• Matthew Whiley

The Top 10 Venues I Have Visited

A little while ago, I wrote about ten sporting venues that I really want to go to.


Well, in yet another lockdown, it's very much dawned on me that while there are many cities and many venues that are on my to do list, I have also been lucky enough to actually pay a visit to some pretty great venues too.


In this post, I'm planning to look back on my ten favourite venues, share the stories of the day I visited, and generally come over all nostalgic while hoping that restrictions lift and fans will be allowed back into stadiums sooner rather than later.


Now, here's a little admission. I have most certainly visited all the below venues, but by that I mean I've set foot inside them. However, I am counting that as my benchmark, so if I've just walked around the outside (looking at you, Parc des Princes) then it's out.


Yes, there are a few of these I haven't actually seen a live event at - as in, I've just been for a tour, or to nosey around the gift shop - so it's probably not a completely pure list, but this is about the stadiums themselves. Of course, experiencing a great atmosphere can bump a stadium up, but if the architectural brilliance, or sheer notability, of a stadium that I've walked into deserves recognition, I've thrown it onto the list.


10) Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham, UK

No, please don't refresh the page, you did read that right. I know that compared to some worldwide behemoths, a 9,300-seat indoor arena in the East Midlands certainly seems rather a left-field selection to start us off, but there is a method behind this madness. I have two friends at university in Nottingham, and before all the *gestures at everything* general calamity kicked off, I tried to visit them a couple of times each year.


The three of us first went to the Motorpoint Arena, home of the city's ice hockey team, Nottingham Panthers, in February 2018, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time watching them defeat the Cardiff Devils 7-2. As soon as we're allowed, I really recommend going to an Elite Ice Hockey League match, if there's a team near you.


9) Lord's Cricket Ground, London, UK

Did you know that only one man in history has ever successfully hit the ball over the Lord's pavilion, that it happened in 1899, and that because of the rules back then, it wasn't even recorded as a six?


I do, because I've been on the ground tour at the Home of Cricket. It's absolutely brilliant, packed full of history and interesting titbits of information about the ground and the action that has unfolded upon it. We visited, among many other places, the museum, the Long Room, the dressing rooms, the Nursery Ground, and ascended into the futuristic media centre. While I'm still yet to see a live game at Lord's, the tour was a great, access-all-areas, way to spend a couple of hours of a day trip to London, and much like the ice hockey above, now comes with my full recommendation.


By the way, the man to hit the ball over the pavilion was Albert Trott, and the rules back then said that six could only be scored if the ball fully left the ground. Because it landed in the Lord's garden behind the pavilion, which is still technically part of the ground, it couldn't be counted as a six!


8) San Siro, Milan, Italy

We visited Milan in June 2018, right in the middle of the last World Cup. One thing that struck me as we emerged from the metro station and onto the flat expanse of tarmac with the stadium a couple of hundred metres away was how surprisingly quiet the area was. I’ve walked past Old Trafford, for example, quite a few times on non-matchdays, and it’s still been buzzing. Perhaps the disaster of the World Cup qualification campaign had made Italy just wanted to forget about football for a bit?


We actually did little more than nosey around the gift shop and, being tight Yorkshire folk, leave without buying anything, but the history and stunningly imposing nature of the San Siro's famous fat columns mean it just has to walk into this list.


7) Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia

The colossal MCG is the shrine of Australian cricket; the place where so many legends of the Baggy Green have pulled off some great performances, and where, every Boxing Day, 100,000 spectators pile in.


It's also where England bowled the Aussies out for 98 in 2010. Just saying.


My dad and I visited in 2017 - this post's cover photo is of us both on the top shelf at the MCG - and we were treated to another really insightful tour. I found it surprisingly austere for the players, with the changing rooms quite bare and access to the pitch up a narrow concrete ramp that rises out from an underground garage. However, it gets away with all of that, and more, simply because it's the "'G". What other stadium is so notable that it can go by one letter?


6) Trent Bridge, Nottingham, UK

I hold Nottingham in quite high regard in a sporting context, if the inclusion of a second venue in the city didn't already reveal that. I've been to Trent Bridge four times in total; once for a tour and the other three to see Yorkshire play Nottinghamshire there. The first time was in 2015, then we returned in 2016 and 2019, with the former two being T20 games, and the final one the third day of a County Championship match.


It's a brilliant ground to watch cricket in; we always sit on the top shelf of the Radcliffe Road End, behind the bowler's arm opposite the pavilion, which is among the finest views I've ever had at a cricket game. The 'traditional, upper class' theme throughout the ground - a specific example escapes me, but there's a lot of "jolly well done" and "tally ho" amongst the signage - just adds to the experience, and Trent Bridge is another ground I'm very much looking forward to returning to in the future.


5) Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands

And away overseas we go again. Not too far this time, though, heading to the Dutch capital and one of the finest European football stadiums I've been fortunate to tour.


We visited in September 2019 while on a city break to Amsterdam, and visited all the usual places a stadium tour takes you - dressing rooms (did you know the pegs in the away team's dressing room are designed to be just high enough off the ground that they're uncomfortable? It's supposed to remind visiting international teams that the Dutch are the tallest nation in the world), players' tunnel, media rooms, pitchside, trophy cabinet, and concluding in the museum.


Much of the museum, and of course the stadium's name itself, is dedicated to Cruyff, one of the greatest - and probably his country's best - to ever play the game. It's an honour he thoroughly deserves, and I can't help but like Ajax and the way they continue to operate a conveyor belt of brilliant young talent.


4) Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, UK

I talked about our regular seats at Trent Bridge offering among the finest views I've ever experienced at a cricket game, but there's only one that claims the title of the finest. The new stand at Headingley cricket ground is remarkable. Cushioned seating, roof, high vantage point, behind the bowler's arm... *slips into daydream* Joe Root punching a Surrey or Lancashire bowler (either will do) back down the ground for four to reach his double hundred...


Yes, that last bit is fanciful, especially as the last time I was sat up there, Root got a two-ball duck as England were bowled out for 67 (Ashes Test in 2019. Thank goodness for Ben Stokes), but a man can dream. The new stand makes Headingley the absolute best cricket ground that I've ever been to, bar none, and it will probably be the first sporting venue I visit once fans are allowed back.


3) Anfield, Liverpool, UK

Home of the greatest, the very greatest, by far the... what? Ahem, sorry. Got a bit carried away there.


To be honest, who wouldn't put their team's stadium on a list of their top ten? I first went to Anfield with my grandad for a tour, which was a birthday present when I was about nine or ten. There's a photo somewhere of me in the old main stand, stood on the narrow steps that dropped down from the changing rooms before rising back up to pitch level, stretching my little arm as far as it'll go but not quite able to reach the "This Is Anfield" sign. Grandad bought me my first shirt, and took me to Anfield for the first time.


Me in 2011... "Why did he inflict this upon me?"

Me right now... "Thanks, Grandad".


2) Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, UK

It really is as good as everyone says it is. It's a heaving behemoth of glass and steel, looking every bit the £1 billion wonder-construction it was designed to be. Yet, there are some smaller, more subtle elements that have 'Spursed' it up, turning it from what could easily have been a soulless lump, into Tottenham's own stunning arena.


The white and deep blue colour scheme of Spurs is threaded throughout the stadium. Each entry point into the main bowl from the concourses is designed to replicate the players' tunnel. There's even a plaque on the lower level concourse marking where the centre spot at the old White Hart Lane was.


As we departed our seats on the fifth level, from where we had watched the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers "host", and lose to, the Carolina Panthers in October 2019, we reflected on the fact that the stadium was as much a part of the day as the action we'd watched. It had treated us very well, and it is most definitely on our lists to go and watch a 'proper' football game there.


And yes, watching the pints being served from the bottom up is very cool.


1) Wembley Stadium, London, UK

There is very, very little that will ever beat the feeling of watching my local team tip up at the magnificent 90,000-seater new Wembley, score an absolute screamer of a goal, and return home having won silverware. Simply for the occasion, I think even watching Liverpool win at Wembley wouldn't beat it. Don't get me wrong, it would run it very close, but just to see the words "FC Halifax Town" in giant letters on the outside of Wembley - magical.


Sunday 22nd May 2016 will live long in my memory, as my dad and I, along with a couple of friends, made the trip to London to see FC Halifax Town take on Grimsby in the FA Trophy final. We'd somehow managed to obtain Club Wembley tickets, which were being sold at a very reasonable rate for the day, and after being briefly startled by the suited-and-booted stewards at the roped-off and carpeted entrance referring to us as "sirs", we settled into our seats.


I've written about the day in more detail in my post about non-league below, but the basics were that the only goal of the game was scored by Scott McManus from outside the box shortly after half time, as the Shaymen walked away with the trophy. That magical day is one of my most-cherished sporting memories, without a doubt.



I'll finish this post in the same way I finished the one about the ten venues I most want to visit (which you can view by clicking on the link below), and that's by opening the floor to you. I want to know what your ten would be!


Village cricket grounds? Parks with little more than two net-less goal frames at either end? Or world-famous, gigantic shrines to the greatest sportsmen and women you've ever witnessed? What's important about these lists is that they are yours, and yours alone.


Let me know by commenting on my Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/longstorysport) or replying on my Twitter (https://twitter.com/LongStorySport).


Here's to fans being allowed back as soon as it's safe.


Signing off,

Matthew

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