Written circa March 2018 for The Red Final
A Lock In, A Riot, A March, A Programme, A Headlbutt, A Turd and A Duncan Shearer Overhead Kick.
People refer to football teams’ homes different things, grounds, stadiums or shitehole in the case of Dundee United. I personally prefer the term “ground” but it’s all about prerogative I suppose. The word ground in a sporting sense is defined as –an area of land, often with associated buildings, used for a particular sport, whereas stadium is defined as –a sports arena, usually oval or horseshoe-shaped, usually with tiers of seats for spectators. Shitehole however is defined as by the Oxford Dictionary as –lice infested tip, home to an insignificant football club supported by deluded band of gypsies living in the shadow of their more successful neighbours. The difference in definitions is not the reason I use “ground”, it is just my preference. It is now a word that has found its self being one of the most prominent in my vocabulary in recent times.
Turn the clock back twenty-seven and a half years to the 7th of August 1991; the Dons took to the pristine Pittodrie turf for the first time in the 91/92 season against Dunfermline Athletic. A team comprising of Theo Snelders, Stephen Wright, David Winnie, Brian Grant, Brian Irvine, Stewart McKimmie, Willem Van Der Ark, Jim Bett, Scott Booth, Robert Connor and Hans Gillhaus emerged out the tunnel to a crowd of 13849 in the warm summer sun. As Jim McCluskey blew his whistle to get things under way an ecstatic yet unsure 6-year-old me sat in the Merkland Road Stand surrounded by various family members about to witness my first ever football match in my first ever ground. I still remember entering place and immediately inhaling the first whiff of the much-missed pungent aroma of Bovril mixed with cigars that filled the air and hearing the constant crackle of the tannoy blaring out shite music and almost inaudible announcer (some things never change). There was also club legend Drew Jarvie (complete with Dons bunnet) warming up big Theo by rocketing balls off target into the “Paddock” causing a scramble of kids trying to retrieve the stray shots which in fact turned into a bi-weekly occurrence for years to come. My memories of the game itself are slightly hazy but I do remember celebrating the goals, my auntie and cousin on one side constantly checking to see if I was ok and my brother on the other side teaching me the songs. As the full-time whistle sounded after a convincing 3-0 victory with a first half strike from Jazzer Bett and two late goals from Brian Grant and Eoin Jess whom along with Peter van de Ven was a used substitute, my lifetime of visiting grounds was off to a flyer. It was unbeknown at the time that this game was the catalyst for a lifetime of many miles, half time delicacies, beers, places, good people, venomous rants and brilliant trips. I had started my career as a “ground hopper” (shite terminology but very common on the World Wide Web)
Back to the present and the 8th of February 2018, the ADO Den Haag Stadion in The Hague, I was to walk through my 100th turnstile. To be honest I had plans of grandeur on the cards for my centenary but with my collecting mutating into an addiction I found myself in the filthy Cars Jeans Stadion (to give its current name) as the hundredth came at me quicker than expected. (Watching Penarol in Montevideo had primarily been my plan). ADO Den Haag will more than suffice as I have grown fond of Dutch fitba on my travels. The Hague is a friendly city in a great country where I could celebrate my achievement by having a few Heinekens. I really couldn’t complain how it panned out. The game itself was decent too with the home team triumphing 1-0 over a clearly better team in Vitesse but footballs a funny game and sometimes results don’t reflect games and this was a prime example. As a reminder of that night taking pride of place on my man cave wall are the programme, ticket, photo and pennant all framed complete with a similar sized empty space next to it for a 200th montage. I wonder if I can reach that milestone before the new “Stewart Milne Homes Superdome” out in the sticks is built. Sounds like a challenge to me!
I have asked myself this a few times, is one hundred grounds a special achievement? I do not even know the answer to the question in the grand scheme of footy fans. I suppose it is to an extent as I don’t personally know anyone else who’s done it. Also, the fact that at thirty-three I have done it when I was hampered by thirteen years of being the Paulo Maldini of north east juvenile/junior/amateur fitba on a Saturday. With that Pittodrie has always taken priority. Then there is the added hindrance of the fact that since 2010 I have been working away half the year, so I think I have done pretty well.
I mentioned earlier of an “addiction”, that may be a strong term so let me call it a very moreish hobby. I have always enjoyed attending a new ground but in the early days a high percentage of that was through supporting the Dons with a few Highland League and Junior games chucked in when the Reds were on the road. Looking back I would pinpoint my quest to conquer the Highland League around two and half years ago as the time when it became a proper hobby. I have always noted the places that have been graced with my presence, which leads me to believe I have always been a subconscious “hopper”. These days it has now evolved into the biggest part of my life barring my wee man. I continually find myself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean constantly looking up soccerway.com and Scottishfootballfixtures.wordpress (my bibles) to see if any fixtures have moved so I can attend when I am home. As I write this I noticed matches at Excelsior, Shielfield and Cliftonhill were postponed this week and I now have my fingers firmly crossed they are rearranged for when I return from work. But it extends beyond that, I have created a bucket list of places I will visit at some point which is currently topped by the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville and randomly Somerset Park is a close second as every time I see it, it seems to emanate an old school vibe which I find extremely appealing. The list is not all I have found myself geekishly concocting. I have also set up missions; the Highland league completion was obviously one. From there I have now started the Scottish forty (sevco and celtic can get well and truly to fuck). The aim is to visit/revisit every ground in the top four divisions, watch a game and get my photo there and I am currently sitting on twelve. I have a feeling that I will miss out on Central Park in Cowdenbeath as they are fucking murder this season and are relegation fodder. Once I have completed that I even know my next footballing traipse is to be. An idea I have shamelessly skyjacked from a book I read, “On the Trail of The Scottish Holy Grail: From the Toon to the Joons” by Shaun E Smith. Basically, I will visit the home of every team to win the Scottish Junior Cup in my lifetime. Eighteen so far as Auchinleck Talbot have been fairly dominant and won it 10 times since I entered the world. This quest will involve a fair bit of travel with the closest team to my Garioch home being Carnoustie Panmure. Ayrshire will be visited at least seven times and to be honest I am not sure if I am looking forward to a day out at Abbey Park, Kilwinning. If ever there was a fucking disgusting hun pit Kilwinning is up there. The fact they are they are Kilwinning R*****s tells you all you need to know. But going back to the book, the difference is between the author and me is he started when he was fifty and lives in Gateshead, some effort by the man. Worth a read if you can find it. Another daft plan I have hatched and currently working my way through is visiting the ground of a foreign team for every letter of the alphabet. There is no time limit to it but I have rapidly knocked off A, B, C, D, F, L, M, N, R, S, U, V, W and Y. I cannot wait for a trip to see Željezničar
As my hobby has grown arms and legs, I have taken to reading online clubs, forums, and websites specifically for “ground hoppers” and there plenty of people from all corners of the world who have equalled and smashed the hundred milestones. But reading some of the entries and looking at the pictures from some of these folks I reckon they would count the likes of Aulton down the road from Pittodrie, the Meldrum Pleasure Park or the Deer Park in Ellon on their list. In my humble opinion that is clutching at straws, as I believe if you can let your dog have a shite in the centre circle then it is not a ground it is a park. There are only two rules which allow grounds to be added to my list. Basically, rule one is if it was developed especially to be the home of a team and is fenced in it counts. That is simple enough to follow I would say. The second rule is, playing there does not count and it has to be spectating only. If I included grounds, I have strutted my silky stuff on, I would hazard a guess I would be a lot nearer the two hundred than one. So, for now I am on 101 (Forthbank was accomplished after ADO Den Haag)
A lot of people do not seem to get it. Some folk think driving to Claggan Park in Fort William midweek or the Your Radio 103FM Stadium in Dumbarton on Boxing Day is barmy. I’m constantly asked by friends and colleagues what makes collecting grounds so engaging. What’s the point of watching a team you have no affiliation to? It’s my hobby these days that is the point, what is the difference between that or going skiing at the Lecht or Trysil in Norway, or driving your car round Knockhill or the Nurburgring in Germany, or hitting a ball with a stick at Trumps or at Pebble Beach in the States. All of which has been done recently by the people who ask these questions. For some reason a surprising amount of people do not accept football watching can be classified as a hobby. Of course it can. They also fail to realise It is not just about the fitba either. It is about visiting places too, whether it is Stirling, Rome, Nairn or Cardiff, it is about meeting people; it is about taking on local culture, food and beer. My favourite thing about it is making friends and influencing people, as the Feyenoord fans I had a lock in with until 5.50 in the morning, on a boat I might add, the Fortuna Dusseldorf fan who handed me a programme from Pittodrie when Fortuna visited in 1978 and the Deveronvale pensioners who coerced me into staying out late for beers in Banff are proof of. There have been many more good people who I have met through the years and there plenty of stories to accompany the travels with examples of the top of my head being; head-butting my way out of a pickpocketing in Bern, drinking Newcy Broon in the Albion Way outside Ibrox at 13 years old, being invited to join the AEK Athens march en route to the Ernst Happel in Vienna, spewing Buckfast all over Dundee after a game at Easter Road(again ridiculously young ), having my one and only fitba dump at Parkhead after a heavy Friday on the tiles(I really wish I used the sink now, good ideas always come too late), gate crashing a wedding in Bridge of Allan after Hampden and like many of us robbed in Madrid, the greasy Spanish prick who got my wallet is lucky he did not receive the Bern treatment. I fully intend to write a book on the subject too so expect to find it in a bargain bucket near you soon. Some people on the other hand who do have a clue ask me good questions and are genuinely interested and impressed I care for it to the extent I do and spend so much time doing it. For example, the obvious “where is the best place you have been?” That is an easy one. The Ernst Happel in Vienna is the immediate answer; the place is stunning and is totally befitting of the seven European finals and one European Championship final it has hosted. It was just a shame the game was garbage and finished Austria Vienna 0-0 AEK Athens; it truly was awful stuff and creates the irony of seeing the worst game ever in the most awesome venue ever. On the opposite side of that is the “where is the worst you have been?” which again is easy. It is Russell Anderson’s current home; Formartine United’s thrown up corrugated keech hole North Lodge with its pokey wee enclosures. In fact you can file Seafield Park of Strathspey Thistle alongside North Lodge as equally as shite.”Fas got the best pie?” is another often asked. Forres Mechanics steak pie was a thing of beauty. So much so I had two the night I headed up to Mosset Park. Other bests include, atmosphere being the Weststadion of Rapid Vienna, proper noisy buggers even at 2-0 down. I am positive their backing helped the team back to a 2-2. I am also sure that the safe standing helped create the outstanding atmosphere, so to our illustrious chairman and leader if you are reading, get it done min. Best fans overall, Grasshoppers Zurich at the Swissporarena in Luzern. What a mob they are, easily the best backing of a team I have seen from an away support complete with flares galore, evil sounding intimidating chants, bouncing and in a nutshell ninety minutes of a cacophony with not a sweetie rustler to be in sight. They were so impressive the first thing I did on my return home was added their Letzigrund on to my bucket list so I can witness them on their own patch. The match that sticks out over any is Wick Academy 2 v 2 Brora R*****s at Harmsworth Park it had everything and shows you do not need 100m pound players to create superb entertainment. Greatest goal is asked also a lot. I do not usually like to use anything at Pittodrie related as examples I have been there a bajillion times, but nothing will ever compare to Duncan Shearers overhead kick versus the second team in Dundee in 1993. It really was an utterly fucking stupendous bit of acrobatic excellence from the big man. (To be noted Mixus goal in that game wasn’t too shabby either) I will also give a special mention to the maddest thing I have seen; step forward Banik Ostrava fans for their rioting with the police and attempt to set fire to the home end in the Eden Arena in Prague. I have clocked up a fair amount of hooliganism now, but they upped it a few levels. Frightening shit which held up the match v Slavia Prague for eighteen minutes but had initially started around ten minutes prior to the ref clearing the field after a ball boy was twatted with a flare. There are so many stories to tell and if I were to write it all down, I would be here all day and easily fill this wee paper.
So, what does the future hold? As many more new grounds as I can fit in while my body permits hopefully. I class myself as extremely fortunate with my personal circumstances these days as they allow me to head wherever I want at the drop of a hat which has not always been the case. To use a line that I used to think was clichéd bollocks “life’s too short” and I live by that these days and it definitely covers my football viewing escapades. I am definitely making the most of it while I can. In the not so distant future I have a trip to Italy looming where I have a triple header of the Juventus Stadium, the San Siro and the Stadia Atleti Azzuri d’Italia (Atalanta) booked, also a ticket for Ewood Park has been acquired for Blackburn Rovers v Bradford City and my pals Colony Park side are also pencilled in as I have played but not viewed at Colony Park. This meaning my next stint back in Oldmeldrum will get me up to one hundred and six at least. I think it’s quite safe to say my next hundred will be coming at me a lot quicker than twenty-seven and a half years. Along with the near future there are things to look forward to long term too. By far the most significant being Wee Man coming up for an age where he will be able to accompany his old man in the Y as he is now taking an active interest in fitba. I would love to take him on trips with me in future. I can imagine it now “what are we doing this weekend Daddy”, “Trammondford Park wee man”, “who plays there Dad”, “Wigtown and Bladnoch mate”. “Dad can’t we not just go and watch Aberdeen”. I will also have to dust down and don my Heelan League hike cap again shortly as Cove R*****s and Inverurie Locos will have new middens soon enough. Then there is obviously the Kingsford Krapshack heading our way for the start of the 21/22 season if all goes to plan (I still have my doubts). This means there are forty-one months to go. So, if I do the maths, I will be out of country for twenty one of those months meaning I have twenty to collect another ninety nine grounds to achieve my goal that I set myself in paragraph three. So that is approximately five per time off. Challenge well and truly accepted.