I feel like I’m getting pretty good at planning trips to see English soccer.
That sounds like bragging, I suppose, but it’s true. A couple of years ago, all I really knew about was the Premier League, and finding my way to a game at West Bromwich Albion felt like a cultural adventure outside my comfort zone. And actually, it was; I CouchSurfed for the only time in my life, met some locals, and became a temporary Baggie. It was awesome.
Now I’m off for about my seventh such adventure, and parts of it are becoming routine: cashing in frequent flier miles, searching for convenient flights, digging through the schedule for which games to go to, picking the ones that look interesting, getting good seats, finding hotel deals … the whole deal.
And my knowledge of the leagues has deepened, as well. This time I’m going to places like Burton Albion, Barnsley, Norwich and Stevenage — and not only do I know what they are, I know that at least two of these games are local derbies that I am lucky to have tickets for and I cannot wait to see.
So there is a lot of gratitude, and all the usual excitement, even while there is trepidation at the cost. I am in another cramped economy seat, trying to write on my iPad while the guy in front of me pushes his seat all the way back and goes to sleep; I hardly slept last night, and I won’t sleep at all for about 24 hours.
And just this morning, a fellow writer friend gave me a ride to the airport, and all we talked about was how you have to hustle for every damn penny if you want to have a creative, flexible, satisfying life. And so we hustle. And whether it makes any financial sense at all, I am off to England, soccer tickets in hand.
This Trip: Five Games, Five Cities, Nine Days
So, just as an example of the kind of itinerary one can put together — and that I can help with — here’s my plan:
- Fly from Portland to Heathrow, 30,000 Delta miles, arrive at 10 a.m.
- 12:15 bus to Birmingham, because the train costs more and I’d have to go into London, arrive around 4.
- Spend my “zombie day” wandering around, trying to stay awake, and going to the Hawthorns to collect a West Brom badge for my collection.
- Have a proper balti for dinner!
- Friday morning, look for the best breakfast in Birmingham.
- Midday Friday train to Burton-Upon-Trent, not to be confused with Burton-Upon-Stather (I love England!) and check out the traditional home of England’s brewery industry, including the headquarters to Bass Pale Ale.
- 7:45 p.m. game, with a spot on the terraces, at Burton Albion FC, a team only founded in 1950, made it to the Football League in 2009, is already in the Championship. The opponents are Blackburn Rovers from up in the Northwest.
- Saturday morning train to Barnsley, where I will explore town for a couple of hours — which seems to be enough, figuring the top 10 locations in town are the same as every other completely generic English town: a park, a petting zoo, a local museum, some Victorian building, a natural area, the football ground, and so on. I’ll just look for the best fish and chips and the pub with the home fans.
- The game at 3 is Barnsley vs. Huddersfield Town, a Yorkshire Derby that will be close to a sellout. Huddersfield are in the playoff places for promotion, Barnsley are trying to get there, and they are separated by exactly 36 miles. Yes!
- After the game, four hour (ugh) train to Norwich, arriving at 11 p.m. — if I make the eight-minute (!) connection in Peterborough. Check in to a local B&B between the station and stadium, for about 60 bucks a night.
- Noon Championsip game on Sunday: Norwich City vs. Ipswich Town, the biggest rivalry either of them have. Had to get a membership to get a ticket. Pumped.
- From Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning, stay at the B&B, relax, and explore Norwich, with its 11 medieval sites and amazing history.
- Tuesday train to Stevenage, check into a boutique hotel ($50), catch some evening League Two action: Stevenage FC vs. Leyton Orient, which at least looks like a local derby as they are 53 miles apart.
- Wednesday I was almost off to Manchester to see City play Huddersfield in an FA Cup replay, because they are only 45 miles apart, there will be thousands of Huddersfield fans there, and it would be magnificently awesome. Alas, they set it for Tuesday.
- Wednesday and Thursday I relax, perhaps explore some new area, maybe go for a hike or two, maybe hole up in a hotel and write like hell.
- Friday morning bus from Victoria in London to Swansea in Wales. Explore all afternoon.
- Saturday morning, best breakfast in town, more exploring, then a 3 p.m. relegation six-pointer between Swansea City and Burnley. More exploring afterwards.
- Sunday morning, early bus direct to Heathrow, 2 p.m. flight back home, 30,000 United miles, $225 Heathrow Tax.
The total cost for this, I reckon (hope), will be less than $2,000. Closer to $2,500 if I was buying my airplane ticket.
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See you around the grounds!