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Groundhopping: The Fans Who Visit as Many Football Stadiums as Possible

During a football season, many football fans will end up only visiting one ground, the home stadium of their favourite team. There will also be, of course, a contingent of fans willing to travel to away matches too, with some of them very rarely missing a single fixture, no matter how long the journey. These die-hard, ever-present fans can easily clock up 20+ stadiums visited just for league fixtures, let alone any extras that come with domestic cup competitions.

This is an impressive tally for most but for a groundhopper, it is little more than a solid start. Rather than watching the same team week on week, the aim of a groundhopper is just to visit as many grounds as possible and in doing so, see as many different teams. In most cases they will be spectating as neutrals rather than as passionate fans of one of the teams in action. This is not to say that a groundhopper must be entirely neutral though as they may well sometimes find themselves cheering on one side, whatever the reason.

Why Groundhopping?

UK Map Green Road SignGroundhopping is best viewed as a hobby which people do simply because they enjoy the experience of it. There are no prizes up for grabs for visiting a certain amount of stadiums and it is hardly a pathway to fame either. To gain any sort of media attention you would need to do something truly exceptional, like break a world record.

On that note, some of you may recall the story of Ed Wood who visited all 92 league football clubs, plus, Berwick Rangers, in just 189 days, covering 22,000 miles in the process. His achievement was particularly impressive as it shaved 48 days off the previous record, thanks to some excellent planning and understanding of why and how fixtures change.

Groundhoppers will tell you that they enjoy their hobby because it allows them to see different stadiums, all featuring their unique quirks, plus many different locations that they would never otherwise set foot in. All teams may follow the same rules on the pitch but every club has its own fan bases, chants, players, food and so on. For people that simply love the game of football, the fact that no two grounds are the same makes groundhopping a genuinely fun pastime.

Visiting a new stadium is ultimately the biggest draw for groundhoppers but some may combine their interest in football grounds with further exploration in the area. For those that prefer this approach, they will use the match as a starting point around which to build a longer trip, giving them time to take in some of the other local highlights. Other groundhoppers will simply come and go for the football, after all, many grounds are not in places that offer all that much of interest to many visitors.

No matter which option they tend to go for, for many groundhoppers part of the fun is working towards a long-term target. A common one, for those based in the UK, is to visit all 92 league clubs. This is made slightly trickier, if not done in one season, due to promotion/relegation changing the list of the clubs in the four leagues: the Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two. Another option could be to visit all stadiums within a country e.g. Scotland or Wales, or to visit stadiums in a specified number of different countries. The latter can tie in particularly well with some European rail-trips as many stadiums are well connected by public transport.

The Rules

UK Football Stadium Exterior

There is no governing body for groundhopping so ultimately you are free to claim whatever you like. Exaggerated figures, outright lies, nobody is really in a position to verify your claim of how many stadiums you have visited. That said, if you wanted to take it seriously there are some rules you can follow. The ones provided by the 92 Club (mentioned in more detail later) are as good as any. Some of their rules are specific to the challenge of visiting all 92 league clubs (i.e. all those in the Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two) but there are some more general points included too.

Basically, the main takeaways are that you must be attending a match (so not visiting the stadium for a tour, wedding or similar) and that it can be any competitive fixture. This means watching a World Cup qualifier at a stadium is perfectly fine. Perhaps slightly harshly, the official 92 Club does not include pre-season friendlies, but this is something that other groundhopping groups are fine with. There is also no real consensus regarding how long you must stay at the match. Staying for the first five minutes hardly seems to be in the spirit of groundhopping but leaving a drab affair 15 minutes early to beat the rush would be acceptable to most.

By largely following borrowed guidelines, you will be able to count how many stadiums you have ‘properly’ visited. The total may be higher than you think, somewhat accidentally, as being a fan who regularly watches their team play away from home can easily produce a big number over the course of just a few seasons.

The 92 Club

Red Neon 92We referenced some of the 92 Club’s rules on groundhopping above because they are perhaps the most-well known groundhopping group. Occasionally this exclusive society gets mentioned by major news outlets, including the BBC and even the New York Times, but they are still largely low-profile as this is still very much a niche hobby. This society, which is popular among UK-based groundhoppers, was founded in 1978 by Bristol Rovers fan Gordon Pearce. He indulged in the hobby along with 38 other members but the group has since grown with over 1,200 people having managed the feat.

Should you type the 92 Club into your search engine you are likely to be taken to the 92club.co.uk which is a popular site among people doing the challenge. This is not however the original 92 Club set up more than four decades ago. The official 92 club does have an online presence, albeit an incredibly basic one. With the official group, those that complete the 92 challenge are eligible for some form of ‘official’ recognition. Anyone who sends over the £30 membership fee and their list of visits will receive.

A Membership card in a plastic holder showing name, date and location of 92nd visit
An unframed certificate showing the name, address, date and location of the 92nd visit, together with space to record visits to “new” league grounds
An enamel pin lapel badge with the same design as the logo on the home page
A tie, with the same design as the logo as a single woven white motif on green silk OR a taffeta-lined scarf

What is the World Record?

Blue Numbered Stadium Seats

We know for a fact there are fans that have visited all 92 league clubs (those that were league clubs at the time of completing the challenge) but as for the biggest total, this is not known. There is no agreed-upon world record holder for most football grounds visited and there is unlikely to be for some time. Part of the issue is being able to verify a claim as people will lack concrete proof of any claim. Even a ticket stub is insufficient as this does not prove they were actually at the game.

Many of the leading scores in the groundhopping world, if you are prepared to count them, will actually belong to footballing professionals (players, managers, physios and so-on) given how often some of them travel. You could also see professional football commentators clocking up some very impressive figures.

Lionel Messi, at the time of writing, had played in 191 stadiums for both club and country. Messi’s tally is definitely not the highest either. Consider someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic who played regularly in seven countries (Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, France, England, USA) as well as 121 times for his country. The Swede will need to go into management though to match the record of Roy Hodgson, who managed 1,231 matches in eight different countries during his lengthy career.

The way the 92 Club deals with professionals who end up visiting all 92 stadia is by adding them to their ‘Honorary Members list’ a short list that features a couple of players (Alan Durban and Duncan Forbes) plus some non-playing staff. There has been no new edition to this list since 1987, but they are open to nominations should anyone qualify.

As far as pure groundhoppers go, while there might be no verifiable world record, it could well be that nobody can beat the tally of an Italian football fan Federico Roccio, also known as the Stadium Hunter.

Federico Roccio

Italian Passport with Stamper

His commitment to exploring as many different stadiums as possible has seen Federico Roccio’s exploits catch the attention of the media. An article published by FIFA in 2020 stated that the Italian had visited 603 grounds in 42 different countries, with no intention of stopping any time soon. Impressively, he even managed 28 stadiums during his honeymoon, 15 of which had matches on, in the span of just 14 days (some of his huge tally included visits on non-match days).

Roccio’s passion for watching football live initially started when he regularly watched AC Milan, his boyhood club, play at the San Siro. He later started to watch them away occasionally but was teased by a group he was travelling with for the lack of other stadiums he had visited. After this, he basically made a challenge to himself to beat their totals and he has been enamoured with stadium hopping ever since.

Tips for Groundhopping

Green Football Tactics Chalkboard

If groundhopping sounds like something you might enjoy doing, no matter the pace, there are some tips to help you make the most of the experience.

Plan Ahead, But Not Too Far

A well-planned trip can see you tick at least a couple of grounds off your list for a weekend, or three or four over the course of a week. This may not always be possible but by checking the fixtures list you will be able to locate when nearby teams are in action but not with the same kick-off time. Not only will this save money, as it means making fewer trips, but often you will get a discount from booking your travel and/or accommodation in advance.

Before you start checking fixtures two months in advance though, be warned that most fixture dates and times are only provisional and are subject to change. This is less common for lower league games but in the Premier League, for example, there can be a lot of chopping and changing. This is often because of matches being selected for TV, but teams enjoying a long domestic cup run can also disrupt things. Due to this, make sure a game’s time has been confirmed before you start making any bookings. In some countries, fixtures may only be confirmed a couple weeks in advance.

Split Your Tickets

Travelling by train is how many football fans arrive at a stadium for a match. Not only does it remove the hassle of finding somewhere to park, which is often costly, but it gives them the option to have something to eat or drink as you go. Train tickets can be expensive, but very often it is possible to reduce the cost by doing something known as splitting your ticket. To give a quick example, rather than buying a ticket from Sheffield to London, it may be cheaper to buy a ticket from Sheffield to Leicester and Leicester to London.

This will not be the case in all countries but for travel in the UK, splitting tickets is a regular money saver and one that is perfectly within the rules. If you do not fancy trying to find the best deals yourself, there is a range of websites that will do it for you, and just take a small cut of the savings made. In addition to this, you should also look into whether a railcard could be worth your money. You may not be eligible for an aged-based card but if you plan on visiting stadiums with a specific friend, you can get the two together card, saving you a third on fares.

Keep Tabs on Your Progress

If you are just starting off, keeping track of what stadiums you have visited is easy enough. The more visits you rack up though, and the more time that passes, the easier it becomes to forget one or two. Anyone looking to take groundhopping relatively seriously, or anyone that simply loves tracking this kind of information, should find a way of monitoring their progress. Nothing fancy is required, it can be a simple pen and paper job, but there are also websites where you can digitally mark which grounds you have been to.

Potential Problems

Person Adding Up Receipts

For groundhoppers that like to work towards a particular target, e.g. visiting every league football ground, there are some stadiums that will prove much trickier than the rest. Some clubs have a fan base that far exceeds their stadium capacity, meaning tickets seldom go on general sale. Instead, tickets are reserved for members but signing up for a year’s membership with a club can easily cost more than the ticket itself.

The much cheaper and easier solution is to simply pick an unpopular fixture, most likely an early-round cup tie. Even the most popular stadiums have quiet games now and again so you will not be without an opportunity to visit over the course of the season, it may just not be for a league game. We would always refrain from opting for some unofficial third-party reseller as the tickets could be invalid, or touts at the ground which is against the law. You should always stick with the official club website, or a club-approved reseller, if there are any.

The other issue to consider, for anyone looking into starting this as a hobby, is the cost. Some countries offer relatively inexpensive tickets, such as France where even the average season ticket in Ligue 1 was a mere £172 just a few years ago but English football is much pricier. Even across the third or fourth tier you should expect to pay £20 to £25 for a game, if getting a regular adult ticket. When you add in the transport costs and accommodation costs if staying overnight (typically on a weekend when prices are highest) you can be looking at a hefty bill over the course of a season.

Author: Tyler Parker