10 - Southend United
My protestations that Blackpool is actually not good may seem somewhat misguided when I surmise that Southend is good. Yes, it may look like its just Blackpool but down south, but there is a modicum of charm to Essex’s premier seaside destination.
While Southend-on-Sea may have been the unfortunate setting of that insufferable Jamie Oliver programme where him and his equally insufferable mate made kippers on toast for morons like James Corden, it does have a bloody long pier. A pier so iconic that it actually defines the town with Sir John Betjeman once quipping “the Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier”... whatever that means.
Anyway, it’s ideal for a weekend away by the seaside and you can eat git loads of candy floss if you should so desire.
9 - Rochdale
Oh Rochdale. Remember that sunny spring afternoon where we were dancing upon the Spotland turf, sure in the knowledge that George Honeyman’s winner would fire us to promotion?
Oh, the naivety of it all.
The futility of hope, the pain of the Sword of Damocles swinging down, the almighty sigh.
Let’s be honest though, everything about that day was just perfect.
The sun shone, the journey was short and that pint of Thwaites just glided down the throat. While it may not quite be Bury, Rochdale will do just fine. Also, Rochdale Town Hall was used to film Peaky Blinders so, you know, there’s that.
8 - Accrington Stanley
NOW TELL ME DO YA, A DO YA HAVE ANY MONEY?
ANDY HOLT WANTS TO SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY!
AT THE CROWN GROUND, CROWN GROUND, CROWN GROUND!
Accrington is good. Yes, I’m aware we all got thoroughly soaked and developed the ‘Stanley Lurgy’ following our trip in December and, yes, I’m aware Andy “I love being tinpot, me!” Holt decided to charge us again for the rematch, but I’m telling you, Accrington is good.
This is the “real football” you had all been promised when we fell into the third tier.
Accrington is a wonderful representation of Lancashire life with those homely pubs serving warming glasses of ale and all of your favourite shops like ‘Bluntzilla’ (that is a real place, look it up). The away end may have no roof but it serves £2 pints and, in the end, isn’t that what we really want?
7 - Tranmere Rovers
How often can you travel to a football match by ferry? Okay, you could technically visit Hull by boat but that would require a sojourn to Rotterdam (actually, that sounds pretty good) but, come on, who’s actually going to do that?
Once you have sampled the cosmopolitan delights the fair city of Liverpool has to offer, you can hop on a Mersey Ferries to Birkenhead. Let the January breeze blow through your hair as you traverse a river which has given such life to the north west of England. Alight and you can stroll to a stadium that Sunderland never, ever seem to win at.
I mean, you could just get the metro service from Liverpool city centre but where’s the fun in that?
6 - Peterborough United
Right, did anyone see Peterborough’s mascot last season?
Well, first of all, they had at least three people wandering around in enormous anthropomorphic animal costumes in 30-degree heat, but did anyone see that fella dressed as a section of the M1? It was like a bit of motorway wearing a hat. Imagine if that was actually real.
Imagine a walking, talking piece of the M1 wandering around Peterborough. Imagine if they reproduced and they started inhabiting towns. How would we even stop them? They’re just large pieces of tarmac but with limbs and an insatiable lust for revenge. For too many years, we’ve used their comrades just to facilitate our love affair with the automobile. The human race would have no answer. It’s something really not bearing thinking about.
Anyway, if you manage to avoid the rampaging human-motorway hybrids you will find a thoroughly pleasant town in middle England, complete with a cathedral and an Indian restaurant on a boat. Peterborough is a vibe everyone can get on board with.
5 - Shrewsbury Town
Very much like when Michael Palin traversed the world in 80 days, a season spent in League One opened many eyes to such a wonderfully diverse country we have at our disposal. The towns you never considered visiting became recommendations for friends and somewhere you consider bringing that special someone on a mini break.
One of these places is Shrewsbury. Described by Lonely Planet as a “delightful jumble of winding medieval streets and timbered Tudor houses”, it is the sort of place you tell your Mum about how she would “really like it there”. Resembling a scaled down York, there is a homely pub at every turn, and historic buildings.
Stop by the castle, take a peek into the old prison and tip your cap to the Charles Darwin statue before you take a walk through the leafy suburbs the New Meadow. It may be on the outskirts of town with nothing around and, yes, the Shrews’ fans get awfully excited when a big dawg football team rolls in, but give me a Lidl next to a stadium and I am happy.
4 - Lincoln City
When faced with the prospect of three years of philosophy study at the University of Lincoln, the Inbetweeners’ Will McKenzie was horrified declaring that he had “been to Lincoln and it was sh*t”.
However, “briefcase w*nker” has thoroughly misjudged the premier city of eastern England and a visit to the newly-promoted Imps will no doubt be high on the agenda of many Sunderland supporters. And, why not? Lincoln is a city of historic importance with a weaving network of cobbled street which hark back to its origins of a Roman settlement.
Marvel at the medieval cathedral, step inside the castle erected by William the Conqueror in 1068 and see Sincil Bank - the ground with many different parts. Swing by the revamped Brayford Waterfront for liquid refreshment and maybe even sample the nightlife only boosted by Lincoln’s sizeable student population.
You can also question every Lincoln native about the famous imp which was said to be sent to the city’s cathedral by Satan himself. The creature was eventually bodied by an angel and turned into stone but I guess that’s what you get for trying to attack a big church.
Honestly, why Briefcase W*nker thought this place was sh*t is beyond me, it sounds bloody great.
3 - Bury
I see your eyebrows raising at little old Bury edging towards the summit of such an illustrious list but let me ask you this: on how many League One away match days will you be able to visit a real heritage railway station? Yeah, I thought not.
Everyone come on down to Bury, the site of Sunderland’s famous night in ‘99 and home to the world’s stickiest nightclub floor in Blind Tiger. This humble corner of Lancashire (no, I’m not conceding that is now part of some bourgeois scheme known as “Greater Manchester”) is the warming blanket for your away match experience.
Gigg Lane is a short jaunt from the town centre and the road is lined with alehouses serving up creamy, locally-produced ale. You can take the whole family for a pre-match wander through Bury’s world famous outdoor market and maybe treat yourself to a properly made black pudding. There will be dissenters that do their socialising in Manchester but Bury is the real beating heart of the north west.
Naturally, this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a certain esteemed column writer hails from this fair town and he can go home to see his dog afterwards. Absolutely nothing.
2 - Bristol Rovers
The ground may look like it’s the result of a mad dash around a football stand car boot sale; you may struggle to see one end of the pitch if you’re stood on the away terrace; you may be exposed to the elements but, goddammit, when I hear the booming “IT’S 3PM ON A SATURDAY AND I SMELL GAS”, I am ready for some League One action.
When you travel for hours to watch a substandard football match, you want to be rewarded with a hospitable city full of joy and excitement. Bristol delivers this in abundance and ensures that a rare trip to an actual city dulls the pain brought about by having to spend the afternoon in no-mark places like ‘Milton Keynes’.
Very much unlike Bristol City, Rovers’ homely stadium is within walking distance of the city centre, is surrounded by the achingly chic area of Montpellier and has hostelries that welcome you with open arms. The stadium may not be the most glamorous but I can guarantee that Bristol will more than make up for it.
1 - Burton Albion
There are only a select few hills I am willing to die on. One: Frank Turner is a truly awful musician who writes hackneyed, schmaltzy music and rebrands it as “folk punk” for idiots. Two: nobody actually likes avocados, society has just told them they do. Three: the UK’s railway networks need to be nationalised immediately. And four: Burton Albion is the finest away day in the country.
Yes, this is not merely a League One favourite - every football supporter in this broad land needs to have the privilege of experiencing it at least once in their lifetime. The beauty, you ask? It hides in the town’s unassuming nature. I mean, who could’ve ever thought a small town in Derbyshire could bring so much joy to passing highwaymen?
From the moment you step off the train and are met with the sweet aroma of hops, barley and yeast melding effortlessly together, you know you are somewhere special. The streets in Burton may not be paved in gold but they are characterised by some mighty fine pubs en route to the Pirelli Stadium.
They have the endearing surroundings of the home of a beloved relative, where every sip tastes like nectar and every bartender is on hand to offer you a delicious Melton Mowbray pie. Then there is the stadium, a lovely, quaint setting sponsored by the biggest, baddest legend in town - Don “King of Caravans” Amott.
All other football stadiums and, nay, English towns simply cannot light a candle to the wonderment that a trip to Burton should fill you with.