At the moment I am embarking on a journey to photograph all the football stadiums in England and Wales in the first four divisions. I started this project a couple of years ago having bought a rather nice Leica compact wide angle camera from some insurance money I received after having my foot sliced open on the waltzers at the goose fair in Nottingham. I wanted to get back into photography as that is what I spent 4 years studying at college and knew a little bit about. Anyway, I’m now lucky enough to have been accepted by Derby Museum to have an exhibition in November of all of the 92 photographs. This means, I have to get my skates on for the September deadline. With this in mind, I climbed aboard my trusty Suzuki 250 and hacked off down towards Cheltenham on Tuesday mourning at 7am.
It didn’t say it was going to rain in the ‘not really to be trusted’ BBC weather section of their website so I nevertheless trusted it and never took any wet weather gear to save on space and weight. However, once I got down past Worcester, where it obviously had been raining heavily ten minutes before, I got thoroughly soaked from the spray coming up off the lorries. I pulled into the services to check out the damage because it’s not until you stop and climb off that you realize how sodden you actually are. Anyway, I gritted my teeth, squelched back onto the bike and made it down to Cheltenham and found a bike shop and bought some life saving waterproofs and fired up the sat nav to take me to the stadium. I then bombed down to Swindon and after leaving the stadium, I found myself on a roundabout just in front of the football ground that was simply unbelievable. It has to be said, the worst roundabout in the world is the one around the Arch Of Triumph in Paris because of the free for fall madness but this one is just as mad because of it’s complexity. It’s like several roundabouts merged together to create a scalextric / learner track – race course. As my sat nav freaked out and I didn’t know who to give way to and when to go for it I just made it out to the other side and rode away until the sat nav readjusted and thankfully pointed me in the other direction and towards Bournemouth.
Bournemouth done at 1.30pm and a German bread sandwich and off to Brighton. I actually got my bike up to 85 miles an hour on a downward slope of the motorway towards Brighton and then headed off to Croydon to photograph Selhurst Park as huge storm clouds drew over but thankfully it never rained on me as I was heading away in the opposite direction.
I headed through incredible standstill London traffic around Tooting and then out to Aldershot, place of my birth and home of the British Army. I photographed the stadium there and got to my mate Dave’s house in Farnborough at 8 PM. What a day, we ate Pizza and drank Peronni and wine and he marvelled at the journey I had undertaken. I collapsed into bed and Dave got me up at 7 with a nice cup of tea and I headed off down the A3 towards London in glorious sunshine. Coming into London you can see Brebtford’s stadium on the right of the motorway sitting tightly amongst the terraced housing. I pulled over, fired up the sat nav and off I went, getting in behind the dispatch riders who can smell a gap between traffic from 5 cars away; Brentford, QPR, Fulham, Chelsea, Millwall, Charlton Athletic…Gillingham! On the way to Kent my Sat Nav conked out as I have no means of charging it on the bike. Luckily Gillingham wins the prize for ‘best signposted for stadium city award in England’. I took the pictures and as it was lunchtime I tried to find a pub that does lunch and the landlord will charge my sat nav up behind the bar while I eat. Unfortunatly, Gillingham also wins the award for ‘not a single pub that does food’. I wasted an hour looking for somewhere and ended up going back to the first pub I had visited where the landlord obliged and kindly charged the sat nav for me while I ate peanuts and drank shandy. Special thanks to Jason and Sam at the Marquis Of Lorne!
Anyway, time to hit Dagenham, via the Dartford crossing, how cool is it to be on a bike with such traffic, I swear I’d still be there now if I had been in a motor. I found the Dagenham and Redbridge stadium which is succinctly called “The London Borough Of Barking and Dagenham Stadium” and looks like this:
Now off to West Ham to hail the shrine, the academy of football, at last I can visit a superstore I actually want to buy something in! Coming up towards East Ham the sat nav once again gave up the ghost but easily enough just following signs for Upton Park the mighty Boleyn Ground suddenly appears. I parked my bike in the chairmans parking space and took pictures. It was a spiritual feeling but somehow everything was now beginning to collapse inside of me. The thought of doing the rest of my mission that day without a sat nav was beginning to take a toll on my mental health. Leyton Orient, Spurs, Arsenal, Barnet, Watford and then a 2 hour hack up the M1 would finish me. I couldn’t face it, all I had eaten all day was 2 packets of dry roasted peanuts and my mouth was as dry as a nun’s gusset. I got the map out and spent an hour trying to get out of East London with tears of frustration periodically blurring my vision. Eventually I got to an A road and found my way up on to the M11 and then onto the M25 towards the M1. I stopped at South Mimms to contemplate a freezing cold coke and burger king Spicy Beanburger, It tasted like shit and my mood was flatter than a witches tit. I felt so frazzled and the thought of sitting on the bike for more hours up the M1 was making my mind capsize. I decided that to sit on an open toilet was a sensible way to let my backside repair itself and it worked, after half an hour my mind began to reassemble itself and my lower end was ready for the saddle again. On the way out, just out of interest, I asked the girl behind the mobile phone /sat nav accessory store counter if she had any means to help me charge a sat nav on a bike? She came back with the immortal reply, “Does your motorbike have a cigarette lighter?” She looked at me as if I were the one who was mad as I told her I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt the need to spark up a fag with a full face helmet on whilst negotiating speeds of 80 mph on a motorbike.
I pulled myself together and hit the road. I met a really nice biker at the services near Northampton and we managed to escape an incredible downpour as we talked. Thanks to all the sportsbikers who saluted me as they went past, it was a nice gesture and helped keep me going. What’s the next leg then? Oh that’ll be the Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Southend on Sea…