After my unsuccessful attempt to get to Newcastle on a ridiculously snowy January Saturday, and with the imminent threat of more disruptive weather this weekend, a short 35 mile trip to Stoke was a reassuring thought, even if it is notoriously cold.
Going against popular belief, the Britannia Stadium is not actually the highest ground in the Football League (I bore my boyfriend with these useless facts all the time), second only to the Hawthorns. However, the lack of corners and the openness of the whole stadium would make even the hottest August day feel slightly chilly. I’ve always thought the location of the stadium also makes it look rather intimidating; perched high on a hill towering over most of the surrounding buildings.
We made the journey to Stoke by car, and I was impressed by the amount of affordable parking which was in close vicinity to the stadium. We parked in the car park of an industrial unit for £5 and was a 15 minute walk. I had read before visit that the traffic around the ground can be horrendous after the game (I have visited Stoke before, but only for a League Cup tie, so nowhere near the amount of usual traffic), so having a slightly longer walk back meant for a quicker getaway. It was nice getting home just after 6pm! I know that the Britannia Stadium is a little way out of the city centre, but I think there are buses that serve the stadium from the train station.
As I am in my final year at university, I am currently well into my final slog of work, writing my dissertation on the social and cultural factors which contribute to hooliganism at football matches. I have read on other websites that Stoke fans are ‘passionate’ about their team and can make the trip for away fans intimidating. However, I found the construction of an 8 foot metal fence which made a pen around the away fans’ entrance more intimidating. I also found the attitudes of the stewards very rude, and it’s almost as though they’re trained to believe that every away supporter coming into the stadium is there to cause trouble. My bag was rummaged through (which I expect, of course), but I also had a body search (like I was being searched for drugs at an airport) and I was even asked to remove my hat in case I had something underneath it. Of course I appreciate security measures and whatever else at football matches; I just don’t appreciate being treated as a criminal just because I don’t support the home team.
Once inside the ground, the concourse was cramped and dark, and the floor was bizarrely covered in what looked like the type of material you’d get on an astro-turf, but in like a sawdust form. I presume it was something to do with soaking up the excessive amount of rain we’ve had over the last few days. In regards to refreshments, there was a good choice of hot food, including pies, sausage rolls and burgers, all at a reasonable price.
I was located 6 rows from the front, just to the left of the goal. I was worried that my view of the corners on the right hand side of the pitch would have been obscured, but because there was quite a big gap between the stand and the pitch my view of the whole ground was unspoiled. My only qualm was the amount of steward activity. Because of where the divide had been placed between the home and away fans, there was no exit to the right for the stewards, so they were constantly walking in front of us during the game. It wasn’t just once or twice, during the first half it was bordering on every few minutes.
Stoke added a nice touch to the day as they celebrate 150 years of existence this year. Every club who visits the Britannia Stadium this year receives a commemorative tile which is part of a larger mosaic to represent the area’s pottery history and also the history of the club. The presentation was made in front of the away fans with a supporter from each club. I really enjoyed this presentation, as I find the history of football fascinating and it’s great that clubs like Stoke want to recognise their heritage.
In terms of the game, it was pretty forgettable. It was the worst I’d seen us play this year so far, but it was never going to be an easy game against a side which are notorious for being big and sometimes a bit too strong. Saying that, I don’t think any Reading player had a particularly terrible performance, we were just outplayed on the day. There were plenty of positives to take from the game, and hopefully we can implement them in our easy cup tie next Monday…