This blog is the start of a regular series on The 94th Minute where I ask various people, who are involved in football in some manner, eleven questions to get to know them better. The first ten questions will differ for each person asked, but the final question will always be:
“Who would be in your all-time starting XI?”
This is a question where anyone can be put into their starting eleven, whether they are famous footballers, football legends, past or unknown players who had an impact on their childhood, or even players they have played with or coached. Anyone is acceptable in their XI!
The very first person interviewed for the Starting XI series is Gareth Thomas, a Shropshire-based groundhopper, who is most known for being the man behind the excellent and fascinating groundhopping blogsite, ‘Gareth’s Football Travels’ (Website: https://garethsfootballtravels.wordpress.com/)
1. Thank you Gareth for being my first guest of the series! Firstly, how did you get involved in groundhopping and blogging?
I have always had a keen interest in football since I was a child. I can remember watching football on the TV from about 6 years old, I played youth football and then senior football to a fairly good standard. It goes without saying that I have also enjoyed going to watch football. My uncle used to take me to watch Shrewsbury Town and Telford United games when I was a youngster and I carried that on myself into adult life, watching both teams a lot at home, and sometimes at away fixtures.
In 2015, I attended Park Hall, the home of The New Saints (the Welsh Premier League champions), for their UEFA Champions League Qualifier against Tre Penne from San Marino. This was the first time in a long time that I had visited a ‘new ground’ and I really enjoyed the experience – I suppose you could say that I was bitten by the ‘groundhopping bug’ that day. Since then I have conducted the hobby of groundhopping and have been blogging now for around 16 months. I love the blogging just as much as the actual groundhopping!
2. How would you describe your blog “Gareth’s Football Travels” for people who have never seen it before?
I think that I would describe my blog as not only a blog that concentrates on football but also one that focuses on history as well. I always like to conduct research on the village, town or city that I am visiting as I believe that it is all part of the experience.
3. What is your favourite part of groundhopping, and what is the worst part?
My favourite part is definitely visiting parts of the UK that I probably would never have even thought of visiting, if it wasn’t for groundhopping. Obviously, it also goes without saying, that I also really enjoy visiting new grounds and meeting new people along the way
Worst part is a difficult one to answer as I haven’t really personally experienced any negative aspects of the hobby to date. I mean there are some hops I have enjoyed more than others for various reasons, but I must say that I always get some enjoyment every time I go hopping, be it in a small or big way.
4. Are there any groundhopping or football sites you enjoy reading (barring the obvious one of course 😉 )
Well……………………. apart from the obvious choice of The 94th Minute, I have begun doing a little bit of writing for a website called ‘Football That Glitters Isn’t Gold‘, I really enjoy reading all of the different articles published on there. The Facebook group pages of ‘Your Football Page‘ and ‘Non-League Grounds of England, Wales and Scotland‘ provide some cracking reads posted by lovers of football. I find that ‘Non League Matters‘ website is also extremely informative.
5. What has been your favourite groundhop so far and why?
My favourite hop so far came towards the end of the 2017/2018 season when I visited The Globe to watch Buckley Town versus Llanuwchllyn. The ground itself is absolutely superb and is really worth a visit. I was treated very well by the club, I told them that I would be attending the game and they had reserved me a programme upon my arrival. All of the club officials were very welcoming and I was invited into the committee room for tea and cake at half time. They even announced my name on the loud speaker to see that I was there as a hopper for the first time. An excellent day in every possible way!
6. What (if anything) has been the strangest thing you have seen or experienced on your groundhopping travels?
A few things spring to mind. In April 2018, I visited Dolforgan Park, the home of Kerry FC, to watch them play against Llanidloes Town. Dolforgan Park is a nice little venue but the two best things about it is the main stand, which is basically the back off a lorry, and in the corner of the ground is a cast iron bridge which dates back to 1818. Here are pics of the stand and bridge:
Also in April 2018, I visited Enville Athletic Football Club for their Midlands League Division 3 game against Castle Vale. What makes this ground not so much strange but unique is that Enville Athletic play in the grounds on Enville Hall Estate, with the back drop to the football pitch being Enville Hall itself, the hall dates back to the 1500’s. Quite a place to watch a football match. Here is a pic:
A strange but very funny experience came when I visited Clos Tan Y Mur, home of Montgomery Town FC, for their game against Dolgellau Athletic. It was an absolutely freezing afternoon complete with snow and hail storms. I was among an attendance of 13 braving the wintery conditions, there I was stood in a small shelter watching the game with notebook in hand trying to get my hand working to write as it was frozen. About 20 minutes into the first half, the referee ran over to me during play and said in a joking voice, “Excuse me, but are you bloody mad?”, to which I replied, “A little bit but at least I’m not wearing shorts!”, which provided the ref and I some amusement. This is something that I will always remember.
7. How do you plan which grounds/fixtures you go to?
I try and plan around a week in advance before I go to a game, so that it gives me time to research the history of the club and area I am visiting. As previously mentioned, I use the ‘Non League Matters‘ website as a tool for forthcoming fixtures. Another good website I use is ‘All Wales Sport‘ and social media, especially Twitter is an extremely valuable tool to use when planning. No end of times, I have seen a particular club post ‘such and such match next week’ and have used that Twitter announcement to choose a match to go to.
8. Do you collect anything from each ground i.e. do you get a program, pin badge, etc?
I always try and collect something from any ground I visit. If there is a programme issued, I will always purchase one. If there isn’t a programme, I will ask if the club has any badges for sale. If both are not available, I will ask if I can have a copy of the team sheet so that I have got something to go alongside the hard copy of my blog reports. Recently I visited Llandrindod Wells FC, who are a very friendly club, and I managed to purchase a club scarf, an old matchday programme (none for sale for the match I went too), and a club badge. All of this, plus my match entry, cost less than £10!
9. Are there any grounds or fixtures you particularly wish to visit in the future?
Great question! Well I have always had a dream of visiting the Maracana Stadium in Brazil and the San Siro in Italy – maybe one day that dream will come true. Talking closer to home, I’ve always wanted to go and watch a game at Llandudno FC – I have many happy childhood memories from family holidays in Llandudno, so to tick the ground off would be excellent. One that I would really like to visit in England would be Malvern FC – from the pictures I have seen on social media, etc. it looks an absolute gem.
10. Is there any advice you could give to someone who wants to start groundhopping and/or blogging?
My advice would be don’t think about doing groundhopping as an hobby – do it! It really is a superb hobby and is one that I really wish that I had started sooner than I did (started hopping properly nearly 4 years ago). Don’t give yourself too many rules – as many hoppers have told me in the past, “it’s your hobby, so you make the rules”. With regards to blogging – again I get so much enjoyment out of this, so my advice would be to those thinking about (it) to at least give it a go, and to see where it takes you!
11. Finally, who would be in your all-time starting XI?
My all time starting XI would be as follows, playing in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
- GK: Lev Yashin [Soviet Union]
- RB: Carlos Alberto [Brazil]
- CB: Bobby Moore [England]
- CB: Franz Beckenbauer [West Germany]
- LB: Paulo Maldini [Italy]
- RW: Jairzinho [Brazil]
- CM: Diego Maradona [Argentina]
- CM: Paul Gascoigne [England]
- LW: George Best [Northern Ireland]
- CF: Pele [Brazil]
- CF: Lionel Messi [Argentina]
I’m sure this team would be a match for anyone!
I know the question didn’t ask for subs but because I had many close calls in my head for my starting XI, my 7 substitutes would be:
- GK: Neville Southall [Wales]
- CB: Billy Wright [England]
- CF: George Weah [Liberia]
- CF: Cristiano Ronaldo [Portugal]
- RW: Stanley Matthews [England]
- LW: Ryan Giggs [Wales]
- CF: Eusebio [Portugal]
A big thank you to Gareth for being the first guest in this series! To follow Gareth or view his blogsite, the links are below:
- Website: https://garethsfootballtravels.wordpress.com/
- Twitter: @Gareth19801
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gareths-Football-Travels-211658322647030/
If there you have any feedback, comments or suggestions who I should interview next in the series, let me know either below in the comments box or tweet me @The94thMin. It would be good to hear what you think about the new series!