Thursday 18 June 2020


It's been 96 days since my last game and I am missing it like mad. However, it seems as if it will be ages before we get to another game, thanks to our own government's handling of a no-good virus. I thought I'd deal with this cabin fever by putting a few tips about groundhopping that I've picked up over the years. If you disagree or have any other tips to offer, get in touch. I want as many people as possible to enjoy this wonderful hobby and although we can't participate at the moment, most of my time is spent thinking about where I'd like to visit when we are allowed to.


I wish I'd started hopping earlier. For one, I missed out on so many grounds that have long gone, also, it would have been cheaper with discounts on things, especially travel, with railcards and the like. These cards tend to discriminate against solo adults, which defies belief considering getting single-occupant cars off the road would have by far the most positive impact on the environment compared to groups of people in cars. Also, if you start young enough and you can rope your parents in, then basically, it's free. I managed a reasonable amount on this basis, but all of them came without me even being pro-active or asking.


When I started hopping, I first concentrated on the 92, then expanded to down to step four and then down to step 6, my main inspiration being the 2013 Northern Counties East (er) hop where I visited some lovely places. Since then, I've done some below step 6 with a stand or cover and found them to be very decent and offering free entry. My latest 'requirement' is for there to be at least a rail around the pitch, though I'd not rule any ground out if the circumstances were right. Basically, for me, it's a balancing act between having a decent amount to choose from and not being swamped with too many choices (basically every single football pitch in the country)


Having a car is by far the easiest method of hopping, though not everyone has access to one, or can drive. Plus, they are very expensive to own and service on top of pricey petrol. Having other hoppers come with you can be a real help in keeping costs down and also you get some good company. I'm truly grateful to my two main hoppers, Anwar and Chris for coming with me and as neither of them can drive, I'd like to think that the feeling is reciprocated. Driving also limits pub visits, as I rarely drink midweek, I prefer to drive to midweek games when transport finishes early and use public transport (or my legs in the case of Wycombe home games) at the weekends.

Sadly, trains can be extremely expensive and seemingly the preserve of high-earners in most cases. There are some good value options to be had and Transport For London & West Midlands Railway are some of the better value operators out there. For the former, the walk-up prices mean you can have unlimited travel in London and a large surrounding area for little over £12 and if you use contactless cards, it's often a lot less than that. Sadly, I've very few grounds left to do in London, as the flexibility is great, especially in wet weather when games fall victim to the weather and a late replan is needed. Plus there is something for everyone in London, be it food places, pubs or other attractions, so you can make a real day out of it. Another good value way to obtain train tickets is to buy in advance. I can get a return to Birmingham for as little as £12 from High Wycombe, which is tremendous value and with Birmingham having both a large range of choice and being a good transport hub to other parts of the country, it is a good starting point for a game.

Otherwise, try Megabus or National Express where you can pick up returns to major cities such as Manchester and Newcastle for well under £20 if you pick the right times. The latter has better comfort and customer service but tends to have less cheap buses, especially overnight. Local bus services vary in cost. I've paid £6 in Derby for a five-mile round trip with only an hourly bus service too, but have found good value in the West Midlands and West Yorkshire with unlimited travel over a large area for around £4. Around my local area, I think it's a set £4.70 for a return bus, whether it be to High Wycombe, five miles down the road, or another 30 to Reading. Walking and cycling (if you have a bike) are free and provide a nice amount of exercise, though the former is only viable for local trips.


I think that groundhopping should be about the whole day out and not just the time at the ground. The best way is to get yourself on a Groundhop UK day - they will typically provide the opportunity to 'tick off' three or four grounds in one day in a set area. They even lay on transport for those unable to drive and those who want to give the car a rest. Generally, these events run over weekends, but there's nothing to stop you from doing just a day if you can't make the whole event. They are generally good value for money and a nice opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. Generally, you can expect at least four events per season, sadly some leagues resist the opportunity to make money for their clubs and no one else does such tours.

Aside from that, there's very little opportunity to do more than one game in a day, especially at the weekend. There should be more morning games, such as the Midland U21 League which kicks off at 10.30. Aside from games moved for TV, or the occasional game in Wales, doubles are rare. There's other stuff to do of course and I always like to find something nice to eat when out and about, plus a decent pub at weekends. Basically, whatever your other hobbies are, try and fit them in before and after your game.


To find fixtures in the first place, the lazy man's way is to download the Futbology App. This covers steps 1-6 (not cup games though) and if you fill in your details of grounds visited, then they can filter them out and sort by distance. The Football Traveller Magazine covers all the cups, plus leagues below and is handy to go through with a highlighter and pick options out.

Once you have chosen your game, double-check the address and route on Google Maps. It's also advisable to plan in a few backups, especially in wet weather. It's also good to keep an eye on social media accounts. Some clubs don't update them very often, or the volunteer that runs the account may be busy. For that reason, I will set up a Twitter list with the home team, away team and leagues of all my fixtures to reduce the chance of a wasted journey. Finally, follow and interact with fellow groundhoppers on Twitter and forums and you'll find plenty of stuff that you'd otherwise miss.


Tickets, especially for the bigger clubs, can be tricky to get, virtually impossible for the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United. Added to that, they are sold at high prices, especially when through a third party. The FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League are undervalued, meaning less interest and cheaper tickets. Also consider going in the away end, useful tip if the visitors have a small support or have to travel a long way for a midweek game. As an additional tip, Twitter competitions can provide free tickets, as can the SkyBet Rewards app. The fact that you didn't actually go to the game is not an issue, just download a Fake GPS app from the Google Play Store. I used mine to check into the Futbology App early, but it has many purposes.


Back when I started watching football there was no such thing as digital cameras and everything had to be taken on film. Looking at some old Argos catalogues, it wasn't as an expensive business as I remembered (around 30p a print in today's money) but it was still a lot of money for me when I only got just over a quid a week pocket money. I've had a digital camera since 2003, though memory was expensive at the start - I remember paying £30 for a 32MB (not GB) back in 2004. Nowadays, any modern phone will have a half decent camera on it and the pictures are great to look back on. I tend to get snaps of random stuff such as the tea bar list- useful for other hoppers to see and be interesting to look at the prices in years to come.


Most important of all, enjoy yourself. If you go into something with doubts, you'll never enjoy it. You never know when the next cracking game is going to come up, even if the ground isn't up to much. Also, to tie in with the tip above, make a day of it, visit a nice pub, treat yourself to a nice meal and explore the town, then even if the game is rotten you'll have done something good.


If you are thinking of blogging, or already blog, then I'd suggest taking a look at other blogs to see what they do. Though mine will never be the best blog on the internet, a couple of other bloggers have used what appears to be the same template as me and I'm glad to have helped. I started blogging in 2011, started seriously hopping in 2012, but it wasn't until 2016 that I finally hit upon the format that I am fairly happy with. It had meant that I've done a fair few revisits to get older blogs up to standard and during the coronavirus pandemic, revisiting and rewriting old blogs to improve them. The main reason for starting a blog was that I'd forgotten so many little details of my trips over the years and wanted something to look back on. Also, like with social media, it seemed a good way to find and interact with like-minded people. Having people read my blog is nice, but it's not the endgame. I tag all clubs in my tweet publicizing my blog, but the vast majority don't even respond or retweet, which a shame as another aim of this blog is to inspire people to visit their club.

A few days before the game, I'll set my mind on a first choice, detailing food and drink options around the area and if needed, pubs and public transport details. Although this should really be included in the hopping section above. I'll also research the club's history and any local area information to try and get a feel for the place and put the club's current status into perspective. Good sites, at least for clubs down to step 6 of Non-League are the FCHD (Football Club History Database) and Wikipedia. Old Non-League Directories are available on eBay for a few quid and these often fill in any gaps or provide information on clubs that have slipped down the rankings. Generally, the 1990s was when the directory was at it's strongest as it had time to gather more information and was not like the modern-day stripped back version that has become less relevant with the emergence of online resources. If all else fails, then a Google search can often help, some league websites are more useful than others, with the Essex Olympian League providing good information that is unavailable elsewhere.

I'll also start my blog, writing about the build-up to the game and the reason why I chose that game. The bulk of the blog is done on the day though and by far the most useful app for this is Simplenote. This allows editing on your phone, tablet and computer - in fact, anything with an internet browser. For keeping notes on the game, I'll generally use a notepad and pen, or if I forget, Google Keep voice notes. If I'm on public transport, I like to get the most of this done before I get home, therefore remaining productive on my journey and not forgetting anything. I prefer to edit my pictures when I get home, though it's doable on my Chromebook, it's far more comfortable to do on a PC with bigger screen and better editing tools.

Wednesday 3 June 2020

The Wycombe Wanderer Awards - Season 2019/20

Well, I wasn't expecting to do this after so few games, 89 in total, by far my lowest since I started groundhopping. Football has taken a back seat for now, what with a worldwide pandemic. With so many lives lost and many more ruined, that is understandable. Once we are rid of this vile, racist, ageist, elitist murdering virus we will be back and non-league clubs especially will need our support and I'm certainly not planning on holding back when we resume. I hope I can do so in the good company of the many great people who I have met over the years pursuing this wonderful hobby. It's been 81 days since my last game (at the day of writing) and this will surely surpass the 95-day record that I have between games since I started watching in 1991.

I've saved a good amount of cash mind, staying in, indeed having to self isolate due to health reasons and I'm hugely grateful to my employer (which hasn't always been the happiest areas of my life) for continuing to pay me and support me during this tricky period. The year of 2020 was meant to be the year I finally gave myself the kick up the backside I needed - find a new job, get onto the property ladder (even in a new area if needed, I favoured the North-East) and visit some new countries. But this has now all been kicked into the long grass by a worldwide crisis and it's a venture into the unknown for most. But nevertheless, enough waffle, here are the awards for my truncated season.


Though they are not worthy of being called our rivals due to the way they formed, getting a result against this illegitimate mob is always good. Even better when we came from behind and got a last-minute winner in a drama-packed game.


A dreadful performance in the last game of the decade as we were totally outclassed by a Coventry side that had not won away all season. And there was kit envy on our part as their black and white away kit was dead smart.


A real treat of a game at a fairly basic but historic venue as Epping came from two goals down to draw in an exciting game only to lose on penalties in an Anagram Trophy game.


Friendlies are rarely decent games and this one was no exception as two sides played out a dull contest on a warm July afternoon. At least entry was free.


On my penultimate day of football, I was at AVRO FC for Golcar United's North West Counties League game, the venue having been changed due to a waterlogged pitch at Golcar. It allowed me to see a game in the Manchester area before an overnight coach home and the opener was a real beauty. A free-kick was hammered against the defensive wall, only to fall at the feet of Michael Tunnicliffe who smashed the ball home via the underside of the crossbar from 25 yards for a brilliant strike.


A hidden gem at step 8 of Non-League - the Leicestershire Senior Division 1 in this case. You'll have to go during the day as there are no lights and the track leading down to the ground is a real challenge for most cars, but once you get there, it's well worth it. Delightfully ramshackle and plenty of cover for wet weather.


Sadly, my visit to the cider crazy city of Bristol was all too brief, but this pub was an absolute cracker with around 20 good ciders on offer. A lovely vibe too and the only pub that my journey involved a motorboat as I took a shortcut across the River Avon.


Not a world-beater by any means, but I have been waiting for many years to find a semi-decent pub in the previously terrible area of High Wycombe. This was a chance find on the first day of the season when I visited to redeem a free pint off of a phone app. I finally found a pub that served decent cider in High Wycombe and at very fair prices too. I straight away made it my designated pre-match pub in Wycombe and as well as the good drink choice, a friendly King Charles Spaniel called Bruce and brilliant landlord and landlady (Chris and Kirsten) have made sure that I have visited on plenty of non-matchdays too.



I visited when I took fellow hopper Anwar to Tuffley Rovers. It had been a couple of years since we had last visited here due to lack of grounds around the area but it was excellent as ever, delivering great food at reasonable prices and with a sit-in option too.


Just as with my pub of choice, I've been going to the same takeaway all season. I first discovered this place when in the area getting my car fixed a few years previously and it has been spot on every time. A wide range of tasty options and all at great prices and an ideal stopping place, halfway between town and the ground.


Club shops that sell old programmes are rare nowadays, so to find this was a real bonus as there must have been a couple of thousand at least on offer. I got two books for 50p each. Sadly, clubs don't see old programmes as profitable but what they don't realize is that people will make a special effort to visit a good shop and it might put a few on the gate.


It's hardly been a vintage season for programs, with demand falling thanks to a lot of information being available online, a lot of programmes are no more than a token effort to meet requirements. But the Clay Cross Town effort ranked well in the awards and was well presented with a decent amount of facts and articles. Impressive for a step 7 side.


I don't often eat in the ground, for reasons you will see below. But Brigg was a real treat, some made pie, well-cooked chips, mushy peas and gravy, all for £4. Totally delicious and you'd struggle to find better in an outside establishment.


I don't like nominating 'worst' awards as I want to keep this blog positive and encourage people to visit clubs. But this was poor. It was actually for a White Ensign game, the day after a Great Wakering game. As a result, fans were treated to a single choice - hot dogs comprising of a cheap sausage in a stale bun, clearly leftover from the previous days game. And they put butter in the bun too, revolting!


Nothing special on the drinks front, but a better range than most and nice cold drinks too. Spacious and had sports TV too and well priced.


I don't do this blog for views, I do it to keep a record of my visits to look back on, however, I do like people to see it and hopefully visit a ground they like the look of. Also to meet new people. Sadly, after spending a fair bit of cash and time visiting clubs, few bother to take the few seconds to retweet (I'd say the ratio was about 10% at most) Sarratt were one of the smaller clubs that I visited, but they did retweet and as a result, it was my most read blog of the season with a (still small) 405 views. Decent considering the average of 150 - 200 though.


Plenty of brilliant clubs on this front, so hard to pick a winner. But I plumped for Peacehaven & Telscombe who gifted me free entry after my original visit there was called off. This was despite it not being their fault as opponents Eastbourne United pulled out a few days before the game. They also made the effort to DM me on Twitter to keep me up to date to make sure I was kept in the loop. Top class.


There will be many better tributes elsewhere online, but Dulwich Hamlet fanatic and groundhopper in denial Mishi was a much-loved part of the non-league scene. Having met him on a number of occasions, I could vouch for the fact that he was a top bloke. Having survived a heart attack and foot infection earlier in 2019, the year had been an awful one for him. A second heart attack saw him not so lucky and he will be much missed by many.


Well, after the fiasco at Stowmarket, I didn't think that someone could get any lower, but the 'gentleman' who masquerades as the president of China absolutely trumped it by ending the season once and for all and causing the whole world misery. Not content with making his own people's lives a misery, allowing filthy hygiene standards at a local market and then being economical with the truth has meant that the whole world has suffered. Not deliberate of course and football is way down the pecking order with getting on for 400,000 dead at the time of writing, far more than there should have been over here thanks to own government's hopeless handling of the pandemic. This is not a slight against the good people of China who have provided the world with so many good things, but their government I don't have any time for.

But in runners-up spot, what is it with the Eastern Counties League and stupid referees. This is the second occasion a referee has opted to be the centre of attention rather than show common sense. The man concerned (name deleted given the bigger picture) called the game off eight minutes before kick-off with both teams happy to play. The groundsman was even willing to fix the problem if only the referee would delay kick-off at Stowmarket Town v Walsham-Le-Willows by 15 minutes but the man in the middle was not listening. This came after another referee, (name deleted again) called off a match at Felixstowe with a few hundred in attendance on a Friday night. By the time we'd got our money back and got back to our cars, the fog had cleared, by which time the referee was filling his face with free food in the hospitality tent! Late kickoffs are becoming a real problem with several late call-offs with zero consideration for the fans. It affects attendances no doubt, as I and other hoppers have reduced faith in games going ahead and so opt to stay in and save a wasted journey. 


Very much up in the air at the moment, what with the current situation. But I've not been aboard for a few years, so that is a must, especially with vouchers to use from my cancelled booking this season. Belgium & Holland was my original intention and that stands a high chance of figuring again. I also plan to do a lot more Friday nighters, with some long-distance ones involving an overnight stop and a game or two on Saturday.

Costs for this season are as yet unknown, what with me not knowing what is happening with my season ticket and also not yet having worked out all my car costs fully. However, I can reveal that I spent £207 on 'extras' - this includes programmes and more basic food and drink. It doesn't include when I have gone somewhere special to eat, nor does it include special ciders as I regard that as a separate hobby. For Wycombe games, if we win I add nothing to my costs if we draw, my football costs added are half of what I spent and if we lose my costs cop for the lot. My hobby, my rules.