black country derby west brom hawthorns stadium wolverhampton The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion. Their Black Country Derby with Wolverhampton Wanderers is among the most intense in English football.

As I plan for my next trip to England to watch soccer, I thought I would share my working itinerary, as an example of the kind of adventure one can have.

Your planning assistant, hospitality source, and guide. And travel madman.

Full disclosure: I am a travel madman. I don’t really expect a normal person to even attempt something like what I will be up to, but hey, I have a book to research. For me, these trips are not about relaxing or seeing the sights — beyond those pretty much directly related to soccer. I mean, I’ll kick around London on a “day off,” but I will also explore Norwich or Bristol because I am there for games and research.

Right, so here is what I have currently planned, just to brag show the kind of travel and planning skills I have developed — and also, of course, to show the kinds of adventures one can have in English soccer. (I can help you, too!)

  • Monday, September 11: Fly out of Portland. I’m using frequent flier miles, so my total travel cost is about $200 worth of fees.
  • Tuesday, September 12: Arrive Heathrow Airport, take a bus to Oxford. Check into a $63 three-star hotel and go see Oxford United play Bradford City in a Tuesday night League One tilt. If tickets are more than £20 I will demand an explanation.
  • Wednesday, September 13: Wander around someplace, doing research. Catch up on sleep.
  • Thursday, September 14: Arrive in Bournemouth, stay in a $70 three-star hotel by the beach.
  • Friday, September 15 — my birthday, by the way. Spend the day exploring Bournemouth and begging, cajoling, hustling, whatever it takes to get a ticket to AFC Bournemouth’s game that night against Brighton and Hove Albion. It’s a South Coast Derby in 10,000-seat stadium, possibly the hardest ticket in all of England, and the only Premier League club I haven’t been to. All I want for my birthday is a seat in the Vitality!
  • Saturday, September 16: Transfer to Portsmouth, see them play Fleetwood Town in League One. Explore town.
  • Hoping to see the Gunners play here.

    Sunday, September 17: Go up to London, where I really, really hope to get a ticket for Chelsea v Arsenal.

  • Monday, September 18: Relax in London.
  • Tuesday-Wednesday, September 19 and 20: Attend League Cup games somewhere, probably around Greater London. These games will be announced in about a month or so.
  • Thursday, September 21: Transfer to Gloucester, and possibly rent a UK car for the first time. The reason: Forest Green Rovers.
  • Friday, September 22: Forest Green Rovers FC v Swindon Town FC.

I have to pause here and explain how excited I am about this Forest Green Rovers situation. You see, English soccer is arranged in a pyramid of leagues, connected by promotion and relegation, which means no matter how small you are, you can play your way up to … well, the Premier League. Just ask Bournemouth and their 10,000-seat stadium.

So for this year, I was looking at the new teams in the fourth tier, League Two, which is the lowest of the all-professional English Football League. And there is a new club called Forest Green Rovers, in the Football League for the first time ever. They’ve been a club since 1898!!!

The New Lawn, home of Forest Green Rovers FC. (by FGROVER1989 on Wikipedia)

I cannot tell you how quickly I googled that name and found out they are (A) in the Cotswolds, (B) in Nailsworth, the smallest village ever to host a Football League club (population 5,700), and (C) play in a stadium called The New Lawn, with 5,000 capacity, only 2,000 of which are seats. They’ve got a home game on Friday the 22nd, against Swindon Town, from 26 miles away, and I am all over it.

Also, I plan to explore the Cotswolds for a day or two (hence the possible car), and the town of Gloucester, so I’m pumped.

Right, so back to the plan.

  • Saturday, September 23: On the train probably to Derby (three hours) for Derby County’s game against Birmingham City, who are from about an hour away. Might instead go back to a club where I didn’t take good notes before: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, or Leeds United.
  • Sunday, September 24: If the Good Lord wills it, on this day I will go to Sheffield and see the first Steel City Derby since 2012. That would be Sheffield Wednesday playing host to Sheffield United, and all I can say is, imagine if Pittsburgh had the Steelers and somebody else in the NFL. Think they would get along? That’s what I’m saying. Please please please let me get a ticket to this game.
  • Monday, September 25: Drag my tired arse back to Heathrow for a 1 p.m. flight home.

If it all works out, that is two weeks out of Portland, 13 nights in England, and 9 games. We shall see. If this kind of planning gets you excited, just book a consulting Phoner with me and I can work my magic on your behalf!

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