“Football at all levels is beautiful, but the lower you get the prettier it is.”
Welcome to my blog; a blog which has evolved a lot since being set up in 2011. Originally I intended this to be a digital scrapbook with photographs of stadiums and match reports, but it has all got a bit out of hand as I have grown older. I now consider this blog to be a travelogue of my adventures over land and sea. From the rugged and romantic West Lancashire Leagues to the boring and commercialised Champions League I will showcase some of the more interesting places I have been to.
I attended my first match in 2002 when England U20 faced Finland U20 at The Reebok. A young Kevin Nolan was playing and my dad threw my programme away in a bag full of rubbish as we left the ground. I’m still looking for one to this very day. Of course, I wasn’t bothered when I was six years old as I wasn’t yet an anorak.
Ironically, despite being a Bolton fan, it wasn’t until I had seen both Wigan Athletic and Manchester United play that I attended my first Wanderers match. It was October 2003; a birthday present. I opened a card from my mum’s friend Sue, and inside was a load of confetti and a ticket to my first Bolton match. My dad wasn’t on hand to throw my programme away this time and I had the added bonus of getting it signed by Ricardo Gardner and Ivan Campo; I didn’t have a clue who they were at the time. We lost 1-0 with Mikael Forssell scoring the winner.
From a young age I used to play football in the Bolton & Bury League. Back then Bury seemed like it was the other side of the world. Journeys that only took half an hour seemed to take forever as I counted down the minutes until I would be kicking the ball around. Travelling to one such match my Dad told me about the concept of watching a game at all of the 92 football league grounds. He wasn’t trying to make me pack in playing football, far from it, but from that moment on I felt I had an ambition that I knew I could see through.
I carried on playing for another couple of seasons in the Bolton & Bury League before moving over to local side Atherton Town where we won the Wigan Youth league. I only lasted a couple more seasons before arthritis and a bad left knee made it impossible for me to play anymore. Towards the end of my long and illustrious career I was likened to Ledley King in the fact I couldn’t train but still played every week.
A couple of token appearances for Hindsford, one of which saw me somehow score from the half way line, and it was time to retire. It was emotional realising I would never be able to play for Bolton Wanderers or England but I had to face reality.
My Saturday’s were now completely free. No longer would I turn up at The Reebok limping around having had a rough morning playing for Town. This time also coincided with my 16th birthday which meant I was now deemed old enough and responsible enough to catch the official matchday coach to Bolton away games. This is when my groundhopping antics truly took off.
I used to save up all of my paper round money just so I could follow Bolton home and away. From getting drunk on a Tuesday night at Arsenal when we were 16 to seeing us lose 5-0 at Wembley I have had a lot of memorable times with Bolton. I was able to visit the majority of Premier League grounds watching my local team.
I would say things started to get out of hand when Gary, my old coach at Atherton Town and Hindsford took me on a Bury away day with my mate Danny. They were both season ticket holders at Gigg Lane and regularly travelled away, meaning that when they drew Sheffield Wednesday away in the League Cup they would be there. I tagged along and loved it. Trips to Morecambe, Macclesfield and Stevenage followed.
Soon I found that I loved League Two and couldn’t get enough of it. I found it incredible that you could travel to grounds on a Tuesday night and stand in the rain somehow managing to enjoy yourself. I still had my Bolton season ticket and they always took priority but I now knew there was more to football than watching the Wanderers every week.
What was below League Two? I had to use Google to find out and it was mind boggling. Hundreds of divisions, thousands of clubs and a plethora of places I had never heard of. Soon my plans to do all the 92 turned into wanting to watch football anywhere and everywhere.
My first non-league match was in 2011 when Atherton Laburnum Rovers drew 0-0 at home to Glossop North End. It was the worst match I had ever seen. Woeful. Despite this I went back on my own again, where I saw another borefest.
New Years Day 2012. This was the day I fell in love with football. Head over heels I fell in love with the game. That day, I discovered what I really wanted when I watch football. I travelled to Ashton United v Northwich Victoria; a new town and two teams I had never seen. It was cheap; and more enjoyable than sitting in a plastic seat in a Football League ground.
Soon I was making my first trip to Atherton Collieries after I had got talking to a bloke with a Colls hat on at the bus stop. He told me to come down for their match on Monday night, and I did. Colls were now in my blood. I went from having never seen them before to being on the committee within three years, something which I am quite proud of.
The best thing about doing my blog? I have met so many people who I now consider to be my best friends and have been fortunate in the amount of opportunities it has given me. From being the NWCFL correspondent for the Bolton News for a couple of seasons to making an appearance on BBC Radio Manchester I find each season becomes more random and extraordinary. I’ve worked for the Non League Paper, had photographs used by the Daily Mirror and have even taken photographs pitchside at Wembley.
Hopefully you have read (or will go on to) of some of my entries on here. Admittedly, some grounds simply provide me with a match. Others, a whole day and story to tell. One thing that is for certain, is that the lower down we go in the football pyramid, the more amusing and weird the day becomes and that’s what makes it special.