Sunday Feature | My Favourite Grounds
For this week's Sunday Feature, we share an article recently produced by Martin Weiler, who guides us through the 10 best grounds he has visited as a City fan. The article was originally produced for the club's match-day programme, The Grecian.
The recent publication of the superb 'British Football's Greatest Grounds' by Mike Bayly got me thinking... I’ve seen matches at over 350 stadiums in 12 countries and so, not surprisingly, there have been some fabulous grounds among them.
The arenas that give me most pleasure will usually be a bit quirky, lack uniformity and have an interesting history. Some of the best I have been to in England and Wales include non-league grounds where League Football has been played in the past. I’d include Merthyr, Workington, Stalybridge, Gainsborough, Wrexham, Boston and Bath on my list of top visits.
And also many grounds in Scotland are a groundhopper’s dream. The joys of places like Ayr, Brechin, Abroath, Queen of the South, Greenock Morton, Elgin City (ECFC!) and many more.
But I haven’t seen the Grecians play at any of these stadiums. So, stimulated by the approach in Bayly’s book, I’ve thought about which are the ten best ground experiences I’ve had actually watching City. Having seen the Grecians play at about 130 grounds it’s a difficult choice. But here goes and in the style of the book they are revealed in reverse order.
Marlborough Park gets on the list as homage to the many local grounds I’ve seen City play at in friendlies or Devon Bowl games. During lockdown I have been to a series of these lower league stadiums and am regularly impressed by the commitment of the officials to create really decent community football clubs. Ilfracombe is in an unusual setting high up above the town. Cosy little stands surround the pitch with a church sitting on the hillside behind one goal.
There are quite a few traditional league grounds I particularly like including Port Vale, Bradford City, and Portsmouth. But while Luton’s Kenilworth Road is not everyone’s favourite, I just love the mish mash of stands tight within a residential area. And the experience as an away fan of going through turnstiles that are situated within a terrace of houses. Going up steps that cross people’s gardens to enter the away end is a unique experience. Enjoy it while you can – Luton have plans to move.
The Don Valley Stadium (now demolished) obviously has some strong memories for Grecians, but it’s the successor New York Stadium (NYS) that gets my vote. There are so many modern stadiums with their identikit look and often out of town footprint (think Colchester) that clubs who do something different deserve recognition. Not only is the NYS even nearer the town centre than Millmoor (still standing by the way), but its design is attractive and varied with a deliberately lower roof in one part to reveal great views.
There is something about the Shay that just screams northern football. Set in a deep cutting with stunning views up to the Moors it also has a large Big Bank style terrace behind one goal. And the three Pigeons pub just outside is a great traditional watering hole.
The setting is fabulous besides the River Thames and history just abounds from the iconic Craven Cottage itself and the Archibald Leitch Stevenage Road stand built in 1905.
5. Sheffield Wednesday
The scale of Hillsborough takes your breath away. It is one of the older grounds that transports you back to a different era when over 72,000 crammed in. Obviously the disaster still hangs over the stadium, but it is a stand out experience to see City play here. Troy Archibald-Henville anyone?
Griffin Park is sadly no more, but was part of my childhood as the local League ground. It was the place where I first saw Exeter City way back in 1967 (George Ley scoring a long-distance curler in a 3-1 defeat). Another ground oozing difference especially with a pub on all four corners.
3. Tottenham Hotspur
There are lots of ‘big’ stadiums I could have included like Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton. But again, influenced by my teenage years when I was a regular on the Shelf, my vote goes to the old White Hart Lane. It looked a bit different when Exeter played there in 1981 as the West stand was being replaced. But opposite, the Leitch East Stand stood large and proud with its unique Shelf terrace half way up. What a view from there!
2. Leigh RMI
The Conference years took us to an amazing array of grounds. From getting soaked at St Albans to the cockles at Canvey Island. But surely the strangest and most impressive was Leigh RMI’s Hilton Park. An enormous Rugby League bowl that had seen a crowd of 31,326 in its heyday. There were just over 400 the day I saw City there but the endless terraces encircling the action still bring back great memories.
Number 1: Fluminense
I had to go for this one – the Estadio das Laranjeiras in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Not only one of Brazil’s oldest stadiums built in 1905 but it stands in an extraordinary beautiful location set below Mount Corcovado and its Christ the Redeemer statue. And it was here, of course, that Brazil played its first game against Exeter City in 1914. To watch City play in exactly the same place 100 years later was a dream come true.
So that is my list – what would yours be?