Towns of Two Halves might have been written with international breaks in mind. You watch England on the box on Friday night, and then the weekend yawns vacantly in front of you. What are you going to do on Saturday afternoon? How can you get out of going shopping?
The answer lies in Football Tourism. It even sounds respectable. All it means is “going somewhere you wouldn’t normally go, to have a look round and watch a match”. It’s up to you how much gawping you do, and where, but you’re sure to find something unusual and you might actually look forward to the next international break.
Mancunians have Doncaster Rovers at Rochdale, a town that offers a heritage divi; a little further away, Crewe Alex against Bury should appeal to rail enthusiasts. In Northeast Lancs, Accrington Stanley host Bradford and the Haworth Gallery hosts Europe’s largest collection of Tiffany glass.
For Londoners the options are very limited. You probably won’t get into Kingstonians’ snug ground where AFC Wimbledon play Portsmouth, but an afternoon in Kingston is never a bad idea. Go to see where Saxon kings were crowned; admire some wacky street art; enjoy the river.
Newport County fly the flag in South Wales, with Stevenage the visitors; allow plenty of time for the Roman camp at Caerleon, the Chartist memorials, the ceramics and the Transporter Bridge.
Fans living in East Anglia have a choice. Cambridge United are at home to MK Dons, and the city has more weird and wonderful diversions than you could shake a stick at; Colchester, home to a zoo, Roman history and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, will also welcome Crawley Town on Saturday.
From the East Riding head south to Scunthorpe for the Peterborough clash and a zoo, a Pink Pig Farm and other attractions. In the fictional South Riding, Barnsley are at home to Luton (noon kick-off); take the kids to Cannon Hall Farm or, in the town centre, Experience Barnsley.
In the East Midlands, Burton Albion play Bristol Rovers and you might sniff out the National Brewery Centre. Mansfield’s kick-off against Grimsby is at 1pm, so you will hardly have time for Lord Byron’s gaff, a pit and country park, and a fine local museum. Forest Green are the visitors to Northampton, which has a treat for admirers of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Notts County are at home to Oldham, and Nottingham itself has a variety of alternative attractions, from heritage to video games.
In the West Midlands, Coventry City play Wycombe Wanderers; the Cathedral is breathtaking, there’s always something on at the Herbert (a TS Eliot-related exhibition at the moment) and specialist museums cater for musicians and transport enthusiasts. Port Vale, where you can throw in all the Potteries have to offer, play Lincoln.
For more details on these and all other football towns, order Towns of Two Halves from email@example.com, £8.
New England in the Fall isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you go a week early – and honestly, how can you know two months ahead of time what the right week will be? – it’s not that much different from Olde England in many respects, of which the colour of the foliage is one. No, the best you can do is to organise an itinerary with variations in latitude and altitude, to give those leaves every chance, book your flights and hotels and hope for the best.
If, then, Vermont’s Green Mountains remain doggedly green (as, for that matter, do the White Mountains of New Hampshire) there’s not much you can do about it. Enjoy the scenery, treat yourself to a long detour to Quebec City, take photographs of covered bridges, waterfalls and lighthouses… and come home with added resolve. Because here too is a way in which travelling to a football match can be a rewarding form of tourism.
The obvious ways to enjoy autumn colour in this context are:
Woodland Some clubs are surrounded by or adjacent to wooded hills – Forest Green Rovers and the Cotswolds, Wycombe Wanderers in the Chilterns, and several of the northern clubs especially on the eastern side of the Pennines. Nottingham Forest is a significant disappointment in this sense.
Arboretums A posh word for ‘park’ really, but the Latin for ‘tree’ should promise some colour at this time of year. Derby, Lincoln, Nottingham and Walsall have arboretums (arboreta?). Luton is close to the Chilterns where you’ll find Whipsnade Tree Cathedral just a few miles away. Forest Green, again, is not far from the extraordinary Westonbirt Arboretum.
Botanical GardensKew is next door to Brentford. In other places, the botanical gardens are a little further away from the football grounds – Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, Oxford and Shefffield. Norwich’s Plantation Garden is a special place, worth a mention and worth a visit.
Parks Many football teams play at Parks. The most promising name here must be Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park, but it might as well be called EByGum Park for all the wood involved. Some clubs, however, play in or adjacent to functioning parks: Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Fulham, and Plymouth for example.
Parkland This is subtly different. Parkland belongs to country houses. So Barnsley has Cannon Hall, Mansfield has Newstead Abbey and Northampton has Delapré (as well as the excellent Abington Park, which belongs in the previous category).
This is compiled from information recorded and indexed in Towns of Two Halves. Order your copy for from firstname.lastname@example.org £8 to enhance your enjoyment of away games in ways you might never have thought about.
Bolton is the place to be for Egyptologists this autumn. On 22 September the Egyptology gallery of Bolton Museum will re-open with a full-size reproduction of the burial chamber of Thutmose III.
The first away fans to be able to treat themselves to this reconstruction of a site in the Valley of the Kings will be Derby County’s on 29 September. Blackburn Rovers are there on 6 October, followed by Nottingham Forest on 24 October and Hull City on 27 October.
But Bolton isn’t the only destination on the football league itinerary for Egyptian collections:
• Brighton Museum & Art Gallery has two Egyptian galleries through the city’s association with noted Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith.
• Derby Museum has two mummies (one partially unwrapped) and a number of grave objects.
• Leicester New Walk Museum has a two refurbished Egyptian galleries re-opening on 20 October, when there will be family activities and three times as many artefacts as previously displayed.
• Liverpool had an Egyptian Museum as long ago as 1852. Now its World Museum claims to have the “largest Ancient Egypt gallery outside the British Museum”.
• Macclesfield’s West Park Museum houses the collection of Victorian thrill-seeker Marianne Brocklehurst, a voracious shopper as well as a skilled artist and engaging diary-keeper.
• Manchester Museum’s collection includes objects that found their way up to Lancashire through the funding of Sir Flinders Petrie’s expeditions by industrialist Jesse Haworth
• Norwich Castle has an Egyptian gallery stocked with artefacts donated by local mustard magnate Jeremiah Colman and author Henry Rider Haggard.
• The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has about 50,000 objects from Egypt and Sudan.
• Rochdale’s Touchstones has a Heritage Gallery with plenty of Egyptian interest, much of it supplied indirectly by Sir Flinders Petrie, a pioneer of archaeology and Egyptology.
• Swansea’s Egypt Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
• The Museum of Wigan Life has an Egyptian section in which pride of place goes to a mask 3,500 years old.
All this information and more is in Towns of Two Halves. Order your copy from email@example.com
A lovely review in the author’s local magazine:
David Guest has just released his second book, Towns of Two Halves. Described as ‘a tourist’s guide to football towns’ it is just that, plus much more.
The premise of the book is that David, over a period of many years, has visited all 92 football stadiums in England [including three in Wales] and, while doing so, has learned more about each town. So while he does tell us much about each town – who knew that Brentford had a water museum, for example? – he also intersperses it with his own personal story at the time, as well as the fate of his beloved Oldham Athletic, the team he’s spent most of his life (blindly) following.
The result is a charming, funny and heartwarming story about football (a bit), but mostly about England, its people and all its quirks and foibles. It’s perfect for football fans, non-football fans, readers and non-readers – and you can devour it in one sitting or dip in and out as you please.
I urge you to give it a go – you won’t be disappointed!
Towards the end of the 2017/18 season, I planned to have Towns of Two Halves ready for the start of the following season. That timetable presented one significant difficulty: the precise composition of League 2. Although Macclesfield Town looked a good bet to be promoted as champions from the National League, any one of half a dozen other clubs might emerge from the play-offs to join them in League 2. By the time the identity of that successful club was known, the season would be over and there would be no home game for me to attend.
I looked at the National League table and considered journeys to Sutton, Aldershot, Dover and several others. It began to look like a lot of trouble just to preserve the integrity of the project. On the other hand, integrity is not a negligible quality. I made a start. Macclesfield had a home game against Barrow, and on the following day Wrexham played at home to Chester.
In the event luck was with me. Macclesfield duly won the league and Tranmere Rovers drew the winning ticket in the awful post-season lottery – Tranmere was the only ground I’d been to of the six teams involved in the play-offs. The book was duly printed with 92 authentic entries.
Where Wrexham was concerned my luck was out – as was theirs. Wrexham didn’t even reach the play-offs. I’d also overlooked the possibility that the Wrexham v Chester local derby might require special security measures, among them a ban on ticket sales on the day. At other grounds I’d found ways round that sort of obstacle. For Wrexham against Chester I couldn’t be bothered. I had a look round the town and then went to pay a surprise second visit to the old friend whose hospitality I had enjoyed the previous night.
It being Sunday, Wrexham south of the railway station was fairly quiet (north of the station a steady stream headed for the football ground, closely watched by the constabulary). The Wrexham County Borough Museum was closed. If recent testimonials on TripAdvisor are any guide, that was a pity: it seems the museum is small but nicely-formed, and with very acceptable catering. Its collections centre has recently added Welsh football to its specialities.
It being Sunday, St Giles Church was very much open and welcoming. A service was finishing as I arrived and the congregation gathered for coffee and chat at the back of the church. I was mistaken for a parishioner. I was aware from another age that “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”, but the congregation was too generous and warm-hearted to let that stand in their way and I was shown round a church of which everyone was clearly proud.
St Giles dominates the landscape and is the largest medieval parish church in Wales. Size tends to draw the eye upward, and the angels in the roof of the nave may be the first remarkable feature you’ll notice. There are 16 of them, deployed like a mobile or some sort of dream-catcher, playing instruments or, so it is said, singing.
Above the chancel arch at the eastern end of the nave is another St Giles Special – an early 16th century wall-painting of the Day of Judgement, with souls rising from their coffins to present themselves to Christ, attended by the Virgin Mary and St John. This is called the Doom Painting.
Its position makes it difficult to see clearly. Closer to ground level, its subject is reproduced in another startling piece of art – the Myddleton Memorial, by Louis-François Roubiliac. Roubiliac worked in England and is variously known as a late Baroque or rococo sculptor. His memorial to Mary Myddleton, daughter of the lord of Chirk Castle, dates from the 18th century – Mary died in 1742. Elements of the piece are strictly classical: Mary, struggling to free herself from a shroud, is summoned from her coffin by a cherub with a trumpet. But the coffin is austerely geometric – it looks like a black skip. The device to the right might be an explosion of flames or a member of the lily family; similarly, the angelic brass-player may rest on clouds or smoke. Behind, fractured masonry resolves itself into a squat form of obelisk, providing an unsettling backdrop. You would have to imagine that the grieving father thought it was wonderful; it is, after all, still there.
St Giles has many other points of distinction: stained glass, a pre-Reformation lectern, a chapel for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It is acknowledged to be among Wales’ finest where ecclesiastical architecture is concerned.
And it sounds one more unexpected historical echo. Outside the church, below the tower, is the grave of Elihu Yale. This Yale, though born in Boston in the North American colonies in 1649, was brought up in London and made his fortune (apparently through profiteering) with the East India Company. He returned to Britain in 1699 and retired to a mansion near Wrexham, in the land of his maternal forebears.
One of the things he spent his money on was a college in Connecticut, where money was needed for a new building. The building – and, later, the whole college – became known as Yale.
The verse Elihu Yale prepared for his memorial in Wrexham refers to “much good, some ill, he did”. The “ill” probably refers to an eastern branch of the slave trade in which, according to Wikipedia, Yale was active; then there was his association with Cotton Mather, bane of ‘witches’ in Salem but also a fundraiser for the aforementioned college. The verse goes on to hope that “all’s even, and that his soul thro’ mercy’s gone to Heaven”. Indeed.
In the church you’ll find a Wrexham Town Heritage Trail, which gives a brief history of the town and takes you around its points of interest. It is particularly well done, drawing attention to architectural and historical features. The Wynnstay Arms Hotel, for example, was by turns the home of a Jacobite secret society, a venue for bear-baiting and the birthplace of the Football Association of Wales.
The Heritage Trail includes the outlying Acton Park, former home of the infamous Judge Jeffreys and now a public park with a modern stone circle.
A minute’s walk from the south-western margin of the Heritage Trail’s map is Bellevue Park. This Edwardian park, refurbished for the millennium, is also well worth a look. The statue of Queen Victoria replaced an earlier memorial – a WWI tank – that was sold for scrap.
I did watch one sporting event while I was in Wrexham. The Wrexham Running Festival took place that day, and Martin Green won the marathon in just under 2hrs 39mins. The first woman home was Lindy-Lee Folscher in 3hrs 12mins.
Wrexham 2 Chester 0 Racecourse Ground, 11 March 2018
The Spitfire in front of Bentley Priory Museum was flown by Squadron Leader Cyril ‘Bam’ Bamberger, according to the sign.
“If you were called Cyril,” I said, “I suppose you’d probably welcome some sort of nickname.’
“Bam isn’t very creative, though, is it?” Keith said.
“Cheese,” I suggested.
By now we were close to giddy, and the Hunnish seam of Cyril’s surname remained unmined. We were certainly in no state to enter a building within which people had done so much to preserve our freedoms, among them the freedom of men old enough to know better than to scoff.
The location of the museum was partly to blame. Its position inside a gated community had elevated our hackles, as sensitive to signs of privilege as buzzards to a thermal. A notice at the entrance had invited us to stop and call at security. That might cut some ice in Idle Valley when Philip Marlowe calls on the Wades, in The Long Goodbye, but we were having none of it in Stanmore in 2018. As we drove slowly up the drive, glancing around in case of pursuit by armed guards, we noticed that the large houses on the estate had their own gates. Doubly protected from the outside world the inhabitants might be imagined regaining their homes after a day at the coal face near Canary Wharf and heaving a sigh of relief at having survived another day in the dystopian present. I doubt the Harvester round the corner saw much of their business.
By the time we had parked and were approaching the neo-classical splendour of the Priory, inverted snobbery had us in its grip. Having made fun not, I hope, of Cyril but of the RAF’s affection for nicknames, we stopped to take some photographs and compose ourselves. When we presented ourselves at the ticket office we were being our age again and gained a senior’s discount as a result.
Bentley Priory was the headquarters of Fighter Command and the museum concentrates on the Battle of Britain. It evokes the period carefully. Labels are typewritten in scripts that use a capital I as a 1, and combine lower case ‘f’s in ligatures with ‘i’ and ‘l’. The tittle in the ‘i’, which is to say the dot, blends into the hood of the ‘f’, the overhanging part, and a single ‘glyph’ or character is formed. German, by coincidence, is full of such things.
Some of the rooms are more successful than others. You’re encouraged to start in the Abercorn Room, in which the history of the RAF at Bentley Priory is recorded. The view from the windows is outstanding. The Adelaide Room is enlivened by unexpected bas-reliefs in the moulding, in which infants misbehave in precocious ways. In one, a child clad in a sack points a rifle at a duck’s head at point-blank range; in another, a naked child swigs from a bottle or flask while his pudgy chum rolls out a barrel. According to the guide book the ceiling is “believed not to be the work of Sir John Soane” but may have been created to give the widow of William IV something to look at while she was laid up with dropsy.
From the Rotunda things begin to pick up. Architecturally, the glass-domed ceiling on a circular room is a gem. As a display space it starts to bring home the extent of the RAF’s achievement in 1940. Its walls present images and memorabilia of The Few – pictures, artefacts (a four miles to an inch OS map, for example, of the type they were sent aloft with to find their way about). It is an excellent preparation for the more dramatic displays in Sir Hugh Dowding’s office and the Filter Room. This latter includes a recreation, with life-size bronze figures bending over charts, of the process by which movements of German aircraft were plotted and analysed and the results sent to fighter squadrons. “It looked like chaos, but it worked,” one veteran of the Filter Room recalled.
A couple of weeks before our visit, the newspapers had reported criticisms made by the German ambassador to the effect that the pro-Brexit movement (and by implication most of the UK) was still obsessed with WW2. To which, after a visit to Bentley Priory, you might take Basil Fawlty’s line: “You started it.”
Barnet’s ground is on the other side of Stanmore from the museum. We parked at Canons Park tube station and walked through Prince Edward playing fields to the Hive. We were spectators number 1,500 and 1,501.
As we were queuing at the ticket office a steward walked along the line asking if any of us would prefer the visiting supporters’ end. “The queue’s shorter there,” he explained. The informality of the suggestion appealed to us, and we posed as Accrington Stanley fans for the rest of the afternoon. Keith even got a chant of “Come on, Stanley” going at one uneventful point.
A Spurs fan, he took an indulgent view of the game. Still, he was impressed by the Gents and the absence of flat caps and he remarked on the number of attractive young couples. To that extent, Barnet is a sign of football to come.
Barnet’s modernity even extended to a form of context-sensitive advertising. When the physio sprinted on to attend to an injured player, a notice for Toshiba Medical (‘Official Medical Partner of Barnet FC’) flashed up on the big screen; when it looked as though the wet sponge would not do the job and the stretcher might be needed, the more dramatic BMI Hendon Hospital ad appeared.
The last time I was in this area, I was not very much younger than some of the men celebrated at Bentley Priory.
Towards the end of September 1972, the new school year began for my girlfriend at the establishment at the top of Canons Park. That was a week before I needed to go north for the start of my first university term. On two days that week I rode to Stanmore on my Triumph to collect her at the school gate.
The motorbike had a single arm kickstand so that, at rest, it leaned at a jaunty angle. I slouched against it with my legs at an opposing angle, crossed at the ankle, in a pose I imagined as pleasingly symmetrical with a hint of gravity defied.
I used a bottle of Coke – opened with very great care – as a prop to give me something to be doing with my hands. My hair, another potential problem, was shoulder-length and ill-kempt. A crash helmet was not yet a legal requirement but I needed one to be able to offer it to G. Wearing the helmet (purple sprinkled with silver stars) was the easiest way to transport it, but that flattened my hair into the semblance of a swimming cap. Strapping the helmet to the rack left my hair at the whim of the wind and resulted in rats’ tails. National Health Bakelite spectacles also let me down, I sensed. So much of the agony of first love is about appearances. I hoped that the girls streaming away from North London Collegiate would look at me and think of Peter Fonda. OMG, as they would no doubt say now.
When we rode off, then, we did so in second gear. This heightened the risk of stalling but it made the bike sound awesome. The Tigercub had a 200cc four-stroke engine; with two aboard, moving off in second gear, it sounded as though someone were hitting a galvanised metal wheelbarrow with a spade, rhythmically.
Was any of that what the Few fought for? What would Bam have made of it? Not much, I suspect. But would he have behaved similarly, given the chance?
Barnet 1 Accrington Stanley 1 The Hive, 17 February 2018
‘Towns of Two Halves: A Tourist’s Guide to Football Towns’, by David Guest
The league football towns of England and Wales are the stars of a new guidebook for fans planning their awaydays on the new season’s fixture list.
From Accrington’s Tiffany glass to Yeovil’s TS Eliot memorial, the home towns of all 92 league clubs have something unique to offer. Author David Guest has been to every one of them and his travels have yielded a personal guide to tourism in the football towns, cities and suburbs of England and Wales.
David’s ‘Towns of Two Halves’ draws on a lifetime of watching football at all levels, all over the country. The book has 92 chapters, one for the home town or district of each club. Its accompanying website has corresponding pages with links to attractions.
“If you go somewhere and see no more of it than the burger bar, the discount pub, the shopping mall and a goalless draw at the football ground,” David asks, “what have you got to show for your day? But if you go with the mentality of a tourist, you turn it into a holiday, sometimes an adventure, and you’ll come away with a store of memories.”
He adds: “The towns of this country are full of surprises. Anywhere can be a tourist destination.”
The chapters vary in style. About three-quarters conform loosely to a kind of tourism template; others discuss football-watching matters like comfort, entertainment and safety; and some are memories of watching football going back to the early 1960s. “I didn’t want to write the same chapter 92 times,” says David. He promises that the website will make good any discrepancies and that he will update entries there.
Paperback: £8 – ISBN 978-0-9956787-2-9
Ebook: £3.49 – ISBN 978-0-9956787-3-6
Available from firstname.lastname@example.org