Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday April 14 2012
Where next? Stoke City`s Britannia Stadium.
Where are we seated? In the South Stand, or Marston`s Pedigree Stand. We will receive an allocation of 2,800 tickets priced at £39 each. As ever, it`s completely sold out.
What`s It Like? The Britannia is only 15 years old, but it`s dated very quickly. All but one corner is completely open and there are nowt but fields surrounding the stadium, so even the slightest flutter of breeze is likely to turn your Southern, shandy drinking bones to ice. Aesthetically, the stadium is rather identikit to the other mid 90s built offerings such as Pride Park, Riverside, The Den and the Liberty Stadium. However, the fact that the stadium encourages unfavourable conditions and isn`t to the taste of architectural aesthetes plugs right into Stoke`s identity.
Roads around the stadium are named after famous ex players. The ground itself is on Stanley Matthews Way, with Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton lending their names to roads on the approach to the stadium too. A nice touch, it has to be said. There is even an erection of three Stanley Matthews statues outside the ground, facing towards the old Victoria Ground, where Matthews played for 19 years across two spells.
It`s the supporters that give the ground its real character though. The views are generally very good with the cantilevered stands the newer grounds give you. Being stationed directly behind the goal gives you an ideal view of all the shirt pulling Stoke players do at setpieces and you can watch on in bafflement as the official sees it all but does the square root of sod all about it. Or else you can enjoy the view I`ve had the pleasure of on many occasions as Fabianski / Almunia conduct wayward Superman impressions as Delap tosses another missile towards your goal.
What are the facilities like? Adequate. The concourses are roomy in the South Stand and the selection of food and beer is decent by football ground standards. (That`s to say, you can get a pint of bitter and it`s not John Smith`s). There`s plenty of room in your seats and access for disabled supporters is also very good. As a result of their, ahem, "boisterous" fanbase, the architects of the ground thoughtfully caged off the entrance to the away end to save you from a shower of spittle and invective as you access / egress the ground. How lovely. Be sure to smile and wave as your bus out of the ground takes you past a baying hoard of ogling locals.
What are the home fans like? The Britannia is one of the few Premier League grounds left that wantonly provides an intimidating atmosphere. Whether that will begin to evaporate as Stoke increasingly establish themselves as a Premiership club remains to be seen. Certainly Fratton Park was a cauldron of noise for Pompey`s first three years in the top flight only for it to dwindle under the lights of expectation and complacency.
Stoke fans have an attitude one might describe as Millwall-esque. It`s not so much that no one likes them and they don`t care, more that no one likes them and that`s exactly how they like it. The siege mentality pens itself into the ground from every corner. It has to be said, Pulis, as much as I`d like to dance on his face in Cuban heels, has excellently tapped into the home support and given them an identity that they have revelled in. Stoke supporters are the closest thing the Premier League has to the 12th man.
However, there are elements of oxygen thievery present. Away to my left in February 2010, it was by no means a minority of Stoke fans in the South End that made sickening gestures as Ramsey lay with his leg in tatters. The fact that Ramsey was booed upon his return there last season is a lesson in classlessness that would make a Chelsea fan spit his pint of wife beater out in amazement. It is necessary for the police to pen away fans in in the way they do. There is quite a bit of Burberry and Hackett to be seen in Stoke on a matchday if you catch my middle class, white bred drift. Avoid wearing colours unless you`re on official club travel.
How to get there? Like most newly built grounds, Stoke`s ground is a good two miles away from the main train station. There are shuttle buses that run pretty regularly from the station to the ground. You can get a return train ticket from Euston for £24 if you opt for the Midland Super off Peak Return, which is an open ended return ticket.
In terms of parking, there is parking available at the stadium but I believe you have to book in advance. Otherwise, some pubs near the stadium allow parking (at a charge of about £5). Best place to park is probably the Screwfix Direct site on Stanley Matthews Way. Park anywhere else and you face a lung bursting uphill walk as the Britannia is set on a hilltop.
Any historical landmarks? The Stanley Matthews statue is worth a visit next to the stadium. There is nothing left of the club`s old Victoria Ground. It was demolished and nothing has been done with the space at all; it is merely an empty wasteland. (The next line writes itself surely?)
As for historical landmarks in Stoke. Errrrrrr, Errrrrrm. It`s not really that sort of place. Though if you walk around long enough, you might get an idea what it would have been like to live in pre industrial Britain.
Where to drink? The stadium is set in a pretty lifeless part of the town. Which is saying something. Pubs are few and far between. Fortunately, the Harvester pub nearest the ground does allow away fans in, though it`s probably best not to make it too obvious to the punters that you are an away fan. So when you`re at the bar, don`t go bellowing, "Ore woite gewl? 'Arf a lager top and daaan`t skip on the lemonade sweet`art!"
Most pubs in the town are home fans only. So even if you`re not wearing colours, an erect posture is likely to give you away. Beer is available in the South Stand concourse (since the stand is named after a nearby brewery, you`d hope so). Which is just as well. If you`re going to spend an hour and a half watching Stoke, I`d advise drinking plenty of it. LD.
NB: If you`re a Stoke fan or resident and you found any of that offensive; please, don`t waste my time or your time telling me so, because I really don`t care. Thanks.
Date:Saturday April 14 2012
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