The gateway to the Fens, pub-blessed Peterborough provides a congenial day out for the visiting football fan. As the train from London pulls into Peterborough station, it passes a pleasant little football ground, a compact mix of old and new, not unlike the town itself.
Built over a century ago, London Road – renamed the ABAX Stadium in a 2014 sponsorship deal – has been home to Peterborough United since the club’s formation in 1934.
Always known as The Posh, Peterborough unwittingly made Victoria Beckham a national laughing stock in 2002 when the Harlow-born pop star challenged the club’s right to use the nickname that had been handed to her over lunch at a Notting Hill restaurant in 1996.
In fact, the origins of the word ‘posh’ – meaning swanky – are as obscure as those of the club itself. Just as etymologists have failed to prove a direct correlation with the maritime phrase ‘Port Outward, Starboard Home’, so football historians know little about the two Peterborough clubs whose union led to the foundation of ‘United’ at the Angel Hotel.
A medieval coaching inn on today’s Bridge Street, over the River Nene from London Road, this now long demolished local landmark witnessed United’s creation in 1934. Two years before, London Road-based Peterborough & Fletton United had gone bust, the end of a short-lived venture that began with the merger of Peterborough City and Fletton United in 1923.
A few random facts – such as Peterborough City’s single season in the Southern League in 1909-10 – remain but the scant archive reveals little of United’s ancestors.
In truth, football failed to flower in the Fens as it had done in the industrial hubs of Lancashire and the north Midlands. Local sport and recreation mirrored those practised across the North Sea. While Lancastrian teams were dominating the newly formed Football League, bandy, still big in Scandinavia today, emerged here in the late 1800s. In 1913, England were crowned European champions. Fen skating was also long established. The likes of William ‘Turkey’ Smart were local sporting legends long before football took hold. His son ‘Young Turkey’ James even beat his Dutch counterparts at top-level speed skating.
Just like their predecessors, United took a while to get going. Having inherited their nickname from Fletton United – whose manager had put out a call for ‘posh players’ in 1921 – The Posh remained non-league for 26 years.
In the late 1950s, the club’s monopoly of the Midland League persuaded the election committee to grant them full league status in 1960.
Along with runs in each cup in the mid 1960s, United maintained a modest but steady presence in the league. Relish was added after local rivals Cambridge United gained league status in 1970 – while long-established Northampton Town always considered Peterborough as posh arrivistes, particularly after the city itself changed county status to Cambridgeshire in 1972.
From 2007, two stints as manager by Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, raised Peterborough’s profile and both times saw promotion to the Championship. As in the early 1990s, though, second-flight status was not long-term.
The closest airport to Peterborough is East Midlands 105km (65 miles) away. There is no direct transport – take the Skylink bus to Nottingham (every 20min, 50min journey time 50min, £5) then a direct train to Peterborough (£14 online, 1hr).
From London Kings Cross, a train usually takes 45min and costs around £20 online. From Birmingham New Street, it’s 1hr 50min (£20 online).
Peterborough station is a 10-15min walk to the stadium over the River Nene and shorter walk to town. Public transport should hardly be needed.
For a taxi, call City Cabs on 01733 341 111 – with attractive prices on airport transfers too.
The nearest hotel to London Road is the Queensgate, just the other side of the stadium on Fletton Avenue, a modern, independent three-star with spa facilities. A little further down, on London Road itself, the ten-room Charlotte House is a comfortable B&B.
Also close, on the town side, Clarks Guest House is handy and affordable.
Just over the river, also convenient for the stadium, the 115-room Park Inn by Radisson features a grill restaurant and in-house cosmetician.
Opposite the station, the Great Northern Hotel echoes the railway age. Built in 1852, it comprises 41 rooms, restaurant and regular live jazz club.
Both around the ground and town centre, Peterborough is dotted with characterful pubs serving real ales, local brews and craft beers.
Pick of the bunch might be the Wortley Almshouses (Westgate), a converted 18th-century workhouse that survived the construction of the adjoining shopping centre. Affordable Sam Smith’s ales and TV football attract patrons today, along with a warming fire in winter. Further along Westgate, the Brewery Tap is another excellent choice, home of the Oakham Ales microbrewery in a former labour exchange. Thai food also on offer.
For a more contemporary kind of eaterie, the Beehive also hosts late-night jazz funk DJ sessions. Set on a century-old Dutch barge, moored by London Road, Charters is Britain’s largest floating real-ale emporium, with live music every weekend and a pan-Asian restaurant on the upper deck. Alongside is Peterborough’s largest beer garden.
Back in town, close to the station, the Drapers Arms was built for a local draper in 1899. Today it’s a Wetherspoons pub, the conversion kind to the original stained glass and masonry. In the same family, the College Arms dates back to the same era, a former technical college now serving world beers and affordable meals.
Also on Broadway, the party-minded Sir Henry Royce goes big on live TV sport.