Portland United FC is one of the far-flung outposts of Non League football that cries out for a pilgrimage. Located at the tip of the Bill that protrudes out from the Dorset coast, it is a steep and twisting climb but one that is ultimately worth it.
Grove Corner remains a relatively modest venue, albeit one that still seems older than one that was created as recently as 1994, when the club was provided with a new home a couple of hundred yards down the road when the Crown decided it needed the land for mineral extraction.
The previous Grove Corner ground, with its infamous sloping pitch, had provided sterling service during its 72 year history, but the covered terraced area that stood behind the near goal had lost its roof, and rusting old stand along the touchline was a rather the worse for wear, although not beyond saving had government not intervened.
The last game at the ground took place on 9 May 1994, when neighbours Weymouth were the visitors in front of a 500 plus crowd. It was however a far cry from the record attendance, set on 27 January 1949 when 4,127 saw Portland defeat Weymouth 4-1 in a Western League Division One match. Indeed, during the 1920s and 1930s the Blues regularly played in front of crowds of two and three thousand and were virtually unbeatable at Grove Corner.
The club duly moved into its new home in June but that winter, demolition of the old ground was almost completed rather more quickly than anticipated when an unexploded wartime bomb was found underneath the penalty area, and the entire island had to be evacuated whilst it was defused.
At the time of the move, Portland were playing in the Dorset Combination, having withdrawn from the Western League in 1970. However, promotion to the Wessex League was achieved in 2002, two years after the erection of floodlights at the ground.
Grove Corner is certainly a well-appointed venue, with spectators well catered for. The breezeblock-constructed stand provides seating for around 150 in three rows midway along the far touchline. A further vantage point is provided by the grass bank runs behind the dugouts along the opposite touchline, with a couple of park benches provided for those who wish to enjoy an element of luxury.
The top end of the ground is open, but there is a further area of cover, with bench seating plus a further couple of park benches behind the near goal. Adjacent to this, and just to the left of the entrance to the ground is a very impressive clubhouse, which looks more like a small hotel. There is also a decent sized car park that is more than adequate to meet the club’s average requirements.
By coincidence, PP correspondent Nick Mattlock visited Grove Corner for a League game just hours before my own detour en route back from Weymouth:
“I’d been looking forward to the trip to Portland all year and I was not disappointed. Amazing place, amazing views, good atmosphere, really friendly people. I even got given a free pastie! Shame the club’s nickname isn’t more interesting – if they were American I’m sure they’d be called the ‘Portland Bills’!”
From Weymouth take the A354 to Portland. Follow the one way system to the top of the island where there is a roundabout (hotel on left, garage on right). Proceed over the roundabout and carry on for 500 metres. Turn left into Grove Road and the ground is on the left hand side.