English football is home to some of the largest and most iconic grounds in the sport, with passionate crowds backing their teams across the country. However, for former Aston Villa player Gabby Agbonlahor, some of these grounds were more hostile than others.
Agbonlahor made 391 appearances for Aston Villa and has revealed that St. Andrew’s, the home of their arch-rivals Birmingham City, was the most hostile ground he played at in his career. The Second City Derby between Villa and Birmingham City is one of the most vicious in the country, and Agbonlahor told talkSPORT how his side certainly did not feel welcome on their visits.
He said, “St. Andrew’s would be top for me because when you’re going there, it just felt like you’re on the side of town you shouldn’t be on. You’re at a stadium where even fans felt nervous going to, no one really wore a Villa top. Getting out of that ground was a bit dangerous getting back to the city centre. I just felt when I went there, the bus journey in you just felt like ‘this is a war, you’re going to war’. No other game felt like that.”
Anfield, the home of Premier League and European giants Liverpool, also made it to Agbonlahor’s list. He played there nine times throughout his career, with the home crowd known for having one of football’s most famous atmospheres. His visit in early 2014 saw one of the Premier League’s iconic moments when he fell over the hoardings, and one Liverpool fan took the opportunity to take a picture of him on the ground rather than helping him up.
Upton Park was West Ham’s iconic home for 112 years before they moved to the London Stadium in 2016. Top sides found it tough at the east London ground, and Agbonlahor has revealed how it was one of the toughest to go to. He said, “Fans on two of the sides were very close to the pitch. The West Ham crowd were very loud and abusive, to be fair though they didn’t take it over the line. Their abuse was what made you as a player want to score even more. I remember getting the winner there the last time Aston Villa won there at Upton Park and celebrating in front of their fans.”
Two other big grounds missed out on spots in his top three, but they earned special mentions from Agbonlahor. He made only six trips to play Newcastle, but St. James’ Park is a ground that he reveals was ‘definitely hostile’. “I just remember it being like a place like, when you come out of the tunnel and you look left, they’ve got that big stand. The away fans are up there so they’re not helping you, they’re up there in the sky, they’re not helping you. It felt like a hard place to go, Newcastle fans on side with their team and they made it very hostile.”
“Can they do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?” is a popular question in football folklore, and Agbonlahor certainly found it tough on his trips to the then-named Britannia Stadium. “I remember playing Stoke sometimes and it was like there were blizzards every time we played Stoke. You always felt like Stoke away was like windy, cold, wet, Ryan Shawcross kicking you, Glen Whelan kicking you. It just felt like that horrible, horrible game where you just think to yourself, ‘we can get a draw out of here’.”
Agbonlahor named his clear top three most hostile grounds as St. Andrew’s – Birmingham City, Anfield – Liverpool, and Upton Park – West Ham. Other fanbases may claim that they produce the most warlike atmospheres, but for Agbonlahor, these three grounds were the toughest to play at in his career.