Day one of visiting London’s football grounds had gone swimmingly, ticking Charlton, Crystal Palace, AFC Wimbledon and Brentford off my list. Day two, the only full day of my visit to England’s capital city, would be the busiest of the lot, taking in six different venues with a considerable spread in terms of both location and aesthetics. Some of the country’s most prominent clubs would be ticked off on the Wednesday, although the first venue on my list was one of the more humble grounds I would visit during the trip.
Day 2: Wednesday 6 October
Venue 5: Gander Green Lane (Sutton United)
Route taken: London Bridge to Sutton (via changeover in Tulse Hill) with Southern Rail
The previous day was a busy one, getting up at 6:15am to give myself time enough to get to the airport for my flight to Stansted and not arriving back at my hotel to settle in for the night until after 11pm (losing my Oyster card didn’t help!). That meant a welcome lie-in on the Wednesday morning, right? Wrong! The alarm was set for 6:15am again, and with good reason. I was off to Sutton.
Attempts at resolving my Oyster card issue at Liverpool Street were fruitless, prompting me to suck it up and buy a new one. Not in the mood for walking to London Bridge, I took the tube there and got ready for some train-hopping on what was the furthest-out venue on my list of 14. In order to get to Sutton, I needed to change over at Tulse Hill, spending a good 45 minutes on the track. The plan was to then get a connecting service at Sutton for West Sutton, only for me to miss it by a fraction and then face a choice between a 25-minute walk, or a half-hour wait for a three-minute train trip. I went for the former.
Even setting aside the evident logical advantage of the 25-minute walk, it proved to be an inspired decision. It was a glowingly sunny Wednesday morning and the walk through Sutton was refreshing, encountering no difficulty in finding Gander Green Lane. The reason for my visit? To get a firsthand look at the home of Sutton United, the newest member of the Football League, having been promoted to this level for the very first time earlier in 2021.
There was certainly no pretentiousness about this quaint venue. The bulletin board advertising Sutton’s next home match contained physical Countdown-esque letter-by-letter inserts, bore the adverts of local businesses and was in the shadow of a redbrick residence. It felt more like a local Gaelic games club venue in my native Ireland than the home of a club in the English Football League, with an understated white kiosk housing the Sutton United club shop and the grounds populated only by a truck driver going about his business and a football-obsessed tourist talking photos of his surroundings. Just what you expect to see in these parts at 8:45 of a Wednesday morning, then.
Venue 6: Craven Cottage (Fulham)
Route taken: West Sutton to Wimbledon with Southwestern Rail, then District line Tube to Putney Bridge
After ticking Sutton off my list, my intention was to get a train back to Blackfriars and then a tube to see Chelsea’s home ground. However, thanks to some lucky timing and instinctive deduction, it didn’t quite work out like that.
I hopped on a city centre-bound train which had just pulled up at the West Sutton platform and was stopping at Wimbledon, where the pre-recorded announcement informed passengers that they could get District line Underground connections. Some swift mental recalibration told me that this was the quickest way to my nearest ground, which I suddenly realised was Craven Cottage. From Wimbledon, it was only four stops to Putney Bridge.
I had researched directions for getting from the Tube stop to Fulham‘s ground which told me to walk through an underpass, but I somehow failed to spot it and I instead crossed over the road at Putney Bridge itself to eventually gain access to Bishops Park. This lush greenery was tremendously picturesque on this sunny Wednesday morning, with a pacifying riverside pathway taking me along the banks of the Thames and past numerous joggers and dog walkers. If I was power-ranking the journeys from station to stadium on this trip, the walk to Craven Cottage shot straight to the number one slot.
I had seen several football fans cite Fulham as one of their favourite away days in England and it wasn’t hard to see why. As if that walk through Bishops Park wasn’t scenic enough, you are then met with the timeless architecture of Craven Cottage, with its resplendent redbrick exterior along the Grade II-listed Johnny Haynes Stand, the oldest in the Football League, dating all the way back to 1905. There is also a statue of the club legend outside the stand which bears his name, while just to the left of that you’ll spot the iconic cottage building at the corner of the Johnny Haynes Stand and Putney End.
Already invigorated by the superb character of Fulham’s home ground and having unexpectedly found myself ahead of schedule, I took the chance to sit in Bishops Park for a few minutes on my way back to Putney Bridge station and have a bit to eat while taking in some riverside views. Next up was the midway point of my 14-venue expedition, and I didn’t have too far to go…
Venue 7: Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)
Route taken: District line Tube from Putney Bridge to Fulham Broadway
Two District line stops are all which separate Putney Bridge and Fulham Broadway, so the redbrick wonder of the Johnny Haynes Stand was still fresh in my mind as I disembarked the Tube onto the Fulham Road. One left turn of the head upon exiting the station and coming onto the footpath brings into view the crest of Chelsea Football Club, whose Stamford Bridge home must be no more than 100 metres from the nearest tube stop. Craven Cottage had the nicest station-to-stadium walk; the Blues’ home ground had the most convenient!
I didn’t go into the stadium itself but there is plenty to catch the eye in front of the entrance to the West Stand. There was no mistaking the big blue ‘Home of the Champions’ lettering on either side of the Millennium Reception, with Chelsea understandably keen to show off their status as Champions League holders. Another cool feature was the gathering of replica shirt-sized boards, with N’Golo Kanté, Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell among the players featured.
A billboard outside the ground advertised a Champions League fixture against Malmö as their next home match, the Blues easing to a 4-0 win two weeks after my visit. As I watched footage of the rain pelting down in west London that night, I thought back to the glorious sunshine I had enjoyed at that very location and again thanked my lucky stars.
I hadn’t even been in London 24 hours at this point and I had already ticked off half of the stadia I planned to visit. Better again, I still had the majority of Wednesday, as well as Thursday morning, to get to the other seven grounds on my itinerary. It felt like things were brilliantly falling to place to the point of approaching bonus territory.
Venue 8: Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium (QPR)
Route taken: District line Tube from Fulham Broadway to Notting Hill Gate, then Central line Tube to White City
Firstly, a note on the name of Queens Park Rangers‘ home ground. In 2019, it was officially renamed from Loftus Road to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium as a commemoration for a former QPR youth player who was fatally stabbed in 2006 at the age of just 15. The not-for-profit organisation which bears Kiyan’s name is committed to using his legacy to combat knife crime and other forms of youth violence, and it was an admirable decision from QPR supporters who voted from a shortlist to rename the stadium in his honour.
Getting here from Chelsea necessitated one changeover on the Tube – after a 15-minute District line journey to Notting Hill Gate, I changed for the Central line to White City. I had actually been at that stop on a previous visit to London, except on that occasion I made a left turn for the Westfield shopping centre. This time, I bore right and then soon took a left turn onto South Africa Road, coming upon the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium within a mere five minutes.
Shortly before reaching the ground, my eye caught The Queen’s Tavern, which was identifiable by a coat of arms which looked quite like a previous QPR crest and I’ve no doubt is a favourite of R’s fans on a matchday. As the road bends to the right and the stadium comes into view, a large blue sign with the stadium name stands out immediately on the back of what would otherwise look like a nondescript block of offices.
Along the walk to the far corner, where you’ll find the club superstore, I spotted two men in QPR tracksuits coming out of the stadium. Their club attire and muscular physique hinted that they may well have been two of the players in Mark Warburton’s squad, or possibly two of his coaching staff, but I wasn’t quite able to identify exactly who they were. I visited during the October international break but clearly there was still some activity at the Championship club. The clock was just about to strike 11:30am and I already had four of my six planned Wednesday venues visited.
Venue 9: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Tottenham)
Route taken: Central line Tube from White City to Liverpool Street, then Overground rail service to White Hart Lane
I lost some of my bonus time by misinterpreting the Tube route I intended to take towards Liverpool Street, but in keeping with what was becoming a theme of the trip, I got to the bustling station just in time to catch a northbound Overground service towards White Hart Lane.
Just over 20 minutes later, I hopped off the train behind a group of four men with strong American accents whose excitement at visiting Tottenham Hotspur‘s £1bn new stadium was palpable. Just like Stamford Bridge, it was impossible to miss from the nearest public transport stop, the curved combination of glass cladding and metal panels dominating the skyline in this part of north London.
I didn’t exactly need directions to get there but I nonetheless followed the American quartet towards the gleaming exterior of Spurs’ home ground, which opened in April 2019 and is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Among the standout features of the West Atrium side of the stadium were a giant club crest and LED screens advertising upcoming events like NFL’s London weekend and Tottenham’s home clash against Manchester United. I thought back to the modest, unassuming ‘Next Match’ billboard that I saw outside Gander Green Lane not much more than four hours earlier and the utter contrast in how the two features serving the same informational purpose were presented so differently.
As I tried to get really close up to the stadium, I almost found myself accidentally walking into the entrance to The Dare Skywalk, the high-rise glass walkway along the top of the stadium which was just the 47 metres above ground level, and quickly retreated! The towering football ground seemed a tad out of place directly across the road from a variety of high-street takeaway restaurants, but I left with a strong desire to return for a match of some description. It had been such a frantic few hours that I neglected nourishment until now, so with plenty of time at my leisure once more, it was straight back to Liverpool Street for an overdue lunch!
Venue 10: Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
Route taken: Overground rail service from White Hart Lane to Liverpool Street, then Central line Tube to Holborn and Piccadilly line Tube to Arsenal
Similar to my journey from Chelsea to QPR earlier in the day, getting to the Emirates Stadium involved an Underground changeover for a separate line. Four Central line stops westward took me to Holborn, where I swapped to the Piccadilly line northbound to Arsenal. Anyone assuming that the Gunners’ home ground would be quite close to the Tube stop bearing the club’s name would be quite correct.
After coming out of the station, I took a brief turn left to walk to the site where the famous Highbury once stood before retracing my steps and proceeding towards Arsenal’s current home ground. A ticketing desk at the foot of a flight of steps made it quite clear that I was at the entrance to the venue, which has now been open for 15 years but still feels a lot more recent.
The steps took me up to a bridge towards the stadium itself and the numerous homages to Arsenal’s storied history were clear to see. The bridge was adorned by flags bearing the names and images of a collection of Gunners legends, with the perimeter of the stadium brilliantly adorned by eight huge murals which each depicted four Arsenal icons from various eras in a huddle. I also came across the Tony Adams statue, complete with his arms-outstretched pose from his goal against Everton in 1998 which secured the first of their three Premier League titles under Arsène Wenger.
I could easily have kept walking around the rest of the ground to see the other murals and statues, but with plans in the calendar for Wednesday evening, I left it at that for the stadium hopping for day two. From the modest Gander Green Lane that morning via the hulking behemoths of Stamford Bridge, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the Emirates, it had been a day where I felt like I had seen loads.
There were just four more grounds to visit on the final day of the trip the next morning, and it would take something rather unfortunate to scupper the plans from here. The third and final piece of the journey will be on The Football Pink soon, so keep an eye out!