Skip to main content

Tim Hartley: Doing the 92


‘Welcome to the Hive’ read the garish black and amber sign set alongside a busy suburban road. To the uninitiated there’s nothing special about Barnet football club in north London. But this was my Golden Fleece, my Emerald City at the end of a long and winding road. Because after a quarter of a century of traipsing across the country I was about to join a select club. The Hive was my final visit.
Related image
The Hive
The 92nd ground of the 92 clubs in the top four leagues of English football.
From Accrington Stanley’s brilliantly named ‘Wham’ stadium in Lancashire to the post-modern opulence of Arsenal’s ‘Emirates,’ from Meadow Lane to Molineux, Valley Parade to Vicarage Road, I had watched a game of football in them all. We call ourselves ‘groundhoppers’ and those hardy fans who have visited every ground have their own club and website. The ‘92 Club’ has even made up ties and badges for its select self-selecting membership. Roger Titford, a Reading fan, was one of the club’s early members. He describes ‘doing the ‘92’ as "the sticker album for grown-ups.”

My own quest started when I took my wife and son Chester to Edgeley Park to watch Stockport County play. (They’re not even in the league now). We met up with old college friends after the match and got to see some of the North West. That was it. I’d caught the groundhopping bug and the sporting away days became cultural days out. As a family we’ve visited almost every Norman cathedral in England, via football.  There was Exeter, Norwich and Carlisle. We pored over St Chad’s Gospel in Lichfield on the way back from Sheffield, (United not Wednesday you understand), were amazed by the medieval ceiling in Peterborough and wondered at the Magna Carta in Winchester Cathedral, on our way home from Southampton.

Image result for winchester cathedral
Norman Cathedrals - As common as football stadia

Football of course has its own cathedrals – its stadiums. Archibald Leitch was the doyen of 20th century stadium architecture, and one of his masterpieces, Craven Cottage, is still home to Fulham FC. Between 1899 and 1939 Leitch built some 20 stadiums including Anfield and Goodison in Liverpool, Preston’s ground at Deepdale, Bramall Lane and the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Each one has its own footballing history and folklore. Football, the 92, have allowed me, obliged me, to explore the whole country.

It would be easy to dismiss us groundhoppers as a little sad, anoraks, obsessionals with nothing better to do with our Saturdays or Tuesday evenings. But hold on, I don’t own an anorak. This round Britain quest has been much more to me than ticking off football grounds. I make a point of talking to people on the way to, from and inside the ground. Hutch, a reformed hooligan in Sunderland, befriended us outside the Stadium of Light. “I’ll walk you all to the ground,” he said, “just in case.” In Nottingham we met Andy and the following year we stayed with his family when we went to watch Forest. He shared his passion for music with us and we stood in awe at his impressive CD collection, from Schubert to Saint Saens, though Beethoven is his favourite. Another passion, another collector. This then has been a social and cultural, as much as a sporting, journey.

Image result for arsenal youth emirates
Arsenal Youth at the Emirates. Does it count?

Being football though there’s always an argument over the rules of the game.  Some members of the 92 club expect you to note the attendance, date of the match and the opposition at every game you watch. My groundhopping pal David Collins from Cardiff opined, “I’ve watched Arsenal youth play at the Emirates. Does that count?” Yes, I think so David. Goodness, at this rate they will expect us to produce match tickets and photographic evidence before we can join the club. (Sad but true, for me that wouldn’t be so difficult.) By whichever rules you choose to play this game each one of us knows in his or her heart of hearts whether he has ‘done the 92.’ You can’t cheat yourself.

So what of my final curtain, the game at Barnet? There was a nice irony in the fact that when I visited the Bees they were 92nd out of all 92 teams, at rock bottom and in real danger of falling out of the football league altogether. It was a do or die match against Notts County, whose main claim to fame is that they are the oldest football team in the league. As the scrappy game drew to its conclusion it was still nil nil. Then came a thunderbolt of a shot from Barnet’s Alex Nicholls to seal it for the home side. Goal time? 92 minutes!

So, what shall I do with my Saturdays now that my collection of football grounds is complete? Well, Spurs move to a new stadium this season and as teams come up from the National League in years to come there will be plenty of opportunities to travel. Here we go again!

Image result for new white hart lane
One more... 

 
Follow Tim on twitter - @timhhartley or Facebook - www.facebook.com/AuthorTimHartley/

Popular posts from this blog

Ardiles and Villa: Footballing émigrés | @RichEvansWriter

Military events in the South Atlantic – even at a distance of 8000 miles – had a profound impact on a celebrated pair of international footballers in the 1980s.  @RichEvansWriter  takes up the story: Ossie Ardiles & Ricardo Villa at Tottenham Hotspur When one thinks of footballers and war, images of khaki-clad figures of yesteryear tend to spring to mind – the kind of ‘moustached archaic faces’ that Philip Larkin details in his poem MCMXIV. However, footballers do not have to be participants to be affected by conflict. Indeed, as with any civilians, they may well be unwitting victims with no stake in political events beyond their control.  In certain instances, football risks turning into an extension of the battleground – where players, subject to barbarous words and threats, become targets of abuse. Such was the case in 1982 with Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles – then both of Tottenham Hotspur – whose fates (at least in the short term) were determined by events unfolding on the o

The Crest Dissected - AS Roma

It’s been a good while since I’ve done a Crest Dissected but after a bit of a summer break and time at the BBC ( Cardiff and Swansea pieces) it’s time to get back down to TFHB writing! So following FC Barcelona , PSG , AS Monaco  and US Women’s Soccer this week I’m going to take a look at AS Roma and their intriguing history.  In the summer of 1927 an Italian Fascist, Italo Foschi , was behind the merger of three older Italian Football Championships clubs all based in Rome, Alba-Audace , Roman and Fortitudo . The purpose of the move was to compete with the well established clubs, especially in the Northern cities but Lazio were not behind the move meaning the Derby della Capitale rivalry was there from the beginning and Associazone Sportiva Roma was born. AS Roma immediately endeared themselves to the masses by taking on the capital’s colours, red and yellow, something Lazio did not consider as they favoured the greek myth of Olimpia and the colour blue. Romulus an

The Forgotten Brilliance of the Doncaster Belles

Doncaster Rovers men’s team have spent the majority of their existence in the third and fourth tiers of English football and currently their women’s side Doncaster Rovers Belles play in the FA Women’s National League Division One Midlands. In the modern game, it can be argued that there is not enough recognition that Doncaster Belles were one of women’s football's most successful sides with 21 major honours between 1976 and 1994. During this successful run they also finished runners-up in the National Division seven times, in the FA Women’s Premier League and Charity Shield twice and the Premier League Cup on three occasions. This included winning the league and FA Cup double in 1991-92 without losing a match before claiming the double again in 1993-94. Their dominance was underlined by reaching eleven FA Cup finals in 12 years between 1983 and 1994, lifting the trophy on six occasions. Notable players for the Belles included Karen Walker and Gill Coultard who were inducted into th