23 - Coventry City
I see you, I see you seething at the mere mention of the name ‘Coventry City’. Why do you hate them exactly? You don’t know, do you? It’s something to do with Jimmy Hill, you know that and it’s something happened in the seventies’ but you can’t really remember - you weren’t alive when it happened.
Besides there are many more reasons to not like Coventry City, mainly the absolute joke that is visiting the Ricoh Arena. Ah, the Ricoh Arena. Coventry’s giant white elephant. A ground they neither wanted nor needed plonked on a soulless retail park in the middle of nowhere. The Ricoh does have its own train station but is served by a delightfully convenient one-train-an-hour so you have to be packed one a shuttle bus service back to the city (town?) centre.
But hey, if you like spending your pre-match routine in either a Starbucks or a casino then you will have the time of your life.
Date: 29th September
22 - Gillingham
As the furore of Greece shithousing their way to winning Euro 2004 passed, the British public was once again on it’s knees begging for another hot injection of league football. In this heady time of Fathers 4 Justice, WKD, Nuts Magazine and Eric Prydz spending five weeks at number one, there was nothing more that the country enjoyed than deeming everything to be “shit”.
As such, the Observer Sport called on its “network of football fans” to determine the worst football ground in England “because there are too many crap grounds in Scotland”. After an exhaustive search - Gillingham’s Priestfield ‘won’.
While other notable entries such as Rotherham’s Millmoor, Brighton’s Withdean Stadium and MK Don’s lollerific National Hockey Stadium have since disappeared, Priestfield remains and, apparently, is still “grotty”. The temporary Brian Moore Stand (where larger away support is housed) has been a feature of the ground since 2003 and delightfully sans a roof.
I have never been to the Ryder Cup or any major golf tournament for that matter but thankfully, an afternoon on the Brian Moore Stand will provide all the thrills and spills of watching *insert some no-mark golfer* spoon a putt in the driving rain. Oh, and Gillingham is in like Kent or something which I have no idea a) where that is on a map and b) how to get to it.
Date: 21st August
21 - Luton Town
We really did like a survey on crapness in 2004, back then a literary heavyweight was making waves across the isles. After the country had devoured the hot piece of ass that was ‘Crap Towns’, this year saw the sequel - Crap Towns II - launched into the public’s gaping mouths. What was the “crappest town in the UK” I hear you ask? Why, Luton of course.
Despite being the birthplace of Vauxhall cars, 2015 Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain and the phrase “mad as a hatter”, this dollop of Bedfordshire was deemed the worst of the lot. While the town has been described as “ugly, grey and depressing”, don’t let this deter you from an afternoon Kenilworth Road.
Wander through someone’s back garden to the away section, cram yourself into the dilapidated stand and then, as you turn to your left, you can ponder why it is exactly there is a row of conservatories on the side of the pitch. This is exactly the sort League One vibe you have been craving.
Sunderland was voted third crappest city by the way, since you asked.
Date: 11th August
20 - Shrewsbury Town
During the mid-2000s the hip new trend in the lower leagues was to leave your spiritual home and move to a hobikit stadium on a patch of wasteland near a motorway. The craze swept the nation and before you knew it everyone from Colchester to Darlington were getting in on the act. Looking to set the pace in the happening county of Shropshire, Shrewsbury upped sticks from Gay Meadow and headed to the innovatively named New Meadow.
It may be completely devoid of character, it may be a sweet three miles from the town centre, but goddamn that access to the A5 is superb.
Date: 20th October
19 - Scunthorpe United
Hey, you want to see a town left to rot by the government after closing down its main source of industry? Come on down to Scunthorpe!
We can all play that game where we argue to the death about whether Scunthorpe is part of Yorkshire or not and - if it isn’t - which county it is actually in? We can visit that Wetherspoons where you can still get a pint for £1.79 and where that Sheffield United fan set a flare off while people were enjoying their ham, egg and chips.
We’ll all then walk for miles to cram into Glanford Park and get giddy at the impeccable views of the M181.
Date: 19th January
18 - Rochdale
I’m not a betting man. I have never won an accumulator in my life and the only time I have taken money off a bookie was the 2010 Grand National. However, I am willing to wager that no matter the time of year we have the pleasure of visiting Spotland (not the Crown Oil Arena, have a word with yourselves, lads) it will be freezing.
A ground that seems to exist entirely in it’s own microclimate - and very much like the Britannia Stadium - Rochdale’s home is prone to sub zero temperature all-year round. Should Sunderland also play The Dale (down the ale) in the autumnal months it will most likely be contested on a ploughed field.
Date: 6th April
17 - Portsmouth
Remember when Portsmouth won the FA Cup, like the actual Portsmouth and the actual FA Cup? Then they almost beat AC Milan in the UEFA Cup... what a weird time that was for everyone.
Despite the success, there was one constant throughout - the sheer state of Fratton Park. And guess what, everyone? It hasn’t changed one bit! The away end has a roof now which is a slight bonus but everything else is still the same, and it’ll take your entire life to get there. How very, very delicious.
Date: 22nd December
16 - AFC Wimbledon
Akin to Brighton ‘05 and Colchester ‘07, AFC Wimbledon away is going to be one of those games where the utter bore your Dad knows will be boasting he managed to a ticket. This will determine his status as Sunderland’s ultimate supporter. He’s got the club crest tattooed on his calf, he’s got a 5AFC as a car number plate and he’s got a golden ticket to Kingsmeadow.
He’s dying for you to ask him how he’s getting down there and what his matchday plans are and all the while you’re secretly hoping Cody McDonald smashes a hat-trick past us.
Date: 25th August
15 - Charlton Athletic
On a Saturday afternoon in late-November, in The Antigallican pub, a short walk from The Valley, a group of Sunderland and Charlton Athletic supporters will sit down to shoot the breeze over a couple of pints. They will regale each other with tales of that famous day at Wembley in 1998.
They’ll all have their own story to tell - how they got there, the emotions they went through, joking about the blazing heat and Sunderland’s awful gold strip. Talk will turn to their sides’ tussles in the Premiership under the tutelage of messrs Curbishley and Reid. There will be a moment of uncomfortable silence, they turn to each other eyes shrink-wrapped in tears and proceed to weep uncontrollably into their beer at their current teams’ predicament.
They will never speak to one another again.
Date: 5th January
14 - Wycombe Wanderers
You know what really gets the juicing flowing on a matchday? Walking through an industrial estate which boasts brands such as United Biscuits, Siyan, City Electrical Factory, High Wycombe’s branch of Plumb Center AND Drain Center and Synergy Flavours.
That is the Adam’s Park experience. The town centre? Three miles away, mate. Plus side, there might be an alluring hint of biscuits in the air.
Date: 9th March
13 - Oxford United
Is this a derby now? The Charlie Methven Derby? The Big Time Charlie Derby? The Donald Derby? The title needs some work, I’ll get back to you on that. What does fill me with joy is an unfinished stadium and, boy howdy, do Oxford United have an unfinished stadium.
Somewhat trailblazers in ditching their historical home and moving to a pop-up stadium next to a Hollywood Bowl, Oxford relocated from the Manor Ground to the Kassam Stadium in 2001. Thanks to a number of financial issues, they never finished it. As such, the end to the right of the away stand remains completely open giving you an excellent view of the car park.
The town centre, home to world-renowned learning institutes and the poshest students you’ve ever met? Four miles away, mate.
Date: 9th February
12 - Walsall
For the first time in longer than I care to remember (or research), the forthcoming campaign will not feature a trip to Birmingham so Walsall is the closest we’re getting to a voyage to the second city.
Walsall pros - 1) train station at the actual ground 2) good allocation 3) mediocre opposition 4) cheap alehouses in the town centre 4) lovely view of the RAC control centre on the M6. Walsall cons - 1) distance to said town centre 2) temptation to spend the pre-match festivities in Birmingham city centre 3) having to use Birmingham New Street station.
Date: 24th November
11 - Doncaster Rovers
We need to treasure our trips to Yorkshire. They are just so damn easy to do. A leisurely venture down the East Coast Main Line (or M1 for all you losers who drive to matches) and you’re into the delightful town of Doncaster.
There are no airs or graces, just a lovely Yorkshire hamlet filled with a treasure trove of welcoming pubs and even more welcoming people. The Keepmoat Stadium - while being on a retail park - is easy to get to the from the town centre, offers a big allocation if need be and is just a lovely place to watch football.
And afterwards, you can pile back on the train and you’re home in time to watch the 45 seconds of our highlights on Quest. Blissful.
Date: 23rd October