Monthly Archives: January 2013

The best away days (and weekends) in the Football League

Football tourism has exploded in recent years across the globe as more and more people decide to combine football with their holidays.

Last year 4% of visitors to the UK watched a football game while in the country, and Brits are regularly hopping on planes for footballing weekends on the continent. Barcelona, Amsterdam and Munich are all very popular due to the good beer, delicious cuisine, fabulous sights and of course, the entertaining football.

But many English football tourists don’t leave their homeland, choosing instead to take weekend breaks in England. There are plenty of fascinating and intriguing cities which are perfect for a relaxing weekend away, but which also offer a fantastic matchday.

If you want a bit more out of your matchday than just a long journey and 90 minutes of football, here are a few suggestions of great matchdays in the Football League. These places offer football with extras; sights, culture and nightlife.

So, where are the best matchdays in the Football League for away fans?

 

Carlisle United

Situated to the north of the Lake District and just ten miles from the Scottish border, Carlisle is probably the Football League’s most remote outpost.

Carlisle is a beautiful little city, surrounded by picturesque countryside. Brunton Park is on the outskirts of Carlisle, but there are a few good pubs around the ground. You can also walk fifteen minutes along Warwick Road into the city centre where there is an abundance of pubs and plenty to see.

The city centre has attractions such as Carlisle Castle, the Cathedral and the Citadel, but just walking around the quaint streets of this medieval city is a pleasant experience. Carlisle’s Tudor revival architecture is very impressive, and you’ll find many small shops and cafés if pubs aren’t your scene.

And if you want a bit more peace and quiet, Cumbria has some of the most beautiful scenery in England. Head off for a hike or even a scenic drive around its spectacular hills and lakes.

Carlisle fans are notoriously friendly, and are usually very talkative. Carlisle’s the perfect away day for the start or the end of the football season, when the sun’s shining.

 

York City

York’s return to the Football League was greeted joyfully by League 2 fans who knew what a great matchday it can be. Bootham Crescent, York City’s home ground, is less than a 15 minute walk from York’s main sights and the bustling city centre.

York is one of England’s oldest cities, and also one of the most beautiful. It has several historic sights worth visiting such as York Minster, York Castle and the city walls. With nearly 2,000 years of history, it’s not surprising York has a plethora of museums, the best of which is probably the Jorvik Viking Centre.

The city may seem too cultured for football supporters, but don’t worry, there are plenty of places to drink. There are a few pubs near the ground, all of which accept away fans, and the nightlife in the city centre is highly recommended.

York City fans are generally very pleasant, therefore visiting supporters never feel threatened, and can converse easily with the locals.

 

Cardiff City

Cardiff has been transformed in recent years into a modern European capital city, with plenty to see and do, other than watch the football.

The Cardiff City Stadium is located in the Canton area of Cardiff, which admittedly isn’t a great advert for the Welsh capital. Other than the newly erected shopping centre near the stadium, there’s very little for away fans to do, as none of the nearby pubs allow travelling supporters. This is due to Cardiff fans’ reputation for violence and antagonism, and though the club has taken great strides in recent years to eliminate hooliganism from the club, Cardiff fans remain generally less welcoming than most Football League fans.

The best way to see Cardiff on an away day is to arrive in the city centre and travel to the game by train after a bit of sightseeing.

Milennium stadium tours are very entertaining, while Cardiff on a rugby day is an experience.

Milennium stadium tours are very entertaining, while Cardiff on a rugby day is an experience.

Cardiff city centre is packed with good pubs, great shopping and some brilliant sights. The Millennium Stadium tour is a great use of a spare hour, and Cardiff Castle is an extremely impressive structure.

Since Welsh devolution in 1999, a fortune has been spent making Cardiff attractive to tourists. Cardiff Bay used to be an industrial wasteland, however the new Senedd (Welsh for parliament), the Millennium Centre and the array of new bars and restaurants, have made it a glamorous honey pot.

If you’re lucky enough to have an away game in Cardiff on the same day as rugby international, a night out with the boozy egg-chasers is recommended.

 

Plymouth Argyle

The Football League’s most Southerly and Westerly club, Plymouth Argyle, offers a brilliant away weekend, which caters to football fans of all tastes.

Plymouth is a naval city, and as such has a wide variety of drinking establishments. The Barbican is the perfect place to spend a hot afternoon, with plenty of pubs offering great food and drink, while North Hills is ideal for student nights out.

Near the stadium, the Britannia is the most popular place for away fans to congregate.

Home Park is a strange ground, with three modern stands and a single, classic stand running along the touchline. The Green Army are very proud of their club, and fans enjoy discussing football with visitors.

If you want to chill out (or nurse a hangover) on a Sunday, the Hoe is a fine place to sit and relax. But if the weather permits, why not head to a local beach? The coastline around Plymouth is dotted with quiet, picturesque, sandy beaches where you can lay down for a bit or sample the surf.

And if you don’t fancy watching Plymouth play, you could always jump on the ferry and head off to watch lower league football in Spain. There are ferries travelling from Plymouth to Santander, where Racing are struggling in the Segunda after last year’s relegation from La Liga.

 

Notts County and Nottingham Forest

Only 300 yards separate the Football League’s two closest grounds, and the city of Nottingham provides a great football weekend.

Though Meadow Lane and the City Ground are around a 25 minute walk from the city centre, there’s plenty to excite fans in the area around the two stadia. There are pubs and food outlets around the grounds, and the Nottingham clubs are the only ones in Britain with a nearby Hooters, where fans can enjoy good food and drink, surrounded by skimpily-dressed waitresses.

The grounds themselves have been modernised over the years, and fans of both sides are generally friendly.

The Oldest Inn in England, in Nottingham

The Oldest Inn in England, in Nottingham

Nottingham’s city centre isn’t the prettiest, but it has an instantly recognisable statue of Robin Hood, paying tribute to the area’s most famous figure. There’s also now a statue to the city’s most celebrated adopted inhabitant, the late great Brian Clough, who led Forest to two European Cups.

The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, established in 1189, is believed to be the “Oldest Inn in England,” and though this fact is disputed by some, what can’t be debated is that it’s a great historical sight, which also serves a good pint.

And if you want something a little rowdier than a medieval pub, Nottingham’s renowned nightlife should do the trick. With hundreds of bars and clubs, Nottingham has developed a reputation as one of the best nights out in the UK, so if your team has lost, there are plenty of places where you can forget about it.

 

Shrewsbury Town

Many fans would argue the away trip to Shrewsbury has lost a bit of its shine since the club relocated from the quaint, Gay Meadow, near the town centre to the modern Greenhous Meadow stadium on the outskirts of Shrewsbury.

But Shrewsbury still has plenty to offer visiting supporters. The town centre has impressively retained its charm, and the Tudor and Georgian architecture give the place real character.

The castle towers over the rest of the town, and looks mightily impressive. There’s also the church of St Chad, which is the second largest domed church in the UK. Shrewsbury has a reputation for good shopping, with many people attracted to the town at Christmas time when the streets feel particularly atmospheric.

There are a few pubs around the new stadium, although fans also have the option of drinking in the town centre before catching a bus to the ground.  Shrewsbury town centre has plenty of great pubs and restaurants, and is capable of being a good night out.

 

Blackpool

The Football League has many seaside resorts which are worth visiting like Bournemouth, Brighton and Southend. But Blackpool is Britain’s number one seaside resort for a reason.

Bloomfield Road itself is a short walk from the promenade and the beach, and the seaside is practically unavoidable for away fans, whether they’re there for a weekend, a day or simply a few hours.

Only a 20 minute walk from the ground is the famous Pleasure Beach, with its fantastic selection of rides and amusements. It’s a brilliant attraction for kids and big kids alike.

There’s also Blackpool Tower and the pier, which are both must-sees, and for younger supporters a donkey ride along the beach is essential.

The ground itself has been modernised, but the away stand still looks rickety and hastily built compared to the rest of Bloomfield Road. Home fans tend to be very welcoming and pleasant.

There are plenty of pubs around the ground which cater to all tastes, and there’s no need to travel far to look for somewhere to eat or drink. If you’re there for the weekend, Blackpool is full of pubs, bars and clubs, which guarantee an eventful night out.

Although Blackpool is normally associated with the summer, it can be enjoyed in any conditions when there’s football on. Blackpool may seem tacky to some, but most see it for what it is: an old-school resort town, which promises a good time.

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Bournemouth’s Eddie shows Howe it’s done

The disappointment which accompanied Bournemouth’s draw away at Premier League Wigan on Saturday says a lot about the Cherries’ improvement since the return of Eddie Howe as manager.

Bournemouth were denied a memorable FA Cup victory at the DW Stadium by a 70th minute Jordi Gomez equaliser. Former Torquay man, Eunan O’Kane, put the visitors ahead with a blistering first half effort, but they couldn’t hold on and will now have to face Wigan again on January 15.

But Bournemouth won’t fear Roberto Martinez’s team when they visit Dean Court, after all, they are unbeaten since Eddie Howe rejoined the club in mid-October.

Howe’s arrival after nearly two years at Burnley triggered a turnaround which has lifted the Cherries from the League 1 relegation zone to the edge of the play-off spots. Now fans and players alike are targeting promotion to the second tier for the first time since Harry Redknapp’s era, over two decades ago.

Bournemouth's Eddie Howe feels at home at Dean Court

Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe feels at home at Dean Court

The first time round

Howe shot to prominence during his first spell in charge on the South coast. Then the youngest manager in the Football League at 31 years old, he led unfancied Bournemouth to promotion from League 2 in his first full season.

The following season, despite fierce competition and a miniscule budget, Bournemouth flourished in League 1. However halfway through the season Howe broke Cherries fans’ hearts by moving to Championship Burnley.

Howe was universally adored at Dean Court and fans believed he’d accomplished miracles during his time at the helm. But the events of the second half of the season raised questions about Howe’s ability.

Bournemouth, under the leadership of striker Lee Bradbury, went on to reach the play-offs, agonisingly losing their semi-final against Huddersfield on penalties. Howe on the other hand had an inconsistent and largely unspectacular time at Burnley.

Throughout his tenure at Turf Moor, Howe failed to build momentum and Burnley were stranded in mid-table. People quickly forgot about his feats at Bournemouth and much of the earlier buzz surrounding the young manager evaporated.

Fast-forward to October 2012 and Burnley were once again threatening to push for a play-off spot, but were looking unconvincing. Bournemouth on the other hand had won one of their first 11 games, and appeared to be in deep trouble.

Howe made an extremely brave decision to leave the comfort and safety of Championship Burnley, so that he could drop down a division for a battle against the drop at his old club.

The second coming

His gamble looks to have paid off spectacularly.

Ten wins, four draws and no losses have catapulted Bournemouth from the relegation zone to 7th, level on points with the MK Dons, and outside the top six on goal-difference. In the 14 league games played since Howe’s arrival, the Cherries have scored 31 goals and they’ve now kept four straight clean-sheets in the league.

Howe’s inspired the players and got them playing some stylish and intelligent football. The current Bournemouth team, with its vibrancy, confidence and audacity, seems unrecognisable compared to the stuttering, goal-shy outfit which slipped into the bottom four in October.

One of the main ways Howe’s achieved success is by getting the best out of his big names and big personalities.

Summer signing, Lewis Grabban, has been netting regularly for Bournemouth, and he’s hit the kind of form which got him recognised at Rotherham. Other attack-minded players have also raised their games substantially, including Eunan O’Kane, Marc Pugh and highly-rated Harry Arter.

Other experienced figures such as Simon Francis and Miles Addison have played well, while the presence of veterans Steve Fletcher and David Jamesin the dressing room has benefited the young manager.

Another masterstroke was the decision to bring Brett Pitman back to the club. Pitman was a key player in Howe’s first spell at the Dean Court helm, and in December he was brought in on loan from Bristol City, where he’s struggled for form. He’s since scored three goals and signed a permanent deal with Bournemouth.

Perhaps a promotion?

Howe has reminded the football world why he generated such hype during his first spell in charge at Bournemouth.

Attendances are up substantially, and there’s a belief Bournemouth can bypass the play-offs altogether, and finish in the top two. They’re the form team in League 1 and opponents are dreading their visits to Dean Court, where the Cherries have lost just once all season.

Howe’s time at Burnley will be judged a failure because he never managed to ignite excitement at the club, and never looked like getting the Clarets promoted.

Howe seems at home on the South coast, and after his unsuccessful venture in Lancashire, he will probably be less willing to leave Bournemouth this time round. He knows and understands the club having spent a total of 15 years at Bournemouth as a player and manager.

Howe’s affinity with the club is key to his success, and under the former player’s management, Bournemouth could undoubtedly challenge the top two this season. Howe’s returned to the club to finish a job he started in 2008 and the second coming has provoked the question, Howe far can Eddie take Bournemouth?