It’s a wrap: 2016-17 Groundhopping Review

Ajax fans add colour to the Europa League final, Stockholm, May 2017

For us here at Outside Write, season 2016-17 started and finished in Scandinavia. We saw football in six countries and six domestic leagues in England. Not as much as last season, but we’ve been to some leftfield places. Here are our highlights and lowlights. Let us know yours in the comment section.

The final whistle at the Friends Arena, Stockholm, saw Manchester United make history by completing the trophy set with the Europa League title. It also brought Outside Write’s season of groundhopping to a close. It was a strangely flat match that kind of summed up our season; a few standouts – covered below – but largely unspectacular, probably due to the level of grounds we visited. This included Germany’s Regionalliga Nordost (Regional Northeast), Spain’s Segunda División, Grupo B, Croatia’s second division, and England’s ninth tier, the Southern Counties East Football League (SCEFL).

2-1 was the scoreline of the season. Ten of the 22 matches we saw finished that way, with thankfully just the one goalless draw and one crazy 4-4 draw at Tonbridge Angels versus Jimmy Bullard’s Leatherhead. In fact, of the 71 goals we saw this season, 14 came in just two games at Tonbridge Angels.

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The standout memory from this season will be a final trip to Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane before demolition. For those seated in the (now former) North Stand, we were lucky enough to walk across the middle of the emerging new stadium. It was a really unique experience and the new ground will be incredible. Spurs demolished Millwall in that match.

 

Spurs fans observe construction progress on their way into the North Stand.

I saw Millwall twice this season, including a first visit to The Den, where I was hosting some Dutch friends on a flying visit to London and it was the only game in town. Dutch people speak immaculate English but even I had to explain what some of the class-based insults they were hearing meant in the game against Gillingham.

Another major standout was seeing Brighton & Hove Albion’s charge to the Premier League. As someone who used to frequent the Goldstone Ground in the early-mid 90s, it’s been a rollercoaster ride but now the Seagulls can look forward to a top flight “M23 Derby” with Crystal Palace. That will be tasty.

Amex Brighton

Brighton & Hove Albion’s world-class Amex Stadium

I didn’t get abroad as much as I’d have liked this season. I started out in Finland’s top flight Veikkausliga, watching HJK Helsinki boss a poor, poor match with ten men for more than an hour. I did get enough out of it to write a feature on Helsinki for Football Weekends magazine, but it wasn’t glowing.

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Unfortunately Spain’s top flight was on an international break when I visited Bilbao to see Kraftwerk at the Gugenheim. So I walked around Athletic’s impressive new San Mames stadium before jumping on a 50-minute train journey to historic Guernica. Local side Gernika Club was at home to Albacete in a regional third tier match, which was interesting for its spectacular backdrop, if a little flat as far as atmosphere goes.

Wash-out at Dinamo Zagreb

Likewise, TV intervened when I went to Zagreb with work, meaning Lokomotiva’s home fixture was moved to the day before I flew. With Dinamo’s first team away at big rivals Hajduk Split I took in its B-team, Dinamo Zagreb II, in a rain-affected match in Croatia’s second division.

I also completed the full set of main Berlin clubs with a visit to BFC Dynamo, famous as the former team of the Stasi, which was disappointing.

Back in England, nearly half the matches I went to were in the non-league. There’s a great story brewing down at Worthing, an interesting experience at Ebbsfleet United, and I have a lot of respect for Whitehawk FC nestled under the Sussex Downs.

Also this past season, Outside Write launched the Football Travel Podcast and got some cracking guests, including football journalists, academics, the world’s first football club Sheffield FC and German cult club FC St Pauli. We also received a steady stream of great guest content, including Matt McGinn’s popular posts from Argentina.

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We also expanded our features on The Pioneers of football in the main countries. Our interview with the Netherlands’ first club, Koninklijke HFC, won a Goalden Times award, and our feature on Genoa’s English roots appeared in The Gentleman Ultra, in our view the best website out there covering Italian football.

For season 2017-18 I want to get back to Italy, and discover more grounds in the north of England. Stick with us on the journey, we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and if you’d like to post for us, drop us an email.

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