VAR: An exercise in Artificial Intelligence?

VAR, Video Assistant Referee, Robocop, montage

When The Guardian (26 Feb) announced Jonathan Liew’s silver award – congratulations, by the way – in the British Sports Journalist Awards, it published a column by him that opened: “I don’t really have a position on VAR.”

That’s an odd attitude to take when your stock-in-trade is to hold an opinion. Very few people, surely, “don’t really have a position on VAR”: those with negligible interest in football, mainly. Until the turn of the year it may have been legitimate to suspend judgement, arguing limply that it was ‘too early to tell’. But the season is now two-thirds over (nine-tenths, from a Liverpool point of view). It’s high time opinion-formers in football decided where they stood on VAR.

The difficulty they face is that VAR is not consistently atrocious. Yes, its decisions are occasionally baffling. But occasionally it comes up with what appears to be if not the right answer then at least a reasonable stab at it. And therein lies a plausible explanation.

Many times this season it has been almost impossible to imagine that the Video Assistant Referee is watching the same incident as the rest of us. Is it possible that in imagining this we’ve stumbled on the truth: that nobody in the famous Stockley Park Incident Room is watching it? But an experimental Artificial Intelligence (AI) system is?

VAR has all the hallmarks of AI:
Mystical faith in technology on the part of the authorities (see also NHS records, smart motorways and, looking nervously right, left and right again, autonomous cars)
Nit-picking Assuming its lines are accurate, as VAR has to, the width of an armpit or an instep is as good as a mile
No understanding of the soul of the game Some goals (eg Teemu Pukki for Norwich (2:10) against Spurs in December 2019) are works of art and should not be ruled out for anything less than the personal involvement of Vladimir Putin in the build-up
Incredibly slow.

In addition, three hitherto puzzling factors can now tentatively be explained:
The reluctance of referees to consult pitch-side monitors. The interface must still be in beta testing. The referee would have no control over the process and would be obliged to wait for VAR to shuffle its replays, lines and angles, pausing occasionally to flash up an eternally gyrating icon
The inability to distinguish between clear and marginal errors by the referee. Computers are much better at black and white than grey, even when the grey might be mistaken for Farrow & Ball strong white
The abandonment of any attempt to police penalty-area grappling at corners. VAR is clearly programmed to regard arms as a legitimate part of the game except when the ball strikes a Bournemouth defender’s shoulder.

If VAR is an AI application, should we expect it to improve? Typically, AI systems use vast quantities of incoming data to build on the original algorithms their creators supply and to fine-tune their own performance. Unfortunately, that can mean their mistakes become more ingrained and alarming, depending on the mentality of those creators. In this case we should assume teams of programmers and referees. It doesn’t augur well, does it?

Barrow

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, windfarm, wind turbine, sunset, BarrowAFC, Bromley
“Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines”

Barrow people must be heartily sick of seeing their town stereotyped. A couple of days before my visit Barrow happened to appear on the ITV News. The reporter was flogging a ‘Death of the High Street’ horse. Boarded-up premises and proprietors with stiff upper lips were prominent. If ITV found anything attractive to point their cameras at, the editors chose not to show it.

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Lake District, sea
“On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea”
Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Barrow Town Hall, sunrise
Barrow Town Hall: “Above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar”

Where might they have looked? The snowy uplands of the Lake District, perhaps. Or the Walney Island seashore, barely 20mins walk from the town centre. To get there you’d pass the Dock Museum and cross a bridge with views Constable might have painted, in either direction. On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea; above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Devonshire Dock Hall, Abbey Road, boulevard, Baron Haussmann
“A number of the thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here.” In the background, Devonshire Dock Hall: “the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat”

Barrow is a town of sweeping vistas and unexpected panoramas. In part this is a result of Victorian town-planning. The town centre’s grid system carries the eye down otherwise ordinary streets to horizons improbable distances away. A number of the principle thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here. They tend to flow into each other at elaborately decorative roundabouts.

One such boulevard is Holker Street, which older readers will recognise as identifying Barrow AFC’s ground in days of yore. Holker Street runs from the railway station to the Progression Solicitors Stadium and has pavements that must be 10 or 12ft wide. If these are not the widest pavements expediting the movement of large numbers of people to or from an English football ground, I’d be very surprised. (As if to compensate, the Wilkie Road pavement running along the north side of the ground is so narrow you’re more or less obliged to jaywalk.)

Barrow is also a town of unexpected squares, many of them given over to car-parks. During the last war the German bomb-aimers were notoriously inaccurate, hitting the town as often as the docks; if these squares are the result at least some good came of it. Even where there are cars there are generally also encircling trees. In the absence of cars, you’ll find grass and an occasional memorial, often complemented by statuary, plaques or other features. Barrow is a town of oddly shaped benches: some commemorative, some sponsored, some just expressive of a bench-maker’s joie de vivre.

The statues also vary. In the middle of roundabouts and outside the magnificent town hall there are conventional frock-coated Victorians. Elsewhere monuments of different characters recall Barrow’s industrial, nautical and sporting past. Emlyn Hughes is one of the first you’ll encounter if you arrive by train.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Spirit of Barrow, public art, sculpture
The Spirit of Barrow: “From some angles the four shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look…”

In the centre of the shopping district a bronze grouping called The Spirit of Barrow is particularly wonderful. From some angles the four large shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look, and the words ‘Courage’, ‘Labour, ‘Skill’ and ‘Progress’ around the base reinforce that. But the quartet suggests Pride in and Affection for the town and it lifts the spirits.

There’s more Barrovian baroque at the Dock Museum. This occupies an old dry dock close to the Walney Island bridge. On the day I visited, the Significant Form exhibition of the South Lakes Art Collective opened in the atmospheric space at the lower level of the dock. Above, there are displays celebrating Barrow’s history – natural and industrial. Not surprisingly, the models of vessels built in Barrow are sensational (and in the case of one submarine in particular, quite chilling). Equally sensational and not at all chilling was the flapjack in the museum café.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Sir James Ramsden, facial hair, mutton-chops, benefactor
Sir James Ramsden: credited with bringing industry and prosperity to Barrow. “He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.”

Notable buildings (aside from the Town Hall) include the one now occupied by the Citizens Advice Bureau. This was formerly the bath-house presented to the town in 1872 by Sir James Ramsden, the town’s first mayor and the man most regularly credited with bringing industry and prosperity to it. He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.

Next door on Abbey Road is the Nan Tait Centre, now an arts centre but originally in 1900 Barrow’s Technical School. Redbrick, terracotta and vast panels representing Ars Longa Vita Brevis and Labor Omnia Vincit – what more could you want?

Devonshire Dock Hall sounds as if it could be another Victorian palais, perhaps where Music Hall breathed its last in 1914. It is, certainly, one of the most prominent buildings in the town: it’s the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat. Occupied by BAE Systems, it is an indoor shipbuilding complex.

The sea-front is well worth a detour. Apart from anything else it’s a pleasant walk (or a short bus ride). It takes you through Vickerstown, a UK example of a phenomenon more common – and notorious – in the USA: the company town. The provision of housing for employees sounds enlightened but it could equally represent self-interest as companies sought to discourage unionisation, offset wage rises by rent increases etc.

Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines: what you’re looking at is the Walney Wind Farm, the largest offshore wind farm in the world according to the BBC. Opinion will vary about whether it’s unsightly: I’d say No, and I’d offer in support the decision of ITV not to show it. The turbines are far enough away to be matchstick figures on the horizon and you could make a case for them providing points of interest in the view.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Morecambe Bay, Lake District, Furness Line, railway
To the east is Morecambe Bay: go by train along the scenic Furness Line

The beach here is of pebbles. I’m told you’ll find sand further along the front in both directions; behind Walney there are mud-flats and to the east is Morecambe Bay. In other words, the variety of marine environments is wide. And in the background is the Lake District. It’s quite a place.

* While I was taking a photograph of The Spirit of Barrow, a couple of buskers offered a spirited version of Wish You Were Here. They were worth a contribution but I was less sure about the sentiment. Did I wish You were here? If I’d invited You to Barrow, in January, You might think the magic had gone. But I was guilty of the stereotyping decried at the top of this piece. I withdraw the remark and apologise. Don’t let anything discourage you from going to see Barrow, at any time of year – and go by train.

Barrow 2 Bromley 0
Progression Solicitors Stadium, 18 January 2020

Chinese New Year

Disappointingly, no football team is nicknamed The Rats. On the plus side, that means we can all celebrate Chinese New Year without compromising ourselves. Fans of the clubs below can watch top class football over the next two weekends and support The Rats.

Carlisle United, Walsall, Carlisle, Tullie House, Chinese New Year
Carlisle celebrations (image by Stuart Walker)
Bristol Rovers, Coventry City, Bristol, Chinese New Year
Bristol fashion (image by John Seaman)

On Saturday 25 January:
Fleetwood at Bristol Rovers (the Pirates)
Oxford at Newcastle
Sheffield United at Millwall
Tottenham at Southampton
Walsall at Carlisle

On 1 February:
Barnsley at Charlton
Chelsea at Leicester
Coventry at Bristol Rovers

Plans in Manchester are not entirely clear. Visit Manchester’s website refers to ‘four days’ of celebrations but, as recently as 22 Jan, did not specify which four.

The Emperor’s Green Clothes

floodlight, tokenism, BBC Sport, Sport Positive Summit

The BBC is making a big deal today of initiatives by Premier League clubs to do their bit for the environment. Research by BBC Sport and the ‘United Nations-backed’ Sport Positive Summit puts Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of its ‘sustainability rankings’.

Arsenal and Manchester City, you can’t help but notice, are both sponsored by airlines.

But long-haul pre-season tours did not feature in the research. Nor did the multiple strips the clubs change every season to sell anew to supporters. And yet the producer of the research claims it focuses “on categories that clubs control”.

If you accept the science of the climate crisis, as the BBC affects to, this all looks suspiciously like a form of tokenism known as ‘green-washing’.

* Towns of Two Halves concentrates mainly on Shank’s Pony and public transport in guiding you round the attractions of towns with football clubs, green or otherwise.

Oktoberfest

Leeds Oktoberfest, Leeds United, Birmingham City
Leeds Oktoberfest: coming up on 18 and 19 October

The international break seems to have consumed half of October, leaving very little time for the month’s two big (if confected) festivals: Oktoberfest and Halloween.
In fact much of the UK celebrates Oktoberfest in September, being in a different time zone to Munich. But a handful of big cities (and one smaller town) stick to the calendar. If you have an away game coming up in those places, take your lederhosen:

Saturday 19 October
Birmingham Oktoberfest Brunch
Visiting teams in the vicinity are Brighton at Villa and Cheltenham at Walsall.
Leeds
By a happy coincidence, Birmingham City fans missing their own Oktoberfest can enjoy Leeds’.
Wolverhampton
Southampton are at Wolves that day.

Manchester Oktoberfest, Manchester United, Liverpool, beer, steins, dirndl, lederhosen
Manchester Oktoberfest: at Mayfield, by Piccadilly, 16-20 October

Sunday 20
Manchester
Liverpool play at United.

Saturday 26
Colchester
It’s quite a trek for Newport County fans but a stein or two might help.
London has an Oktoberfest at Olympia on this Saturday. None of the West London clubs is at home, but London Overground means Olympia isn’t the backwoods destination it used to be from the rest of the capital.

Weekend Break

Lost Weekend, Ray Milland, International break, Support the Lower Leagues

England’s game being on Friday night leaves Saturday afternoon free for you to watch live football.
Have you looked at League One or League Two recently? True, there’s some very poor football played at that level, but you’ll see an occasional flash of promise and a good young player in the making. It can also be strangely calming to watch a match in which you don’t have anything invested in the outcome.
And if the worst comes to the worst, you can leave 10 minutes before the end with an easy conscience, and beat the traffic.
If the football itself isn’t enough, here are some of the other attractions to be found in places with league football this Saturday:

Blackpool Illuminations, Ghost Walk and Rotherham United.
Bristol At the theatre, a dramatisation of One Hundred Years of Solitude; at galleries, an Aardman exhibition, the Royal West of England Academy Open and films by Yoko Ono; at Rovers, MK Dons.
Ipswich v Wycombe: Schumann, a craft fair, quirky automata and an Ed Sheeran exhibition.
Oxford United v Doncaster: Bill Bryson has sold out and the Lieder Festival (Tales of Beyond) may be tricky to dip in an out of, but there’s something intriguing round every corner in Oxford.
Peterborough v Lincoln: a craft market, a Glow event, and exhibitions on hoards and fabrics.

Portsmouth, Naval Dockyards, HMS Warrior, Gillingham, Medway towns

Portsmouth v Gillingham: take the kids to Horrible Histories: The Exhibition. Or call in at the Oktoberfest; for gentler pleasures follow the Open Studios trail.
Rochdale v Accrington: Music before the match in the town and after it with an Amy Winehouse tribute act at Spotland. Also a chance to see the Protest & Peterloo exhibition.
Southend v Wimbledon: Foreworks on the front; and a last chance to see Day Tripper, a show featuring the work of Liz Arnold and contemporary artists.
Sunderland v Fleetwood: Vaguely seasonal diversions – a Christmas craft fair and, for the kids, a Halloween Trail and Elmer.

Carlisle v Crewe: Tech Fest, singing in the Cathedral, and a Cumbrian perspective on Japanese art.
Cheltenham v Newport: literature in Cheltenham, plus John Ruskin and Tatty Devine.
Crawley v Colchester: a bomber special at the Wings Museum: hear an RR Merlin engine from a 1943 Halifax.
Exeter v Forest Green: music in the Two Moors Festival and The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage, plus song and storytelling in Gothic Dartmoor.

Leyton Orient, Walsall, Olympic Park

Leyton Orient v Walsall: take a stroll through the many environments of the Olympic Park.
Macclesfield v Port Vale: Nature Walk in West Park.
Mansfield v Oldham: Mind, Body & Spirit Show, and a charity soul & Motown night at the football club – for guide dogs.
Morecambe v Bradford: Lancaster Music Festival, a Gin event, jazz for children and the Morecambe Camera Club exhibition.
Salford v Cambridge: Ordsall Hall Ghost Hunt, plus all the resources of Manchester and Salford.
Scunthorpe v Northampton: Northern Soul, plus Lego.
Stevenage v Grimsby: British Inclusive Dance Festival and Design Icons.
Swindon v Plymouth: Anniversary events at Lydiard Park, plus a vintage sale at the Steam Museum. Argyle’s second visit to Swindon in four days.

Woking

Woking Lightbox sculpture Kitty Canal Cruises art Basingstoke Canal
Lightbox moment: a weathered bull watches the canal cruise boat preparing to disembark

Visiting supporters who approach Woking from the M25 are directed by road signs towards the carpark at Heathside. Why? Who knows. Heathside is not close to the ground. Nor is it particularly convenient for the town centre. Perhaps for these reasons (and if my experience of Heathside on a matchday Saturday is anything to go by) you’ll have a wide choice of parking bays.

Price may be another factor that puts parkers off Heathside. If you arrive early enough for a cursory tour of Woking before the game, you may be in the carpark six or seven hours. That would be £10. And the Pay & Display machines don’t take cards or notes. Another dubious point in Heathside’s favour, then – if you arrive with pockets full of cash you’ll leave a great deal lighter.

I hedged my bets with £4.20 for up to three hours. False economy, I know, but that left options open: at around 2.15pm I could top-up and walk to the ground, or I could take the car and look for somewhere closer to Kingfield Stadium, home of the Cards (short for Cardinals).

Basingstoke Canal, River Wey Navigation, Kitty Canal Cruises
The Basingstoke Canal: reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project

Woking was being rebuilt that day. The many cranes stood idle, peering into the town like paralysed insects. Hoardings lined walkways, and low-level plastic barriers helped pedestrians to avoid blundering into roadworks. If, discouraged and disorientated, you headed north reckoning to find the Basingstoke Canal crossing your path, you wouldn’t go far wrong.

It’s a green and shady corridor and it will lead you to Woking’s better side. The canal was formally reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project. For a restful 1¼hrs, a cruise from the town wharf is an attractive prospect.

Sir Alec Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Sir Alec Bedser: opening the bowling from the Town End

The canal is crossed at the wharf by a footbridge dedicated to the legendary Bedser twins. They grew up in Woking and their statues stand at either end of the bridge: Alec bowling, at the Town End, and Eric batting a little over 22yds away. The borough council offices are fielding at long-on and halfway up the wall is a sculpted cricket ball, as though hit for six.

Eric Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Eric Bedser: looks to me as if he’s clipped it over midwicket…

Statuary and street art is a Woking speciality. The town’s association with HG Wells provides several instances. Wells lived here while he was producing The War of the Worlds. A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads that glories in the name Crown Square, and nearby a space-travelling cylinder is embedded in the pavement. The canal cruises go past Horsell Common, featured in the book as the site of the first Martian landing. A statue of Wells himself, holding (and surrounded by) references to his work though not notably melancholic, sits outside the town’s Victoria Gate, on the Woking Heritage Trail.

Woking Borough Council, Woking, Bedser Bridge
… but the ball is picked up over long-on by the Woking Borough Council offices

Not all the town’s public art is as straightforward. ‘The Space Between’, celebrating The Jam, is mystifyingly modern – three tall chunks of timber. In the Wolsey Place shopping mall three willow-bound cyclists ride across metal waves that may represent hills or the roof of the Sydney Opera House. Painted bronze statues by Sean Henry, born in Woking, lurk around the town standing, seated and reclining.

Formal art provision is in a building called the Lightbox, close to Bedser Bridge. The architects, Marks Barfield, were also responsible for Brighton’s i360 tower – well, we all have our off days. The Lightbox grants free entry to a museum called ‘Woking’s Story’, to a gallery named for the Art Fund Prize, sculpture, second-hand books, a good shop and a very good café. Upstairs, galleries and special exhibitions cost £7.50. The main attraction on my visit was ‘Burning Bright: the Scottish Colourists’. If £7.50 sounds steep for a provincial art gallery, consider: a few hours in a carpark, or the opportunity to spend as long as you like in front of JD Fergusson’s Villa Gotte Garden?

War of the Worlds, HG Wells, Martian, Woking, Ebbsfleet United
‘A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads’

Woking’s Story, it transpires, involves a surprising amount of spirituality. The town has the 1889 Shah Jehan Mosque, the first mosque to be built in northern Europe.

To the west of Woking is Brookwood Cemetery, the largest cemetery in western Europe and, indeed, in the world when it opened in 1854. Until 1941 it was served by a rail service known as the Coffin Express, running on the Necropolis Line from Waterloo. According to one story, golfers used the service to get to Brookwood Golf Club but had to wear mourning; since golfers are notorious for their lack of fashion sense, that can only have been an improvement. The 220 hectares are used by Woking people as an extended and presumably rather poignant park on their doorstep. Brookwood Military Cemetery, the last resting place of Commonwealth and allied victims of two world wars, lies adjacent.

A little way east of town, on the other side of the M25, is Brooklands Museum. If you were to take this in as well you might need to set aside a weekend. Motorsport, aviation and latterly Concorde are all associated with Brooklands. In 2018 it was one of the five nominees for Art Fund Museum of the Year, beaten eventually by Tate St Ives.

Woking 2 Ebbsfleet United 2
Kingfield Stadium, 14 Sep 2019

Halloween 2: Darker

Newstead Abbey Mansfield flapper
The phantom flapper of Newstead Abbey

The second part of the Halloween preview takes us into darker or at least more grown-up territory – beginning in this case in the Midlands.

Festival of the Dead Coventry Birmingham Doncaster Rovers
The Festival of the Dead, in Coventry on 28 Sep

On 28 Sep Doncaster are at Coventry City. If their fans actually go to Coventry by mistake (the Sky Blues are playing home games at Birmingham City’s ground this season) they might stumble into The Festival of the Dead. The organisers describe this as a ‘combination of carnival, circus and clubbing’

Ghost hunts at Ordsall Hall fall on 12 and 26 Oct, when Cambridge and Scunthorpe are the respective visitors to Salford City. A white lady and a womanising lord of the manor have been reported. It would be a pity if they missed each other.

Grimmfest Manchester Wolves City Film Festival
GrimmFest: Manchester enjoys a little Grim Up North joke

Manchester has a number of big events on matchdays in October. From 3-6 there’s GrimmFest, ‘Manchester’s International Festival of Fantastic Film’. Wolves are at City on the 6. On 20 Oct, when Liverpool are at United, ‘For the Love of Horror’ ill-advisedly calls Manchester ‘the Murder Capital of the World’.

There’s another horror film festival in Sheffield. Celluloid Screams, from 24-27 Oct, falls nicely for Everton fans making the trip to Wednesday for a cup-tie on 24 Oct.

The Lieder Festival, in Oxford from 11-26 Oct, looks like a very much more serious enterprise than the average Goulish Spookiness. With a full festival pass costing up to £730, you’d expect more than a few pumpkins and some colouring-in. Sure enough, the festival will explore ‘Tales of Beyond: Magic, Myths and Mortals [taking] us on a tour of life, death, and the mysterious areas between and beyond’. Sophisticated supporters of Doncaster (12 Oct) and Rochdale (26 Oct) should expect boggarts at the very least.

By late October the industry is really into its stride. Chelsea fans heading to Burnley on 26 Oct could take in the Pendle Witch Discoverie Tour and still have time for a pub lunch. That spelling of ‘Discoverie’ may fill you with dread, and not of a spectral kind. But children growing up in Lancashire were still being threatened with a visit from the Pendle Witches 350 years after the 1612 trial so the stories might feel surprisingly fresh.

Alien anniversary Portsmouth HMS Alliance Oxford United
40 years ago: Alien was released on 6 Sep 1979. See it in the claustrophobic surrounds of a submarine in Portsmouth on 2 Nov

In Portsmouth Halloween runs well into November, like one of those Celtic festivals that started 30 days ahead and finished 30 days after the focal point. That’s what I call a Bank Holiday. On 2 Nov, with Oxford United the visitors to Fratton Park, there’s a showing of Alien on board the Cold War submarine HMS Alliance. More films later in the month at the Pastel Wasteland on 16 Nov. This is a new project aiming to introduce you to “some of the best, unsung heroes of science fiction and horror filmmaking” from around the world. If that doesn’t make the trip from Fleetwood worthwhile, what would it take?

Halloween 1: Light

There are too many Halloween events to fit manageably into a single post. So this is Part 1. The distinction between Light and Dark is rather arbitrary; when a festival is supposed to be blood-curdling, is it possible to talk about family events?

Ghost Halloween preview family events

When you go to watch your team play away, you often think there’s a ghost of a chance. This time of year brings a chance of a ghost.

There are ghost-related events throughout the year in many towns, but some of those have a tired, routine, commercial feel. The approach of Halloween provides a shot in the supernatural arm.

Like Christmas, Halloween starts earlier every year. (Easter, in obedience to calculations* of obscure origin, starts earlier in 2024 and 2027.)

On 21 Sep, then, visitors to Cardiff (among others the supporters of Middlesbrough) can enjoy St Fagans Museum Ghost Tours where “no nonsense, no gimmicks” are promised, and where you will learn “why Wales could be the world’s most haunted country!”

The following weekend, on 27 Sep, Blackpool’s Ghost Tram will clank along the Prom, illuminated. The Illuminations were switched on in 1959 by buxom bombshell Jayne Mansfield, a devotee of the man who later (1966) founded the Church of Satan in the USA. Or you could take in the Blackpool Tower Dungeon for a brush with the Pendle Witches. Lincoln City – known as the Imps, notoriously unpredictable creatures of legend – are the visitors.

On 5 Oct, when Sheffield United visit Watford, Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Industry offers Dark Arts for “fans of Death Eaters, daring duels and Hallowe’en feasts”. Just think: 100 hand-carved pumpkins, no two alike. It will be like the average residential street, but not as cheap.

Lincoln Castle Prison Bolton Wanderers Lincoln City
Lincoln Castle incorporates a prison, a Spooky Prison for the visit of Bolton Wanderers on 26 Oct

Castles are among the oldest buildings in the realm and hence the most likely to be haunted. Spooky Carlisle Castle will coincide with the visit of Northampton Town to Brunton Park on 22 Oct. How spooky? Well, the castle closes at 4pm; it will have to be seriously overcast for darkness to have fallen. At Rochester it’s the Pumpkin Trail that is Spooky, so if your 5-12yr-olds support Peterborough, take them on the way to the Gillingham game on 19 Oct. Lincoln Castle incorporates a prison, which becomes a Spooky Prison for the visit of Bolton Wanderers on 26 Oct.

26 Oct marks the last day of Bicton Park’s Halloween activities as well as Exeter City’s derby with Plymouth.

Derby Museum Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail Middlesbrough
Derby Museum’s Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail – apparently there are more than 90 ways to say ‘ghost’ in Japanese

Middlesbrough will again be the visitors (to Derby on 2 Nov) when Derby Museum holds its Japanese Ghosts and Demons Trail. If you’re taking the family to the match, the museum says this is suitable for 5-15yr-olds.

Portsmouth is the place for post-Halloween warming-down. ‘Haunted Histories from the View’ spans Halloween, running from 26 Oct-3 Nov. It’s a presentation of ghost stories told 100 metres above the city, plus virtual reality, and on 2 Nov Oxford United fans might take a look.

* The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox, aka 21 March.

ToTH Awards to Traveling Supporters, Sept 2019

Most Festive Hosts Derby is a clear winner in this category. Three festivals coincide with the Rams’ two home games in September and none is what you might call run of the mill. From 9-15 Sep is the Derby SignFest, ‘celebrating and raising awareness of sign language, and the fact that Derby has the second largest Deaf community outside of London’. Cardiff City are in town on 13 Sep. On 28 Sep, when Birmingham City are the visitors, Derby Festé showcases ‘the talents within the city’s cultural organisations’; and WellFest East Midlands offers hygge among many other undoubted benefits.

Derby SignFest Pride Park Cardiff City Festivals
Derby SignFest includes a conducted, signed tour of Pride Park

Most Festive Visitors Doncaster Rovers have two away games in September: on 14 Sep, when Ipswich has its Gippeswyc Viking & Saxon Festival with re-enactments and axe-throwing; and at Coventry on 28 Sep, which happens to be when the city’s three-day Bridge extravaganza concludes.

Coals to Newcastle Crawley Town, the destination of choice for aviation enthusiasts, hit Northampton on 21 Sep in time for the Pistons & Props classic cars and aircraft show at nearby Sywell.

Carlisle United Brunton Park Oldham Athletic
Athletic at Carlisle in better days

Rainbow Lining Supporters of Oldham Athletic need something to look forward to more than most. The trip to Carlisle on 28 Sep looks a very good prospect. In addition to the regular and often undervalued attractions of Carlisle (and the rare opportunity to shout “Dirty northern bastards” at the opposition), they’ll find Cumbria Pride, the second day of the Carlisle Blues/Rock Festival and the Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival.

Educated Palates When Rotherham play at Bristol Rovers on 28 Sep, the city has a Cocktail Weekend and Avery’s Wine Festival in progress. In the Proletarian Boozers category, Cheltenham has its own Beer Festival in mid-September and the team visits Plymouth on 21 Sep in time for theirs.

Repeat Business Exeter City play at Newport County on 21 Sep in League 2 and on 8 Oct in the Football League Trophy. The round trip is about 200 miles which by Exeter standards is almost a local derby, but if they need any inspiration they’ll find an extract from the Newport chapter of the book here.