Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 Summary: Football Grounds

Arguably the best hobby in the world, here's some 2019 stats (just for fun):

New grounds visited: 182 (57 in 2018, 252 in total)
Countries watched games in: 6
Women's games: 56
Men's games: 126
Most seen team: Barnsley FC Women (3 times)
Total goals (home team): 412
Total goals (away team): 337
Furthest ground away from home: 1,100 miles (Strandangens IP: Bromölla v IFK Berga) 
Nearest ground to home: 1.2 miles (Preston's College Sports Ground: Bamber Bridge v Bacup Borough u19s)
Region watched most games in: North West
Region watched least games in: East of England
English Football League grounds: 18
English Football League matches: 1 (Forest Green Rovers v Cambridge Utd)
Month most games watched: October (25)
Month least games watched: February (10)
Highest attendance: 60,195 (Emirates Stadium: Arsenal 3-2 Guimarães Vitoria SC)
Lowest attendance: 6 (Market Road Pitches: Northern Line 6-1 Metropolitan FC)
No. of days with multiple games watched: 21
Longest gap without a game: 7 days
Most exciting game (men's): Stoke City 2-3 Shrewsbury Town, Bet365 Stadium, Men's FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
Most exciting game (women's): Scotland Women U19 1-2 France Women U19, St Mirren Park, UEFA Women's U19 European Championship
Best atmosphere (men's): Whitehawk FC
Best atmosphere (women's): Durham Women FC
Best programme (men's): Lower Breck 9/3/19
Best programme (women's): Manchester Utd Women 11/5/19

...And now for my top 10 grounds this year. Well, kind of. It was an extremely difficult task, so I decided to take a flavour across the different styles of grounds I've visited to compile a list of 10 grounds I really, really liked. I have also included photo links in red, where I have a full set.

North Street

A mass of radiant red seating combined with some wonderful terracing, various covered stands and stacked houses as a backdrop, this one really stood out for me in the latter half of the year.

Somervell Park

Choosing between Scottish Junior grounds is like choosing between favourite teddy bears, so I'll just pick one at random! Crumbling terracing, a large stand and views of Glasgow, I would recommend this to anyone.

Y Traeth

I already referenced this one in my list of favourite grounds I visited in the 2018/19 season. You can read what I wrote about it here. More photos here.

Malmo Stadion

I decided to include something bigger than the style of grounds I usually go for and it was definitely an easy choice to include Malmo FF's previous stadium. It was very unique architecturally and included a sea of blue bucket seats. Absolute bucket lister.

The Dripping Pan

This is a ground contained in many lists such as this one and you can really see why: unique stands, terracing, beach huts, great atmosphere and equal treatment of the men's and women's teams, this one just had to be included!

Park Lane

The ground, set below sea level, makes a brilliant location to watch a game. Not only in the way that you can see ships pass by, but also in the presence of extensive terracing and conglomerate of stands.

Iodine Park

Again, was included in my previous list. Scroll up for link. This, like a few other local grounds is one I hope to revisit during the spring/ summer.

King George V Playing Fields Patterdale

This was my first taste of the James Cropper Westmorland League and it didn't disappoint. I feel my photographs will describe it more eloquently than I ever will, so I'll leave those here... More scenic grounds I have visited of late are Askam, Keswick, New Mills, Hepworth, Steeton Reserves and Ruthin. Most have full albums on my Flickr. All highly recommended. 

The Stanks

Perhaps the most unique place I have ever watched a game. The ground hosts the Berwick Charities Cup, held every summer. It's one I'd like to revisit, again and again and again.

The Red Lion Ground

Rugeley Power Station provides a unique backdrop for this one, which really should be on everyone's hit list. The cooling towers are set to be demolished sometime in 2020, so be quick if you want to visit.

That's all for this fantastic groundhopping year, but looking forward to what 2020 will bring. I have already started planning a few (well numerous, actually) trips around the UK and further afield, along with compiling a list of grounds 'to do'. Hopefully see some of you at a ground/ hop or two in the year to come...

Monday, 30 December 2019

2019 Summary: Tenpin Bowling

As some of you may know, I find visiting and playing at different bowling alleys a perfect accompaniment to groundhopping. In 2019 I bowled at 39 different bowling alleys, which is slightly less than the 42 I bowled at in 2018. This brings my total tally up to 118. Despite this, it has still been another good year of bowling, visiting some interesting centres around the UK and beyond:

My highest score this year was 214 (Pro Bowl Airdrie), though I still haven't managed to top my all time highest of 221, scored in 2015 (on lane 14), at my local bowling alley in Preston.

Also of note this year, both me and my partner Ben reached our landmark 100th centres: mine, in June at The Garage Kilmarnock and Ben's, more recently at Spectrum Bowl Guildford, in November.

I don't like to be negative that often, but the worst one I visited this year was Hollywood Bowl Liverpool. When we visited, it was the only bowling alley in the city, which for Liverpool being such a large and vibrant place, it's only bowling option proved very poor. Now, they have a boutique bowl (Lane 7) in the centre. I visited this one in September and it was a much better experience overall.

Negativity aside, I'll move on to some of the highlights. First up is Rowan's Tenpin Bowling, situated in the Finsbury Park area of London. This was high on my wish list and it didn't disappoint. Here's a mini review:

£1 admission gets you through the turnstile (yes, they do have a turnstile) and into the entertainment complex, housing more than just a bowling alley: it boasts a large arcade area and karaoke, along with a bar and numerous pool tables. Once in, the reception is easy to locate. £16pp for 3 games including shoe hire was a good price, especially for London and especially compared to what some of the chains charge, even up north!

The receptionist was very friendly and perhaps a little taken aback when I said I was attempting to 'tick' off all of the bowling alleys in the UK and that this was my 89th!

As for the quality of bowling, the lane was excellent, ball selection very good and no lane faults, either.

Interestingly decorated, it even had a rowing boat replica attached to one of the walls! Place was clean tidy and music not too loud, though perhaps this was because I visited just after 11am and it hadn't long since opened... There was a sign inside advertising the Saturday and Friday night live DJ, so if that's not your sort of thing, then probably best to avoid those times! Alternatively, if that is your thing, then I guess you should pop along. You won't regret it.

Also of note is Metrodome Bowl, Barnsley. This is a bowling alley located in a sports and leisure complex near Oakwell Stadium (still to visit). I was first made aware of it during the 2017 Weber Cup (Google it) where the competition was held that year. On that day we actually bowled at the other bowling alley in Barnsley (Barnsley Bowl) without knowing they had one in the leisure centre, too. On entering for watching the competition (which was held in the hall), we saw that there was a bowling alley in the Metrodome and had been on our wish list ever since. We had the opportunity to go in summer this year and it was really worth the visit.

A few more honourable mentions are Lane 7 Middlesbrough, Glasfryn Park and Farnborough Bowl.

Also of merit is Böckmans Bowling, Bromölla. This one was so special, it's already got it's own blog post. You can read that one if you click here. 

On a loosely bowling related note, in January we visited The Flying Pins sculpture in Eindhoven. This is an enormous sculpture of well, urm, flying pins:

Me for scale!

Unfortunately this was the closest thing we managed as for bowling goes whilst in the Netherlands, because we walked five miles to one which was closed! This was no where near the centre of the city, so we were left without any bowling options, as shortly after it was time to catch our flight. All the more reason to revisit…


In 2020, I hope to bowl at at least 45 new bowling alleys, though I understand this will be a tall order: the more centres one bowls at, the target gets harder, because it means travelling further afield to get to a 'new' centre. Luckily, there should be a number of 'easy' ticks in the way of a few dreaded chain bowls we've not yet endured in the Lancashire and Yorkshire area. I have already started kicking around a couple of ideas for my 150th, one strong contender is the alley based in Scotland's Theme Park- that's if I can wait that long...

The Weber Cup is back in England this year (after it was played in USA in 2019) to be held in Leicester 5-7th June. I plan to tie this in with a visit to Leicester's newest bowling establishment, which was opened 2019. I have already ticked off the Hollywood Bowl there.

What's hot:

Chorley has recently (21st Dec) opened a brand new six lane bowling alley and Glasgow has had a boutique one built recently in the centre, both I plan on visiting soon. 

Lane 7 (small boutique chain) will bring new alleys to Leicester, Sheffield, Durham, Glasgow, Dublin, Bristol and Nottingham, whilst Superbowl UK will bring fresh lanes to Bishop Auckland, Newbury and Barnsley, after having already opened a number of new ones in 2019. This will mean Barnsley will have three centres. Is Barnsley about to become England's capital of bowling..?

What's not:

Pins on strings. Or are they? The first sanctioned 300 (perfect game) on a QubicaAMF TMS pins on strings lane was bowled at Airport Bowl (Heathrow) by Paul Pasion on the 15th January 2019. Airport Bowl had their lanes converted from the traditional free fall to pins on strings in 2018. It looks like they are here to stay.

There are still no bowling alleys in either Dumfries or Cumbria, besides Eclipse Bowl (Workington).

The majority of the MFA chain closed during 2019/18, leaving a mere 6 out of 32. Some were reopened under new independent ownership such as the one in Worcester, though some have permanently closed, such as the one in Southend. Some have reopened as chain bowls, such as the one in the Merrion Centre in Leeds, which is now part of the Tenpin chain.

Well, if you have managed to read to the end of this post, congratulations and I hope it was worth your while. If I have bored you, then I can only apologise! If anyone ever visits a unique bowling centre, then please tag me as I'll love to see! Perhaps I'll start to write more about my bowling ventures on here...

Anyway, until then, it's goodbye from me!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Road to Wembley #7

If you have been following this seasons Women's FA Cup, or indeed this very blog, then you will already be aware that the main round date for the Second Round Proper was held last weekend (1st December). If you have also been following real life, then you will know that the weather, especially 'up north' was, shall we say grim, deeming a number of pitches frozen and therefore ties postponed to this weekend.

Perhaps this worked out better on a personal level, because last Sunday morning we were in Glasgow and needed to drive to Chester le Street to reach the closest tie at a ground neither me or partner Ben had visited. This would have meant almost five hours driving in total that day, which thinking about it, wasn't exactly ideal. For this week, we decided against heading to the north east and saving Moor Park for a later date when we could make more of a weekend of it. So this week, we opted for another Midlands clash, this time between West Bromwich Albion Women and Lincoln City Women, whom we previously saw at Sporting Khalsa in the Third Round Qualifying.

WBA play their home games at Oak Park home of not only Walsall Wood FC, but also Walsall Town Swifts. It boasts a rather elegant main stand, complete with wooden benches (and a row of plastic chairs). The other sides are uncovered hard standing, with a clubhouse and a small covered standing section canopy on the opposite side. The ground was painted red and white, the colours of the Walsall side.

Besides the stand, another notable and rather remarkable feature of the ground is the view of the life sized pit head monument at one end, the largest mining sculpture in the world. This was designed and built between 2008-10 by sculptor Luke Perry, as part of a larger sculpture project in the village, which you can read more about here.

The entry for today's game was £5 per adult, which included a 15 page colour programme. This game was also in support of Stonewall's excellent #RainbowLaces campaign, which aims to make sport more inclusive and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people, whether you are a spectator or player.

With West Bromwich in the FAWNL North Premier Division, a league above Lincoln in the FAWNL Division 1 Midlands, it came at no surprise that they had the first chance around 10 minutes in, forcing the visitors keeper to a fantastic save. Lincoln replied some minutes after, with a brilliant strike by Murrell, who scored twice in the last tie we saw Lincoln in, though just going wide of the net.

Both teams battled end to end each having chances, though it was WBA's Hattie James who broke the deadlock at 27 minutes, along with the onset of rain. This is where the covered canopy came into action, though wasn't much use as the rain was blowing towards and into the cover. It soon passed and after a yellow card distributed to one of WBA's players for a tackle on Lincoln's keeper, it was half time.

After our usual half time coffees (£1), the players were back out and ready for the second half. By this point we were really starting to feel the cold, which was mainly the doing of the strong wind blowing south westerly across the ground.

Despite WBA obtaining the majority of the possession for this half, Lincoln denied most of their chances with excellent keeping and defence. They too took their chances when available, though not amounting to a mark on the score sheet. It was looking like a goalless half, until WBA's Keeley Davies found the net in the 90th minute, furthering their lead.

It was a predictable win for WBA being a level above Lincoln, though the game was much more competitive than we imagined. WBA will progress to the next round, where they will travel to Southampton WFC on January 5th.

You can follow WBA Women on Twitter here and Lincoln City Women here.

Full photo set here.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Being as rotoscope is the main medium I work in and talk about when I'm not talking about non league football, it would be more than appropriate to write a full blog post on it. I'm aware that not everyone might be familiar with the technique.

So, what is 'rotoscoping' or rotoscope animation?

Rotoscoping is the art of re-drawing filmed footage to create an animated aesthetic.

But isn't that a bit pointless?

Yes, but so is life and we all need to do something to fill our time. On a less existential note, I feel because it's a bridge between film and animation, it allows for a whole host of creative avenues to be explored such as surrealism, sci-fi and fantasy, without needing a stupidly high budget or using lots of costly special effects. This is because you can just draw everything in. Cool, eh?!

But isn't it cheating?

If I passed my rotoscoped work off as 'traditional' animation drawn without reference, then yes, that would be lying and therefore 'cheating', though the fact is, I don't. Animation can take on a number of forms and animation is basically a series of still images linked together to create an illusion of movement. Which is what I do. There is all kinds of animation out there and this is just another form of the medium.

I really enjoy using it, because it bridges the gap between live action film (which my background is in) and traditional animation. I really like that it results in a realistic look, because I actually don't like cartoons. That's not to say I don't appreciate the amazing work that goes into less realistic looking animation, though it isn't the work I want to create. Don't @ me.

Below is an example of what I do. The left hand side of the image shows the original footage and the right, the footage once drawn over. I don't always use a sound stage (green screen room) for my work, because I currently don't have free access to one, so I just tend to use whatever location I can. It doesn't even need to be a studio, which is one of the fantastic things about it- you can do it from anywhere. I have done lots in my house, outside, around my town etc. You just need a camera which records video (can just be a mobile phone) and sound recording equipment if you want or need audio. Oh and a program to be able to import footage and draw in. I would recommend TVPaint, though also good is Adobe Animate (formerly Flash). Some people use Photoshop, too.

Below is an example of where I didn't use a green screen, but a large empty space instead, from my film Cardigan's Corner Shop (2018):

Footage imported in Adobe Flash (animation program)
Once drawn over
Final composite (with background created in Photoshop)
I came across the technique just over eight years ago when I wanted to make a music video, but realised I did not in any way have the drawing or animation skills to carry it out in the realistic fashion I envisaged. This was because I had never been trained in animation, just fine art and was midway through my film production degree.

Now I just cringe when I watch that video back, because the production values are terrible and the editing style is really, really cheesy. It also reminds me of a time in my life where my mental health was on a rapid decline which unknown to me at the time would land me in hospital less than a year after. Despite these factors, the creative intentions were all there and it formed the foundations of my love for the technique of rotoscoping. I've not stopped using it since.

Unfortunately, it's not a very commonly used technique in terms of animated output from most animation production companies. Perhaps this is set to change, because September this year was when the rotoscoped eight episode series Undone was aired on Amazon Prime Video. It was recently announced that they would get a second season, too. The animation for the series was carried out by the US company Minnow Mountain, one of the few companies using rotoscope as their primary medium.

If this post has inspired you to watch anything in this technique, then do check out Undone, Tower (2016 documentary, currently available on Netflix), A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life.

Also, I have a Vimeo channel dedicated to my own rotoscope work here and an Instagram page of the same, but includes works in progress and behind the scenes bits. Also, if I've not explained it very well or you have further questions about the technique, then don't hesitate to get in contact.

Peace and love x