My oh my. As you might be able to guess, I’ll have one or two things to say about Manchester United’s performance against Roma tonight, but that can wait until either later this evening or tomorrow. As you lot are probably aware, I’m pretty sparing in my praise for the Red Menace, but they have been absolutely awesome tonight, albeit against a Roma side that seemed to give up with the first United goal. More bad news, also, from outside the stadium, though it’s difficult to tell how much of this is media hype. Switching on the television at seven o’clock, Channel Four News made it sound like Heysel Revisited, but I think that it’s probably for the best to wait a while before trying to draw any conclusions. Meanwhile, Chelsea are making mighty hard work of beating Valencia – at the time of writing, it looks as if it could be heading for extra-time – but I think we can all be certain of what the newspaper headlines will be like tomorrow morning.
So, to “Groundhopping”. In another great piece on “If This Is Football“, the subject of groundhopping has come up. Groundhoppers are the football equivalent of trainspotters. Rather than supporting any particular club, they go from ground to ground (hence the name), chalking up a list of football stadia visited. The 92 Club, an august body of people that have visited each of the 92 grounds of the Football League, was founded in 1966, and according to their Wiki entry, they now have over a thousand members. Of course, joining The 92 Club isn’t quite as easy as it used to be, with a couple of clubs moving grounds each season, and potentially two new clubs joining from the Nationwide Conference each season, but obviously it’s no longer an exclusive pursuit. To get their kicks nowadays, hardcore groundhoppers are visiting more and more obscure stadia and travelling abroad more and more.
Of course, it’s pretty easy to mock this group of people, but I say all of the above with the full knowledge that this is something that I could quite easily do. I’ve got less and less partisan in my support as I’ve got older. I’ve enjoyed my trips to Wimbledon and Worthing as much as I have my few trips to St Albans over the last couple of years or so. Indeed, this season, more or less every match that I have been to (except for White Hart Lane and Fortress Clarence Park) has been at a ground that I’d never been to before, or to see a team that I’d barely seen before. I’m liable to kind of pick a team that I want to win before the match but, by and large, I can quite easily watch football as something approaching a neutral these days.
So, I sat here earlier this evening and drew up my own list. It doesn’t, if truth be told, contain many Football League grounds. Most of the great stadia of the world have passed me by. I included grounds that I had been to for one (or, of course, more) of the following competitions: League matches down to Step 4 (that’s the foot of the Ryman League, in case you were wondering), the FA Cup, FA Trophy and FA Vase, the World Club Cup and various County Cups. I also included a handful of grounds from Step 5 (the South Midlands League) because I at them, which I think means that they deserve inclusion. Of that list, four were abroad, twenty-three were Football League (or Premiership) grounds, and I’d played at six of them. This means that from a total of 98 football grounds that I have been to watch a match at or played at, I’ve visited 71 non-league grounds. This strikes me as an alarmingly high number. Now, admittedly two of them are the same team playing at the same place (but, as anyone else that has visited both will confirm, the old Champion Hill and new Champion Hill grounds in Dulwich are very different indeed), but it does leave me idly wondering what I’ve been doing with my time for the last twenty-five years or so. I’ve left out the less than palatial home of Wallsend Town (where I played a friendly match about three years ago) because, whilst they may well still exist, I don’t know what League they’re currently in.
There are some curious exclusions from the list. I’ve missed out on several League grounds in London – Arsenal, Brentford, QPR and West Ham United are nowhere to be seen on it – and other places of enormous significance, such as Old Trafford, St James Park and, well, in Scotland are similarly absent (I should point out that I’ve only been to Scotland once since I was about 5 years old, and Partick Thistle were away that weekend). The order of it may appear somewhat arbitrary, but this is largely because of the vagaries of my memory, the fact that I tried to list the “biggest” ones first, and the fact that I just put down all the ones that I could think of off the top of my head before looking at any lists. There is a chance that I’ve missed a couple (or even more) off my list (and cynics might even argue that I have done this on purpose to make the new Wembley number 100, which it may well turn out to be), but I have racked my brains over this for several hours now, and I don’t think that I have left any out. The full list is in the comments section. If I do happen to think of any more, I will of course add them.
Tomorrow, back to proper football. You know – insightful analysis and all that. I promise.