With university taking over my life as of September of last year, I have found myself guilty of a fair amount of ‘CBA syndrome’ this season. That is to say, I’ve missed a lot of football because I’ve been so hungover that I can barely move myself from my bed to the sofa in my living room, let alone deal with the hassle of getting a train to some remote outpost and trying desperately to enjoy a 1-1 draw between two sides I’m largely uninterested in.
I haven’t forgotten my love for that kind of nonsense however, still managing to get to 60 games during the 2016/17 campaign, a number that will probably reach a maximum of about 65 games come the culmination of the football year and the onset of the domestic summer break. Game 59 of this year happened to be one of those silly afternoons, as I travelled overseas to the Isle of Wight with Andy and Rob of ‘English Deinze Massive’ fame, to take in my first ever football fix on the island just off the coast of my childhood home.
The whole idea of visiting Newport came about in early February time, with the news that the club were to be removed form their St Georges Park home at the end of the campaign. If memory serves correctly, the local council had taken the decision to serve an eviction notice to the club, as they were looking to develop that area of the island, which would go some way to explaining the building site and roadworks around the ground (more on that later). If I’m wrong though, which I probably am, please get in touch and let me know the actual situation!
We found out during the week of our visit that Newport have managed to secure a further season at the ground, which is certainly fantastic news for everybody involved. Having not seen any announcement of plans should the club have left their current abode, it’s good to see that they will certainly be continuing to operate on into the 2017/18 campaign. It took a little gloss from our visit, but a silly tick is a silly tick, and I definitely wasn’t grumbling as we left Portsmouth on a fairly overcast Saturday morning.
Getting from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight is a trip that every football fan should undertake sometime, simply for novelty value. My football transport for the afternoon was to be via hovercraft. Brilliant! It’s certainly won my award for quirkiest transport of the season. It’s a simple ten minute journey across from Portsmouth to Ryde, but make sure to tie it in to your rail ticket as it will save you a couple quid on the journey across the water.
We de-hovercrafted (a phrase now under Trotter trademark) at just gone midday in Ryde, and did the most sane thing we’d done all day. Namely, take a couple of photos of the pier and head for the nearest pub. The nearest pub sits just opposite the pier, and claims to be the oldest watering hole on the island. I’ve forgotten the name of the establishment, but based on its location and claim of age, I’d expect they charge in the region of about £14 for a pint.
Of course we ended up in the local Wetherspoons, which is a shame, but on my somewhat smaller student budget, it’s also an absolute godsend. When my pint of my desired particular poison is costing less than three quid a pop, I’m in no position to complain. Our drinks were consumed with an eye on the Oldham v Bolton fixture in League One that lunchtime, a game that inevitably went on to throw my accumulator for the day into the Channel. Obviously. Those £150 returns would have just been an inconvenience to me, anyway.
We quickly decided it was time to head over towards Newport, a bus journey that you oddly can’t buy a return ticket for. Despite this, we boarded a number 9 service running from Ryde across to Newport, and I ensured the driver spent the rest of his day in a foul mood by paying for my £2.30 student fare with a twenty pound note. I’ve always enjoyed being a nightmare to our hard-working bus drivers. We arrived in Newport at 2:15, and headed straight for the ground, but not before tackling the crystal maze with one of the locals. As aforementioned, the local council have decided to build the next Gotham in the area around St Georges Park, so our journey to the ground became a part of the days entertainment, trying not to fall over fences and road signs as we searched for our football fix.
I’m reliably informed that Newport have played in the Southern League during their recent history, and St Georges Park shows off their more illustrious past. For a step 5 ground, it really is a fantastic set up. The large seating stand seats a good number, whilst also containing the changing rooms and large, spacious bar area. We found ourselves in said bar after the 90 minutes were over, with Sky Sports on the tellybox and Cobra on draught, the club were doing everything they could to earn some more Trotter points. There’s also cover behind both goals and along the far touchline, with a decent view of the valley behind the near goal as you enter, a good backdrop for any budding photographers. Sadly, my smartphone simply isn’t up to the task and I find myself considering investing into a decent camera more and more often.
On the field, Newport hosted a Portland side chasing their third title in three seasons, and were ultimately beaten by a single goal in a fairly drab encounter. Portland’s skipper Lewis Whyton got loose from a set-piece after some 15 minutes, and was able to cooly poke a finish beyond Gary Streeter in the home goal, a man who had been awarded the club’s player of the season in the run-up to the fixture. The rest of the game was played almost like a dead-rubber, with Portland clinging on in the last five minutes or so.
Newport are a brilliantly friendly club, and it’s great to see that they will be continuing for at least another season. I’m sure that they had everything sorted behind the scenes, but the lack of announcements with regards to a new ground had become something of a concern, so a visit was well overdue before the worst happened and the club disappeared. I’m very much looking forward to returning with Bashley, so long as they don’t schedule it in for the first Tuesday night in December like they did this season!
We said our goodbyes for the afternoon and headed back off into town looking for a new watering hole to quench our growing thirst, this time avoiding the wooded area next to the ground and taking a shortcut back towards the centre. The ground is only a short walk from the main town, so we were soon back a amongst the locals and generally being quite touristy, taking photos of the local church and so on. You have to do it in these places, don’t you?
We stumbled across an absolute gem of a place not far from the main shopping street, down a back road and away from your normal places. Named ‘Newport Ale House’, it was a fantastically quirky little place, decorated beautifully with memorabilia and beer mats. With a range of different drinks on offer, a far distance from your usual rubbish, I plumped for a pint of Kozel, a Czech beer that proved to be a fantastic choice. With time on our hands, and a good atmosphere about this place, we made the executive decision to stay for another half. It would have been rude not to. Whenever you find yourself in Newport, find time for a pint at the ‘Newport Ale House’. It comes with Trotter recommendations.
Having hopped on the bus back to Ryde, and then the hovercraft back across to the mainland, the weekend continued with a night out in Portsmouth. Naturally, it was the only option after such a good day. The next morning was spent recovering, whilst I snapped some shots of HMS Victory at Portsmouth dockyard for a bit of historical culture, and Rob spent time trying to work out if the coach stop he needed to get back to Sheffield actually existed.
I’ve spent the last couple weeks since the game contemplating the day, and yeah, it sounds soppy, but it reminded me of why I got into groundhopping in the first place. You meet up with a couple of mates, go out for a day to a place you probably wouldn’t otherwise go to, and enjoy a couple of drinks in good company. At the football, you enjoy the game, meet friendly, like-minded people, call the linesman a wanker a couple of times, and then head home again. It’s all so easy and it’s fantastic. It really is the simple things in life that make it all so worthwhile.