Tag Archives: Nottingham

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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Do the owners of Forest and Rovers know what they’re doing?

This week saw two controversial managerial sackings in the Championship which have raised questions about the way Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest are being run.

Sean O’Driscoll, who was appointed as Nottingham Forest manager in the summer, was shown the door on Wednesday just a few hours after his team spectacularly beat Leeds 4-2. The Al-Hasawi family, who run the club, had insisted they would give the former Doncaster manager time, but with Forest a point outside the play-off spots, they changed their minds.

Meanwhile, in Lancashire, Blackburn’s owners once again displayed questionable judgement, sacking manager, Henning Berg, after just 57 days in charge. This despite giving the deeply unpopular Steve Kean two protest-filled years at the Ewood Park helm before forcing him out earlier this season.

Both Forest and Rovers are owned by vastly wealthy people, with no previous experience in football prior to their investments. And fans at both clubs are wondering, do they really know what they’re doing?

The Trent End in Forest's City Ground

The Trent End in Forest’s City Ground

Forest

Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking was met with widespread astonishment. Forest were playing entertaining football, just a point outside the play-offs, and though they hadn’t set the world alight, there were promising signs.

O’Driscoll, who had gained an army of admirers for achieving success on a budget with a stylish but unfashionable Doncaster side, was brought in with the aim of building a side in his image. He stuck to his beliefs at Forest and looked set to challenge for a spot in the top six.

But halfway through his first season, after one of the most impressive performances of his time in charge, he was shown the door by the club’s Kuwaiti owners.

Forest fans were left decidedly bemused by the sacking, and the vast majority opposed O’Driscoll’s departure. Fans claimed they could see a project in motion and a team being built inkeeping with the ideals and values of the club.

But one of the most worrying aspects of this case is O’Driscoll’s replacement.

O’Driscoll’s seat was still warm when it was announced Alex McLeish would be replacing him.

The Scotsman’s a controversial choice at a club which has always been associated with beautiful football. McLeish’s teams have tended to play an unattractive, but largely effective, long-ball style of football.

Forest’s greatest ever manager, Brian Clough, once said “If God had wanted us to play football in the sky, He’d have put grass up there.”

Not only does McLeish’s style not fit perfectly with Forest’s historic image, on the face of it at least, his direct style doesn’t fit in with the current setup.

O’Driscoll had a side which was familiar with playing patient, passing football. Are the players capable of adapting to McLeish’s more physical, negative style?

McLeish will undoubtedly be given substantial funds in the January transfer window, and he can use it to bring in players who will understand his system. But fans are worried McLeish’s appointment could go badly wrong for the club.

McLeish could take Nottingham Forest up this season, after all, he won promotion with Birmingham City in 2009.

But Big Eck’s image and his football doesn’t fit in easily with that of Nottingham Forest. The fact the Al-Hasawi family have dismissed a football purist like O’Driscoll, in favour of McLeish, shows a basic lack of understanding of the club’s culture. It’s always worrying when wealthy owners begin running the club without consideration for the club’s culture and the fans’ interests.

Blackburn

In 1931, Mahatma Gandhi visited Darwen, near Blackburn, to meet unemployed mill workers who were angry because cheap Indian cotton was undercutting their produce. The people of East Lancashire fell in love with the skinny Indian, and since then there has always been a spiritual bond between Lancashire and the subcontinent.

That was until Venky’s purchased Blackburn Rovers and started running the club in the most chaotic way imaginable. Since taking over, the owners have repeatedly broken audacious transfer promises and consistently angered the fans with outrageous decisions.

Last season’s fan protests against manager, Steve Kean, were particularly venomous, but the owners continued to back the Glaswegian. Even though Blackburn were shamefully relegated from the Premier League, Kean remained in charge for the start of the Championship, but with Rovers 3rd after eight games, Kean was bizarrely forced out.

The club then spent a whole month looking for a replacement before opting for former player, Henning Berg. The Norwegian had previously been critical of the club’s ownership, but he accepted the job, claiming he’d been convinced they had a plan for the club.

It’s unlikely the plan involved sacking Berg after 57 days in charge, but that’s just what Venky’s have done. Incredibly, after defying the fans and keeping the hapless Steve Kean for nearly two years, his replacement couldn’t manage two months.

Admittedly the Berg era has been a joke from start to finish; the football’s been dreadfully low-tempo, he’s only won once and Rovers have rapidly slipped down the table. Uninspiring Blackburn now find themselves 17th in the Championship and dropping towards the drop zone.

The Berg experiment will undoubtedly be viewed as a disaster, and another depressing chapter in the recent history of Blackburn Rovers.

The fact Berg only lasted 57 days suggests those running the club didn’t know enough about him when they appointed him, but scarier still, it suggests they have no structured plan for their football club. Fans have constantly criticised the owners for neglecting the club and allowing it to rot, and their recent activity is a further cause for supporter concern.

Kevin MacDonald will be caretaker manager at Ewood Park until the end of the season. While he is highly respected within the game, and his record as a coach stands up to scrutiny, the appointment of a caretaker for the entire second half of the season (seemingly Roman Abramovich’s invention) stinks of laziness on the part of the owners.

While Forest fans await the beginning of the McLeish era with cautious intrigue, Blackburn fans are simply dreading the next few months, hoping they can evade the drop.

The recent sackings at Forest and Blackburn are cause for concern because on the face of it they show a lack of long-term planning, and a poor understanding of the sport by the respective owners.