Football: A tasteful study from bacon butties to venison burgers on the Orient Excess

For some, the prospect of whether or not they should eat at a match weighs heavily on the mind, if not the stomach. Catherine Riley reports on a new survey into the fare on offer in and around football grounds.

Everyone has their own favourite horror story of match-day food; there's the burger that came with a fingernail, another one with a tooth already in it and the kebab containing a maggot, served by the vendor who urinated against a wall and then went back to serving food without washing his hands.

Now, with a copy of Colman's Football Food Guide tucked into their back pocket, fans can follow their team around the country secure in the knowledge that they can find somewhere to eat without needing to take along a stomach pump.

As jobs go, a food taster for Egon Ronay or Michelin has a certain appeal, but sampling the food on offer around the 92 League clubs, as well as Wembley, has to be a labour of love. The testers came back with only 15 stomach upsets and 27 burnt fingers between them, having consumed 323 pies, 291 burgers and one balti pie at Walsall.

Surprisingly, the finest food in the League is not to be found in the Premiership, but in the Third Division. Cambridge United took the honours for their all-round catering - the highlight being the bacon butty. The secret, apparently, is in using two slices of best back bacon, grilled for optimum nose-appeal.

For all its money, the Premiership is poorly represented, with just four clubs in the top 20. Manchester United heads the list in 12th, with a special commendation for the van behind the Old Stretford End which sells venison burgers.

England's plans to host the World Cup in 2006 may have been damaged by the placing of the national stadium in 89th. Last May, Tony Banks, minister for sport, said: "The food at Wembley is absolutely disgraceful. I'm surprised more people don't die of food poisoning after eating there." Rebuilding a stadium which charges over pounds 6 for a "tasteless" burger, chips and Coca-Cola is the only option.

Life is not much better for Welsh supporters. Cardiff City, Wrexham and Swansea City are all in the bottom 10. The Vetch Field was noted for its sausage roll, in which the sole purpose of the skin of the sausage was "to prevent the contents from flowing free".

Vegetarians are less well served, crisps being the safest bet - assuming you have ever heard of the manufacturer and they are still within their sell-by date.

Whereas the pies and burgers were generally found to be lukewarm, hot drinks come on the warmer side of scalding. Most are helpfully served in plastic cups that melt in the hand around three seconds after leaving the counter, forcing the purchaser to suffer third-degree burns or drop the contents over their legs. At some grounds, this is the warmest your feet will ever get. On the cold - or tepid - front, Arsenal have stockpiled the type of orange drink which was only ever found in cinemas 20 years ago.

In the taste test, hot chocolate is the best approximation you are likely to find, assuming you can stir the inch of sludge at the bottom of the cup into life. Ditto the beef-flavour drink. Let us hope we never become a nation of litigators - McDonald's "scalding coffee" case may set the benchmark for a million damages claims.

Sadly, "Who ate all the pies" is something that may never be heard at Brisbane Road. Leyton Orient get the dubious honour of coming bottom of the food league. The editor of their fanzine All Aboard the Wagon Train sums it up as "I've had better meat from live cows with BSE." Take sandwiches.

TASTY: THE TOP TEN

1 Cambridge United

2 Huddersfield Town

3 Rochdale

4 Chesterfield

5 Charlton Athletic

6 Hartlepool United

7 Rotherham United

8 Middlesbrough

9 Stoke City

10 Preston North End

YUK: THE worst TEN

1 Leyton Orient

2 Swansea City

3 Bristol City

4 Wrexham

5 Wembley

6 Oxford United

7 Chester City

8 Tottenham Hotspur

9 Peterborough United

10 Cardiff City

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