The Football Romantic: Hooper & Son Go Ground Hopping.

The Football Romantic is a new feature to TFN where James Snook takes a look at the aesthetic side of football, exploring heart-warming stories, crazy fan culture and historic football clubs. James wants to share the best untold stories of football that truly make our much loved sport, the Beautiful Game. Because remember football is much more than 90 minutes…

Football truly is a great game both on and off the pitch, it can bring so much happiness and joy to people in a number of different ways. That’s the reason I love the game and I have recently become fascinated with stories and adventures that football can create for individuals.

Recently at my local club I became aware of a truly great footballing story. Chris Hooper a football fanatic has embarked on a footballing journey taking his 4 year old son Liam to football grounds all over the UK. I was so intrigued by the whole concept I had to ask Chris some questions about his great story.

Where did the idea come from? What Inspired you?
I was a season ticket holder at Cambridge United for 7 years and spent the first 3 years going to all the away games. Once Liam was born, I knew I wasn’t going to get away going up to Cambridge every week and with the focus on buying a house and relocating it was one of those non essentials that had to go. Not that I could go without football for very long so I’d go and watch some of the local teams around the area we were living in at the time to get my fix. As soon as Liam could walk and talk I was keen to take him to a game and after the first few, I initially kept taking him along so that my girlfriend would allow me to keep on getting a game in every week – I’m not sure I’d have managed it if I was leaving him at home with her all the time – but the more we went the more he began to enjoy it.

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The Borough Sports Ground – home to Sutton United and the first ground Chris and Liam visited together.

What was the first ground you visited?
The first ground I visited with Liam was Sutton United. The opponents were Cambridge United in a pre-season friendly. I’d always envisaged Liam’s first game involving Cambridge and with this being a pre-season game I wasn’t likely to get too carried away with the atmosphere or anything. It was a nice easy journey on the train and the 2pm kick off meant we wouldn’t be home too late. Unlike if it had been at Cambridge, it was a ground where we could walk around rather than being sat in a seat for 90 minutes. I’d already purchased him a full Cambridge United kit so it was a chance to deck him out properly for the experience! Cambridge won 2-1 and we ended up on the front page of the official website clearly visible in the background as we witnessed the winning goal right in front of us.

What’s the one ground you are yet to visit but really want to?
Extremely difficult to pick out one. There are so many I still want to visit and still a number I’ve been to before that I want Liam to experience too. I’ve always wanted to visit Bradford City. I remember first seeing the ground when they graced the Premier League and really liking it, possibly because it seemed smaller and more compact that the larger stadiums in the division at the time. There’s a number of spectacular looking non league grounds up North which I’d like to get to but are out of our range and budget currently but maybe one day. In non-league I’m quite intrigued by Guernsey. Another difficult and expensive one to get to but a nice big ground with a decent atmosphere and a team who are very entertaining to watch.

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The Sunwin Stand at Valley Parade, home of Bradford City FC.

Do you think Liam understands the concept fully?
Probably not. He does have a passion for visiting different grounds and travelling to new places but the milestones like his 100th ground and 300th goal etc don’t really mean much if anything to him but I’ve got plenty of photos and a log of all the games he’s been to for him to look back on in the years to come.

Has it changed how you view football at all?
I’d say so. Perhaps a bit difficult to put into words but during my years watching Cambridge home and away I did watch the odd game at my then local team Horsham. Back then, I’d often find myself wanting the game to end on 70 minutes so I could go home. Nowadays I could be watching two completely random teams and yet I find myself captivated – even if the game’s not particularly entertaining. I certainly have a lot more respect and appreciation for clubs at lower levels knowing the work and effort that goes on behind the scenes.

“The places you visit, the people you meet and the memories you make are well worth the effort.”

Would you like to take your journey abroad at all?
I’d definitely be open to the opportunity but there’s so many glorious grounds left on these shores and that’s without including Wales or Scotland so I’m quite content with what’s already on offer. Neither of us have an active passport at the moment anyway, but if we ventured out I’d love to start with Belgium, lovely country.

Do you and Liam have a favourite team/place you’ve been to so far?
Another difficult question as we’ve been to some great grounds, big and small. The obvious one to say would be Cambridge United. It was a proud moment to take him there, one I’ll never forget. Another one that sticks in the mind, not just because it was so recent and because it’s your team but at Hallen we had a fantastic experience. We’ve visited a number of friendly clubs, Met Police and two of our local clubs Horndean and Fareham are good examples but the thing which puts Hallen above them is that they knew that we weren’t likely to be hurrying back because it’s quite a distance for us and not easy to get to. The likes of Horndean and Fareham might try to go the extra mile to encourage us to visit again but at Hallen they went that extra mile knowing we were on a one off visit and that we’d travelled on the opposition coach (albeit still as neutrals). Even so, we were greeted warmly as soon as we arrived. The vice chairman and chairman both made the effort to come and speak to us and introduce themselves and other club official/volunteer who kept on coming up to us throughout the game to check how we were and kept our spirits high with plenty of humour on what was a biting cold day. I know West Ham is one which Liam remembers fondly. He has been to bigger grounds, but that’s probably the highest we’ve been in a ground and the atmosphere was really something. I’d told him how the ground was closing at the end of the season so he was desperate to visit.

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West Ham United’s Upton Park is a favourite of Liam’s.

Do you have an overall aim or a goal?

Not really. A bit of a well worn cliché but we take each game or ground as it comes. Whilst Liam still has a passion to come along and watch with me he will continue to add to his tally. If and when he decides not to go, I’ll have a choice to make. On the occasions when he may have a prior engagement I’m more likely to revisit a local club rather than venture out somewhere new as it doesn’t seem the same without him.

Would you recommend ground hopping to anyone who hasn’t tried it?
Absolutely! Especially to anyone who finds themselves in a predicament to the one I found myself in. – unable to continue watching my team regularly but still keen to watch a game of football. The places you visit, the people you meet it and the memories you make are well worth the effort.

Chris and Liam’s adventure is still only at the beginning but it is a great example of how football can be so much more than than just 90 minutes. I think we could all take example from their story and embrace the game much more and take example from Chris and Liam and support all levels of football.

If you want to keep up to date on Chris and Liam’s journey you can follow them on twitter @CPriday (Hooper & Son)


 

a3h1VAk1 By James Snook on 20/12/2015 at 00:03 @JamesSnook7

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