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.

Playing on the break

An international break: ‘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?’

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 info@townsof2halves.co.uk, £8.

Carlisle News & Star

This is the text of a feature written by Roger Lytollis for the Carlisle News & Star. Thank you, Roger…

By the time you read this, it’s likely that the hundreds of Carlisle United fans travelling to their team’s first match of the season will have arrived in Devon.

For most of them the trek to Exeter – a 693-mile round trip from Carlisle – will have ended in late morning or early afternoon.

The traditional away match experience involves finding a pub for a meal and a drink then walking to the ground.

Watch the game, return to the car or train, and go home.

Carlisle’s season ends at Yeovil next May. Before then there will be many more hours on motorways and trains for 90 minutes of football which may not always seem worth the effort.

David Guest believes there is another way. His new book, Towns of Two Halves, urges football fans to make more of their away days.

Arrive earlier. Leave later. Consider making a weekend of it by visiting local attractions.

“Accidental tourism,” David calls it.

“The idea of the book is quite recent – the last couple of years,” he says. “The idea of treating away days as a tourist goes back to the early years of this century. It began to bother me that I was wasting a lot of my life watching Oldham Athletic in far-flung places.”

A similar concern may possibly have crossed the minds of Carlisle supporters.

David, a journalist for more than 35 years, has visited all 92 clubs in the Football League and Premier League. Most of his visits are recent enough to provide a useful guide to these towns for football fans.

A few are as far back as the 1960s. These chapters are more of a memoir, with up-to-date information about the towns’ attractions available on his book’s website.

David moved from Oldham when he was a child and now lives in Hertfordshire. He came to Carlisle in April 2014 to see Oldham take on United, and was pleasantly surprised by the Border City.

In fact he says Carlisle – along with Exeter – is the place he enjoyed most. He is particularly enthusiastic about Tullie House, the cathedral and Rickerby Park.

“I’d like to blow Carlisle’s trumpet a bit more,” he says. “The variety on offer. The historic buildings. The green spaces. I like places where there’s always something happening. I remember walking back down to the railway station on Sunday morning and seeing people abseiling off the Civic Centre.”

Other largely unsung places which David liked include Burton, Hull, Newport and Grimsby. The latter pair are in League Two along with Carlisle.

“Grimsby surprised me. It was more interesting than I had expected. The same with Newport. I visited some Roman remains there in case there was nothing else to write about. But in the end it was a long chapter.”

Morecambe is among the other towns in Carlisle’s division which David enjoyed. This season United play there on New Year’s Day: perhaps not the best time to stroll along its seafront.

David acknowledges that any away-match tourist’s schedule is likely to be dictated by the time of year the fixture is played.

“A lot of the book might come across as a bit highbrow with visits to museums etc. But it’s a largely winter-based season. You’re going to want to be indoors more often than not. I hope there’s enough variety.

“One of the points I’m trying to make in the book is that anywhere can be a tourist destination. That said, I suppose I’d have to admit that Exeter has a bit more to offer than, say, Nailsworth [home of Forest Green Rovers] or Oldham.

“To spend a full weekend in Oldham you’d be struggling. There are country parks, a good museum at Saddleworth. And Manchester’s on your doorstep.”

David advises anyone attending a match at Milton Keynes Dons to visit nearby Bletchley Park: once the home of World War Two code-breakers.

Some away days include experiences which cannot be planned. A trip to Ipswich in 1991 comes to David’s mind.

He visited the town with his now ex-wife under the guise of a walking holiday. Oh, and Oldham just happened to be playing there. They watched the match and, next day, did the walking part of their weekend. This took them into a field where their path was blocked by a drainage ditch which ‘looked jumpable’.

David writes: ‘I went first and cleared the hazard with feet to spare. L followed; but her approach lacked confidence. Her jump was more vertical than horizontal and she came down in middle of the ditch. I hauled her out to the accompaniment of some plain language. Her feet were soaked, as were her shorts to mid-thigh level, and frantic splashing left its mark elsewhere.’

Perhaps there are football fans whose tribal mentality means they see the homes of all opposing teams as the enemy: merely places for smash and grab raids with three points the booty.

For the sake of his book, and supporters’ wellbeing, David hopes they will set aside rivalries long enough to appreciate more than a pub and a football ground.

“Give yourself an extra few hours,” he says.

It may be harder for Carlisle fans to do this, considering how much time they already invest in following their team to distant towns.

Then again, maybe that means they should try to squeeze more than the match from those epic journeys.

David has been asked if there’s a market for a book treating football fans as tourists. He says: “There’s a trend in football towards gentrification which means the game is making itself more welcoming to families. Families need more to do than go to the pub. I’m hoping the book might be riding the beginning of a small wave.”

Then there’s the consolation, if your team loses, of having enjoyed a different kind of cultural experience.

Has football ever been the worst part of David’s away days?

“I still come away from a place feeling good if they’ve won,” he says. “And depressed if they’ve not.”

*Some of David Guest’s thoughts about Carlisle:

‘Carlisle shares its charms with you hesitantly, like a winsome spinster unsure of the effect she’s having. Perhaps the novelty of trying to attract visitors is too recent; Carlisle will have spent most of its history trying to fend them off.’

‘On the other side of the bridge that carries the A7 to Scotland there are more green spaces at Carlisle Cricket Club. A game was in progress and I stopped to have a drink and to enjoy the overlap in the seasons. On a warm, sunny evening, after the last football match of a successful campaign – relegation narrowly avoided once again – it was another fine advertisement for Carlisle.’

 

Carlisle United lost 3-1 at Exeter.