FAN'S EYE VIEW: No 222 Groundhopping

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The Independent Online
There was an unprecedented case of "Groundhopper Stops Play" on the opening day of the season. An ardent hopper known as "Tram" (because he works as a tram driver in Blackpool) travelled 250 miles to watch a Winstonlead Kent League match at Greenwich Borough FC. Tram specialises in touching both crossbars at every new ground he visits.

However, at Greenwich Borough, he found he could not reach the woodwork. Tram subsequently complained to the match referee, alleging that the crossbars were 10 feet off the ground!

Out came the tape measures and it became apparent that the wrong dimensions were in place. The kick-off was delayed by seven minutes while the crossbars were pulled down and repositioned.

Tram is just one of the growing army of groundhoppers that trawl the country for their footballing fare. Objectives are simple. To watch matches at as many different grounds as possible.

Many hoppers collect club badges, programmes, scarves, replica shirts and any other paraphernalia they can lay their hands upon at games. The clubs benefit from this income, plus the increased use of bar and refreshment facilities.

Like Mr Tram, most hoppers have self-enforced guidelines for visiting new grounds. For example, some don't count a visit to a ground if they have seen a goalless draw there. Rumour has it that one intrepid gentleman has been back to Stenhousemuir three times and still hasn't seen a goal!

Then there is the hopper who has to walk around the four sides of the pitch, inside and outside the ground. Some take photos of the grandstands, others sketch the ground and Mr "Mega-Statto" takes 20 pages of notes at every game.

Pete Llewellyn and Dave Jolly combine their groundhopping hobby with a passion for botany, seeking rare alpine flora on their trips to new grounds. And Barry Perthen took flying lessons so that he could photograph non-League grounds from the sky.

But it seems that the groundhopper who puts himself under the most pressure is the Hertfordshire-based Dave Roxborough. He makes it his business to touch the match ball at every ground he visits.

Dave usually stands near the corner flag, hoping to throw the ball back when it goes out for a corner. "When I arrive at a new ground, I walk around trying to work out where the ball will be easiest to retrieve by me," he says. No wonder the other assembled groundhoppers burst into spontaneous applause every time Dave gets his first touch of the ball.

The groundhoppers have a convention every Easter. This year, 400 hoppers achieved a world record by watching seven Devon League matches in 33 hours and 30 minutes over Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

It started at Alphington FC at 11am on the Friday and finished at 6.30pm the following evening at Willand Rovers. A convoy of cars and coaches ferried the hoppers between each match in football's version of Wacky Races. The former Football Association chairman, Sir Bert Millichip, was on hand to present certificates to the exhausted hoppers after the final game.

A similar event is planned in Devon for next Easter. The groundhoppers cannot wait. Once again it promises to be a unique social gathering of like-minded people building up friendships and having a good time. Their appetite for new grounds is insatiable.

The first match is at Topsham Town on Good Friday morning. See you there!

Tony Incenzo is the editor of the groundhopping magazine Pyramid Football. For a sample copy, send pounds 2.20 to Pyramid, PO Box 107, Chells Manor, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG2 ORH.