The Best Championship Grounds
As international week rumbles on and as we find ourselves exhaling with anger at Sepp Blatter’s sudden imposition of a seeding system on the World Cup play offs, as well as cringing with embarrassment at the vast improvement brought about on the Beeb’s Football League show by replacing Championship with League One, Bhasin with Chapman, and Claridge with Rosenior, an idle moment has found me contemplating which of the twenty four grounds in the Championship is the most enjoyable to visit. Sure, a stadium’s surrounds do have a lot of impact on one’s thinking, so Newcastle United’s Euro 96 staging bowl is surely a shoo-in? Isn’t it?
Well no…despite that wondrous bright lights, city centre location, the sheer lopsidedness of St. James’s (those two smaller stands once seemed big back in the early nineties) and the position of the away end a quarter of a mile from the action up in the Gods eliminate the Geordie experience from a place in my thinking. Similarly, the match day experience of a high street teeming with shirtless Teessiders stood outside chain pubs also disallows Middlesbrough from any claim to recognition. Another vaunted favourite, Peterborough United, miss out despite their fulfilment of the aims of the Stand Up, Sit Down legions. No…here are my personal top two choices and, notwithstanding my failure to attend a match at Cardiff’s new stadium (although it looks mighty characterless on the box), I am confident of my reasoning, but am prepared to be argued with:
The City Ground in Nottingham is my first selection, not only due to the pleasing mish mash of an away end which prevents a feeling of a featureless bowl à la Walkers Stadium, but mainly because it is scenes that took place outside said stadium (albeit in fiction) that have lent this website its name. So, I am being shamelessly biased — although a match at Forest still seems like a grand day out, what with the river, what with a chance to check out Svennis’s new quarters on the way, and what with that spanking cricket stadium — and no, I’m not including Hooters in the equation.
Secondly, and because I can’t resist an Archibald Leitch criss-cross design (albeit one that has been obfuscated with comedic local adverts), we have the utterly charming Home Park of Plymouth Argyle fame. Surrounded by a bucolic park and atop a hill, the arena seems well…homely…amidst the grit of this proud maritime metropolis. It may seem a long way to get there courtesy of First Great Western and the three newer stands would lack character were it not for Argyle’s unusual deployment of the colour green, but the Mayflower Stand sits proudly as a sign that the former times are unforgotten: the perfect environment in which to bolt down a pasty.
I’ll be at the Hawthorns on Saturday — a close contender due to its curries served in pubs — and Loftus Road on Tuesday — a cracking, crackling little box of a place but with legroom for children and sightlines for the disinterested. Then there is Hillsborough with its sheer immensity, gables and electric atmosphere, but one inextricably interwound with sadness. Preston’s Tom Finney seat motif is a rare symbol of wit from the current age and Donny might triumph were it not for the Frankie and Benny’s. No…the City Ground and Home Park are my two: argue away!