MIKE Bayly is an excellent photographer, of that there can be no doubt. His book, British Football’s Greatest Grounds, is packed with marvellous shots of scenic stadiums set in very evocative backdrops.
Sadly, Mike’s book may also end up becoming a record of what used to be – how many of the stadiums will exist when the effects of the covid-19 pandemic really take hold?
This may be an excellent work, but how can Lewes, St. Albans and Hitchin Town really be among the top five grounds in the country? Around 25% of the 100 are Premier/EFL club grounds while non-league dominates the list. How come? Mike is a well-known figure in non-league circles and the list has been compiled by voting fans. One can only assume the audience was predominantly non-league fans, particularly groundhopper category or nostalgists. I know all three of the aforementioned grounds well and although I have enjoyed them all, they wouldn’t feature among the best. That’s football, though, 30,000 different opinions in one stadium.
Do the rankings really matter? Absolutely not. The book is full of the quirky, the shabby and the vaguely eccentric. Victorian grandeur, corrugated metal (the default material for non-league grounds), rolling hills, chimney pots and industrial architecture all feature in Mike’s colourful and splendid offering.
Two photos really caught my eye. Belper Town’s Christchurch Meadow (number 49) is overshadowed by East Mill, all red brick and self-importance, built by the English Sewing Company in 1912. A really imposing site.
The other photo that captured my imagination was Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium (which until Tottenham built their new ground was the best in the country). A steam train passes by the ground on the nearby Kings Cross line, forming a tableaux that suggests old meets new. A brilliant picture taken by a very skilled and patient photographer.
There’s something for everyone in this book and whether you agree with the rankings or not (Luton – number 8?), Mike Bayly should be applauded and thanked for his book, a snapshot of the very essence of British football – the game of the people.
The book shows that fans like old fashioned grounds and appreciate the heritage of the game, obscure locations or otherwise. Regardless, this is a must-have book for any student of the game and it has already reminded me of one or two places I have yet to visit.
British Football’s Greatest Grounds by Mike Bayly is published by Pitch Publishing.