Crook Town welcome Mike Bayly to the Millfield for the West Allotment game this weekend as part of his project to write a book about the ‘100 British Ground to Visit Before You Die’
Here’s Mike’s story….
In May 2013, I was on a London Underground commute reading an article about Nantwich Town. A photo of their neat main stand drew me in, to the point where I found myself thinking, “I wouldn’t mind going there to watch a match”. An unspectacular anecdote, admittedly, were it not for the epiphany it inadvertently gave me.
Nantwich Town are one of several thousand clubs in Britain that, given the opportunity, I could choose to visit in order to experience the sights and sounds of a new football ground. But on paper at least, it is an arbitrary choice. Like many people working full time with a busy personal life, opportunities to indulge in random ground visits can be restricted: even if I dedicated every Saturday for the rest of my life to traversing the nation, there would never be enough time to visit them all. And here is where the epiphany kicked in. What if there were a bucket list, a holy grail if you will, of the top one hundred British grounds to visit before you die? Which ones would be on it? Why would they be on it? And then it occurred to me: why not find out and write a book about it?
The problem is, where do you start with a concept so vast? It was pointless to draw solely on my own experiences: at the time I had only visited around ninety grounds, some of which were – to put it mildly – rather uninspiring. Besides, basing something so subjective on one person’s opinion is of limited interest to a diverse audience. Likewise, I didn’t want to select a judging committee. My own bias might be reflected in the recruitment, producing a restricted range of views from an inadequate sample size. The correct option, indeed, the only option, was to throw the matter open to a public vote
During my thirty plus years obsessing over football, I have been privileged to meet a range of fans and aficionados, from Premier League season ticket holders to non-League groundhoppers. Some revel in capacity crowds at modern stadiums. Others enjoy spartan tumbledown stands at the foot of a mountain range. By allowing the public to vote, I hoped the wide-ranging passion for our national game would provide a wide-ranging selection of responses that would lend credibility to the book and better reflect the rich diversity of our football landscape. I didn’t want a book solely about the biggest, the prettiest or the oldest. It should be about all those things and more.
To gather the votes, I set up a blog explaining the project, asking people to nominate five grounds at any level of the respective leagues in England, Wales or Scotland, along with a brief explanation for their choices. The blog was publicised by the Football Association, the Football Supporters Federation, Groundtastic Magazine, podcasts and various programme editors kind enough to lend their support. I was even invited on to the Colin Murray show on talkSPORT, where an entire morning was devoted to listeners ringing in with their nominations. By the time voting closed in January 2014, the blog received nearly 16,000 visits. Over three hundred different grounds were proposed, from which the hundred most popular were selected for inclusion. The final list was everything I could have wished for, representing an eclectic mix of venues from the South-West of England to the North-East of Scotland.
Due for release in 2020 through Pitch publishing, I am updating the top one hundred by removing grounds no longer with us (six years is a long time in a rapidly changing football world) and replacing them with those that just missed out on the original vote, a process that brings me to Millfield today. The sheer history of Crook Town and its venerable home make it a more than worthy inclusion.
More information on the book can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/100GroundsBook/
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