Friday, 18 September 2009

Day Twelve

The final day was upon us already. An obvious sense of depression was working its way round our hotel room in Swindon as we got ready to leave at 6.30am. We only had 5 grounds to complete but as we've seen inside every stadium since day one, we decided to try and shoot round them as quickly as possible so we could head back into London to re-visit Crystal Palace, Millwall and Leyton O's.

We circled the County Ground, home of Swindon Town, until finally we spotted the kitman going in through a gate. Once we'd told him what we were doing he was happy to let us wander around ourselves. We got the needful and headed along a busy m4 toward Wycombe Wanderers with last nights cold pizza filling a gap and the early morning sun making sunglasses a must at 7.15...

Pulling into the car park at Adams Park we found ourselves a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule. But, as we got out we noticed a rather large gash in the front passenger side tyre. We had to call the hire company so they could get the rac out to us. Initial response time was 75 minutes. However, we'd then have to drive to Slough so they could replace the spare tyre with a proper one. Disaster. All we could do was sit and wait. As we had time on our hands, the very friendly Lisa Belcher on reception made us a hot chocolate and showed us round the stadium including board room etc. They have a lovely little stadium and a great manager in Peter Taylor, who had kindly signed a pennant which Lisa presented to us to help raise money. Eventually the breakdown man arrived, ripped to piece of rubber off the tyre and told us it was still fine to drive. Reluctantly, we gingerly drove down to Aldershot.

We were able to walk straight in and get our photos which helped. Next was Pompey. The penultimate ground. It took us a while, but we found security hiding in a little blue hut in the car park. He walked us in through the famous listed building entrance and told us a little bit about his time at the club and the restoration work currently taking place.

We left to begin the journey to the Withdean Stadium. We both felt a mixture of emotions as we pulled into the carpark. We'd completed the 92 which was the goal but we'd enjoyed the trip so much that i'm not sure either of us were ready for this to be it. We were taken into the ground be Martin Perry, chief executive. He was a busy man but congratulated us on completing our tour before saying "its a shame we're still playing here. Let's face it, its total crap isn't it". Fair enough. He also told us about the new stadium thats currently in development and due for completion next year. It's about time. I hope they take their history with them though. One thing we've really been aware of on the way round is that some new stadiums are more like council leisure centres than anything else.

We made our way back up into London to get photos inside for the website. Palace was easy but by the time we reached The Den, it was all locked up. So we'll have to go back again tomorrow. 3 visits in 13 days. Too many?

But we did what we set out to do. 92 grounds, 12 days, all in daylight hours. We had a few small problems but very few things that really cost us time. When I go back through the days, we've been so lucky in many ways. The weather has been incredible. It rained for about 30 seconds at Wembley and the only other time got caught in it was straight after eating in Nottingham. Typically, it was also the only evening i'd chosen to wear shorts!

The importance of contacting the teams before hand is indescribable. Having a contact name gives you a foot in the door and doing it for charity can only help too. The bear we carried round with us got us into quite a few areas we may not have been allowed in otherwise. The friends we've made along the way and the people we've met at some of the grounds have simply made this tour a pleasure.

I'm truly gutted i'll be waking up tomorrow without the excitement of 8 or 9 new grounds to visit. Just 4000+ photo's to remind me of a memorable 12 days.

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