Welcome to volume one of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume two of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Friday, July 14, 2017

Crystal Palace National Sports Centre

Crystal Palace National Sports Centre is a sports centre and athletics stadium in south east London which was opened in 1964, although the history of the area goes back much further and is of great significance in English sport.

The site of the current athletics stadium was the same site as the venue for the FA Cup Final from 1895 until 1914 as well as several England international football matches. The venue was overlooked by the magnificent Crystal Palace Exhibition Building, which was a huge tourist attraction.

FA Cup Finals at Crystal Palace

Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion
Sheffield Wednesday
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Aston Villa
Nottingham Forest
Derby County
Sheffield United
Derby County
Tottenham Hotspur
Sheffield United
Sheffield United
1902 R
Sheffield United
Derby County
Manchester City
Bolton Wanderers
Aston Villa
Newcastle United
Newcastle United
Sheffield Wednesday
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Newcastle United
Manchester United
Bristol City
Newcastle United
Bradford City
Newcastle United
West Bromwich Albion
Aston Villa

International Football Matches at Crystal Palace

3 April 1897 – England 1–2 Scotland
30 March 1901 – England 2–2 Scotland
1 April 1905 – England 1–0 Scotland
3 April 1909 – England 2–0 Scotland
4 March 1911 – England Amateurs 4–0 Belgium

Aside from the FA Cup Finals, the ground was also home to Crystal Palace FC until they moved in 1915.

The venue also hosted an England rugby union international, when the visiting New Zealand side won 15-0 in 1905.

London County Cricket Club were a first class county between 1900 and 1904 with WG Grace the club secretary and the team using Crystal Palace. Famous players included CB Fry, Johnny Douglas and K S Ranjitsinhji.

It is said the London CCC matches were little more than exhibition games and a money  making exercise for Grace. The club continued before folding in 1908.

A motor racing circuit was opened in the park in 1927, which also staged motor cycling. The first London Grand Prix was staged in 1937. The final international race on the track was held in 1972; with it remaining open to club meetings until its closure in 1974.

The Exhibition Hall burnt down in 1936, which meant to a drop in people attending the site. The construction of the sports centre bought it back to life.

The athletics stadium became the UK’s prominent venue for athletics, especially after the gradual demise of White City; with many records being broken on the track. The pitch in the centre was the home of Fulham Rugby League FC in the mid 80’s as well as American Football side; London Monarchs.

The sports centre became the home of the Crystal Palace and then London Towers basketball teams, while the swimming pool staged many national and international championships.

A Chinese company; ZhongRong Group put in plans to recreate a replica Crystal Palace and build a cultural and entertainment complex in Crystal Palace Park. Bromley Council pulled out of the possible deal in February 2015 after the group failed to meet deadlines.

The stadium was underused for many years; even more so after the Olympic Stadium was built over the river at Stratford. Tottenham Hotspur had planned to rebuild Crystal Palace stadium in return for their proposed move to Stratford. However, they decided to develop White Hart Lane instead.

Crystal Palace FC suggested building a new Crystal Palace Sports Arena to replace their Selhurst Park home in January 2011. The Eagles submitted plans to rebuild the stadium as a 40,000 seater football stadium without a running track, but with a new indoor aquatic and sports centre as part of the complex.

A Tramlink extension to the park was also included in the plans, but plans appeared to be put on the back burner following the sale of Palace to American owners. Non-league club AC London used the stadium in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

Monday 28th November 2016

I’d never got round to visiting Crystal Palace Park. Attending the Under 21’s game at Selhurst Park between Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic gave me the ideal opportunity. The game was poor and I was cold so I needed no real excuse to do something more interesting.

The 157 bus took me from Clifton Road to Crystal palace station at the entrance to the park. It was a lovely bright day and ideal for walking and taking photos.

While the stadium was closed, it was easy enough to take photos from several elevated views. Its two cantilever stands faced each other across the track, while the ends were open. It sat in a natural bowl and it became apparent how so many may have got a view of earlier cup finals.

The sports centre was a listed building; but it looked pretty ugly to me. It was more akin to something I imagined in an old communist state than belonging to the swinging sixties in London. The decade really did allow some monstrosities in construction.

My main point of interest was walking around the vast foundations that were still in place from the palace. How I hoped that the rebuild could take place. It must have looked an amazing site overlooking London on one side and the park and Surrey on the other.

The light was drawing in as I departed. I could have spent far longer just walking around and enjoying the views and scenery. As I headed for a bus to Brixton I pondered just how so many people used to visit for those halcyon FA Cup Final’s from cities hundreds of miles away before navigating their way across the capital.

It must have been something purely magical. Oh to find that time portal! Instead I headed to see the Jarvis’s at Hampstead CC before meeting Steve Barnes to go for a pint before the Haringey Borough v Thamesmead Town match.

It had been a packed fun day out; which most can be in London if you put in the effort.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Royal Wootton Bassett Town

Royal Wootton Bassett Town FC is a non-league football club from the town of the same name that is located six miles to the west of Swindon in Wiltshire, who were originally formed in November 1882.

The club initially played friendly games as Wootton Bassett Town FC, before becoming members of the Vale of the White League, followed by the Swindon & District League and then the Wiltshire County League. Games took place at ‘The Close’, where Tanners Close is now in the town.

The club folded in 1908 because of constraints laid down by the league, before the opening of the Gerard Buxton Sports Ground led to the revival of the football club to become tenants along with the town’s cricket club.

The club joined the Calne & District League; going on to lift the title of three occasions before re-joining an expanded Wiltshire League. At the end of the 1960’s the league was restructured, with Bassett joining the Wiltshire Combination.

In 1976 a new Wiltshire County Football League was established with Bassett being placed in Division One, from where they suffered relegations on a couple of occasions along with a successful promotion year.

Under manager Micky Woolford the team won the league and promotion to the Hellenic League in 1987-88. Woolford’s side consolidated in Hellenic League Division One before his departure in 1995. The club won the County Cup for the first time in 1999.

A year later Bassett won promotion to Hellenic League Premier Division before going back down to Division One West at the completion of the 2004-05 campaign. After a very poor finish, Bassett gradually rebuilt and eventually won promotion back to the Premier Division in 2009-10.

The club were demoted after just one season as their Gerard Buxton Sports Ground home on Rylands Way was deemed to have not the ground grading requirements. The 2012-13 season was the clubs last at Rylands Way, with the team winning promotion once again to the Premier Division.

The first team decamped to the Corinium Stadium, the home of neighbours Cirencester Town while the New Gerard Buxton Sports Ground was built on the outskirts of the town on Brinkworth Road where it housed many sports on completion in the summer of 2015 for the Wootton Bassett Sports Association.

At the same time that the ground was completed, the club added ‘Royal’ to their name to reflect the royal patronage which was awarded to the town in 2011.

Royal Wootton Bassett Town FC will play in the Hellenic League Premier Division in the 2017-18 season.

My visit

Royal Wootton Bassett Town 5 Burnham 1 (Saturday 8th October 2016) Hellenic League Premier Division (Att: 62)

With the day off work I looked at several options to go to more than one match as the nearby Western League were doing a groundhop over the weekend with staggered kick offs. While their earlier games were not the easiest to reach, the evening game at Calne was negotiable.

Swindon Town kicked off at lunchtime against Bolton Wanderers for Sky TV to fil in their schedule on this international break with no fixtures in the top two divisions. Royal Wootton Bassett is located between Swindon and Calne so their home game fitted the bill of filling in the later afternoon.

It wasn’t exactly ideal as the bus from Swindon would mean me missing the first half hour, but I could live with that. The number 31 bus dropped me at the end of Brinkworth Road before I completed my journey with a six or seven minute walk.

On my arrival the gate was opened so I paid no admission charge. The match programme was absolutely superb for £1.50. A bacon roll cost £2, with a tea to wash it down a further £1.20. I was immediately glad that I had made the effort.

The New Gerard Buxton Sports Ground was a really pleasant new build ground. One sensed that RWBT were a club on the up. The other facilities around the complex were also in use. It was obviously a facility appreciated by the local sporting community.

On my arrival I was a little disappointed to hear that the game was already about over as a contest. Opponents Burnham were bottom of the table and having real problems. Bassett were 2-0 up thanks to goals from Stephen Olphert and Dale Richards.

The match was played in very good spirit with very little chat towards the referee, but I noticed his badge was of the Army when he came off at the break. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fear and respect!

Bassett were extremely well organised as a club with the team not too bad either. I felt for Burnham. Their young side tried to play proper football and some of the lads had some real ability, but they were not all that keen on the gritty unseen jobs on the pitch.

Former Watford heroes and Joint Managers Gifton Noel Williams and Luther Blissett did their best and I thought they were real gents, while being very frustrated. Burnham desperately needed a couple of grafters and experienced heads to help out the youngsters.

Stephen Robertson and Harry Spalding made it four in the second half. Cheyenne Cripps got one back for the visitors with the best goal of the day after a great passing movement. Lewis Thompson rounded off the scoring for Bassett

At full time I walked into town in search of a good pub, ideally showing the England game. The only one with a TV served a poor pint, while the Angel looked the best, but it was full of modern families, no TV and expensive prices.

I’d expected Royal Wootton Bassett to be a very pretty town full of tradition pubs and pretty scenery having seen it covered on many a sad news feature as military processions carried our fallen heroes through the town on their way from RAF Lyneham to John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. 

I found the town a bit of a disappointment as I hopped back on the 55 earlier than scheduled to head to Calne for the evening fixture.

Calne Town

Calne Town FC is a non-league football club from the town of Calne, which is located six miles east of Chippenham in Wiltshire. The football club was formed in 1886.

The club joined the Wiltshire League as founder members in 1894 while playing home games at the recreation Ground in the centre of town before merging with another local side; Harris FC to become Calne & Harris FC. Harris was the name of the bacon factory whose buildings dominated the town skyline.

Following World War Two the club emerged as Calne & Harris United FC continuing to play Wiltshire County League football. In the early 1960’s the club changed titles to Calne Town Fc and moved to a new Bremhill View ground, which offered scope for better facilities.

In 1985-86 a new committee was formed at the club in an attempt to bring a better standard of football to Calne. The move succeeded was they were accepted as members of the Western League for the 1986-87 campaign.

Expansion work beginning in 1991 saw a new clubhouse being added to the facilities at Bremhill View. In 1992-93 under manager Graham Fell, the team won promotion to the Premier Division of the Western League.

The side retained their status for three years with managers coming and going before the club employed twenty two year old Tommy Saunders as team manager. Saunders did a fine job in improving the team before he was offered the managers job at Chippenham Town in February 1998.

The following season saw several players follow their former boss down the road to Chippenham. ‘The Lillywhites’ were relegated as a consequence to Division One in April 1999. The club tried to rebuild in using younger players, but had a lucky escape when finishing bottom of the table in 2000-01, when league reconstruction saved a further demotion.

Gradually the club re-established themselves under manager Kelvin Highmore who led the side back to the Premier Division in 2004-05, before he departed for pastures new. Highmore was succeeded by the team of Robbie Lardner and Simon Hillier who took Calne to a fifth place finish; the highest in the clubs’ history.

In May 2009 Lardner and Hillier stepped down to be replaced by the returning Highmore who was joined by Tommy Dryden. They lasted until the end of the 2009-10 season when Calne finished bottom of the table and were relegated once again.

After further managerial changes several of the younger reserve team players were given an opportunity in the first eleven with their manager Simon Gardner taking over team affairs. Gardner later became the club chairman and appointed Neurin Jones as team manager.

The 2016-17 season was one of extreme disappointment after Dave Ferris took over from Jones in November while Garry Murphy took over as chairman. Ferris was dismissed with two matches of the season remaining as the team finished second from bottom of the table.

Calne Town FC will play in the Wiltshire Senior League in the 2017-18 season.

My visit

Calne Town 3 Corsham Town 1 (Saturday 8th October 2016) Western League Division One (Att: 257)

My visit to Calne came about because the Western League had decided to run a groundhop weekend with many fixtures kicking off at staggered times. It was the international break for the top two divisions, which offered the potential for decent crowds to attend the matches.

It certainly worked for me. I was able to get the Swindon Town v Bolton Wanderers match at lunchtime, followed by the majority of Royal Wootton Bassett Town v Burnham in the Hellenic League before the 55 bus delivered me in Calne.

I had arrived early to ensure that I got a programme at the ground before going in search of some ale. I didn't bother with the North Star club outside the ground, which had been listed in the guides, and the one backing onto the ground was staging a kids party.

Instead I went back round the corner to the Jenny Wren where both Wadsworth pumps were out of action. I sipped a bottle Newcy Brown while taking in the closing stages of the desperate England v Malta game on TV before heading back to the ground where the crowds were massed on the far side.

Bremhill View was a tidy enough venue. The near side had a low terraced cover, with the far side being cramped and atmospheric with a low seated stand in the centre with changing rooms and busy refreshment hut towards the corner flag.

Admission was a very reasonable £5, with the programme costing a further quid. I thought it a tidy little ground with superb floodlights which made the trees at the far end a very pretty image. I bought just about my first Bovril of the season for £1.

There were a few of recognisable faces in the crowd from other matches as neutrals over the years along with a real plethora of team jackets and hats. Scarborough Athletic fans Keith Crowe and Neil Daniels were in attendance and were doing the full Western League hop over the weekend.

The match turned out to be a decent local derby, which had apparently being very feisty in previous seasons. The visitors of Corsham Town went 1-0 up through Ben Pring before Mark Dolman levelled things up for the Lillywhites on twenty one minutes.

Just before the half hour mark, player boss Neurin Jones made it 2-1 to the home side. There was no point trying to get served in what would have been a busy bar at the break. Instead I took advantage of the great offer on half price hot dogs for a pound. Some of the more frugal hoppers weren’t best happy having made their purchase at the higher prices a little earlier!

Oliver Webb made it 3-1 to Calne with half an hour left on the clock. They looked in control of the match when I had to depart to ensure that I caught the last bus to Chippenham. I missed a second goal for Pring that made the final score 3-2.

On arrival in Chippenham I had time for a pint of the very quaffable Summer Lightning from the Hopback Brewery in the excellent Old Road Tavern, which was marked down for a return visit in the future.

At which point it was time for the rattler back to Paddington, and with the aid of a bus and the new night tube on the Jubilee line, it meant that I caught the end of the Football League goals on a rerun just before 2am when I turned the key to my door.

The people of Wiltshire who I had come across were most amiable. All were friendly and helpful, helping to round off a wonderful day out.