I’ve been lucky enough to visit plenty of football grounds around the world as a fan and former full-time journalist.
But when I changed career in October 2016 it was time to start adding some new ones to the list. You see, for many years work – usually wherever King’s Lynn Town were playing – would dictate my venue. Yet now the choice is all mine.
One of my best mates and I decided to become ‘groundhoppers’ – a hobby that involves attending matches at as many different stadiums or grounds as possible. I use the term loosely because we couldn’t be any more part-time than we are. However, we’ve found a routine that suits us.
Once a month, weather permitting, we choose a new venue to tick off. We alternate driving duties and only do midweek evening fixtures because I still play on a Saturday. It’s far from hardcore, but it’s something we’ve both grown to love.
Trawling through the possible fixtures and selecting a clash is exciting, as is experiencing a different place a club calls home.
Each have their own quirks but one thing has remained. At every Non-League home we have received the warmest of welcomes – and that’s why we adore our little mini adventures.
From the 79-year-old helper on the gate, to the 18-year-old chairman’s daughter behind the bar, the semi-professional scene is full of heart, characters and devotion.
You can stand or sit where you want, with a beer that you don’t have to remortgage your house to pay for, watching players who, like you, have been at work during the day and will be back there in the morning.
The football isn’t always amazing but it’s far better than people give it credit for. And it’s full of passion. And tackles. And everything that the increasingly sanitised world of the Premier League used to be.
For between £20-£30 a month, we have a great few hours in the car and at a game watching football. But the best bit is knowing how much our outlay can really help those outfits who need it the most.
A few pints behind the bar, a strip of raffle tickets and a burger and chips to a club like Chatteris can cover the kit being washed. That helps make the committee and volunteers feel like all the hard hours are worth it and that’s crucial because without them there would be no clubs.
We’ve seen so many different players, grounds and characters that we can’t wait to get back on the road when August rolls around again. I’m already looking forward to standing yards from the action with a beer in hand feeling every tackle, smelling every drip of sweat and putting money back to where football’s soul is.