have to do two grounds to complete the 92. Except during the summer, Coventry ended up moving to Birmingham and Bury dropped out – but as a raging completist, I went to see Coventry play at St Andrew’s last month so I completed the ‘91’ for this season!

I won’t be going into my experiences of the new Tottenham Stadium here (you’ll have to get the book for that!) but needless to say it was a great experience. I’m not just talking about the aesthetics and the numerous amenities the stadium has, nor the way in which crowds are marshalled after the game to allow easy and timely access to public transport links, but just the way journeying to this new stadium would have felt the same as it would a hundred years ago when people made their way to the old White Hart Lane.

Okay, the stadium being built in the same place as the old one is probably a big help with that (!), but with the sheer size of the new stadium, you might have expected it to have a major impact on streets for miles around. But no, without the football shirts on display, anyone new to Tottenham High Road would assume that walking down it with these throngs of people would be your average Saturday. When you do arrive at the stadium, it seems to be part of rows of buildings you’ve been passing for the last half-an-hour, even despite it's look and sheer size – it’s part of the community, is what I’m trying to say. Like EVERY football club should be; which is a very rare thing to say about a football club’s new stadium, especially one of our top clubs!

You will be able to read more about this in Volume Five of Playing Offside, which will be in early 2020 – stay tuned to the blog's Twitter account (and this blog itself!) for updates.


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