Training grounds

Training grounds

For all the cost, delays and dodgy toilets, there’s still something romantic about crossing the country by train. The travelling football fan’s knowledge of the UK’s rail system is perhaps only matched by that of a down at heel travelling salesman. For on every Saturday, thousands of football fans travel from Penrith to Penzance, from Stoke to… Southend Victoria, following their team through thick and thin.

But so little about football away days is actually about the game; it’s all about the journey. Floodlights in the distance will pique the interest of the travelling fan. Is that Burton Albion? Derby County? Nottingham Forest? Oh, it’s just a car park.

Travelling through the British countryside at 100 miles per hour, non-league grounds will flash by in an instant. The football league behemoths will stay in view a little longer, with fleeting glances of their hallowed turf offered up by gaps between the grandstands.

A sense of unease that you might be missing a game at these grounds takes over, never mind that it’s a Thursday afternoon in June.

The Emirates, Wembley, Vicarage Road, Gresty Road and the DW Stadium all come in to view on the trip north, presenting the opportunity for a “Hey lads, guess which ground this is” message to the group chat.

But then there’s the games you’ll see taking place on a Saturday afternoon. What am I doing on a train? I should be at a game! A glimpse of 22 men in blue and red flickers by. Suddenly you spring into action – where am I? What level does that look like? I wonder what league it is. Think about it long enough and you’ll work out exactly who was playing, and come up with far-fetched conclusions about the final score, based on just a couple of seconds’ play that you saw. “Defintely a deserved three points for Binclestead Sports & Social.”

On our travels this season, there will be opportunity to see Hertford Town v Stow and Berkhamsted v Stow on the West Anglia and West Coast Main Lines respectively. Last season we had Redbridge’s Oakside, a more humble offering from the banks of the Central Line.

But if you really want to do things properly, then a trip to Slovakia is order, to see TJ Tatran Čierny Balog, who have a heritage steam train running between the pitch and the main stand. You can’t imagine any other answer to the question “Why?” than a couple of blokes looking around going “It’s a laugh, init?”.

So as you travel the country this year, just keep an eye out of the window, you never quite know what you’ll see.