The footy season is underway and for the avid fan, this means a whole load of train journeys to catch a match. Still, that also means the opportunity to squeeze in a pint or two and perhaps something to eat before and after the game.
So, here's a handy-dandy guide for your on-foot journey from station to ground: not just the best nearby boozers, but the some of the sights, streets and exceptional eats...
Tony Hisgett, flickr
The Villa offers fans two station choices. Home fans are expected to get out at Aston; away fans will get to their end quicker from Witton, the next stop down the line heading for Walsall.
From Aston station, go right and right again and follow the claret and blue shirts through a cityscape of industrial estates and housing, until you slip under the Aston expressway.
Thereafter it gets nicer, with the Aston parish church on your right, and Aston Hall above you on the left in a pretty park, with Villa's ground looming in front of you.
The best boozers:
If you're walking up from town, the best place by a country mile is The Barton Arms in Newtown. Although at least 15 minutes from the ground, this tiled and decorated masterpiece of Victoriana is well worth the effort, with cracking Thai food to go with the Oakham brewery beers.
Closer to the ground, for home fans only, you'll find the Aston Tavern, a sprightly, newly refurbished place. They'll charge you £3 to get in, but it comes with a free pork bap. Then there's the Holte, owned by the club and used mainly as a conference centre, which is open on match days.
Otherwise, food options are pretty drab – burgers and hot dog vans on the street.
From Witton, it's left out the station and left again up to the ground. The nearest Boozer is the Witton Arms, across the road from the station, which has as many Gaelic Football shirts as Villa ones.
Elliott Brown - flickr
If you get out at Bordesley, town's most desolate station, your route is down the stairs, right out of the station, down to the roundabout and up the hill to the ground, falling in with the sea of royal blue. Otherwise, start from town and hike a mile up Digbeth to Bordesley.
Food options on the way up from Bordesley are limited to burger vans. However, on the trek up Digbeth, which many people take, you're spoiled for cheapo choice with every fast food option imaginable.
Where to go for food and drink:
The brilliant Old Crown is the place to go if you're trekking from town. Or, take a right after the Coach Station to find the Anchor Inn, with a respectable range of decent beers, and some very interesting history. 'Peaky Blinders' fans will be distressed to learn that the Garrison pub has been closed for some time now.
The new Coventry Arena station, on the Coventry-Nuneaton line, due to open in September, would seem to be a perfect option for rail-travelling footy (and rugby, and music) fans. It's right next to the ground, so fans can be decanted straight into the stadium. Sounds ideal, right?
Farcically, the train company that serves the station only has a single carriage train at its disposal to run on the line, once an hour. That's a teeny bit inadequate to serve a place that can hold over 30,000 fans. Incredulously, the official advice is to NOT take the train until maybe, ooh, 2019.
Where to go for food and drink:
Once you actually get to the Ricoh Arena, where Coventry City football club are tenants of Wasps Rugby club, you have a selection of branded fast food in a swish twenty-first century entertainment facility and conference centre, with a rugby and football ground attached. And there's a shopping mall the other way, with even more branded delights awaiting you. Not much in the way of great places to drink, though.
While the walk from the station is the easiest by far, it's the polar opposite of romantic. T.S. Lowry it ain't. Beacon Stadium station is right by the Bescot marshalling yard, and you must exit one way: follow the red Lycra hordes – we're not talking Lowryesque matchstick men – up concrete stairs, and down to a path under the M6, through a car park and over the road to the industrial estate where Walsall ply their trade.
Where to go for food and drink:
There's only one pub, the Saddlers Club. It's perfectly friendly. Food wise, the burger vans are plentiful. But that's it.
Like the Villa, you have choices. There are trams and train to take you to the Hawthorns station, named for the ground. From there, Baggies fans stream left and right out and up to roads leading to the ground.
The best boozer:
Stay on the tram one more stop to Kenrick Park. Cross the tram tracks; leave the stop from the Birmingham-bound platform, turning right on Devereux road, then left on Roebuck Lane to find the legendary Vine pub. While it certainly isn't much to look at from the outside, this place has a national reputation, and is spoken of with awe and affection in equal measure.
Now rechristened the Vine Bar, this place is famed for its killer baltis, curries, matchday grills and tandooris. So, on those days, you can belly up to the bar, rub elbows with larger than life Baggies fans in replica shirts, and chow down while you savour the surreal but pleasant Vine vibe.
From the drab station, you must walk for 15 minutes or so to reach Molyneux stadium, though Wolverhampton city centre. You have a few route choices, but simply follow the Old Gold crowd.
The best place for food and drink:
Most Wolves places won't let away fans in on match days, so your best option might well be the ground itself. Beloved of home fans, and by and large welcoming to away fans (unless you shout the odds, and I wouldn't), tucked away by the station itself, is the Great Western on Sun Street. A brilliant choice of good ale (Holden's and guest beers), faggotts and peas with chips, proper scratchings and more.
Food: The Brilliant Mr Tikka van is no more. It delivered a massive portion of chicken tikka in a freshly cooked naan straight out of the tandoor, with onions and mint yoghurt sauce. Fantastic and very messy. This is nothing short of a tragedy. So instead, on the way to the ground , you can grab whatever food takes your fancy. As you approach the stadium, you'll have a choice of the usual burger vans.
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