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:

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

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

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 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)

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)

Urban beaches

Planning to travel to an away game with the family? You’ll spot some obvious seaside attractions early in the season. If you have a game at Brighton, Southend, Morecambe etc, the promise of an ice-cream on the prom will be part of the appeal. (And don’t overlook Grimsby – the Mighty Mariners’ ground is in Cleethorpes – or Fleetwood, a few tram stops from Blackpool.)

But those aren’t the only possibilities. Since the turn of the century, urban beaches have become popular and they turn up in some pretty unlikely places. Here’s where you might get sand between your toes this August:

Watford Big Beach, in landlocked Hertfordshire from 16-30 Aug

Cardiff (where the away teams are Luton 10 Aug, Huddersfield 21 Aug, Fulham 30 Aug)
Derby (Swansea 10 Aug, Bristol City 20 Aug, WBA 24 Aug)
Leeds (Forest 10 Aug, Brentford 21 Aug, Swansea 31 Aug)
Lincoln (Accrington 3 Aug, Southend 17 Aug, Fleetwood 31 Aug)
Nottingham (WBA 3 Aug, Birmingham 17 Aug, PNE 31 Aug)
Sheffield (Barnsley 10 Aug, Palace 18 Aug, Luton 20 Aug, Leicester 24 Aug, QPR 31 Aug)
Stevenage (Exeter 10 Aug, Southend 13 Aug, Bradford 20 Aug, Macclesfield 31 Aug)
Watford (West Ham 24 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


Visit for your statement leggings

What to make of the English dominance of this year’s European club competitions?

Two English clubs will contest the final of the Champions League, and two more meet in the Europa League final. It’s an unprecedented clean sweep – and not a Manchester team in sight!

But any talk of dominance would be premature. Although the tide may be turning, it’s clear where the dominant European football culture can be found, at least until the evidence of one or two more seasons is available.

In the past 10 years, only six countries have had teams in the last four of the Champions League:

There has been more variety in the Europa League, but when you strip out the one-offs the picture is similar:

Spain provided the winner of the Champions League for the past five seasons before this one, and both finalists twice since 2014. Spanish clubs also won the Europa League six times in the nine seasons from 2010.

Before them, German clubs were notably successful in the Champions League, 2009-2013, and at least one of the last four has been German in all but two of the past 10 years. Portugal has a similar record in the Europa League.

Play-offs: Lies and Statistics

“The table doesn’t lie in the end,” Ole Gunnar Solksjaer said after Manchester United failed to beat Huddersfield and thereby missed out on European Champions League qualification.

But some tables tell half-truths. The United manager has inadvertently highlighted another case in which it’s one law for the Premier League and a quite different law for the rest.

The table may not lie about the elite but everywhere else it is not completely reliable. In the Championship and League 1, the table can identify the best two teams and in League 2 the best three. But to find the next best, four teams have to prove themselves all over again.

1. The second, third and fourth tiers are under their current names
2. Originally, the first play-off position was occupied by a team in danger of relegation from the league above

The play-offs, the argument goes, keep the season alive longer for more clubs. That’s undoubtedly true but so what? Surely the whole point of the way football is structured is to allow teams to find their level. If a fairer way exists to rank 20 or 24 teams other than by having each one play all the others, home and away, why in 131 years has it not been implemented?

After a full programme of fixtures, Leeds United (third in the Championship) will have to beat teams they have already surpassed by up to nine points to gain promotion. The possibility of injustice is even greater in League 1 where Charlton Athletic, third behind Luton and Barnsley, are a full 15 points in front of Doncaster Rovers but have to overcome them again to remain in with a chance of promotion.

Since the play-offs were introduced in 1986-87, the most deserving club – according to the league table – has been promoted less than 40% of the time (36.5%). The least deserving, scraping into the last of the play-off places, has been the next most successful with 24% of the promotions.

By division, League 2 has produced the fairest reflection of the final table. The team in the first play-off position has survived the play-offs in almost 44% of cases. In League 1 it has been the next team down, 34.5% of the time. The Championship has come closest to mirroring the league table in its play-off success rate – 37.5%, 18.8%, 25% and 18.8% respectively for the teams gaining promotion from various finishes in the table.

Solihull Moors

Brueton Park, Solihull: Trentwards flows the Blythe

Among the many exciting breakthroughs made possible by the Internet, citizen journalism is one of the most inspiring.

It creates a world in which everyone can be a broadcaster or publisher, regardless of talent, aptitude, possession of facts or any self-awareness at all.

This is all made possible by one single advance: the removal of expensive and pernickety sub-editors from the process. Sub-editors are the latest victims of a gradual diminution in the variety of skills once thought necessary to journalism. A trainee reporter 40yrs ago would have had to produce material good enough in different ways to satisfy at least five pairs of eyes: those of the line manager (news or features editor), of the sub, of the production editor, of the editor and, not least, of the typesetter who would have regarded his (it was invariably ‘his’) interference as essential.

Now, in the era of citizen journalism, none of those is necessary. Material can be published immediately, with no regard to its factual accuracy, legality, sense, honesty, spelling or grammar. As a result almost nothing you read on the Internet can be trusted. A generation of sceptics will grow to maturity in the online era. By a quirk of irony, scepticism is one of the first requirements of a journalist.

* * *

Be honest: when you first saw the name Solihull Moors on a screen, didn’t you assume it was another typically carefree piece of online editing? Surely ‘Motors’ was intended. In the West Midlands, Solihull Motors made a lot more sense than Solihull Moors, there being neither wuthering uplands nor wandering Berbers in the vicinity. Yes, Solihull Motors must be a former company team, like PSV Eindhoven or Bayer Leverkusen.

It was the occasional presence in the Oldham attack of the great Matt Smith, hero of an FA Cup win over Liverpool in 2013, that brought Solihull’s football team to my wavering attention. Athletic had plucked Smith from the Moors or Motors, as I continued to think of them, then in the sixth-tier Conference North.

In fact Solihull Moors is too young a club to have any links with prominent centres of motor manufacture. A young fan would be as confused by Motors as I was by Moors. The club was formed in 2007 by the merger of Solihull Borough and Moor Green. Moor Green was the older club, originating in Hall Green, south-west of Birmingham. Solihull Borough had originally played under the name Lincoln FC. Moors, then, is not the most confusing name that might have been attached to the club.

The Moors play at Damson Parkway, about midway between Solihull and Junction 6 of the M42. ‘Motors’ would still be appropriate: the ground is surrounded by Jaguar Land Rover premises. And at Junction 6 you’ll find the National Motorcycle Museum).

National Motorcycle Museum: pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans

My first reaction to the National Motorcycle Museum was to feel physically ill. The evocative smell of burned oil and the gleam of polished chromium sent me hurtling down Housman’s “happy highways where I went and cannot come again”. To have owned a Triumph T20 Tiger Cub and, like a fickle lover, to have casually dropped it on the acquisition of a full driving licence… the sight of all the wonderful machines I might have graduated on to was deeply upsetting. An AJS took me back almost 50 years to the temptations of a dealer at Rayners Lane; a Norton reminded me of a test-ride in St Albans, where I was only just strong enough to keep the bike upright at a red traffic light. All around me, middle-aged men in leathers were welling up.

Eventually, by looking not at the bikes I had loved and lost but at the museum as a series of collections, I calmed down.

Second impressions, then. As I approached the museum a number of bikes were sweeping around a modest circuit coned out in the car-park. The sound suited the setting but the speed must have been frustrating for the riders. Within, the museum’s antechambers have the atmosphere of a high-class golf course club-house, but with highly-polished and scrupulously dusted motor vehicles where you might expect trophy cabinets.

There are five big galleries in which motorcycles (and related vehicles) are lined up by age, by manufacturer and in some cases by purpose. It’s an overwhelming prospect at first – 850 or more bikes, beautifully restored and/or maintained, in rank upon rank. Every one of them looks as though you could ride it out of there, pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans.

Copperknob: as though a plumber built it

Mostly, the National Motorcycle Museum is about ogling beautiful engineering and lamenting lost youth. But it’s also educational: who knew that Triumph was founded by German immigrants called Siegfried Bettmann and Mauritz Schulte; that Steve McQueen was among the pursuing Wehrmacht riders as a stuntman failed to jump the wire in The Great Escape? And there are curiosities: a machine and banjo used in the 1935 George Formby film No Limit; the 1929 Chater-Lea ‘Copperknob’, on which the copper-plating looks as though a plumber built it.

Upstairs, the restaurant is worth a visit. If the museum premises suggest a club-house, the restaurant plunges to the opposite extreme by summoning up the spirit of the transport caff. Outside the window, the dual-carriageway A45 stands in for the motorways beside which such services once fed a nation.

How much Solihull itself has to offer is something of a mystery. If you set out to follow signs to Library Square ‘i’, good luck. From at least two key directions – the town centre and the railway station – the signs point you in the general direction but drop you well before anything resembling a library or even a square interrupts your progress. Perhaps other signs indicating Town Centre Touchwood provide a clue: these pointers show where something was the last time anybody checked, and with luck that’s where it will still be. (Touchwood is, of course, a shopping and entertainment complex – Solihull’s Bonheur des Dames.)

The most obviously old building is the 15th century Manor House). A plaque confirms that it dates from 1495. Now occupied on a Saturday morning by a number of small craft businesses, it is open to anyone to wander in. Further along the intermittently decorative High Street is a 16th century building, but here you’d have to feign an interest in fashion to look inside. Off the High Street, Mell Square with its carousel and coffee house has something almost Parisian in its atmosphere.

Solihull’s medieval Square, apparently from a geometrical era before the triangle had been discovered

But this is clutching at straws. Not having found the information centre I asked the clairvoyant I met in the Manor House what I should look at. She suggested the Church of St Alphage. At the eastern end of the High Street, this is apparently the historic core of the town. Opposite the church is the 16th century George Hotel, now a Ramada Inn, with more half-timbering than a Morris Traveller and enough leading in the windows to cage a flock of budgies. Inexplicably, the Ramada Inn’s website has no photograph of the building’s noble southern face. Instead, it focuses on characterless modern luxury.

Across the triangle of pavement and roadway known as The Square is a war memorial on which the name AA Guest caught my eye. And then you’re into the Church of St Alphege, largely built between the 12th century and 1535. Alphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury who died at the hands of drunken Danish raiders in 1012. A side chapel is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, another Archbishop of Canterbury. What either had to do with Solihull was not clear. To the left of the high altar is an unusual two-storey arrangement of chapels. The chill dimness of the Crypt Chapel of St Francis contrasts with the colour-flecked clarity of the Chantry Chapel above.

Solihull’s other attractions seem to be out of doors, but without ever finding Library Square it’s difficult to be sure. Two parks to the south-west and south-east of the town are, fortunately, hard to miss.

Perhaps that should be three parks. Brueton and Malvern Parks have their own names and characters but they arc towards each other and merge in the flood plain of the River Blythe. There’s water too in Tudor Grange Park, where the Alder Brook feeds a small lake. Tudor Grange also has pitch-and-putt, a cycle track, a skate-park and playground. It hosts the Solihull Summer Festival and the town’s bonfire night party.

A park-run had just finished as I arrived at Brueton Park. Is it harsh to wonder whether park runners are missing the point by driving to the park for their exercise? Perhaps a man who has just driven 100 miles for no better reason than to go to a football match is in no position to make disparaging remarks about leisure runners.

The car-park offers a generous 3hrs free deal. Once the runners had dispersed, most of the takers were dog-walkers and most of the dogs were spaniels. Brueton is the more expansive of the twinned parks. Across the Blythe, which information boards point out flows towards the Trent from here, there’s a substantial nature reserve with different habitats and plank pathways to take you through them. Back in the park itself, around the bend towards Malvern, the variety of trees suggests an arboretum but hardly any are identified; the exception is a hawthorn dedicated to people who were killed or injured in accidents at work.

The Parkridge Centre, operated by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, has a café that opens on to a separate nature area with trails, activities and an arboretum. The Centre is surprising even down to the tiling in its toilets – a line of sculptural tiles carries the wildlife message around the smallest room.

Malvern Park is more formal, with poignant memorial gates, an avenue, so far unplanted ornamental gardens and a fine statue called the Horse Tamer. But this park too has a children’s playground, tennis courts and, for no obvious reason, a small reconstruction of a medieval market hall.

Strictly Come Defending: the Moors, in blue, line up their defense to a free-kick

The football match prompted ungenerous reflections. The Mighty Moors might just be lucky or resilient enough to be promoted. Not notably superior to Havant & Waterlooville, who were relegated by the defeat, Solihull won very late on after conceding what must have been a deflatingly late equaliser.

Solihull Moors 3 Havant & Waterlooville 2

Automated Technology Group Stadium, 13 April 2019