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Tangled up in Blue

Certified Senior Citizen⭐
May 24, 2004
Sant Cugat del Vallès
Series: The KnowledgePrevious | Index A Knowledge special!From which train trip in Britain can you see the most league football grounds?Trainspotting meets football trivia: welcome to the Knowledge's very own perfect storm of nerdvana. Click here for our all-singing, all dancing interactive map of the route. Send your questions and answers to knowledge@guardian.co.uk
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John Ashdown guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 November 2009 00.10 GMT Article history
Bramall Lane, one of the grounds visible from on the train from Plymouth to Aberdeen. Though not from this angle, obviously. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/Empics Sports

"During train journeys I always keep an eye out for the tell-tale sign of a football ground in the distance: the sight of floodlights," wrote Peter Newbitt two weeks ago. "I wonder, on which single railway journey (no changes!) in the UK can you see the most league football grounds?"

Trainspotting meets football trivia: welcome to the Knowledge's very own perfect storm of nerdvana. It has prompted a deluge of emails in our direction, detailing journeys from every corner of the Great Britain and throwing up counter-claim and controversy. Can Saltergate be seen from the elevated section of track over the A617? Is Easter Road hidden from view by Calton Hill? Do Millmoor and Feethams still count?

Click to see our train map interactive. Photograph: guardian.co.uk
Fortunately we had an epic missive from Robin Foot of First Great Western, who revealed that Arriva Cross Country still runs a direct service from Plymouth to Aberdeen. Using Robin's in-depth knowledge of all things track-related, and with help from a bevy of other readers, we've concluded that the £180, 11-and-a-half-hour journey takes in 20 league grounds:

• Click for our all-singing, all dancing interactive map of the route
"There are also some recently defunct grounds that can be seen," adds Robin. "Eastville (Bristol Rovers), the Baseball Ground (Derby) and Feethams (Darlington - you used to be able to see the floodlights, not sure now). If that wasn't enough, looking at the engineering notices, over the past year the train has been diverted at various times to include the following grounds: Barnsley, the Durham Coast (Sunderland and Hartlepool) and Perth (St Johnstone, Stirling Albion, Falkirk, East Stirling). I know the original request was for league grounds, but if you pardon my insouciance towards the rules, then there are also these Blue Square Premier grounds: Gateshead International Stadium (Gateshead), the Lamb Ground (Tamworth) and KitKat Crescent (York)."

James Mackenzie's days at Durham University led him to suggest the East Coast Mainline route from London to Aberdeen, which we reckon heads past 14 different grounds. In addition to all 10 grounds from Darlington northwards, as shown on the map, he suggests:

• Highbury and Emirates Stadium, Arsenal - both are visible on the right

• Lamex Stadium, Stevenage (admittedly non-league) - on the left at the top of a hill just before the station

• London Road, Peterborough - on the right of the station as you pull in, very close to the tracks

• Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster - on the right about two minutes before the station

"On the London Euston to Carlisle train you can catch a glimpse of the Wembley arch, then Vicarage Road as you pull in to Watford Junction, Gresty Road from Crewe Station, the JJB as you pull out of Wigan North Western and Deepdale from a distance as you pass through Preston." writes Stephen Campbell. "You can even see Lancaster City as an added bonus." As Kieran Corr points out, the route continues up to Glasgow via Motherwell passing Fir Park, possibly Parkhead and possibly with Ibrox visible: "Being a native of the city I'm actually horrified that I can't remember if you can see Ibrox when crossing the Clyde outside Central Station." All three would bring the total of grounds visible to eight.

With the coveted "Most Grounds From One Journey" title pretty much sown up, a few of you have offered suggestions for the "Grounds Per Mile" champion. Amir Arezoo suggests the Buxton to Blackpool service which, between Stockport and its final destination, passes "Edgeley Park (bang next to the train station), the City Of Manchester Stadium (on the way past Ardwick), Old Trafford (a glimpse, look to the left coming out of Deansgate), the Reebok Stadium (down the road from Horwich Parkway) and Bloomfield Road (just a glimpse again)." Five stadiums in just under 60 miles, or 12 miles per stadium.

Richard Scrimshaw, though, can top that with the service from East Croydon to Milton Keynes Central. "In 1hr 51mins [and just under 70 miles] the train passes Selhurst Park, Stamford Bridge, Loftus Road, Wembley Stadium, Vicarage Road, Berkhamsted Town and stadium:mk." That's 10 miles per stadium, though the presence of the non-league ground of Broadwater in Berkhamsted and Wembley do raise doubts over its legitimacy. Though Broadwater must be deserving of extra praise for the ability of wayward shots to threaten waiting passengers on the station platform.

So we've established two champion train routes, but now we want your help once more. One flashy interactive graphic route isn't enough. We want to plot a map of the entire country listing every ground visible from the railway tracks so we can create a resource for groundspotters. When planning a journey we want travellers to think "I won't bother watching that DVD or reading that book, I'll keep my eyes peeled for Sincil Bank". So send in your suggestions, and preferably how they can be seen, to the usual address - knowledge@guardian.co.uk - with the subject title 'Groundspotting'. We'll publish the results in the next few weeks.

"What is the longest run without a win at the start of the season in the top flight?" asked Irfan Hussain back in 2004.

The Sheffield United vintage of 1990-91 lead the way. Having been promoted the season before, Dave Bassett's side looked totally out of their depth, picking up just five points from their first 16 games before beating Nottingham Forest 3-2 on December 22. After that win, their star midfielder Vinnie Jones said that finishing fourth from bottom would be like winning the championship.

Yet United finished safely in 13th – 12 points off relegation. In fact, they finished the season showing Championship form: 10 wins and three draws from their last 16 games, including seven straight wins.

Close runners-up are John Gorman's hapless Swindon side, who, in 1993-94, only managed a win at the 16th time of asking. They beat QPR 1-0 despite playing most of the game with 10 men after Luc Nijholt was sent off. This tale did not have a happy ending, however: Swindon finished ten points adrift at the bottom, having conceded the small matter of 100 league goals.

Archive update: This answer is clearly a English-top-flight-centric one, and as Knowledge reader Oliver Farry points out: "Grenoble have started the Ligue 1 season off rather badly, with 11 straight defeats. It's most likely far from being the worst ever start to a campaign. But what is?" Answers to the usual address - knowledge@guardian.co.uk.

Can you help?
"LA Galaxy and Chivas USA just played a very entertaining 2-2 draw in the opening leg of their two-game Western Conference semi-final series," writes Colin Smith. "The two teams share the Home Depot Centre. Are there any other clubs who have played home-and-away series in the same ground?"

"This week Sam Allardyce's Blackburn faced Darren Ferguson's Peterborough midweek in the League Cup and then faced Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the Premier League in the weekend," notes Vikram Vasu among others. "Meanwhile, Barnsley played Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the League Cup and then Darren Ferguson's Peterborough in the Championship. Surely this is the first time that two different teams have faced teams managed by father and son in consecutive matches in the same week?"

"Just wondering about something which has been bugging me for a few days now," writes Cormac O'Malley. "In 1963 the year of the 'Big Freeze', the coldest winter since 1795 or thereabouts, Manchester United won the FA Cup in the shortest time ever, but I am wondering where they played their sixth-round tie against Coventry? I heard somewhere it may have taken place outside England because of the state of the grounds due to the weather?"

"If Pedro Rodríguez from Barcelona manages to score in the Club World Cup, he will be the first Barça player to score - inside the same season - in every competition the club can qualify to play in the same year (domestic cups, domestic league, one of the European competitions, European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup)," writes Isaac Sastre. "My question is, what players have achieved this record so far?"

"A few years back, I saw a match at my adopted team Northampton abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch with just 22 minutes left on the clock," writes Jamie Shoesmith (an apt name for a fan of the Cobblers). "Opponents Millwall weren't happy one bit, as they had been leading 1-0 for the most part of the game, but the Cobblers faithful were delighted with the ref's late call after it started teeming with rain at Sixfields. At 68 minutes, is this the latest ever call for an abandonment, or have there been instances of games which have been called off with seconds to go?"

"Watching the Birmingham v Villa match on TV, at the end of the game I noticed the time was about 2.45pm," writes Dave Tovey. "What would happen if, say, a player broke his leg in the second half causing 20 minutes of injury-time, leading to the game still being played past 3pm on a Saturday. With the rules in this country about showing football on a Saturday after 3pm, would the rest of the game still be shown and has this ever happened?"