In recent years, ‘groundhopping’ has become more than just a hobby, it’s become a competition. Soccer fans from up and down the country who support clubs from up and down the football pyramid have dedicated themselves to visiting as many stadiums as possible.
Shaun Best is one of the few hoppers who is able to say he has visited every single ground in the Football League, and he’s written a book about his adventure called ‘Journey to the 72’ to prove it. From Accrington Stanley to York City, every league club was visited over the 2014/15 season, which is an even more impressive feat when you consider Shaun’s previous lack of groundhopping experience.
“I was the laziest football fan ever, had only visited London once and had never really been out of my comfort zone.” Shaun explained. “Friends floated the idea of groundhopping, I did some reading up on it and decided to go for it. I haven’t looked back. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life and I wholeheartedly encourage anyone on the fence to go and visit a new ground or two.”
“Nothing beats the excitement of writing your first book. It’s also proved to be a vital learning curve, with regards to things I would do differently next time. Proofreading is time consuming, but is a necessary evil. A lot of time, dedication and patience is required, but the end result has made it all worthwhile.”
Despite their fans often getting a bad rep, being called “plastic” and “glory-hunters”, Shaun is an ardent Manchester United fan, while also keeping an eye out for his local team Chester FC. The Blues play in the Northern Premier League Division One North, and were founded in 2010 following the winding-up of previous club Chester City FC.
“Seeing Chester City fold was horrible and it’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on any club or any supporter. The phoenix side are keeping their heads above water in the National League and I have an equal feeling of affection for both Chester and United these days.”
After visiting so many grounds, Shaun can be classed as a bit of an expert. When asked what the essentials are for a day watching the beautiful game, he said: “Competitive prices, a good view that’s preferably close to the halfway line, nearby pubs and passionate fans help bring a ground to life. You can’t beat a piping hot pie either!”
And as a Yeovil Town fan, I couldn’t resist asking Shaun what he thought about his visit to Somerset and the Glovers’ home ground Huish Park. His visit came towards the end of the 2014/15 campaign when he saw them lose 2 – 1 to Port Vale.
“The surrounding area of Huish Park is ideal for a cider in the summer and I was impressed by the state of the art 3G facilities at the back of the stadium. My visit happened to be towards the end of the season when, unfortunately, relegation had already been sealed, so it was the away fans making the most noise.”
Both a paperback and Kindle edition of ‘Journey to the 72’ is available to buy on Amazon. Meanwhile, Shaun is currently working towards ‘the 92’, now trying to visit every Premier League stadium. You can keep up to date with his quest by following him on Twitter.
For more groundhopping, you can also visit my website ‘Somerset Stadiums’ which has ground reviews and match reports from in and around Somerset.