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Anyone with more than a passing interest in football is likely to have heard of the phenomenon that is ‘groundhopping'. Committed, dedicated supporters will certainly know about groundhopping and might even be a groundhopper, themselves.
Me? I've been to quite a few stadiums at home and abroad but wouldn't quite classify myself as a groundhopper. Yes, there is a difference between a fan who goes to as many games as possible to see their team and a groundhopper, who is distinguished by the efforts and lengths that they go to.
What is the meaning of groundhopping?
A dictionary reference includes the following:
Groundhopper noun [ C ] /ˈɡraʊnd.hɒp.ər/
- Someone who engages in groundhopping, the hobby of attending football matches at as many different stadiums or grounds as possible.
Essentially, groundhoppers are dedicated football fans who commit to travelling near and far, to attend games from grassroots to elite level, ticking off as many stadiums and countries visited as possible. The only deterrent is time and money.
Groundhoppers sometimes are neutral fans who don't quite have a partisan depth of feeling for one particular club but instead, prefer the adventure and collective sense of different clubs, locations, cultures and experiences, ultimately.
This is a passion in itself, as much as a keen hobby.
What is the point of groundhopping?
It's all about the experiences. That can mean a Copa Libertadores final or a regular league fixture in the Northern Premier League on a cold Tuesday in February.
Variety is said to be the spice of life and that is one certainty about groundhopping as you are exposed to differences of all kinds, with the common bond of football, fans and stadiums.
Groundhopping can mean sharing the ‘hop' with others, it involves meeting fans of many new clubs, to witness their typical matchday experience and what makes them tick.
What are the groundhopping rules?
Rules are few and far between, but it is accepted that to mark a new stadium, you must see a live game at that venue. Stadium tours do not count, nor does a quick whistle stop outside when you are going elsewhere.
You need to be inside the stadium, watching the game for at least one-half whilst others say you need to watch the full game, from the first whistle to the last.
Groundhopping is born from a love of the magic of football fandom. Of the architecture and character of stadiums, with more and more disappearing with the passing of time. Groundhoppers generally prefer the old, inner-city compact football grounds which aren't necessarily fit for modern-day standards or the requirements nowadays.
Clubs such as Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Derby County, Southampton, Leicester City, even Arsenal have moved to a new home in the modern era, leaving behind the brick and mortar of much of their history, with only the memories living on.
There is an innocence and an air of intrigue to the concept of groundhopping. Imagination, effort and honesty are also at play. The more you put into your visit to a new ground and location, the more you will get out of it.
How can I become a groundhopper?
You make plans, you have your visit and you make sure you regularly maintain the habit and hobby of visiting new football stadiums with interest and enthusiasm.
The best place to start is in your local area. Mark down how many stadiums are nearby your location and come up with a plan to see a game at them all. Then you can move on to more stadiums, up and down the UK as well as elsewhere in Europe and the world.
How can I record my groundhopping activity?
You may already know that there are groundhopping communities, both online and in the real world, to embrace and enjoy.
The likes of Grouphop UK, Groundhopper website, Groundhop.com as well as the excellent Futbology App (pictured right) will have you covered for plans, pals, learning and recording all groundhopping activity as you go along.
What groundhopping is recommended?
As stated above, you can start locally.
Say you live in London, for example. As of the current 2023/24 season, there are 19 clubs in the capital, from the Premier League down to the National League South. As in every region, there will also be a plethora of non-league and amateur clubs to watch football at.
In London over the space of one weekend, you could go from the likes of the London Stadium to watch West Ham, to the infamous New Den to watch Millwall, or how about Fulham's Craven Cottage (a groundhopper favourite) to AFC Wimbledon at the New Plough Lane.
A few years ago, I combined Manchester United and Chelsea on Champions League duty, on consecutive nights.
Arriving in Manchester on Tuesday, I went to Old Trafford to see then-manager Louis van Gaal's Utd team against CSKA Moscow in what turned out to be a 2-1 victory for the hosts. An overnight stay in the city was followed by an early morning National Express coach to Victoria station in the capital.
After a couple of hours of leisure time around Fulham Broadway, it was time to take in Chelsea vs Dynamo Kiev which also ended with the same 2-1 scoreline. Two stadiums visited, two different cities and experiences, quickly followed by another bus journey, this time through the night and with a Midlands destination.
One of the best things about groundhopping is that so much of it is up to the individual, you can do things your own way, with others or alone, with food, beer or both or simply about the football.
So, which stadium are you going to visit next?