An ambition of a lot of English football supporters is to become a member of the 92 Club, the 92 Club comprising of everyone who has visited all 92 grounds currently in the league. However, it has become like painting the Forth Bridge (or at least how painting the Forth Bridge used to be before nano paint technology). In fact, maybe the expression for never finishing a task should be changed to It’s like doing the 92.
When I started counting in the eighties it seemed like an achievable target, albeit at some point in the future; but that was before every club in the land went searching for a new ground, whether they needed one or not. It’s like pouring water into a jug with a hole in the bottom, or playing that kid’s game where you whack creatures with a mallet, only for them to pop up again a short time later. No fewer than 27 current league clubs have had new grounds in the past two decades, that’s about 30% of the league. I’d visited 20 of these club’s old grounds on the way to my target, only for the club to pop back up again, as a miss, on my 92 chart.
I got to the 70 mark about ten years ago and have made hardly any progression since, despite my best efforts at getting to three or four new grounds each year. I have seen Brighton at just on 100 grounds (give or take a couple), and have visited about 110 grounds used in the league at some point, but only have a meagre 92 tally of 76. Shortly that will be 75, thanks to Colchester moving, and then maybe 74 depending on how you view the Bristol Rovers situation.
I actually went to The Memorial Ground for the first time a few weeks back, to see the last ever match there. The tick on my list was in doubt though, come the final whistle, as the Memorial Ground will be bulldozed, only to be rebuilt with less character over the next season or two. 92 Purists would have me visit it again, especially with the pitch turning by 90º, but I’m counting it. In the meantime, if they’re sharing with Cheltenham, then surely it changes to the 91 club? It can get very messy!
Until Scunthorpe had Glanford Park built in 1988 to replace their Old Show Ground, there hadn’t been a new league ground since Vale Park in 1950. Clubs stayed where they were. Nobody even considered the possibility of a new ground. Where you played was where you played, crumbling terrace or no. When Scunthorpe first announced their plans for a new stadium, most people suspected witchcraft. The old traditional grounds were built in the days of true craftsmen and architects. Usually to be found near the train station, in very built up residential areas, where ordinary folk could walk to the game after their Saturday morning shift.
Nowadays, it seems clubs are queueing up to see their homely charming grounds razed to the ground to be replaced by models made to cheap specifications, erected in out of town business parks. It’s a sad reflection of the times. Art, craft and passion don’t come in to it when there’s budgets and cost-effectiveness to think about. If architectural flourishes don’t produce tangible income, they’re not considered nowadays. Functionality is all the rage now, and it shows in all the new builds that look as alike as so many travel taverns.
There’s not only new grounds to contend with either; there’s the two down, two up, from League two and the Conference, which often results in me instantly losing another two due to my poor non-league records. These have improved in recent years, however, largely due to the proliferation of old great league clubs that loiter about in the conference. Actually, I got lucky at the end of this season. When Torquay surprisingly lost 4-1 at home to Exeter the other night, it meant I wasn’t to lose any 92 grounds that way for next season, as I’d already done Aldershot, Burton, Exeter and Cambridge United.
So as far as I know I will only be losing one for next season – Colchester Utd. So will every completed 92 club member in the world. Between May and August there will not be one bona fide 92 club member, as has been the case in these months for the past umpteen years, and looks likely to continue for the forseable future. I will continue to try to get to the hallowed 92 mark, but like Sisyphus’s task, I fear it may be in vain.
When I get to 77 what I really want to do is be able to ‘send off’ for the last 15 grounds, like you could the remaining stickers in the Panini football albums. I’ll see what the 92 Club say about that!