The DA concludes the Mitre Football cities united tour
Ever since the 1966 World Cup final, commentators have longed to find an iconic expression they can call their own. You hear it at every major final; the guy in charge of the microphone slowly breaking up their sentences, for sound bite purposes of course, on the off chance England won’t get knocked out on penalties again or just plain suck in the last 16. No one, other than possibly very, very recently with Ray Wilkin’s hapless ‘Stay on your feet’ has managed to conclude a classic footballing moment with such precision as ‘they think it’s all over, it is now.’ Coming up with a summary for this tour I can now realise just why. It’s sodding difficult.
I wanted to say something big and bold about football; about the passion that’s engulfed me since I was old enough to appreciate the joys of placing a round object between two stationery sticks. I wanted to take the concept of some drunkards kicking round a pigs bladder and glorify it into the unreal, emotional roller coaster that all football fans live and breathe today. I wanted a classic end line about the game which would be quoted forever. Alas, it never came and so to end this tour I’ve decided, like so many writers throughout the years have, to simply plagiarise somebody that was far, far better than me at what they do… They think it’s all over. It is now.
The quest to find the best footballing city in the country has taken many turns throughout the year. When I finally returned to my football home, Adams Park on Saturday to take in what I’d missed all year long in the reassuring chants of my family of football fans cheering on Wycombe Wanderers; the team I’d followed for as long as I can remember, I’d already taken in a league’s worth of football experiences up and down the country, from north to south and east to west (cough, not Wales, cough). From day one when I was draped in the colours of Crystal Palace as they kicked off their season with such high expectations (don’t check where they are now) to the final game at Stoke City just weeks ago, I’d learnt that being a supporter is an epidemic, and passion is something that flows throughout the entire football league. Even in locations I didn’t particularly take to I could see how much it meant to the city. Despite the fact no one in Birmingham seemed to realise they even had a team until fans gathered about 200 yards from the ground, or the fact that Oxford United is literally built in what can only be labelled as the British Area 51 didn’t prevent me seeing the joy that each individual team brings to it’s fans on a weekly basis.
At places like Fratton Park, the Ricoh arena and Goodison; in fact everywhere I went for that matter, I saw people greeting each other and talking football as part of what had become the standard Saturday afternoon. The waves, the smiles and the debates I’d long taken for granted at Wycombe filled every stadium and it was absolutely fantastic to be a part of. Newcastle fans hugging me after just five minutes, despite not quite understanding why a Geordie had a cockney accent, an Exeter City fan picking me up from the station and letting me hang out with his group all afternoon, despite having no idea who I was, and the Stoke City Southern supporters club fuelling me with free ale on the long train ride home from the Britannia stadium told me that no matter where you go to watch football in this country, you’re in good company. There are 92 clubs in our league system. 92. And feasibly you can reach every single one of them in a day and see a damn good football game. Tell me in what other country around the world could you possibly suggest the same concept?
That’s not to say there isn’t things wrong with our game. The price of entry at most grounds is a real worry for me and a mention must go out to Manchester City, one of the biggest clubs in the country for charging the lowest price around that I encountered for a ticket. League One games at £26 a head is not sustainable in my book and it says something for the loyalty of most fans that attendances remain so high. It was also very noticeable that the new flat pack stadiums such as the Ricoh and Southampton’s St Marys were nowhere near as popular as their characteristic predecessors. Saints fans longed for the days of the Dell whilst the Ricoh, despite it’s luxury Vegas style casino, lacked any sort of atmosphere. The idea of ripping out a city football club’s soul to make some money and sell some sponsorship rights is one football clubs need to be very careful with in the future. Call me old fashioned but stumbling through a muddy woodland trying to follow torchlight home from Brighton’s Withdean Stadium was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me. I don’t want to be just another number in a lifeless stadium. I want to feel like I’m part of the furniture, and the adventure.
So how to decide a winner? When I started the tour I set three ground rules. 1st place would be decided upon a mixture of the city itself, the footballing experience and the fans. Of course, the odd decent pie wouldn’t have done a club any harm; neither would a good pint of beer and a decent game, but ultimately the decision was based on the three things aforementioned put together. As someone once said (plagiarising again) you can never please all of the people all of the time and as already discussed throughout the year, the Anfield faithful will always argue I never had the true Liverpool experience due to my necessary scheduling decision to take in a game at Goodison Park Instead. I would say the same for fans of teams like Notts County too but seeing as Meadow Lane and the City Ground must be the only semi detached football stadium I know, I probably got a strong appreciation of what Nottingham was all about.
The top 5 then of the greatest footballing cities in England (in the opinion of us here at the DA) – insert drum roll –
5) Bristol Rovers v Brentford, Week 5 – Bristol Great city, quirky ground and very welcoming fans.
4) Exeter v Bristol Rovers, week 2 – Exeter A better day out than Exeter you probably won’t find and a great place to enjoy a summer fixture with great supporters.
3) Norwich City v Leyton Orient, week 15 – Norwich A really interesting city to spend the day, a traditional ground with great hospitality and a good atmosphere to boot. Norwich play some exciting football too.
2) Everton v West Brom, week 12 – Liverpool The history of football in Liverpool speaks for itself. And there is so much to do around the city in a day. Just never buy a restricted view seat at Goodison!
But the winner of the 2011 Mitre Footballing cities united tour can only go to one place. Passion can not be used to describe the dedication towards football here. The club watches over the bustling city, and the people live for the club. You will never have an experience quite like it, and to say they keep the entertainment factor in football would also be a massive understatement. In 1st place:
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the tour this season. You can read all the locations under the Mitre foot ball cities united tour tag on the right hand side, and to see the album of photos collected throughout visit our Facebook page. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the tour. Until 2011-12, the journey is over (insert final line of plagirism here…Or settle for ‘the end, and it was all a dream.’)