Ground Hoppers - Fans Who Visit As Many Stadiums As Possible

collage of stadiumsThere are numerous niche subjects when it comes to talking about football. From people that like to get autographs from all players who play for one club through to those that know the history of a team to Mastermind level, supporters enjoy the sport in different ways. Perhaps no hobby or pastime is as all-consuming, expensive and dedicated as that enjoyed by the ‘ground hoppers’ of the world. Sometimes called stadium hoppers, travellers or simply hoppers, these people want to attend a football match at as many different grounds as possible.

There are some that believe that the experience isn’t necessarily limited simply to football. A fan who enjoys the stadia that house sporting events and want to visit them are considered by some to be a ground hopper. There are rugby fans that move from ground to ground within the UK, for example, or cricket lovers who have tried to visit every worthwhile stadium to tick them off the bucket list. It is a world of dedication, boasting and even one-upmanship, as the ground hoppers compete to visit the most obscure locations possible. Here’s a look at what this particular pastime entails.

Map Of All 92 English Professional Club Stadiums

Adding markers to the map ...

The 92 Club

92Perhaps the best place to start when it comes to discussing ground hoppers is with The 92 Club. This was set up by a football fan named Gordon Pearce after he achieved the feat of visiting every ground of a club in the football league in 1966, only for the moment to pass completely unnoticed. Now that might be partially to do with the fact that that was also the summer that England won the World Cup, but it’s also because it simply wasn’t seen as a noteworthy achievement by many, considering it to be something of an anorak’s thing to do.

Pearce later decided to set up The 92 Club in order to honour fellow football supporters who were so dedicated to their sport that they’d watched a game take place at all ninety-two of the football grounds that hosted Football League clubs. Today, that club has more than one thousand members and is growing all of the time. Not everyone who ground hops cares about the ninety-two Football League grounds, of course, but it’s a decent introduction to the idea of ground hopping and is simple enough to understand. The majority of members of The 92 Club found themselves on the journey almost by accident, attending various stadiums in order to watch the team that they support play a match.

Why Do Fans Visit As Many Grounds As Possible?

Understanding why people ground hop in the first place isn’t an easy thing to do. After all, these dedicated lovers of sports arenas have to take a financial hit in order to pay travel expenses, the cost of getting into the ground, food and drink when out and about and other things, to say nothing of needing to brave all kinds of weather to attend football matches in the first place. There’s an argument from some that it’s a similar compulsion to that of collecting stickers to fit in a sticker album, needing to complete it in order to feel that sense of satisfaction.

There’s also a degree to which a simple love of the game plays a part. Some supporters just adore football and want to watch it as much as possible and in as many locations as possible. Indeed, more than a fee ground hoppers specifically avoid the Football League grounds and only attend those of non-league clubs. One such example comes in the form of John Stancombe, who has visited more than one and a half thousand non-league grounds despite having been completely blind since 2006. Despite not being able to see the ground he’s visiting, John is told information such as how many floodlights are installed, how big the clubhouse is and even the length of the grass.

Ground Hopping Is A Community

man sat alone in a stadium stand

As you might expect from such a niche part of the football world, ground hopping is a community all of its own. You can buy scratch maps of the ninety-two Football League grounds, for example, in order to keep yourself updated with how many you still have left to visit. There’s even an app for your mobile phone that will give you information on all of the grounds, including the likes of directions to it and when it will next host a football match. In 2002 a fan of Chester City released a book that summarised his experience of travelling to different football grounds since the 1980s, which was loved by fellow ground hoppers.

If ground hopping is something that interests you then you’ll find a decent amount of information out there courtesy of numerous online forums. One such forum has enjoyed more than thirty-five thousand posts at the time of writing, with users discussing topics such as the closest ground to them that they haven’t yet visited, opportunities to attend matches at numerous grounds in the same area on the same day and grounds that closed before they had an opportunity to visit them. Whilst there’s a degree of competitiveness involved, including football fans trying to outdo each other in terms of the most obscure or random ground visited, it’s mostly a community of like-minded people who share a passion for the sport.

Rules Of Ground Hopping

loations on a mapThe first thing to note when it comes to ground hopping is that there aren’t any hard and fast rules. There are, however, certain criteria that most ground hoppers believe must be met in order for someone to truly call themselves a ground hopper. One of the most crucial things that the majority of people agree on is that you must have seen an actual match taking place in a stadium in order to tick it off your list. There are still plenty of people who are happy enough attending a ground outside of a match day, perhaps in order to do a tour of it or see it in the daylight rather than at night, but they won’t count that towards their overall tally unless they’ve also seen a ball kicked there under match conditions.

The rules are slightly more formalised when it comes to The 92 Club. Owing to the system of promotion and relegation that’s in place in the Football League, the grounds that make up the homes of the ninety-two clubs in the top four divisions can change year on year. You do not need to have visited all ninety-two grounds in the same season in order to join the club, but you must have seen a match played in the ninety-two grounds in the Premier League and Football League that make up the list at the moment you’re seeing your final stadium. In other words, if you’ve seen every ground bar Anfield but can’t get to Anfield until next season, the home of Liverpool will only complete your list when you get there as long as you’ve also seen the grounds of the clubs that gain promotion at the start of the season you’ll be heading to Merseyside.

It’s Not Just British Fans Who Ground Hop

international fans

There’s an extent to which ground hopping might well seem like a curiously British pastime. As with train-spotting, there’s an image that the notion of ground hopping conjures up that is rather unfair to those who are dedicated to doing it. Yet a quick look across the continent will tell you that it’s far from a British phenomenon. Sometimes there is a crossover, such as in the case of Anders Johansen, a Norwegian who has watched matches at more than four hundred grounds in England. Yet more often than not the ground hoppers in Europe are content visiting the stadiums in their own country.

There’s even an argument that ground hoppers on the continent are given more respect than those in the UK. Certainly the publishers of Stadionwelt in Germany don’t feel the need to belittle their readers. Translated roughly as ‘Stadium World’, the glossy magazine is published monthly and takes an in-depth look at the football grounds around Germany and the rest of Europe. Germans have been ground hopping since the 1980s, whilst since then fans in Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway have also begun to do it in earnest. Even some of those in England will feel the need to visit stadia in Scotland, Wales and the emerald Isle in order to have a sense of completion. Some people living on continental Europe use the pastime to make friends with others.

The Cost Of Ground Hopping

football cost

As mentioned before, the dedication involved in ground hopping doesn’t just revolve around the time that those who do it need to give up. Anyone who has travelled by train around the UK will know that it’s not a cheap experience, with the cost of petrol nowadays meaning that’s it not a whole heap more cost effective to drive instead. Add to that the fact that you need to eat and drink when you’re on the road and that some journeys might take people so far from home that they also need to add in an overnight stay and you’re suddenly looking at a mighty hit to the wallet for those that choose to ground hop. That’s before you even begin to look at the cost of tickets to watch a match, especially when considering that most ground hoppers believe that you have to see a competitive match in order for your visit to qualify, ruling out the ability to see a friendly game, which is normally less expensive.

When it comes to ticket prices, it’s not too bad for those ground hoppers who want to go to see non-league matches being played, with the cost of entry into the ground being significantly cheaper than if you’re heading to see a Premier League or Championship match. One way around that is to try and see a game in the League Cup, which tends to be the best value for money competition in England. Another problem that ground hoppers come across when they’re looking at the top end of the spectrum of football stadia is the lack of availability of tickets. At the aforementioned Anfield, for example, matches are regularly sold out and getting a ticket without knowing someone who has a season ticket or is aware of the underground resale of tickets can be extremely difficult. If a ground hopper only has one or two places left to visit then they might end up paying above odds for a ticket in order to mark off the stadium from their list.

Tony Incenzo

tony incenzoThere are countless different enthusiastic supporters that fit the ground hopper mould that we could point to as an example of the sort of dedicated lifestyle that these football fans lead, but few of them tick the same boxes that Tony Incenzo manages. Nicknamed ‘Britain’s barmiest fan’, the QPR supporter works as a football broadcaster and has been to more than two thousand football grounds during his life. During the time it’s taken him to do that he has lost a girlfriend to his obsession, been involved in a Guinness World Record by visiting five grounds and watching five games in the space of a day and has even watched a football match played inside a prison. The latter experience came when he went to Feltham Prison to watch a team of young offenders called Phoenix FC.

Though Incenzo is fortunate that his job working for the likes of talkSPORT and Sky Sports takes him to numerous grounds during the working week, he is representative of a community that puts its dedication to visiting football grounds above virtually everything else. It was during the Guinness World Record attempt, for example, that his girlfriend stormed off on him and never returned. He’s now married, though even that might not have been a certainty had he chosen to go to watch the opening match of the new home of FC United of Manchester that was being played the day before his wedding. Having visited more than two thousand grounds in nearly forty countries, you can see why the football fanatic is held up as an example of just how much dedication it takes to be a ground hopper.