Monday, 14 September 2009

Day Nine

Having done Macclesfield and Stockport last night I was expecting an easier morning. But I was wrong. Alarm went off at 5.45am and we were away from the hotel in Manchester by 6.20.

Crewe was up first. We pulled up and without any obvious signs of life split up to walk opposite ways round the stadium. Just at the end of the newest main stand I came across the janitor. He was dubious and it took a bit of work but eventually he went and asked the only other member of staff around, the kitman, if he thought it was ok. Next think we know he'd opened the gates, invited us in, made us a cup of tea and given us a short walk through the changing rooms. He also donated a couple of programmes to put towards the collection. We chatted about the tour for a while and he told us that he's seen games at 91 of the football league grounds. Only Dagenham and Redbridge remain to be ticked off his list.

At Port Vale we were showed in by the duty manager. He talked all about the re-development of the stands including the Robbie Williams suite. A big stadium for a lower end league two side. But they appear to be doing things right and the reception was rather impressive so good luck to them.

After a quick detour into Hanley town centre for a picture of the Stanley Matthews statue and some breakfast, we made the short trip down to Stoke. The Brittannia Stadium is very eye catching both inside and out. Our contact, Steve Hunt, met us at reception and walked us through to pitchside for photos. He told us that he knows someone doing the same job as he does at WBA and getting paid £10k more than him. But he wouldn't dream of leaving apparently. As a life long Potters fan its a dream job.

Shrewsbury were very friendly and had made an obvious effort to take some of their history with them to the new ground. We were taken pitchside as we were at Walsall, our next stop. The Banks Stadium was a little soulless I thought but i'm sure its much better on matchdays.

Arriving at Wolves we'd managed to get ourselves about an hour ahead of schedule which was good because Molineux has lots to get pictured. As we walked down to reception, Steve Bull walked out and jumped into his car. We stopped him from driving away and he was happy to pose for a quick photo with our Great Ormond Street bear. A great start to our visit. Our contact, Jane Whitehead, was behind reception as we entered and had a signed pennant waiting for us! It was nice for another club to have been expecting us. They've recently had one of the corners of the stadium filled in with temporary seating so as a Gillingham fan i felt quite at home.

West Brom were very friendly and more than happy for us to walk around and get photos before offering us tickets to a future game! Amazing generosity again! We left to make the trip to St Andrews. We spoke to the lady in the Birmingham City reception and after initially telling us there was no chance of gaining access, the lady helping us phoned the press office. 'Chris' came down to help us and spent a long time talking to us and walking us round to the oldest stand to make the panoramics look better. He also offered us complimentary tickets to a game in the future. Much like the offers at Bolton & West Brom, its one we'll have to take up.

We went and checked in at our hotel before venturing out to Villa Park for the reserve game against Portsmouth. We walked round the ground before kick off and with Villa leading 1-0 at half time, decided it would be a good time to make a move to go and find somewhere for dinner. We'd parked in the official car park and on our way back to the car we noticed a large painting of an old Villa Park in the Trinity Rd reception. Security allowed us in to take photos of it. We talked about the tour we're doing and Steve Chance, a hospitality manager, asked if we'd like to see the executive boxes and vip suites. Before we knew where we were we'd spent an hour walking through the amazing halls with pictures adorned on the walls. We were shown through the 1982 restaurant dedicated to the European Cup winning side. After, we were taken up to the vip section where we saw Gary Speed, Mark Robins, Geoff Horsfield and Ian Taylor. From there, Steve took us into the box next to Randy Lerner's. He told us many stories about following Villa round the country and England around the world. He also went to Euro 2008 and saw a lot of games including both semi finals. It really is all about contacts isn't!

We left in shock again at just how friendly they'd been. Another big club that really couldn't have done more for us.

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