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The Cans & Megabus definitive guide to Sunderland’s League One away days: 23-11!

Football is infuriatingly almost back and Sunderland have another exciting year in the third tier. Roll up as we tour the country of every provincial town in this fine land!

Danny Roberts

23 - Oxford United

Whenever you think of the city of Oxford, you think of world class education, architecture inspired by Saxon settlers and a place where the great and good go to achieve the highest offices in the land. It is a truly British institution that has inspired such great minds as Nicholas Hawksmoor, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and Professor Stephen Hawking.

It is also somewhere you spend before and after a game of third tier association football in a bowling alley, four miles outside of the city. Last season’s trip to Oxford provided the nadir for many supporters who looked on as Sunderland struggled to overcome an adversary that played in a stadium with only three stands.

The relentless modernisation of the UK’s towns and cities meant the U’s had to depart from their beloved Manor Ground home and into the soulless, incomplete Kassam Stadium. Without a viable train station within the vicinity and far enough away from anything that walking isn’t an option, Oxford has battled hard to be a worse day out than the Ricoh Arena, and that takes some doing.

Still, if you love bowling alleys and Frankie and Benny’s restaurants, you are in for a right bloody treat.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

22 - AFC Wimbledon

Yes I know Kingsmeadow is in Kingston-upon-Thames. And yes, I am aware that Kingston-upon-Thames is one of the more desirable sections of Greater London but it still does not legislate for AFC Wimbledon playing in a literal shoebox.

The paltry allocation is great for those of you who like to Lord it over fellow supporters to say “you were there,” but in reality, very few of us will actually be experiencing it.

21 - Bolton Wanderers

Oh, look who it is, Bolton Wanderers. What is it with you Bolton? Why do you always find us in our worst moments, Bolton? Do you get some kind of kick of having a football stadium seven miles out of the town you’re meant to represent, Bolton? Why do you have a train station but no trains ever seem to run, Bolton?

You know what? I hate you Bolton. I hate your inevitable freezing temperatures. I hate your inaccessibility. I hate that despite starting the season on minus figures you will still summon the strength to take six points away from Sunderland. God, how I loathe you Bolton.

If it wasn’t for that pub in the town centre that sells delicious Carrs Pasties I would consign you to the pit of no return. Alas, this time I shall relent. God, how I hate you Bolton.

Bolton Wanderers v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

20 - Milton Keynes Dons

Made up town, made up football club, made up stadium. Next.

19 - Gillingham

For those of you that have been living under a rock for the since the heady days of 2004, you will be pleased to know that Priestfield is widely regarded as being the worst football ground in the Football League. Naturally, this is not true because everybody knows Loftus Road is the worst ground in the country but this hasn’t stopped the scorn pouring over Gillingham.

The Gills’ misshapen home features a temporary stand they look to have stolen from a golf course without a roof. And guess who they put there? You, you of course. Just to plop a cherry on this delicious Kent sundae, there is nothing good of note anywhere near this car crash of a stadium.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

18 - Portsmouth

No-one has ever come back from Portsmouth and thought “you know what, I really enjoyed that day out”. It’s a scientific fact that every time Pompey’s name emerges on the fixture calendar everyone rolls their eyes and mutters “bloody long away that”.

As our simmering beef with the South Coast side continues for another season, there is the added bonus of sampling that white hot atmosphere of Fratton Park. An atmosphere so visceral that it makes players wearing blue shirts completely bottle it and struggle to beat no mark teams like Accrington Stanley, Peterborough United and Sunderland when it really matters.

This, combined with a lovely six-hour journey back to the north east, makes Portsmouth one of those trips your mate tags you in on Twitter with the caption: “must be mad”.

17 - Blackpool

There is always a romanticised view of Blackpool. People like to conjure the image of the Las Vegas of the North as being just that, a town of wonder and merriment draped in neon lights. It could be from a cherished childhood memory when you rode a donkey along the seafront and made your parents buy you an ice cream, maybe that is why you think Blackpool is so good.

To football supporters it has also held that same mystique. You dream of pints on the promenade and basking in the spring sunshine, where in reality you deal with a howling gale, fighting off seagulls and try to ignore the overwhelming sense of misery this town has.

Yeh, I can hear you already, droning on about how mint it was on New Year’s Day when you stayed in a B&B for £12 and drank in that Irish bar where it’s “St Patrick’s Day Every Day!”. Let’s be honest, you only really enjoyed because you were a) still on the post-Christmas binge b) surrounded by 8,000 fellow supporters and c) didn’t think you’d have to come back here again.

I’m sorry Blackpool, you just don’t do it anymore.

The ‘Health’ of UK’s High Streets Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

16 - Fleetwood Town

It’s essentially the full Blackpool experience but you get the added bonus of a tram ride along the seafront.

Another plus side is that you get to venture into an establishment that describes itself as being “full of banter” and the piece de resistance is the Fleetwood Town sea chanty played over a crackling PA while Ched Evans wheels away.

15 - Ipswich Town

Once again, I must admit that I have no clear indication of what Ipswich or Portman Road is like.

Despite them binning off Handsome Big Mick McCarthy and immediately getting relegated, I have no real opinion on them Tractor Boys so into mid-table you go, completely none the wiser.

14 - Rotherham United

Almost like a Yorkshire Ipswich, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with Rotherham. The curiously named New York Stadium is right next to the train station, it’s a relatively easy journey down from the north east, you enjoy a sizeable allocation and there are a handful of decent pubs in the near vicinity.

There’s just something I can’t quite put my finger on... hmmm... oh wait... oh god, I know what it is.

Rotherham was the scene of the beginning of our recent demise. I thought I had scrubbed it from my brain but it’s still there. David Moyes striding across the pitch, beaming grin plastered on his face, the fans chanting his name. Oh god, the horrific pink and purple kit. Oh god, Charles N’Zogbia as captain.

Oh god. I’m so sorry Rotherham.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

13 - Coventry City

Let’s not kid ourselves, had Coventry City still have been playing at the Ricoh Arena this fixture would have kicked Oxford out of the way and proudly took its place at the bottom of the list. Thankfully, Coventry’s continued demise means the Sky Blues will be plying their trade at Birmingham City’s St Andrews, also known as the hilariously named Trillion Trophy Stadium.

What a reprieve for the supporters of the 23 other League One clubs. No more will we have to roll the dice on how you want to get away from a stadium that might as well have been placed on the moon for all its accessibility. We now get a bonus big city trip (peace out, Walsall) where you can stroll up to a ground surrounded by an abundance of Irish bars in the increasingly cool area of Digbeth.

It is, however, a dark day for Yer Da. After telling that statue of Jimmy Hill what he really thought of him last season, he won’t be able to repeat the trick, and with the probable boycott of Coventry fans of home fixtures, he won’t be able to continue this weird rivalry that only fellow da’s care about. Life giveth and life taketh.

Birmingham City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

12 - Wycombe Wanderers

High Wycombe provided an unexpected venue for the laying on of thick cut slabs of beef when Sunderland visited in March. However, it was probably the only notable moment from another of southern England’s featureless towns.

Plus points: nice church, delicious craft beer and really, really good chips. Downsides: what an awful long walk back to the station.

11 - Doncaster Rovers

A non-mover from last year’s list as Doncaster proves to be a perfectly fine venue for a League One away fixture. It’s accessible, it’s homely, it’s cheap and while the stadium may be in a car park on an industrial site, this is perfectly fine with me.

Doncaster is perfectly fine and you will have a perfectly fine time in this perfectly fine part of South Yorkshire.

Doncaster Rovers v Oldham Athletic AFC - FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

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