Support the Lower Leagues

The lamentable fate of Bury makes it plain that clubs in the lower divisions need all the support they can get. The international break gives you a perfect opportunity to express your solidarity.

Bruce Willis, Bury, Support the Lower Leagues

The break applies only to the top two divisions. Football continues to be played in Leagues 1 and 2. Meanwhile, England’s game against Bulgaria doesn’t kick off until 5pm. So if you want live football next Saturday afternoon and you could stand to miss the first half-hour or so of the England game, why not go to your nearest lower league club? They certainly need the income and you might be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Chappel Beer Festival, Colchester United, Walsall, East Anglian Railway Museum
Here’s to Colchester v Walsall, with the Chappel Beer Festival at the nearby East Anglian Railway Museum
If you want an extra inducement:
* Norwich fans could choose between a beer festival near Colchester or retro microcomputers in Cambridge
* For any discriminating Burnley or Blackburn fans in the southwest, Accrington Stanley play at Bristol Rovers – not far from a coffee festival and a record/CD fair
* Morecambe has the seaside, a Dinosaur Day, a comedy festival and Salford City to attract any Mancunians attracted by the idea of a day out
* There are food festivals of one sort or another at Cheltenham, Leyton and the Wirral. The latter two are within easy reach of Londoners and Liverpudlians respectively; might Stevenage’s trip to Cheltenham attract one or two matchless Spurs supporters?
* Supporters of East Midlands clubs will note Mansfield Town have a home game against Scunthorpe and something called The Full Shebang going on in the town. It sounds as if it could be quite something – don’t miss it!
* At Milton Keynes, choose between a Cheese Festival, a Handmade & Vintage Show, Bletchley Park and AFC Wimbledon, or take in all four.

Would you rather be in front of the box at 2pm for Kosovo against the Czech Republic on Sky? Really?

Nostalgia

Nostalgia may not be what it was, but don’t let that stop you wallowing at an away venue this August. There’s a chance to step back into various bygone Golden Ages near the grounds of:

Stephenson's Rocket Manchester Science & Industry Museum Chelsea Spurs Palace Brighton
Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ on display at Manchester’s Science & Industry Museum until 8 Sep

Chelsea Wartime (where the visiting teams are Leicester on 18 Aug, Sheffield Utd on 31 Aug); and at Milton Keynes (Shrewsbury 10 Aug, Lincoln 20 Aug, Peterborough 24 Aug); and at Oldham (Crewe 10 Aug)

Derby Magazines & Dressmaking Patterns of the 30s (Swansea 10 Aug, Bristol City 20 Aug, WBA 24 Aug)

Leicester Ladybird Books (Wolves 11 Aug, Bournemouth 31 Aug); and at Reading (Sheffield Wed 3 Aug)

Manchester Stephenson’s Rocket (Chelsea 11 Aug, Spurs 17 Aug, Palace 24 Aug, Brighton 31 Aug)

Morecambe 1940s Revival (Grimsby 3 Aug)

Norwich The 1950s (Newcastle 17 Aug, Chelsea 24 Aug)

QPR Toy Brands in the 50s (Huddersfield 10 Aug, Swansea 21 Aug, Wigan 24 Aug)

Stevenage Design Icons of the 60s-80s (Exeter 10 Aug, Southend 13 Aug, Bradford 20 Aug, Macclesfield 31 Aug)

50s Toy Brands Museum of Brands QPR Huddersfield Swansea Wigan
Toy Brands in the 50s at the Museum of Brands near QPR’s ground

This is a sample of what you’ll find to do (apart from watch the match) when you follow your team around the country. Check out all the destinations at Towns.

Open-Air Theatre

This is something of a long shot. Tickets often go quickly for open-air theatre – to watch a play in the gently cooling evening of a summer’s night is such a treat. But if you were planning to follow your team to one of the following destinations, it might be worth checking availability and adjusting the time of your return accordingly:

Kew Gardens Brentford Hull City Alice in Wonderland Open-air Theatre
Alice in Wonderland at Kew: ‘it’s always tea-time’

Alice in Wonderland at Brentford (where the away team is Hull 17 Aug)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Exeter (Macclesfield 3 Aug)
Comedy of Errors at Brighton (West Ham 17 Aug)
Frankenstein at Mansfield (Morecambe 10 Aug)
Gangsta Granny at Shrewsbury (Portsmouth 3 Aug)
Love’s Labours Lost at Northampton (Walsall 3 Aug)
Moby Dick on SS Great Britain at Bristol (Tranmere 20 Aug, Oxford 24 Aug)
Sense & Sensibility at Sheffield on 23 Aug (Leicester 24 Aug)
Theatre on the Square at Accrington (Bury 10 Aug)
The Secret Garden at Gillingham (Blackpool 20 Aug)
Treasure Island at Peterborough (Ipswich 17 Aug)
Twelfth Night at Oxford (Peterborough 10 Aug)

Summer awaydays

If you can remember far enough back you’ll know what a treat it is to be taken to a match, home or away. But you can earn even more gratitude from your kids if you plan an away game around them. You’ll find summer events through to late August in many towns around the country. The list below is a sample; some are the civic events, but adventure parks, heritage sites and shopping malls will often have similar programmes – check out the destinations at Towns

Bournemouth Summer Live Sheffield United Manchester City
Summer Live, Bournemouth – photography by Sirius Art (Guy Wood)

Blackpool (where the away teams are Bristol Rovers 3 Aug, Macclesfield 13 Aug, Oxford 17 Aug, Portsmouth 31 Aug)
Bournemouth (Sheffield Utd 10 Aug, Manchester City 25 Aug)
Carlisle (Crawley 3 Aug, Mansfield 17 Aug, Salford 24 Aug)
Doncaster (Gillingham 3 Aug, Fleetwood 17 Aug, Lincoln 24 Aug)
Hull (Reading 10 Aug, Blackburn 20 Aug, Bristol City 24 Aug)
Plymouth (Colchester 10 Aug, Orient 13 Aug, Salford 20 Aug, Walsall 24 Aug)

Food Festivals

Is the highlight of your matchday experience the pie at half-time? Did you ever suffer the cheese and onion pastie at Harrogate Town and wonder whether life might not have more to offer? Well, it does, and especially for a few lucky sets of supporters.
Food-loving Leeds fans can view the start of the season with particular satisfaction. Their game at Wigan Athletic coincides with a Food Festival and that’s in addition to the justly famous Wigan Tapas. Leeds are also at Stoke during an event called The Big Feast, but that turns out to be an arts and street performance festival. Follow your nose to the following Food Festivals:

Hairy Bikers Bolton Food Festival Towns of Two Halves Football Tourism Ipswich Town
The Hairy Bikers: in Bolton for the visit of Ipswich on 24 Aug

Barnsley (where the away team is Luton 24 Aug)
Bolton (Ipswich 24 Aug)
Wigan (Leeds 17 Aug)

Speciality food events are on the schedule at:
Cheltenham Flyer Fish & Chip Special (Scunthorpe 10 Aug)
Vegan at Coventry (Southend 3 Aug) and at Port Vale (Northampton 10 Aug)

And it would be surprising if food didn’t feature at these exotic carnivals:
Caribbean at Manchester (Chelsea 11 Aug)
Magic of Thailand at Brighton (West Ham 17 Aug)

Music Festivals

The Victorious Festival at Portsmouth, 23-25 Aug

Watching two football teams slog it out on a hot August afternoon doesn’t always feel right. Listening to a live band as the sun goes down, a drink in your hand, will restore things to their natural order. There are music festivals and events up and down the country this August; some will require more commitment and time than others, but there are plenty of options. For example, Macclesfield fans who make the long trip to Exeter City on the opening day of the season will be rewarded by Crazy for Soul at the Corn Exchange. Find the possibility that’s appropriate to you:

Bass
Sequences 2019 at Bristol (where the away team is QPR 17 Aug)

Eclectic
GlastonFerret at Preston (Sheff Wed 24 Aug)
Livewire at Fleetwood (Accrington 24 Aug)
Shuffle Shuffle at Bradford (Oldham 17 Aug)
Street Music & Theatre at Preston (Wigan 10 Aug)
Victorious at Portsmouth (Rotherham 24 Aug)
Youth Music Festival at Preston (Sheff Wed 24 Aug)

Moseley Folk & Art Festival: you could go for the whole weekend and take 2hrs off for Birmingham v Stoke

Folk
Moseley Folk & Art Festival at Birmingham (Stoke 31 Aug)
Shrewsbury Folk Festival (Burton 24 Aug)

Heavy Metal
Bloodstock at Derby (Swansea 10 Aug)

Indie & Dance
Cool Britannia at Stevenage (Macclesfield 31 Aug)
Feelgood Festival at Rochdale (Doncaster 10 Aug)

Jazz
Jazz at Port Vale (Forest Green 20 Aug)
Ocean City Blues ’n Jazz Festival at Plymouth (Colchester 10 Aug)

Northern Soul
Crazy for Soul at Exeter (Macclesfield 3 Aug)

Proms
Ossy Proms at Accrington (Milton Keynes 31 Aug)
Oxford Proms (Peterborough 10 Aug)

Rock, Blues
Cover Bands Fake Festivals at Manchester (Spurs 17 Aug); Carlisle (Mansfield 17 Aug); Colchester (Port Vale 3 Aug)

50th anniversary of Apollo 11

Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon is coming to Derby in September and Leicester in October

You can’t have failed to notice that it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 this month. The first men to set foot on the moon blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre on 16 July 1969, landed on the moon on 20 July and returned to earth on 24 July.

If you’re fired up by the media and film coverage, there’s a good possibility you’ll be able to combine an interest in the anniversary with a trip to an away match in the early days of the new season. There are special Apollo 11 events and/or exhibitions in August in (or very near):

Bristol (where the away teams are Leeds 4 Aug, Wycombe 10 Aug, Cheltenham 13 Aug, QPR 17 Aug, Tranmere 20 Aug, Oxford 24 Aug, Middlesbrough 31 Aug)
Burton (Ipswich 3 Aug, Rotherham 17 Aug, Bristol Rovers 31 Aug)
Coventry on 23 Aug (Gillingham 24 Aug)
Forest Green Rovers (Oldham 3 Aug, Grimsby 17 Aug, Newport 31 Aug)
Leicester (Wolves 11 Aug, Bournemouth 31 Aug)
Mansfield (Morecambe 10 & 13 Aug, Orient 20 Aug, Stevenage 24 Aug)
Oxford (Peterborough 10 & 13 Aug, Burton 20 Aug, Coventry 31 Aug)
Port Vale (Northampton 10 Aug, Burton 13 Aug, FGR 20 Aug, Cambridge 31 Aug)
Stoke (QPR 3 Aug, Derby 17 Aug, Leeds 24 Aug)

Cricket overlap

Congratulations to England’s 50-over cricket team. But let’s keep a sense of proportion. English sportsmen won World Cups in 1966 and 2003 by outscoring the opposition. The cricketers won thanks to the small print in the Ts&Cs. You’d need the soul of a contract lawyer (or the breathless enthusiasm of a TV presenter) to regard that as a comparable sporting achievement.

Cricinfo’s picture from The Timeless Test, when a draw was an acceptable conclusion

What would have been so offensive about having co-champions? The first ICC Champions Trophy (another One-Day International cricket tournament) was shared by India and Sri Lanka. The result on Sunday at Lords – as, not far away, at Wimbledon – was unsatisfactory for being contrived. Cricket used to be a game in which a draw or a tie was an acceptable conclusion. In the most famous case, known as The Timeless Test, England and South Africa slugged it out over nine days, whereupon they declared the result a draw so that the English players could catch their boat home. At the time England were 654 for 5 in their second innings, chasing 696 to win. Another hour’s play would have been enough, but a draw was in their blood.

If the 50-over white-ball triumph has whetted your appetite, the first six weeks of the new football season overlap with the cricket season. On a Saturday afternoon, football and cricket will usually clash. But if you’re traveling a long way and making a weekend of it, you could take in some top-class cricket. Here are a few examples:

Swansea City at Derby, 10 Aug; T20 Blast Derbyshire v Durham, 9 Aug

Luton Town at Cardiff, 10 Aug; T20 Blast Glamorgan v Surrey, 11 Aug

Liverpool at Southampton, on 17 Aug, T20 Blast Hampshire v Surrey 16 Aug

Bristol City at Derby, 20 Aug; County Championship Derbyshire v Gloucestershire, 18-21 Aug

Plymouth Argyle at Northampton, 31 Aug; T20 Blast Northants v Worcestershire, 30 Aug

Screen Test

The BBC’s TV programme schedules for Saturday 4 August were depressing for what they omitted. On the first day of the new football season, there was neither Final Score nor Match of the Day. With what by common consent was the conclusion of the most dramatic Test Match since the last most dramatic Test Match, there was of course no cricket at all.
The absence of any football coverage is presumably explained by the fact that the Premier League doesn’t start until next weekend. So that’s a single upright finger from the British Broadcasting Corporation to all fans of English clubs outside the Premier League and of other British clubs outside Wales.
There was one forlorn hope. An inexplicable break in the published BBC1 schedule at 4.45pm separated European Championships 2018 from European Championships 2018. The witching hour for football supporters begins at 4.45pm. In the event, nothing happened at 4.45pm apart from Chris Hoy talking engagingly about his early career. While the football results could have been screened, the BBC showed the Women’s 800 metre Breaststroke Final, 16 lengths, with no British interest, for eight minutes plus. How long does it take to read the football results? Five minutes? Meanwhile on BBC2, Flog It! began on time.
Where cricket is concerned, the BBC threw in the towel a long time ago. It talks a good game. The fetish object that is Test Match Special sits smugly on the pedestal sustained by the rest of the corporation. On Radio 5 Live, the pretence that people might actually prefer their sport without moving pictures is repeated daily, many times, as if that might eventually make it true.
The results are dispiriting. The BBC becomes a cheerleader for events that other broadcasters will screen. In a hole and continuing to dig, it surely drums up interest in subscriptions to BT and Sky. Carried away by its own enthusiasm, it loses a sense of perspective: how can a Test Match be a ‘classic’ when only two of the four possible outcomes are available by tea on the third day? And perversely, in its news bulletins, it subsequently broadcasts spoilers.
Online, by contrast, its sports service is comprehensive. Football scores are automatically refreshed, details of individual games are available and ‘virtual’ league tables are updated to reflect, pointlessly, fluctuating fortunes. (This service may not be entirely reliable: the Oldham v Milton Keynes fixture had apparently not kicked off by 3.11pm. Meanwhile, MK Dons had gone up 0-1 from a penalty.) In the red-ball game, cricket scores are updated ball-by-ball.
Perhaps this is how sport will be ‘consumed’ from now on: live, on television, only for those able to afford the appropriate subscription (or canny enough to find a streaming portal); or verbal/textual, regularly updated and free. If the latter, it’s almost a return to the early days of ‘live’ Ashes Test Match commentaries. In the 1930s, audiences in Australia listened through the night to ‘live’ wireless broadcasts put together ball-by-ball from cables. It’s Teletext all over again. It doesn’t feel like progress. It feels as if supporters of second-class clubs are second-class citizens.

Humble origins

The main aim of Towns of Two Halves is to encourage you to go and take a look at places that you might never have considered. All those towns have something to offer.

But the football is the common denominator and it needn’t be the lowest. As England’s success in the World Cup demonstrates, a trip to somewhere obscure might give you a glimpse of the football stars of tomorrow.

The goalkeepers in the squad are the most exotic examples. Over the past five years you could have gone to Darlington, Alfreton, Burton Albion, Carlisle, Bradford City or Preston North End and seen Jordan Pickford between the sticks. His back-up Nick Pope was even more widely travelled: Bury Town, Welling, Cambridge United, Aldershot, York City and Bury. Jack Butland confined himself largely to the Midlands and Yorkshire; he played for Birmingham, Cheltenham, Stoke, Barnsley, Leeds and Derby before moving to Stoke.

Of the outfield starting XI, Dele Alli’s origins are probably the humblest at Milton Keynes Dons. But five years ago you might have seen Harry Kane turning out on loan with Millwall and Norwich; John Stones was still at Barnsley, Harry Maguire was at Sheffield United in League 1 and Jesse Lingard had a spell on loan with Birmingham City.

How will you know you’re watching a star of the future? You probably need to talk to the home fans. Dele Alli was among the scorers when MK Dons put seven past Oldham in 2014. I had no idea I was watching a World Cup warrior of the future. Besides, Geoffrey Boycott’s grandmother batting with a stick of rhubarb could have scored against Oldham that day. But Tottenham signed him just three months later, so somebody clearly knew.

It’s a little like watching bands on the way up. You see people you’ve never heard of playing in the back room of a pub. Sometimes you only know they’re special with hindsight, and with the perspective that comes from kissing a large number of frogs. But it does mean that there’s always a good reason to go, just in case…