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All At Sea guide: Portsmouth

22 Nov

PROBABLY the one away game that actually inspired some excitement ahead of the League Two fixtures being released, and true to form, the computer shoehorned it in on a Tuesday night in November.
If you are planning to defy the powers-that-be and head down to Hampshire, you will be rewarded with a visit to one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country.
Fratton Park is in the south east of Portsmouth, close to Fratton station but about a 25 minute walk from the city centre.
It actually is possible to get there and back by train, but you might have to spend the last five minutes of the match sprinting back through the streets of Portsmouth. If you’re planning to get back to Essex, the last train you can get is the 2203 from Fratton, from which you change at Eastleigh and get back into Waterloo at 0009, leaving you with a nervy jaunt round the Underground to get back to Fenchurch Street or Liverpool Street before your last train home departs.
You might want to let the TZ coaches take the strain (info later in the issue) or drive down. Parking is mostly in the terraced streets around the ground and is plentiful.
As for pubs, the closest one to the ground which is away fan-friendly is The Brewers Arms on Milton Road, a five-minute stroll from the away end. However, the Milton Arms next door is apparently best avoided. The Good Companion pub on Eastern Road is also recommended. The city centre has a few decent outlets, and a Wetherspoon next to Portsmouth and Southsea station.
Ticket prices for this battle are £20 in all areas of the ground. Southend fans will be behind one goal in the Milton End, which now has a roof. Plenty of room for us, with about 2,000 seats normally allocated.
Our last visit to Fratton Park was in our last-but-one spell in the Championship back in August 1996, where Lee Russell bagged a winning goal for the hosts, who had the late Aaron Flahavan in goal and Lee Bradbury on their bench.


All At Sea guide: Exeter City

12 Nov

THOSE who experienced that miserable, sodden afternoon on an open terrace watching Southend lose 3-0 to Exeter last January probably won’t be in too much of a hurry to make the mammoth journey to Devon less than a year later.
However, Exeter is a decent city with plenty to see and some stunning beaches and countryside nearby, so why not make a weekend of it? Or at least go to some cracking pubs to numb the pain.
If you haven’t bought your train tickets by now, you’ve probably missed out on the cheapest deals and will probably pay a premium. The train will get you into Exeter St Davids, which is a 20-minute walk from St James’ Park but you do get to pass some good boozers on the way, including the AAS tavern of choice last year, The Great Western Hotel, right opposite the station and with a plethora of ales on tap.
Nearer the ground, the Bowling Green pub on Blackboy Road is a good option, as are The Wells Tavern and The Victoria, on Victoria Road behind the grandstand of St James’ Park.
Southend fans are likely once again to be mostly housed on that odd little open terrace behind one goal. Seems hardly fair to have to stare at the home fans’ magnificent covered affair at the other end for 90 minutes, but that’s the lot of the away fan I suppose.
Ticket prices are £17. If the weather is pants like last season, a seat in the grandstand will set you back £21.
Due to high train and petrol prices, it is likely to be worth your while to seek out coach travel from TravelZone or the Shrimpers Trust if you want to do this one without having to remortgage your house.

Newport away – an All At Sea guide

23 Oct

NO anti-Welsh sentiment here. Crossing the Severn Bridge has mostly been a very enjoyable occasion for Southend fans over the last decade or so. There was the incredible, unreal 3-2 win with eight men at the Vetch, then the hard-earned point the following season to help us on our way to the play-off final, in Cardiff, which we subsequently won. And the last time we returned from South Wales, we had been promoted thanks to a pulsating 2-2 draw at the Liberty Stadium which saw certain members of the All At Sea team knocked back several bottles of champers on the First Great Western service back to London.
One of the few highlights of that subsequent Championship season was a cracking 1-0 win at Ninian Park in January 2007, and that was probably a good place to leave our affinity with Wales and we’ve only actually been back once a forgettable defeat at the Liberty in December that year, notably only for its peskiness in spoiling this introduction. Let’s forget it ever happened – yes, Southend tend to enjoy their trips to the valleys.
Now Cardiff and Swansea have shot up the leagues, we’re very much back where we started and have a new destination… Newport County, who went bust and then rose phoenix-like from the ashes. Southend fans of a certain vintage will remember some memorable battles in the land of the Druids, both on and off the pitch.
Indeed, the city’s Wikitravel article does not paint Newport in a particularly good light, proclaiming “Newport is without doubt the roughest city in Wales, but remember we only have six!” Anyone who has been to away games at Cardiff and Swansea in the past will know the drill, no loud comments in English accents and no slagging off of rugby or Charlotte Church should see you right.
Somerton Park has been consigned to history and now the city’s football team play at Rodney Parade, which is predominantly a rugby ground but is very handily placed just over the River Usk from the station and city centre.
Train travellers who have not secured advance ticket prices (the cost was as low as £40 from Essex) will pay £65 for a return from London Paddington. Trains leave at 9am, 9.45am, 10am, 10.15am, 10.45am and 11am (gets in at 1417). On the way home, the 1745 will get you back to London at 2036.
Travelzone and the Shrimpers Trust are running coaches, check out their websites for availability.
Alternatively, if driving to Rodney Parade, there is some street parking around the ground but residents’ permit restrictions are in place in certain areas, so keep an eye out to ensure you don’t end up paying more than you bargained for. The recommends using the Kingsway Shopping Centre car park, a short walk over the bridge, which costs £2 for five hours.
Away fans are advised to ignore signs for the visitors’ turnstiles, as these apparently only apply to the rugby club. To avoid confusion, look for the blue posts along Corporation Road – this marks out an alley from which the away fans gain entrance. Shrimpers’ supporters will be housed in two areas, the Bisley Stand, which is covered, new and runs alongside the pitch, and an area of uncovered seating behind the goal. Weather forecast is dry – as of Wednesday – but quite frankly I wouldn’t risk it. The Bisley Stand is home to a rather plush away fans’ bar, with Sky Sports. Fans must be out by 2.50pm though.
Tickets for the Bisley Stand are £20 on the day, £18 if you can get yourself down to Roots Hall by tomorrow, and being a new stand the view and facilities are good. Students and senior citizens pay £16 on the day (£14 in advance), Under-16s pay £9 and under-12s £6. You can knock a quid or two off these prices if you want to be a billy no mates and brave the elements behind the goal (the Synter End).
Drinking away from the ground is very much hit and miss in Newport. You won’t want for cheap booze and grub – there are four Wetherspoons’ outlets – two extremely close to the station and a ten-minute walk from the ground. Spoons is currently in the midst of a real ale festival so looks an ideal choice. If you want to watch the early kick off between Palace and Arsenal, The Lamb on Cambrian Road is likely to be showing it and, nearer the ground, The Dodger, on Chepstow Road, also has BT Sport. If you are looking for quality ale, look no further than the Ye Olde Murenger House, along the High Street, which is rated extremely highly. The Pen and Wig, on Stow Hill, also has three or four ales on. It must be said however, that Newport has more than its fair share of utter crapholes, so be wary of which pub you choose.

All At Sea guide to Dagenham away

15 Nov

A SECOND trip in as many months to ‘Nam’s Victoria Road, and this will be the first time we have ever played there in the league. However, due to the proximity of the sides and the pre-season clashes between the clubs over the years, it will be a familiar venue for Shrimpers fans, who will travel to this in good numbers.

One element that will be new to those who did not travel in the JPT is the spanking new stand that has been generously allocated to away supporters. It holds around 1,200 people and has excellent facilities, with a spacious bar underneath the stand complete with Sky Sports, and plenty of grub on sale. Despite its limited capacity it dwarfs the rest of the ground, which remains stuck in non-league.

That said, it’s a decent place to watch football as the crowd are very close to the pitch (Ryan Leonard had to effect a sideways run up for his long throws as there is about a metre between the touchline and the advertising hoardings), there’s terracing and it’s got plenty of charm.
Sadly, it is stuck in the middle of a big post-war housing estate which really does have nothing to offer the visiting supporter. The nearest pub is about a ten minute walk away from the ground further down the Rainham Road (going away from Dagenham East station). The AAS boys are likely to drink in Romford and take the 103 bus.

Unfortunately, the roads are likely to be manic as there is no district line on Saturday, meaning the favoured route to Dagenham East station is not happening. The closest overground station is Dagenham Dock on the c2c line, around three miles away. There is street parking around the ground but you’ll have to arrive early to get a decent spot.

Demand has already outstripped supply for this one. With 915 travelling on a Tuesday night in the JPT, the 1,500 allocation was always likely to go quickly and so it proved, with all tickets sold out more than 10 days in advance of the game. AAS would of course never condone Southend fans going in the home stands. Ooh no. But they do seem quite friendly down at Daggers so as long as you behave yourselves it’s unlikely to be a massive deal.

All At Sea guide to Macclesfield

27 Oct

I FEEL as though I’ve only just written this. Blues return to Moss Rose after two trips last season, with the Silkmen showing good form at home having not lost there since the opening day of the season.
As always, Southend will be allocated the terracing behind one goal and a small section of seating in a new stand to the right of that terrace. Facilities are OK, particularly in the stand, but those in the terrace are open to the elements so bring a brolly. Ticket prices are £14 on the terrace and £18 in the stand.
Getting there is fairly simple by train, Macclesfield is on the west coast main line between Stoke and Manchester and trains get you there in under two hours from Euston. Current ticket prices are about £78 for a bog-standard off-peak return ticket. The station is over a mile from the ground but there are plenty of decent pubs en-route in which cheap (by southern standards) booze abounds. The closest to the away end is probably the Golden Lion, which is around the corner from the away turnstiles.
Macclesfield is always a cracking trip with friendly fans, some brilliant boozers and plenty of laughs.

Underhill – All At Sea guide

24 Oct

A NICE easy trip for many of us should see a strong Shrimpers turnout for this clash with struggling Barnet.
Last year’s comfortable 2-0 win was immensely enjoyable and a similar result would keep our promotion push ticking along nicely.
Underhill is a familiar venue for the seasoned away traveller, but for those not
in the know, there are plenty of options for those travelling from Southend. Those coming by train can go into London and take the northern line to High Barnet. It’s right at the end of the line and takes about 45 minutes, but the station is close to the ground. Alternatively, overground trains from Kings Cross run to New Barnet and only take 20 minutes, but it’s a longer walk – about 15 minutes, although there are watering holes on the way. By car, the ground is a few miles from the M25, leave at junction 23 and travel down the A1081 – eventually the ground will be on your right. There is plenty of street parking around the ground or you can use the car park at High Barnet underground station.
Boozer of choice is normally the Red Lion which is a mere drunken stagger from the away turnstiles. It does get packed so those who want to sup more quietly may have to take a walk under the railway bridge towards New Barnet for some more boozers. Barnet is a friendly place so nowhere is out of bounds for those with honourable intentions.
Tickets are currently on general sale at Southend. Blues fans will once again be housed on part of the East Terrace (£16 adults, £13 concessions, £9 under 14 if bought in advance), where 800 can be accommodated. I’m informed that the 200 seats in the family area have now sold out.
With sales going well, Blues may also be allocated part of the North Terrace behind
one goal.

All At Sea guide to: Port Vale away

7 Apr

VALE Park reminds me of Roots Hall in some ways. Yes it’s a lot bigger but it has the feel of a ground that was done up on the cheap, and of course Blues and Vale crossed swords regularly in the second flight during the 1990s, when the club was forced to make the ground all-seater.
They did it like us, by borrowing bits and pieces from other clubs and bolting seats onto terraces. It’s not exactly a palace, but it does seat around 20,000, making it one of the biggest venues in the division.
Port Vale is of course not an actual place. The club plays its home games in Burslem, one of the six towns that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent. It is in the north of the city, unfortunately about four miles from Stoke station. There is a closer stop – Longport – but few trains run here.
Fortunately it takes just 90 minutes to get here from London and taxis are fantastically cheap. Stoke is an industrial Midlands city which has seen better days but has plenty of character.
The pubs around the ground are lacking a little finesse but you’ll find cheap, good beer.
Many away fans end up in the Vine, on Hamill Road, which is the closest pub to the away turnstiles, but there are plenty of alternatives in Burslem, the centre of which is about a 10 minute walk from the ground.
The away end costs £19 for adults, £13.50 for OAPs, £8 for under 19s and free for those lucky enough to be under nine.
Vale are currently undergoing a bit of a massive choking session since the departure of Micky Adams but are still in with a shout of the play-offs, so there should be a half-decent crowd in attendance.

AAS guide to Oxford away

30 Dec

RUMOUR has it that Southend United are about to play a football match. Their first of 2011 in fact. So for those football-starved folk planning to make the 99 mile trip to Oxford on Saturday, here is AAS’s away game guide.

The first problem you will come across is that the Kassam Stadium, named after narcissistic and unpopular former chairman Firoz Kassam, is four miles from the centre of historic Oxford, adjacent to the notorious Blackbird Leys council estate, one of the largest in Europe. So for all of those planning to train it and take in some of the sights, you’ll need to either get a bus (nos 5 or 105 from the station) or get a cab (about a tenner). The return fare from Southend Victoria is £19.20.
It’s not too bad for car drivers, who can bypass the congested city centre and park up for free in one of the 2,000 spaces at the ground. Be aware that you should get there before 1.30pm to make sure of a space.
When at the ground, the second problem arises. It’s been soullessly dumped in the middle of a retail park. Or a retail park has been built around it. Either way, it’s shite. There are, however, some unconventional places to relieve you of your pre-match thirst (if you can stomach it after the night before). There’s a bowling alley complex and a Holiday Inn, which has a bar.
There is one “proper” pub on the site, which is called the Priory and is a decent boozer, but it does fill up quickly, perhaps unsurprisingly.
If the New Year’s Eve shenanigans have taken their toll, there is a Chinese buffet restaurant on the site too.
Tickets should cost you £16, and Blues fans will be given the North stand, the section to the immediate left of the open ‘car park end’. The view is decent and you can create a fair atmosphere. Last time we were here in April 2005, more than 2,000 Blues fans travelled as we closed in on promotion from League Two, but a 2-1 defeat and some unsavoury off-pitch violence between Southend fans marred the day.
Thankfully, beer is served in the ground but it’s the generic Carling, Budweiser and Worthingtons crap unfortunately.

Away travel: Barnet (JPT)

1 Oct

I was happy with this draw. Alright, it’s only the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Sturrock’s cup record is atrocious and few can be bothered with away trips at this stage, but there are very few more “eligible” places I would have liked to have gone when the draw was made.
Underhill holds a few happy memories for Southend fans, even when we’ve lost in recent times, the defeats have been memorable for one reason or another – who can forget Martin Carruthers’ “congratulations” to Greg Heald when he put through his own net in 1999, resulting in the pair of them getting sent off? Or Mark Prudhoe’s howler in the same game to condemn us to defeat?
Happier memories include our last first-team visit in 2005. Another cup-tie, this time the FA Cup first round, when Eastwood scored inside two minutes and 2,000 Southend fans almost outnumbered the home fans.
The layout of the ground has changed since then. The old temporary stand behind one goal has gone to be replaced by a permanent, covered stand, but this is now home to Barnet supporters. That is good news, as Southend fans now have a section of terracing at the side of the pitch, towards the opposite end of the ground. It holds around 1,000 which will be plenty for a midweek JPT game.
Barnet have also made a welcome adjustment to their admission prices, meaning you can watch the game for £8, or £3 if you are under 18 or over 61.
Getting there is fairly easy too, head round the M25 to junction 23, drive three miles south on the A1081 and you’re there.
By tube, High Barnet is the nearest station and is the final, northern-most stop on the Northern Line.
TravelZone and the Shrimpers Trust will both be running coaches to the match, leaving Southend at about 4pm.
Once there, you will no doubt want to wet your whistle in one of the local hostelries, and there are plenty available. The Old Red Lion, just north of the ground, is popular, and if you get off at New Barnet overground, there is a Wetherspoons over the road. Up the other end, in Barnet high street, there are a few other options.

Scandalous Gillingham prices announced

7 Sep

Ticket prices have been announced for the Blues’ trip to the hovel that is Gillingham on Tuesday September 28.
By the sounds of it, the Kent side have finally ripped down the rickety, temporary, open stand and replaced it with a beautifully designed stand with cushioned seats lined with gold. Either that, or the £23 they are charging for on-the-day admittance to League Two football is a blatant rip-off.
If you get tickets in advance it is a mere(!) £20 for adults.
Southend have been given an initial allocation of 500 for the game although plenty more will be available if needed.