A keen and experienced groundhopper, Peter Miles made the long journey from Southend to Cinder Lane for the recent home tie with Lydney Town on Tuesday 5th September. Here is his review of a first ever visit to Fairford Town…
To truly understand groundhopping you need to appreciate a few things. Too many people have the media perpetuated image of a groundhopper being an anorak wearing, carrier bag clutching weirdo who is one step removed from a serial number recording socially inept trainspotter. The truth couldn’t be more different.
There is, of course, the degree of compulsive behaviour (the “need” to tick off new grounds), but also the dedication to drive untold hours to stand, often alone, in a muddy field in all weathers in a strange town miles from home. There is also, of course, the love of football and the childlike thrill of turning up to a new ground, it’s an amazing hobby that has taken me and many others to all corners of the globe. With visits to more than 2,200 grounds and attending on average 200 games a season, I would like to think I am amply qualified to say what makes a visit to a football ground exceptional, or indeed, perfunctory.
You can go to many grounds where you feel you are almost an imposition to the home club, not part of the clique, an outsider. You get “the look” when you ask daft questions like “is there a programme today” or “do you do the metal pin badges”. Your money gets taken at the gate and nothing more is said, the story behind your visit left untold. Of course we are not royalty, we don’t expect or deserve any red carpet treatment, but is a welcome word or two to a strange face on a cold night that hard to utter?
At the opposite end of the spectrum there are clubs you visit that stay with you always. You will always look out for their results to check how they are doing. For me I always quote the example of my visit to Belgian club Union Saint-Gilloise. A club absolutely steeped in history, 11 time Belgian champions, but languishing in the third tier at the time. Their spiritual home of the Stade Josef Marién is beautiful beyond compare. An architectural wonder bought to life by a committee that lives and breathes its rich history. A guided tour to the inner sanctum, all stained glassed windows and innumerable pennants, is offered to this stranger from England. A request for a teamsheet in dodgy schoolboy French sees one delivered to my seat in the stand. One of those visits where you actually feel like you left a little bit of your soul there.
So where am I going with all this?
Well I visited Cinder Lane recently for the match against Lydney. I followed the club’s twitter feed in advance, as us hoppers do, for weather, postponement news that sort thing. So when I trudge towards the gate on a drizzly night and the guy at the gate says “Hi are you Peter the guy that followed us on twitter today, I’m Chris” it makes a big difference.
A short introduction as to what is where at Cinder Lane and beefed up by information posters for Groundhoppers, gives you that warm feeling that this is going to be a good visit.
Looking around you immediately see this is a well run club, there is a palpable good vibe at Cinder Lane. A vibrant clubhouse, great food (gherkins with your burger!), notices for phone charging points, a paper rack with the Non League Paper. Who wouldn’t feel at ease in this environment?
I often hear the phrase “village football is dying” on my travels. Football only dies when there is apathy and apathy starts from within a club. Fairford Town have created a community hub, a welcoming place with lots going on for every one, not just football fans. I would say “if Carlsberg did non league clubs” but we all know Carlsberg don’t do non league clubs, just fairly indifferent lager, but what Fairford’s committee have created is right up there with the best I have seen in non league football.
Really why would you stay home and watch football on TV when you have this for a few a quid entry on your doorstep?
I wish Fairford well and hope this community hub continues to blossom.