The County Ground
Swindon v Luton Town
League One
, August 18th 2007
By Matthew Day

The football season had just begun and an away trip with my two boys seemed like fun it was August after all, unfortunately it was August 2007 the wettest summer on record. Travelling down it was overcast and as soon as we got to Wiltshire is started drizzling.

After navigating, surprisingly easily, the Magic Roundabout we passed the ground and found some street parking before scurrying off in the increasing rain to find a pub, after crossing the magic roundabout again, this time via pedestrian crossings, we found the Merlin quite easily. The doorman insisted that I escort the children round via the beer garden, fair enough, unfortunately the door lady at the beer garden entrance wouldn’t let them in the actual pub, and so we sat outside under cover, but rather chilly, watching the Portsmouth v Bolton game through a window.

On purchasing a couple of drinks I noticed that the establishment has changed it’s policy on colours as many Luton and Swindon shirts were spread around the very smart bar areas. A pint of cider and one small coke were £4.80 which seemed steep. Later on purchasing a second pint I discovered it was the £2.05 for a squirted coke that had been my financial downfall.

Back outside the ‘beer garden’ was quickly becoming the ‘smoke’ garden but still the ‘no kids’ rule was observed. I’m pretty sure that the Government didn’t ban smoking in pubs just to subject children to it.

With a while to go before kick off we wandered back towards the County ground past a chip shop which had a healthy looking queue so we decided to try the food in the ground. Finding the away end we got tickets (£15 adult £7 children) and went through the turnstile and found that we were on the Stratton Bank and not allowed in the Arkells stand, despite the fact that the ticket displays the end section as for away supporters. The stewards who understood English, were still unhelpful in offering advice as to why on a rain soaked day we could not sit undercover, eventually a senior steward advised it was because visiting Bristol fans had previously thrown seats. With an hour to go before kick off we bought some food, normal pies and chips, on offer, didn’t see the Balti pie though. It was reasonably priced and was perfectly acceptable but nothing special to write home about. We then climbed the bank and found the toilets, along with scores of sheltering Hatters fans.

Having one of the worst grounds in the country it is interesting visiting other clubs grounds, Kenilworth Road is cramped but at least it has a roof. Scores of people were then pulling on plastic coats and a chap was wandering around distributing them, apparently he’d previously been outside the gate flogging them for a pound. By the time Pedro the Polythene Poncho Provider had got to us we were already soaked but we joined the condom army all the same.

Couldn’t help but look with envy at the Swindon fans cowering at the back of the main stands and the empty section of the Arkells in particular. To be fair it would have been a great seat if it was sunny, but you won’t want to sit there on a cold Tuesday night in February

The game itself was pretty dire, to match the weather which was getting worse. The referee J Singh was teasingly praised for looking like Luton’s cricketing hero Monty Panesar, and Monty cheers greeted every decision given Luton’ way, particularly when he disallowed a Swindon effort in the first half, which clearly upset one Robins fan who came racing down the stand with his shirt off looking for a scrap, as he came out of the cover of the roof he must have got a dose of the rain we were sitting through and promptly returned to his seat. There is always one! Most of the singing was based on the “can you hear the Luton sing? And vice versa, without a roof though the Luton fans still generated a fair bit of noise

Swindon deservedly took the lead in the second half, getting on top of a disjointed Luton team, and it was with some relief that Luton equalised, though trying to renegotiate getting the plastic poncho around the seat was a pain. The rain just kept coming and so, with a couple of minutes to go, did their winning goal. The Swindon fans found their voices with a “2-1 down and you’re getting wet” ditty.

We walked back to the car and left Swindon as easily as we had arrived, if it had been a different result and hadn’t rained all day it would have been a better trip. I’d go again if it was a nice day, and I’d recommend the Merlin, if you don’t have youngsters with you.


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