The Best Championship Grounds

Posted by on Oct 12, 2009 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

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!

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

10 Comments

  1. Frank Heaven
    October 12, 2009

    The City Ground would win if it was only about location, but the stadium itself is, I'm afraid, a dog's dinner.

    I don't go in for featureless bowls either, but Forest have ended up with a right mish-mash: all bar one corner is open, and the join from the Brian Clough stand on to the Bridgford Stand is a botch job.

    Of the redeveloped grounds, I think Deepdale has a bit of style and individuality, their design providing echoes of Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa.

    But it's those grounds that have barely changed that I look forward to most: Hillsborough, which I hope to visit for the first time this season; and the cramped yet atmospheric confines of Loftus Road.

    Reply
  2. Ben
    October 12, 2009

    I love St James' – but then you could've guessed that. Given the quality of some of the away ends I've been in (even in the Premier League), the bird's eye view you get there is still better than many. And if the football's bad you've got a great perspective on the Tyne Bridge!

    Off to the City Ground on Saturday. I've been several times before and must confess I've never been very struck by it as a stadium – but I do love its location, within a stone's throw of both Trent and Trent Bridge, and not much further from Meadow Lane. When there's sport on down there, the place really does have a cracking atmosphere.

    Cardiff's ground is smart and modern, naturally – but, as you say, it's also characterless. Over time that might change, but just at the moment, plonked in the middle of a big car park which effectively separates it from Ninian Park, it's not a patch on the old place. Pride Park is much the same.

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  3. Lloyd
    October 13, 2009

    Looking through the league, it seems that there's 8 soulless bowls: Boro, Cardiff, Leicester, Cov, Swansea, Derby, Doncaster and Reading. Of those that I've been to, I'd venture that Reading is the worst of the lot. Miles away from the town centre and the nearest pub, it's a quite forgettable away trip. Derby is similarly bad, but I've heard good reports about the Brunswick pub nearby, although I didn't make it there myself.

    The only time I've been to the City Ground was for a 2-0 FA Cup third round defeat in 1994-1995. The Trent End had just opened if I remember rightly. It was my first (and last) solo trip with the Junior Greens and I recall being amazed by the closeness of the two stadiums and the Forest-branded burger wrappers.

    Personally, I don't have a favourite ground in the league. QPR was good until the prices went up and I've never made it to Wednesday. Preston is a little dull, but is situated quite nicely in a park a la Plymouth. I loved Charlton and Brentford, so it would be nice to see one of those come up again.

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  4. Lanterne Rouge
    October 13, 2009

    Largely fair comments about the Mad Stad although Leicester is identical, only with more seats crammed in and therefore less leg room. Southampton is also unpleasant in this respect. One should remember, however, that the “bowl” concept for a ground was devised as a direct answer to an earlier set of stadia with open corners such as St. Johnstone and Stoke and was hence an improvement.

    Reply
  5. Matt R
    October 13, 2009

    Would echo comments about Home Park and St James Park. Always quite enjoy Forest too, and love the cave at Hillsborough. But I find it hard to divorce aesthetics from experience… so somewhere like Bramall Lane, where we've had any number of memorable, combustible encounters with t'Blades, will always rate highly for me.

    Also, you can't beat a steep stand. Angle of incline is a big factor… hence, Craven Cottage is rubbish (as is any ground where chairs are nailed onto terraces), but Hawthorns gets a big tick…

    Reply
  6. Matt
    October 13, 2009 Reply
  7. Mirko
    October 15, 2009

    They are pulling down Ninian Park at the moment and have recently pulled off the cladding from the main Grandstand, look what they found beneath:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/murfilicious/4012428104/in/set-72157621003722689/

    As a Cardiff fan I was very worried about moving to a new stadiun. After a while you become resigned to it and it's not so bad. It is at least close to where we used to drink before games at Ninian Park and it isn't in a horrid location like Reading's (I mean in a retail park on the edge of a town, not in Reading!)

    The atmosphere is quite good as the acoustics are better due to there being a roof and the sound not floating away. It's not wonderful, and the club certainly need to do some work on personalising it but I'm not too displeased with the result.

    Reply
  8. Lloyd
    October 19, 2009

    Interesting to hear from a Cardiff perspective. Resignation hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement, but at least you've been able to maintain the match day routine. Can't put a price on that.

    Not sure what clubs can do to personalise a stadium once it's been built, though, other than play a few thrillers there so that the ground begins to gain a bit of history.

    Reply
  9. Lanterne Rouge
    October 19, 2009

    I think the builders of new grounds should start to take a leaf out of the American book whereby the era of concrete bowls is behind us and new stadia evoke the great grounds of yesteryear – the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards is an example of this. So, can we please have our gables back? Perhaps the prime example of where this has gone wrong is the new Wembley – there should be an echo of the Twin Towers somewhere – even if they had been retained as a gateway to the car park. Instead, we have a national stadium designed to suit Norman Foster's design portfolio.

    Reply
  10. TTU Awards 2009/2010: Best Ground | The Two Unfortunates
    September 14, 2012

    […] at the Forest should be positively singeing next term.   This is a controversial category explored informally and enjoyably over the comments section on these pages before. Honourable mentions to Peterborough for their standing areas, Plymouth for the old stand at Home […]

    Reply

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