Finding Forest: The Difficulties of Locating the Stadium
My first visit to Yeovil Town’s Huish Park recently presented more than a few problems in finding the stadium. Situated on an industrial estate in the westerly suburbs of this surprisingly unlovely town, the one road in/one road out access shouldn’t have been too difficult to negotiate, especially at a full speed of roughly 8 miles an hour.
But all this was after an unscheduled tour of Yeovil’s ring roads and roundabouts. Approaching from Lyme Regis, the bucolic south Somerset countryside gave way to the typical street furniture of modern Britain, only minus that most vital of appendages — directions to the arena.
As somebody whose masculinity would feel sorely threatened by the use of a satellite navigation system and for whom asking directions brings on an attack of shyness of which Thomas Pynchon would have been proud, this caused much anxiety that we would miss the start of the game.
Brown signs aplenty displayed the cultural and historic treats on offer — as well as the location of the local rugby club — far more lowly ranked in their chosen pursuit than the Glovers — but no indication of the presence of a Championship venue expecting the arrival of more than 2,000 visiting fans.
Indeed, what is it with those caramel-coloured boards? I first encountered them on family holidays to France in the early eighties and saw them eagerly adopted by we Brits as the decades passed. But what gives one the right to be emblazoned thereon?
Stonehenge — check. Historic market town — check. Cathedral — check. Kassam Stadium — check…
Hang on a minute — one can scarcely cover a hundred yards of ring road or dual carriageway around Oxford without being confronted by a mention of that three sided white elephant — so how have Yeovil Town managed to escape the same level of advertising?
Sure, they haven’t long been out of non-league — although neither have the Us for that matter — but is there a possibility that you have to pay to earn the accolade of such publicity?
Probably not — I hope so anyway — but another reason could be disdain for the round ball among the good burghers of a traditionally rugby-favouring county.
But moving on, several factors have led to increasing difficulty in locating our nation’s stadia in recent years and the inadequate signage is probably not the most significant one.
The absence of floodlights has been vigorously resisted by our counterparts at the blog, Floodlight Fancy and the tendency to string one’s lights along the roof of one’s arena has led to a navigation problem for the nation’s supporters.
Once, you could basically head in the general direction of a city or pile out of the train station, take a quick reconnoitre of the skyline and know exactly where you needed to go. Not so these days — sure, plenty of floodlit parks still exist but they are gradually dropping off like flies.
Ditto the age old policy of following a supporter wearing home team colours. Do this in Charlton and you may well be as likely to be on your way to the local Greene King hellhole to watch Manchester United on the telly. Yet, we still behave like sheep — having lost her way on the way to watch Preston North End at Barnsley, a pal once forced five fellow lilywhites’ fans into an impromptu u-turn in an industrial estate.
Older reasons persist too. If you head for Millwall the place, you’ll have a very watery drive to undertake to hit the New Den while the sylvan surroundings of Crystal Palace won’t help you locate the Holmesdale Road and Queen’s Park is separated from Loftus Road by Blur’s fabled Westway.
The demise of print guides such as the Football Grounds Guide have also led us to rely increasingly on online preparation — but Google, while intent on corralling every aspect of our personal buying habits into their databases, have notoriously inaccurate and out of date maps — and I’m surely not the only person who rarely finds time of a Friday to print one off.
In the end, some exceptionally friendly stewarding from the Huish Park staff helped us arrive and escape as fortunately as Reading did after Adam Le Fondre went to ground — especially after a nightmarish traffic jam prevented a quick getaway. Finding the stadium may be part of the fun when arriving in a new town, but there are limits.