The best lines from a tourist’s guide to visiting the 20 Premier League clubs
David Guest’s book Towns of Two Halves: A Tourist’s guide to Football Towns is an excellent read, acting half as a nostalgiac look at football and half as a guide to the nation’s best museums, art galleries, and walks.
Featuring all 92 clubs in the Football League, Guest gives a personalised account of what it’s like to spend a day in the towns and their stadiums. As he notes in the introduction: “This is a book about football only in the sense that time spent watching football can easily feel like time wasted.”
Here’s our pick of the best lines from the book about each of the 20 Premier League clubs:
The author admits to a fondness for Arsenal, although mainly due to the novelty of being able to walk to Highbury from his old house. Guest’s beloved Oldham, who feature heavily in the book, are obviously more interesting.
“More memorably, Oldham played there four times – three times in the league and once in the League Cup – while I was a taxpayer in the People’s Republic of Islington.”
The author gives a warm description of the town, a recommended coastal route to the stadium, and muses on why the stadium is called Dean Court.
“When I was there a dog show was taking place in the park. It seemed to attract a good many more than Bournemouth v Oldham.”
The majority of this chapter covers the author’s wife’s adventures in the town. Having accidentally taken her debit card into the stadium, Guest had left “S” penniless as she roamed the streets of Brighton.
“When I found her at the hotel she had been there for most of the afternoon. She had tried window shopping, she said, but Brighton had taunted her by constantly presenting her with treasures she could not buy…I made it up to her by immediately taking her to the Palace Pier and funding her 2p coin-cascade habit. Quick to anger, S was equally easily pacified.”
The vast majority of this section discusses inane heckling from the terraces and the loudmouth that punctuate the silences at football grounds with an inane quip.
Having heard someone scream, “they’re like black’eds, you’ve got squeeze them out!” Guest launches into a history of the unwanted heckler, going all the way back to classical Greece.
“At sporting events overseas, spectators release animals or other objects on to the field of play for comic effect… In the UK, we confine ourselves largely to unsolicited comments.”
This section mostly comprises of a restaurant review, but not before a lengthy explanation of why Guest has so far ignored cuisine in his guide book. The best passage is a lyrical description of a club mascot.
“Roaming through the family groups was an unusual mascot in a spherical blue suit with prongs; it looked as if it might represent the flu bacteria sweeping the country.”
One of the few chapters containing no reference whatsoever to football, Guest spends several pages here discussing Silicon Valley and the impact of technology on modern culture, using an exhibition at the Design Museum in Chelsea as a springboard.
Driverless cars, Californian exploitation, robotic takeover of human jobs, the internet of things, and virtual reality are all analysed.
“I was watching the fountain and wondering what, in the absence of children, it was doing here; and then a party of schoolchildren (early to mid teens) arrived and the question became moot.”
The majority of this section comprises of a bullet point list of interesting blue plaques to be found in the blue-plaque section of the Horniman museum. The best passage comes early on when Guest scoffs at the hypsterisation of the Crystal Palace area:
“The shops, I imagine, sell exotic snacks and a thousand varieties of juice, all of them green.”
Guest pleasingly juxtaposes the tedium of an FA Cup match between Everton and Tamworth with the rich vibrancy of Liverpool, detailing at length its mystical, majestic history.
He also dismisses the “romance of the FA Cup” as a misplaced idea, positing that Casanova didn’t “seduce swooning signorinas by taking them to the early rounds of the Coppa Italia”.
“Can Everton playing Tamworth, or whoever the away team happens to be, be a better spectacle than watching this world go by? Persevere. With that sort of thinking, you’d never get to a football match at all.”
The talk here is mostly of watching George Best at Craven Cottage, which is correctly identified as the nation’s most beautiful stadium, with surrounds to “make an estate agent salivate”.
“Another 5-0 defeat, then, and another case of consolation being easy to find. Aside from the atmosphere of Craven Cottage and the presence of George Best, I also fixed my car’s heater.”
This section talks up the town and its excellent art galleries and museums, with the author freely admitting to a prejudice towards Huddersfield before visiting. Again, the football barely gets a mention here.
“On the day of my visit there was a special event on ‘Muslim Roots in the British Army’, organised by young people from the Huddersfield Pakistani Community Alliance.
“On such a day the Tolson Half Pig, a kind of exploded view of a pig, might have been quietly put in a cupboard: but it was there.”
A chapter that gives lengthy praise for the city’s rich Roman history and progressiveness in the 20th century is undercut by the author’s disappointment at their reaction to winning the Premier League in 2016. For Guest, and perhaps nobody else on the planet, it took something away from the city.
“When 15 minutes of fame are achieved, centuries of modest accomplishment can be discarded. Leicester, you might say, is a dipstick in the sump of the celebrity culture.”
Guest disguises himself as a Watford fan for the day in order to sneak into a Liverpool v Oldham match at Anfield, but while scrabbling around for a ticket still finds time to see Kevin Keegan’s boots in a nearby museum.
“If JK Rowling is to be congratulated on persuading a generation to read books, perhaps the likes of Liverpool FC can take credit for encouraging youngsters to visit museums.”
The detail given to non-football related parts of a city appear to be getting longer as the book goes on. Here, the most interesting assertion is that the Museum of Football gives ample time to the achievements of “lesser lights”.
“The museum has only one serious flaw: how can the café attached to such a place not offer Pukka Pies?”
Approaching “the theatre of dreams” naturally invites a conversation about the nature of dreaming in football, of nightmares, magic and belief systems. It’s a beautifully written chapter.
“Events on the pitch may genuinely have a religious dimension. Sympathetic magic is being evoked. Pogba baffling defenders is an image from a cave painting and it stays in the mind.”
This chapter muses upon how walkable Newcastle is before once again discussing at length the idiosyncratic museums and art galleries of the area.
A game at St James Park, against Luton, is only discussed in reference to a giant flag passing over the crowd in which Guest sat.
“Somehow it became entangled with my glasses. For a moment I thought I was going to lose them… Next time I will know better: don’t get involved.”
The pages on Southampton speak almost exclusively about an old guide booklet in the town from 1991, entitled A Guided Tour Around the Old Walled Town of Southampton. Guest still seems annoyed by its incompetence.
“This booklet’s design, or rather the complete lack of it, raises the possibility that the [tourist board] provided work experience to Girl Guides and that someone failed her badge with it.”
An unusually football-heavy chapter centres on the troubling 3-0 score line within eight minutes of Oldham’s visit to White Hart Lane in 1992. The author is very relieved to see the game end only 5-0.
“It was almost a privilege to be given a sound thrashing by Tottenham.”
The author recalls visiting Vicarage Road on April 7, 1969, when Watford won promotion on a day more famous for the launching of a US academic project that lay the foundations for the internet – which becomes the focus of this chapter.
“Watford represents the remorseless passage of time for me.”
Detailing a game in which Guest and his partner “D” left at half-time due to the claustrophobic atmosphere, the football doesn’t get much of a mention in this chapter either. A review of the Geffrye museum follows.
“The man at the turnstile may also have had a drink. In admittedly indifferent light he took D, who was not tall, for a small boy and said: ‘you just hop over the turnstile, son, you’ll be all right.’”
Guest laments not visiting the Wolverhampton Art Gallery – for the café, since his own lunch that day was disappointing. The talk in this chapter is mainly of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, a “thoroughly agreeable surprise.”
“Molineux may have seen better teams and better days, but it has history, solidity, and quite possibly some restricted views.”
By Alex Keble