Monday 04 March 2019, 07:16

Distance no object for dedicated groundhoppers

  • Fans taking in world football through hobby of groundhopping

  • Trio of Dutch fans visited Argentina to sample the game there

  • Took in 18 stadiums in 14 days after 26,000km journey

Travelling 26,000 kilometres in 14 days and visiting 18 stadiums in the process might sound crazy, but not when you have a passion for football and discovering new cultures, making new friends and fulfilling lifelong dreams. It is these passions that drive the groundhoppers, the globetrotters of football.

Three of their brethren – Ron Coppens, Pim Meussen and Theo van Gestel – have just made that mind-boggling journey through Argentina, visiting both world-famous stadiums and less well-known grounds that are the pride of the neighbourhood and nothing more. The trio all hail from the Netherlands, though there are hundreds more like them. Based mainly in Europe, groundhoppers like nothing more than to travel to other cities and countries to take in a football match.

The groundhopping scene is growing fast. Together with specialist blogs, forums and apps, social media accounts are bringing together fans from around the globe, providing them with information and stories that help them decide their next port of call, track down tickets, and make new friends.

“Doing this gives me the chance to combine a few different things, like seeing other cities, travelling and having fun with my friends or my wife, enjoying a match, and meeting other fans,” Ron, 30, told “Football brings people together!”

That interest in football, culture and people is something shared by all groundhoppers, though they each have their own preferences.

“There are different types,” said Pim, 49, who made his maiden trip in 1997, to see Schalke 04 take on Borussia Dortmund.

“Some of them want to visit every stadium where professional clubs play, while others want to go to every professional and amateur ground. Then there are those who just go to derbies or to ‘lost grounds’, the old stadiums that clubs have vacated. As for me, I just want to go wherever there’s a game on.”

A unifying force

The trio’s trip to Argentina is an excellent example of the ties that groundhoppers can forge with one another. Ron and Theo have known each other for 20 years, as the 47-year-old Theo explained. “I was Ron’s coach in the youth teams at VV Steensel and now he’s one of my best friends.”

The two live close to Eindhoven and are big PSV fans. Ron, who has been to no fewer than 426 stadiums, introduced Theo to the scene and they do a lot of travelling together. Seeing Argentinian football with their own eyes has long been a dream of theirs. “We wanted to experience the atmosphere the fans generate and visit those big, old stadiums that you don’t see many of in Europe any more.”

An N.E.C. Nijmegen fan who lives in Harderwijk, Pim planned his trip months ago. His travelling companion pulled out just before they were due to leave, however, prompting him to tweet Ron and Theo, whom he had never met, and join them. Two weeks later the three of them set off for Buenos Aires, a place Pim described as “the capital of football.”

Seeing is believing

Argentina has lived up to all their expectations. Attending stadiums in the first, second, third and even fourth divisions, they have enjoyed a trip high on adrenaline and full of stories and experiences.

“The best thing has been the help we’ve had from the fans here,” said Ron. Fans and journalists have helped them pick up tickets and find the quickest way to get from one stadium to the next. “Twitter and Facebook have this huge power,” he added.

It was through social media that the press office at Huracan got in touch with them to offer them free tickets to a game. “What a stadium! It really takes you back,” said Ron. “When we walked in, we all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow!’” added Pim.

Undeterred by an hour-long taxi ride, Pim returned to Quilmes’s stadium a few days after the game they saw there to buy shirts: “They gave us such a warm welcome in Argentina that we enjoyed every minute of it.”

18 games in 12 days
Rosario Central v River PlateRacing Club v Godoy CruzLanús v Rosario Central
Vélez Sarsfield v ColónTalleres (RE) v UAI UrquizaHuracán v Unión (SF)
San Lorenzo v Newell'sQuilmes v ChacaritaIndependiente v Racing Club
Almagro v Gimnasia de MendozaBoca Juniors v Atl. TucumánRiver Plate v San Martín (T)
Banfield v River PlateSportivo Italiano v V. ArenasDefensa y Justicia v Boca Juniors
Dep. Español v Dep. RiestraBarracas Central v ComunicacionesNewell's v San Martín (SJ)