I suppose I’m getting pretty good at going to England to watch soccer games — which I should be, now that I’ve seen more than 100 of them at more than 60 different clubs.
In fact, on this 2017 trip — during which I turned 51 — I hit my 50th different club, which now includes everybody currently in the Premier League and 20 of the 24 teams in the Championship. I’m an awfully lucky guy.
But I thought I would share a little about my tour, because … well, sure, to brag a little … but more to let people know what kind of trip you can put together. Or maybe that I can put together, which is the other reason I wanted to talk about it: because I offer these planning services on my consulting page, so I suppose I want to strut my stuff for a moment. And I like having an audience.
I flew into Heathrow on September 12th and took a direct bus to Oxford, because going into London right off the plane is a bit much, and the buses from Heathrow are excellent. I saw Oxford United (get to know them here) draw, 2-2, with Bradford City that night (here’s a report, which is mostly about the lad banter going on behind me), then toured the town a bit the next day and caught a train to Southampton.
I had been to Southampton before, so this was just a research run. I stashed my luggage (pre-arranged through CityStasher.com) and toured around, then that afternoon hopped a train to Bournemouth. Tiny AFC Bournemouth is the hardest ticket in the Premier League, which may seem odd, until you understand they’ve got fewer than 12,000 seats!
My plan was to simply arrive in town and ask everybody I talked to about getting a ticket, and if I didn’t get in at least I could do the town research for my book. I checked into a cool hotel I found on Expedia, and asked the desk clerk about a ticket. And lo and behold, the night clerk had a season ticket and couldn’t make it, so BOOM. I was in. Sometimes you’ve just got to fling yourself into it.
I spent that Friday, which was my 51st birthday, touring Bournemouth (meet the city and the club here), which meant taking a bus ride along the coast to a port town, hopping a boat to a seaside village, going for a walk on the Coastal Path, and then heading back to town for the game. That was a cracker; Brighton and Hove Albion went up early, but Bournemouth stormed back and won it, 2-1. Nice birthday present; here’s a report.
Saturday I trained it down to Portsmouth, but the day got away from me and I didn’t see much of the town. I did gather there’s a serious Naval aspect to it, though. You can read about that in my introduction to Portsmouth FC. And you can read about the game I got to see in my report (complete with corrections from Portsmouth fans!) from that day’s 4-1 win over Fleetwood Town.
Sunday I headed for London to see my English (non-birth) family for a couple of days off, then it was off to the West Midlands for a couple of nights. Tuesday I saw Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Bristol Rovers in the League Cup, and Wednesday it was just down the road to West Bromwich Albion, where I saw Manchester City beat the hosts, 2-1. That, by the way, ended a 12-game unbeaten run for the home team on my visits. I did have a lovely chat with my neighbor, though.
Thursday I headed for the Cotswolds, because there is now a League Two club up there called Forest Green Rovers — I knew I had to see them when I heard about them and their location. I kicked around the village of Nailsworth that day, went for a walk to a village called Minchinhampton, and had dinner at my wonderful hotel, Wild Garlic. Friday I took a hike on the Cotswold Way (read about that over at PaulGerald.com) and then saw Rovers lose to Swindon Town, 2-0.
Saturday morning I was off early, by bus to a train to another train and then to the town of Derby, which honestly doesn’t seem to have a lot going for it other than beer and donuts … which is a lot, I suppose. I saw a game there that afternoon, and the phrase “damp squib” comes to mind. They drew, 1-1, with local rivals Birmingham City, and honestly I couldn’t even bring myself to take any notes about it. Bleh. I’ll come back and try again, Derby County!
Sunday was the culmination, the day I had been dreaming of, the Steel City Derby. It’s the most exciting fixture in the league this year, for me. I was thrilled to get a ticket, thrilled to be there, thrilled by the city of Sheffield, and absolutely blown away by the game. Sheffield United won, 4-2, in Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, and I captured the key moment on a video that I tweeted out that evening. By lunch the next day it had been liked and retweeted thousands of times, proving once again that picking the right game and the right seat, and being lucky, make all the difference.
I took a train back to London that evening, got a nice room by Kings Cross Station, and wrote this post (and several others) on my flight back to Portland. The whole thing couldn’t have gone much better, and to top it all off, my beloved Portland Timbers won, 3-0, while I was gone!
Love life. Love travel. Love football.