Planning a big finale?

‘Doing the 92…’ it has a bit of a ring to it doesn’t it? I was seven years old when my dad took me to my nearest, and first, league ground to see Plymouth Argyle v Swindon Town on Boxing Day 1981. Home Park was rather more terraced than it is today and my only recollection is the referee falling over after giving a free kick, funny what you remember isn’t it?

Fast-forward 18 months and I am stood in my house wearing a full Southampton FC kit, a ‘bribe’ by my parents to make our move from Sunny Salcombe in south Devon to the port of Southampton more palatable.
4th September 1982, my second ground (of the 92) was to become my favourite and a ‘home’ for life (or so I thought). A one-nil win over Aston Villa, who we always seemed to beat at home, came thanks to a goal from a chap on loan called Justin Fashanu. I was now a Saints fan. In my eyes the Dell, ‘our’ ground was stunning, the green of the pitch, the closeness to all the action, the autographs freely given at the bottom of the stairs where the players came out and the half time ‘alphabet board’ giving the half and full time scores.

Plymouth Argyle and Southampton FC match day programmes from the 1980s

Programmes from Chris’s first and second grounds

Yes away fans thought it was a ‘toilet’, yes the views weren’t always the best and yes they sold out of pies at half time (presumably they had ample all week…) but it was home. I started in the Milton Road end, had a season in the ‘family centre’ (the awkward triangular effort that replaced the much-loved ‘chocolate boxes’) then the East stand with the proper grown up fans and finally two or three seasons behind the Archers road goal where we had a roof and could actually effect the results of games with our vocal support and banter with opposing goalies (yes that’s you Ian Walker…)

Away games were not within reach for a while for various reasons until we moved to Essex and suddenly it was closer to go ‘away’ than home. My friends were West Ham, Arsenal and Spurs fans and other than the Dell (and now St Mary’s) these were my most visited grounds in the 92. Stood in the South Stand with West Ham fans singing ‘Billy Bond’s Claret and Blue Army’ for days at a time, stood on the ‘North bank’ with my best mate refusing to celebrate a famous Arsenal comeback against Nottingham Forest and seeing Saints do surprisingly well at White Hart Lane on many occasions, a 3-1 FA cup win being the highlight. I could also see Friday night football at Southend United’s Roots Hall, fabulous evenings under the lights as Stan Collymore et al took the shrimpers to the edge of the English top flight.

I was now 17 and I have my first car, suddenly I’m watching Saints at Leeds United’s Elland Road on Boxing Day, I’m at Crystal Palace seeing a ripped shirted Iain Dowie improbably score some goals, I’m at Sheffield Wednesday seeing us lose 5-1 to a Chris Bart-Williams hat-trick and the number of grounds attended is on the up…

The iconic turnstiles for the Grandstand at Home Park

The iconic turnstiles for the Grandstand

Ok, time for a technical interlude.

My parents moved to Billingham near Middlesbrough and I have the opportunity to tick off Hull City’s wonderful Boothferry Park, York City’s Bootham Crescent and Scunthorpe’s new ground which they are moving on from soon (that makes me feel old..), Saints are never going to play ‘here’ so why not ‘get them done’. Fine, until I meet a Burnley fan who had been to ‘over a million grounds’ (or something like that) and ‘all with Burnley’… what? You have to tick the 92 with your own club? I quickly did the sums, isn’t going to happen…. Saints had been in the top flight for 27 consecutive seasons and the league cup 2nd round and fa cup 3rd round draws would never give us enough Bury away’s to achieve that surely? Thus I learnt the first rule of ground hopping; ‘there are no rules’. For me I am aiming to do the 92 and will always go back if I can to ‘do it with saints’ but if/when I do the 92, it will not be a pure ‘Burnley 92’.

Back to the grounds…

Saints did then of course (a) move ground and (b) go down to league 1 (and back up). This gave me a chance to visit Rochdale (who beat us home and away – fair play!), Walsall and a great day at Leyton Orient, a cracking ground and a club we are all surely happy to see on the move again. The Saints move to St Marys however brings us to our second technical interlude.

2nd technical interlude

What happens when you have ticked a ground / team but they move to a new ground? Well as before ‘there are no rules’ so it’s basically up to you! For me, I want to say that if/when I get to complete ‘the 92’ that I’ve seen them all at their ‘current ground’. So even though I’ve been to Bolton’s Burnden Park, (a long way from Southampton) and I missed our only goal by Matt Le Tiss (who else?) as I was in the toilet, I ‘need’ to go back to the Reebok or whatever it’s called now.

Fast forward to last year and I began writing for an American Stadium Review Website called ‘Stadium Journey’, suddenly I have a reason to visit some of those remaining ‘outliers’. A trip to Cambridge United’s excellent Abbey Stadium (Cambs Glass I know…) followed by a visit to Burton Albion’s Pirelli ground brings me to my current totals…

Grounds still needed to complete the 92

If it says (new) then I’ve been to one of the their old grounds but not the new…
Championship – (1)
Bolton (new)
League 1 – (7)
Shrewsbury (new)
Fleetwood Town
Rotherham U (new)
League 2 – (3)
Acc Stanley
Grimsby T

View from the Young's Upper to the Humber Estuary

The delights of Blundell Park still await Chris

81/92 completed (69 with Saints) and 11 to go…

Quick tip – Having a decent list of ‘conference’ grounds ticked can help so each season you don’t go down a notch or two – thankfully I’d ticked Lincoln City (with Saints) and Forest Green Rovers (not with Saints) previously. How many of the 92 have I done ‘with saints’? well that stands at 69. Do I have an understanding wife help? Yes! Has having my 2 kids to take to grounds helped? Yes! So what now…?

A Big Finale?

Well I hadn’t really thought about it and as it stands I won’t be able to make significant in-roads into my last 11 in the next year or so. My plan therefore is to forget it, hope saints get a pre-season friendly somewhere new (yes I count games even if they are pre-season friendlies) and get excited (and then probably disappointed) about the 17/18 ‘Caraboa’ Cup 2nd rd draw although if its regionalised…

These days I get just as much of a buzz about visiting overseas grounds and new non-league grounds. Overall. including league, non-league and overseas grounds I’ve visited over 450! Recent trips to Arhem and Milan (with Saints) and Calais, Dunkerque, Linfield and Crusaders (not with Saints) has fired my enthusiasm for overseas trips. I also love the character, the ‘ramshackle’ and the banter of non-league football. That, and my love of collecting programmes promoted me to start a twitter homage site to non-league football programmes called @nonlgeprogs give us a follow and keep an eye out for my ‘big finale’ – out of the remaining grounds to visit, which should I save until last? and what do you actually do at 4:48pm when the last one is done…?

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to share his journey doing the 92 so far. To keep up with Chris on the finale leg of his 92 and other groundhopping exploits on Twitter @tuckster07.

If like Chris you fancy blogging about your experiences doing the 92 league grounds drop us a tweet to @the92dotnet.

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