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.


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.
By a happy coincidence, Birmingham City fans missing their own Oktoberfest can enjoy Leeds’.
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
Liverpool play at United.

Saturday 26
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.

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.

Food Festivals in September

Lincoln, Street Food, Oxford United
Lincoln: tasty treats for hungry Oxford United fans on 21 September

You’re in an unfamiliar town for an afternoon at the football. It’s lunchtime, more or less. You Googled the pubs before you set out, obviously, but how can it be anything other than a bonus to find a food festival in progress in the town?
Two food festivals, in the case of Sheffield on 28 September. Out at Ponds Forge there’s Cheese Fest inspired by Wallace & Gromit; meanwhile at the Students Union the Sheffield Vegan Festival will be in full swing. Liverpool are at Sheffield United that afternoon, in a 12.30 kick-off – that leaves time to indulge yourselves before and after, and if you overdo it you could tackle Photomarathon Sheffield that day as well.
Whether you’re an omnivore, a picky eater or an Asian gourmet, there’s likely to be something for you.

Manchester Food & Drink Festival, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Wolves
Manchester Food & Drink Festival: sustenance for locals and visitors, 26 Sep-7 Oct

Food & Drink Festivals
There are extensive food & drink festivals at Manchester (where the away teams are Arsenal at United on 30 Sep, Wolves at City 5 Oct); Newport (Carlisle 5 Oct); Tranmere (Gillingham 7 Sep); and with live music Wigan (Charlton 21 Sep). The Festival of Food at Oxford (Gillingham 28 Sep) looks like a more local, home-grown affair.
Milton Keynes (Wimbledon 7 Sep), Sheffield (Liverpool at Sheff Utd, 28 Sep), Lincoln (Sunderland 5 Oct)
Chicken Wings
Leyton (Swindon 7 Sep)
There are Korean Festivals at Preston (Bristol City 28 Sep) and Wimbledon (Shrewsbury 14 Sep). Food may not be the main focus.
Street Food
Lincoln (Oxford 21 Sep), Cheltenham (Stevenage 7 Sep)
Reading (Blackburn 21 Sep), Sheffield (Liverpool at Sheff Utd, 28 Sep)

Music Festivals in September

Carlisle United, Blues & Rock Festival, Oldham Athletic
Carlisle Blues & Rock Festival: make a long weekend of it

Music-lovers among the tribes of traveling football fans are in for treats around the country in September. And the treats are shared out, geographically and in musical styles, from baroque in Bristol to blues in Carlisle.
Here are some of the music festivals to look for:

Baroque at Bristol (where the away team on 21 Sep is Swansea at Bristol City) Early Music at Liverpool (Sheff Utd at Everton on 21 Sep)
Blues/Rock at Carlisle (Oldham on 28 Sep)
Classical on different scales at Leicester International Music Festival (Spurs on 21 Sep), Proms Swansea (Forest on 14 Sep), Royal Philharmonic Tranmere (Gillingham on 7 Sep) and Chamber Music at Hull (Cardiff on 28 Sep)
The British Country Festival is at Blackpool (MK Dons on 14 Sep)
Folk at Leeds (Derby on 21 Sep)
Gospel/Christian with Ignite at Salford (Forest Green on 28 Sep) and BayFest at Morecambe (Northampton on 28 Sep)
Jazz is on the menu in Liverpool (Wolves at Everton on 1 Sep) and Swansea (Stoke on 5 Oct)
Organ Liverpool (Newcastle at Liverpool on 14 Sep), Lincoln (Oxford on 21 Sep)
And if you fancy a Victorian Music Hall singalong, head for Leyton Orient (Swindon on 7 Sep)

Beverley Minster, Chamber Music Festival, Hull City, Cardiff City
Beverley Minster, just up the road from Hull, hosts the Chamber Music Festival

There are other live music events on various scales and catering to various tastes at:
Huddersfield (Millwall on 28 Sep), Plymouth (Cheltenham on 21 Sep), Portsmouth (Bolton* on 28 Sep), Reading (Blackburn on 21 Sep)

Motorhome memories

Lincoln, Motorhome Show, Oxford United

The city of Lincoln hosts the Motorhome Show Season Finale on 20-22 September. If you’re an Oxford United supporter with a motorhome, you could combine your passions. On some of the same roads on the same days, similar vehicles will be heading for Doncaster where there’s a VW Festival on 20-22 September. That will sort the posh out from the proles among the visiting Peterborough fans.

I only once went to a football match in anything that might pass muster at a Motorhome Show event. That was a VW Campervan. The vehicle made its own contribution to fuel efficiency by refusing to go faster than 50mph. Reverse gear was elusive, which made parking a challenge. We left Hertfordshire at 11.30am and failed to get to Tranmere Rovers in time for kick-off. But we were dilatory in setting off, lingered over lunch and may not have been 100% committed to Tranmere v Oldham, so I can’t lay all the blame on Volkswagen.

Tranmere Rovers, VW Campervan, Wirral, Oldham Athletic

Campervan veterans would have recognised us as naïve beginners. As we settled in at a Wirral campsite, we basked in the admiring attention our VW drew. But when the admirers returned to their Saturday evenings in palatial Xanadu-style encampments, or drove off to an award-winning restaurant in West Kirby, we faced a night in a confined space with no dinner. A fish & chip van visiting the camp-site partly rescued the situation.

Later, we walked down a lane to the water’s edge and watched the sun go down over an offshore wind-farm. As a recreation of the Hippy Trails blazed by the original generation of VW Campervan owners, this was barely satisfactory. But we were neither hippies nor stoned, and the VW at least was authentic.

If you travel around the country in a motorhome and you like the Towns of Two Halves idea that anywhere can be a tourist destination, you should take a look at Your RV Lifestyle‘s very thorough 100 Things to do in England. How many do you agree with? What d’you reckon they’ve missed?

Drinking it all in

Traditionally, the match-day experience is incomplete without a visit to licensed premises. That can be before and after the match: there are some games you wouldn’t want to watch sober. But the licensed premises don’t have to be some low dive that doesn’t mind who it serves. There are highlights in all four divisions in August:

Leicester Gin Festival Bournemouth Gin Beer Prosecco
Leicester Gin Festival: more than 80 gins on offer, plus a beer and prosecco bar

Leeds Beer Week (where the visiting team is Swansea 31 Aug)
Leicester Gin Festival (Bournemouth 31 Aug)
Southend Beer Festival (Blackpool 10 Aug)
Stevenage Gin & Funk Festival (Exeter 10 Aug)

Film & TV

In the towns you’ll visit following your team, some of the goings-on will be particular to the town. In other words you might not get the chance anywhere else. That means, unfortunately, that you might not get tickets either – local people will tend to hear about the events first. But if you keep an eye on Towns of Two Halves, the website will be updated on a regular basis.
Here’s a sample of some of the film and TV-related events around the country in August. They may not exactly be once-in-a-lifetime things, but they’re not daily occurrences either.

Bradford City, Film Festival, Unesco, Preston North End, Oldham Athletic, Forest Green Rovers
Bradford Film Festival: 10th anniversary in the world’s first Unesco City of Film
Bradford Film Festival (where the visiting teams are PNE 13 Aug, Oldham 17 Aug, Forest Green 24 Aug)
Bristol Aardman: Early Man (Leeds 4 Aug, Wycombe 10 Aug, Cheltenham 13 Aug, QPR 17 Aug, Tranmere 20 Aug, Oxford 24 Aug, Middlesbrough 31 Aug)
Bristol FriendsFest (Oxford 24 Aug, Middlesbrough 31 Aug)
Chelsea Stanley Kubrick (Leicester 18 Aug, Sheff Utd 31 Aug)
Gillingham Call the Midwife location tours (Burton 10 Aug, Newport 13 Aug, Blackpool 20 Aug, Bolton 31 Aug)
Manchester FriendsFest (Chelsea 11 Aug, Spurs 17 Aug)
Sheffield Film & Comic Con (Barnsley 10 Aug)


Pride, Leicester, Bournemouth, King Power
Leicester Pride: on 31 Aug the parade through the city centre begins at noon, leading to a festival in Victoria Park. Bournemouth’s game at the King Power kicks off at 3pm

If you’re following your club to these towns and cities in August you might want to carry a rainbow flag as well as the team colours:

Doncaster (where Fleetwood are the visitors on 17 Aug)
Leicester (Bournemouth 31 Aug)
Manchester (Palace 24 Aug)
Milton Keynes (Shrewsbury 10 Aug)
Plymouth (Colchester 10 Aug)