That’s 2019 in the books – and it’s been the best ever year for the blog. Hits were up 25%, despite some long gaps without publishing much due to work and family commitments. We’ve also seen our first guest writers appearing; special thanks to Michael Grimes for his support.
Michael first got in touch after spotting himself in the above photo from Workington, one of my favourite trips of the year. The planned redevelopment of Borough Park seems to have been paused, meaning this former Football League ground is still available to hoppers – but for how long?
Workington was a ‘tick’, but my favourite new ground of the season was one of the most improbable: The Stanks, huddled beneath Berwick’s old ramparts, hosts the Berwick Charities Cup each year in a unique setting. The football might be of the ‘thud and blunder’ amateur school, but this is definitely one worth visiting for a summer soccer fix.
As for revisits, Crook Town is a classic Northern League venue at its atmospheric best on a misty January afternoon. An emerging Northern League power, Stockton Town, played their part in the best game I saw all year – a ding-dong FA Vase victory at Knaresborough Town. An honourable mention here for The FA Inter League Cup at Boldon, a little-known competition that served up a minor classic between the Wearside League and the West Cheshire League.
The Inter League Cup winners will play in Europe next season, but there weren’t so many international ticks: a few weeks in Slovakia brought a look at Slovan’s new stadium and a bit of Communist floodlight porn at nearby Pasienky. But my favourite foreign football field was just over the border in Vienna, where a glowering Marko Arnautovic adorns the car park at Floridsdorfer AC.
The Slovakia trip was mostly about ice hockey, and brought my best memory of the year as Team GB defied the odds to beat France and remain in the top flight of international hockey. Other tales from the ice included a catch-up with North Korea after its flirtation with the Olympics, and the rise of Chinese Taipei.
The most popular story of the year turned out to be a rare rugby visit: Hartlepool Rovers, a club whose present lowly status belies a proud history in the amateur era. The most popular football stories tended to involve ‘lost’ grounds, most recently a plodge through the farmyard that was once Stanley United. In a year of greater teamwork, that tale got a huge lift from the excellent archive photos of David Bauckham.
Adam James, an exiled Blade in Ukraine, was another enthusiastic supporter of the blog. He got in touch to discuss his Groundhopping tour of his adopted home and we’re looking forward to an update on that in 2020.
And those are just a few of the highlights from a year that began beside the seaside at Blackpool at a time when the host was in turmoil and visitors Sunderland were optimistic. Times change; now the Black Cats are suffering while the Tangerines push for promotion. Wearside also featured in the last football of the year, as Sunderland West End went to Newcastle University.
And what of 2020? There’s a hockey trip to Kazakhstan in the pipeline, plus a spell in Switzerland. Carlisle City is needed to recomplete my Northern League set, while York’s new stadium is poised to replace one of my oldest haunts at Bootham Crescent.
Wherever you’re going, happy hopping, and a Happy New Year!