Best atmosphere: Elland Road
When the place is rocking, there is nowhere quite like Elland Road. The fans there get right behind their team and, given that the Premier League has arguably become slightly sanitized over the previous decade, a return for Leeds would arguably rejuvenate the top flight. Elland Road has hosted FA Cup Semi-Finals at a neutral venue, most recently Everton against Tottenham in 1995, as well as England’s 2018 World Cup warm-up victory over Costa Rica.
Best walk: Craven Cottage
Supporters can enjoy a beautifully scenic walk to Craven Cottage, alongside the Thames and through the park. In 1780, the Cottage was built by William Crave, originally as a royal hunting lodge, located on what is now the centre circle of the pitch. There is a statue of Johnny Haynes, Fulham’s most famous former player, outside the ground, so it is fair to say that the one of Michael Jackson – which remained in existence for two years – was rather less popular.
Best pubs: Griffin Park
2019-20 is Griffin Park’s final season as the home ground of Brentford, who move to their new stadium next year – the Bees are 11/8 with Betway as of 27th February to bow out of their manor by celebrating promotion. The ground is known for being the only one in English league football to have a pub in all four corners. At one stage, Fuller’s Brewery owned the orchard on which the ground was later constructed and the griffin on their logo is the inspiration for the name of the stadium. Farewell, the Griff.
Best history: Oakwell
The same year that football administrator William McGregor called a meeting to discuss the establishment of The Football League in London, 1888, Barnsley built the ground that they still use, 132 years later. Oakwell will be remembered for being the ground at which Chelsea, Champions League Finalists of 2007-08, were knocked out of the FA Cup that year due to Kayode Odejayi’s timeless header. Plus, Barnsley are the first English club to make special facilities for disabled supporters. Fair play.
Best siege mentality: Fratton Park
It is a little-known fact, outside Hampshire at least, that there is a stadium in English professional football that is not technically part of Great Britain’s mainland – that is Fratton Park. The ground was, in fact, built on Portsea Island on which the city of Portsmouth is built, which is strictly speaking separated from the mainland by a tiny channel of water. Portsmouth have had their ups and downs in the 21st century, but their fans on their day can offer fantastic support when they belt out “Play up Pompey”.
Best terrace: Wham Stadium (Crown Ground)
In football’s modern age, there is a tendency for clubs to gravitate towards new grounds that lose the character of their previous ones, but that is not the case for Accrington Stanley. The Reds still play at the Crown, where there is a terrace on which away fans stand, granting older generations 90 minutes of nostalgia. Their enjoyment is dependent on their team’s performance and, just as unpredictably, their comfort is dependent on the East Lancashire weather.
Fan engagement: St James’s Park
One of the boards at the home of Exeter City says “We own our football club” which is a source of great pride to the Grecians – the Exeter City Supporters Trust are the organisation that runs the club itself. Club chairman Julian Tagg and chairman of the Trust board Nick Hawkes are Grecians fans, along with almost every other board member – it is much easier for the hierarchy to engage with fans if they are mostly fans themselves.
Best vegan food: The New Lawn
Forest Green Rovers may never be universally loved – they attract a lot of scepticism from football’s traditionalists – but in a world in which sustainable living is increasingly important, there is an argument to say that their eco-based approach to the game can be welcomed. Chairman Dale Vince, who runs a company called Ecotricity, has installed the world’s first organic pitch at the New Lawn and solar panels for lighting among other features, while the club also uses vegan food menus. The perceived climate crisis is likely to intensify over the next decade with more extreme weather predicted, so we could see other clubs start to follow Forest Green’s lead.