Grounds for divorce: Everton, Leeds and West Ham share the dishonours

Ken: not a fan of Goodison, Elland Rd or Upton Park

Ken Gambles gets around. Sunderland support has taken him all over the country. Worst ground, offering grounds for divorce after a lifelong love affair with football? The old Den probably took the biscuit for Monsieur Salut – a demoralising experience that had you questioning your own sanity for being there – and if we are honest, some opposing fans will point fingers at Roker Park or the SoL. But Ken has a negative batch of medals to award to three other stadiums …



As the close season
meanders its way towards August 18 and various transfer targets flit in and out of the newspaper headlines, with the Olympics still to be endured (G4S permitting), it seems opportune to look back over 40-odd years of following Sunderland and award gold/silver/bronze for the grounds that provide the worst memories.

By worst I mean the whole matchday experience (ugh!) in terms of travel, food and drink, results etc.

Were it merely a matter of results then I suppose the old Wembley (1973 excepted), Highbury, Selhurst Park and even Eastlands would be prime candidates for the medals.

It’s evidently an intensely personal choice based on a number of visits but my chosen three have all challenged my love for the game.

I dearly wanted to choose the Sports Direct Arena but some great results there and a generally cracking derby atmosphere, if intimidating, rules it out. Also as A Love Supreme so marvellously put it, “if the game is poor you can always watch Berwick”.

My bronze medal therefore goes to Upton Park.

It’s an odd choice really and could have stemmed from an 8-0 hammering (how appropriate) in 1968 but I’d been a couple of times before and it always seemed cramped with poor views. Later visits to a revamped ground hardly improved the downbeat verdict; given the lack of friendly pubs, the queues for the tube and the crammed journey too and from central London, I’d be happy not to have to go again.

There always appears to be an air of menace around the place with too many “geezers” waiting for something to kick off. I’d absolutely hate to be around when they play Millwall.

Menace and intimidation bring me nicely on to the silver medal position which is claimed by Elland Road. Oddly enough I have some good memories of the place, most especially the 1-1 draw after extra time in a 5th Round replay in 1967, with a record crowd in the ground, and more recently good wins under McCarthy and Keane.

On every visit, however, I’ve felt under threat, never more so than in the late 80s in the old Lowfields Stand, or was it Lowlife? That day I was glad to get out unscathed and my Yorkshire accent came in very useful as there were scenes mildly reminiscent of Stamford Bridge in 1985 with yobs seeking out visiting supporters to attack.

Of all the football fans I’ve met over the years those of Leeds and the Boro have generally been the least capable of discussing the game in a calm and reasoned manner.

When we play at Elland Road there is ALWAYS trouble on the corner by the Bremner statue (fitting really). It seems they will never forgive us for 1973 – but then again I can’t forgive them for their gamesmanship and dirty play in the 1960s. Add to this the swathes of surrounding motorways, the no-go pubs and the less than admirable Mr Bates and you have a worthy silver medallist.

Jake adapts Tony Roffe's photographic magic to humour Salut! Sunderland

But let’s go now to the winner of this tarnished gold medal.

With regard to Goodison Park,let me first make clear it’s largely friendly, relatively trouble-free and you can get into the pubs, albeit on the Liverpool side of Stanley Park. When I was young, Goodison was a glamour ground with its double-decker stand and the brilliantly familiar Archibald Leitch ironwork.

They also had some fine players such as Alex Young, Gordon West, Brian Labone and Jimmy Gabriel. In 1966 the ground famously hosted some excellent World Cup games including one of my all-time favourites, Hungary v Brazil.

Those days are long gone though and it really is well past its best with very cramped seating, poor sightlines, minimal catering and inadequate toilets. Add to this our varied record at the place, where we lose, lose easily or lose heavily in an improbable sequence going back to 1996 (even drawing there in the cup now seems like a defeat – ed). Yes, there has been the odd draw and I did see the Bridges-inspired win but in about 14 visits I have seen one victory, that happy memory overwhelmed by consistently miserable performances including 7-1 and 4-0 defeats.

Even seeing Jon Stead score a goal can’t prevent Goodison taking gold in my hatred of the place. As an aside, the ground does have a wonderful timeline of photographs from events in Everton’s history on display around the ground (and what a great idea this would be for the Stadium Of Light).

No doubt everyone will have their own particular choice of horror ground for a variety of reasons but on a basis of continual cruelty these three are almost enough to make me give up going to away games, but of course I expect I’ll be there when the season does eventually begin.

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24 thoughts on “Grounds for divorce: Everton, Leeds and West Ham share the dishonours”

  1. Selhurst Park undoubtedly. Impossible to find, no character and fans full of self importance. Hate it.

  2. I have to say the old Den, circa 1974, was probably the worst I’ve felt at any match outside the NE. A horrible atmosphere for visitors inside the ground, and a really bad feeling outside the ground and in the nearby station as I made my way home, on my own, to another part of London.

  3. I have to say Damon, that your feelings about Goodison are the same as mine about Roker Park. A lot of the soul was lost for me when we left there, although I am not fooliosh enough to think that moving to the SoL had to happen. I simply don’t like our new ground at all and I doubt I ever will.

  4. Everton fan in peace. Cant disagree with any part of your article regarding The Old Lady, but I will say I still love her with all my heart, partially obstructed views and all.

    Is it my imagination, or do I remember reading old Roker Park was built using the original Goodison Park design?

    GL with the new season Mackhams!

  5. Strangely perhaps, Goodison is one of the few top flight and other grounds that I have never been to. I have to say that while I have little love for Leeds Utd, my emnity does not extend to their ground at all. In fact I find it easy to separate the stadium from the club that it hosts. There are in fact very few modern grounds that I dislike, even though I would consider myself a traditionalist in terms of having a preference for the older stadia. The one place that I used to hate was Derby’s former home, The Baseball Ground which was a horrible place to go, and every time I went we got completely thumped. I’ve only been to Pride Park once and it was when we thumped them in Reidy’s day.

    The only other ground that I really hate is Wrexham’s where the terraces were about three feet below pitch level.

  6. I sort of like Goodison – it might be old and getting a bit wonky in places, but it’s still partially made of wood (including the seats, which are warmer than their plastic counterparts in winter). I accept the facilities are basic for visiting fans (being a bit kind there) but I go to watch football, and I don’t particularly want stuffed crust pizzss and capuccino – a pie and a beef-flavoured drink would do. I like to be able to tell which ground I’m in. Take away the undoubted atmosphere at Stoke, and you could be in Reading, Boro, Leicester, Southampton, etc, etc……give me Craven Cottage any day. we might get housed in the “temporary” stand, but you can see the Thames, trees, and The Cottage, the ground’s a bit of a funny shape, and you generally get treated like humans instead of cash-machines.

    I do disagree a bit with the comment that the SoL is one of the more soul-less of the new grounds – I think the opposite.

  7. Thanks to all for their measured and interesting comments.As I made clear this is a very personal selection based on my experiences and I’m sure we all have our own individual reasons to dislike certain grounds.Can I just make clear that I have friends and colleagues who are Leeds,Everton and West Ham fans who are great people who love their club as much as I love Sunderland.Only twice have I ever felt under threat at a Football ground,both times at Leeds and that includes visits to Millwall Cardiff.the Stretford End and the Kop.I never ventured into the Shed though.In regard to Football grounds I am a dinosaur loving the old style stadia and as with M.Salut I still pine for Roker.I even miss the scratching shed at Elland Road for heaven’s sake!

  8. This could have degenerated into a slab of mindless name-calling and yah-booing but I am grateful for the quality of replies from the fans of clubs whose grounds Ken mentioned. Only one comment – not really a comment at all but a classic example of infantile abuse – has been disallowed.

    On one pojnt raised above, I am much less a fan of the SoL than I was of Roker Park but that is probably a function of age. I also dislike the brash pre-match buildup these days since this prevents the development of an atmosphere around the ground but on its day, the new stadium can still be electric. It may be less so for visiting fans but then I have never been in what was, and thankfully is to be no more, their section.

  9. Had a really bad experience at Burnley one year and swore never to go again. True to my word I stayed at home the following season and listened in awe as we won 2-1 with both fullbacks luxuriating in early baths. My pig-headedness meant I missed one of THE iconic matches in our history. Ninian Park and The Hawthorns (facial scar still visible) would also be near the top of my s*** list.

  10. Leeds fan in relative peace, Our relationship with Sunderland to me is a strange one. Whenever I have met a Sunlan fan one on one or even in groups we get on well. But there is no denying that both clubs have a number of fans who really hate the other. I went to Roker park many times in the eighties and nineties and it was along with Ayresome park and Stamford bridge a place to be on your toes at ALL times. I was witness to lotsw of violence from both sets of fans. But I I have to say I quite like and respect Sunderland (except on match days). Incidently I have a similar respect for WHU and Everton who both have good fans who stayed loyal through bad times & have to take plenty of gyp from their neighbours. Agree about Goodison though such a good club and fans deserve better facilities. On a final note I think wev’e been punished enough now BATES out please

  11. I used to love intimidating atmospheres as a youngster. Boro, however, was/is insane. When you’re used to all the police being on top at the ground formerley known as St James’, getting left to march through all the Boro fans, who hated you just as much, was quite something. Tough lads i know walked in silence with their heads down.

  12. Only read your bit about West Ham and as an Irons fan have to say your criticism is fair in the main.

    Upton Park is an absolute mission to get to with poor links, and is in an area which is the pits.

    I’d have to disagree with the views though. I think once inside the stadium the atmosphere is very good (last couple of years aside) and the sightlines are very good.

    The whole thing is just a tad too pricey as well for where it is.

  13. Leeds fan in peace. I thought we had a good rapport with Sunderland. I have been going to Leeds for years and never seen any trouble aside one occassion when a Liverpool fan was hurling (and I mean really nasty) abuse at a Yorkshire man. the Leeds fan finally had enough after 200m of him abusing himas he walked so the Leeds fan punched him in the face and carried on to his car.

    I have never heard any gripe about 1973. Leeds fans tend to be quite realistic and always thought we shared similar outlooks with SAFC fans.

    Dirty Leeds eh? Yawn. We’re all a bit tired of this epithet now as it was about a 1000 years ago. Your only misgiving was hiring the Pikey that is Roy Keane. Unlucky.

    Good Luck for your next season. Thought SAFC played good football. Long may it continue. MOT.

    • sorry mate, but if you’ve never seen any trouble at Elland Rd you need a visit to your local optician. I’m a Leeds fan of 30 years and have seen all kinds of stuff kick off. Did you go to Man U or Millwall last season?

      The above article was fair, apart from the predictable ‘dirty Leeds’ jibes. I too have nothing against Sunderland but on matchday you’re always going to get those intent on causing trouble.

  14. Whilst your description of Goodison Park is physically accurate you miss the joy of a proper ( though delapidate) stadium. I had the misfortune to visit the stadium of light and have rarely been to a more souless sanitised plastic emporium.

  15. leeds fan in peace. ive lost count of the amount of times that sunderland fans have mentioned that game, and rightly so. you should be proud. however, not once and i mean not once have i heard any leeds fan say that that is up there with the worst moments in our history. neither have i ever heard any leeds fan mention sunderland football club with any great animosity. are you sure this isnt just a case of jumping on the bandwagon? the dirty leeds thing is re-hashed nonsense for the most part. but hey, if you say it often enough i suppose you could start believing it. best of luck to you anyway

  16. I’m an Everton fan and I do agree with your gripes about Goodison, though I’m sure your experience would be better if you’re winning!
    The ideal solution would be a upgrade of the existing facilities, which I admit are extremely poor for the Premier League, but still retain the history and atmosphere of the ground – such as the Leitch ironwork and the position of the fans close to the pitch.
    Sadly it looks to be prohibitively expensive, meaning the only solution is a new stadium, and they do not create the same atmosphere as older grounds (as nice as the SoL is, can you say it has ever matched Roker Park for atmosphere?).

  17. Unfortunately for Everton supporters there is very little to dispute in this assessment. But, our players are worth a minimum of 80 million. I suppose we could play in the conference. Then there would be plenty of space to avoid the grounds obvious problems. We don’t have the money to do much about that at the moment. Hopefully we will be able to extend a more comfortable hospitality in the future.

  18. COYB: Goodison is exactly the sort of proper old stadium I revere but Martin and you are right: like Roker Park before it, it’s had its day.

  19. Sunderland have never been unpopular at ER. When I worked with a Sunderland fan (who was the only one I have met under 50 yrs of age) I allowed him to scribble the fanzine “It’s an easy one for Norman” in works time. Nice club that was only spoilt by the brief appearance of Roy Keane.

  20. Everton fan here, and wholeheartedly agree with your defamation of Goodison park. I sit in the park end so we have great catering and amazing views but the rest of the ground is abysmal.

    Hopefully we can move to a new ground sooner rather than later.

  21. People spitting on you and pouring coffee on your head from the home seats above you at Wolves used to put me off the place. Everton is a joke, not even any taps to wash your hands in the toilets. No place for such a dire old ground with poor facilities in modern footy …

  22. I can imagine at least three sets of supporters taking issue with our Ken. All comments observing ordinary rules of decency etc will be published but bear with me if it takes a while to get round to approving them …

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