By Tommie Collins.
Groundhopping is a growing sensation that involves attending matches at as many different stadiums or grounds as possible. Participants are known as groundhoppers, hoppers or travellers. The craze has seen a sharp rise in popularity of late due to the rising costs of watching Premier League football.
Personally, one ground stuck out like a sore thumb in my quest to visit as many grounds as possible: Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium.
I’d planned to go there numerous times but, but it just never materialised. Then, I kindly asked one of my numerous contacts for some complimentary tickets a few weeks back and two tickets with a parking space were reserved for me for the home game against Shrewsbury Town.
Nevertheless, there was a slight catch. Officially, we were classed as scouts.
Believe it or not, I do know a half-decent footballer when I see one. I visited Aldershot in the early 90’s for a match against Blackpool and one player stood out that night: Trevor Sinclair. On another groundhopping outing, I visited Crewe’s Gresty Road for a match against Swansea City and former Juventus and Arsenal midfielder David Platt shined that night. So, who would be the one to make an impression today?
Burton is synonymous as a town known for producing beer; I remembered the days when I used to drink Double Diamond which was actually brewed in Burton upon Trent – leading to its football team being nicknamed the Brewers.
The ground was neat and tidy, or as per usual for the ubiquitous new stadia [opened 2005] – a four-sided concrete breeze-block building. Nevertheless, the reception area which housed the main stand was nice and extremely modern. The other three sides were terraced.
We were allowed into the Albion Suite where the sponsors and their guests were tucking into their fine looking meals and downing pint after pint.
There was certainly no dry January here.
After a quick mingle, we entered the stadium and received our official team-sheets. The pre-match refreshments was a let-down, however, and not a patch on some Welsh Premier League sides hospitality. There was a tea and coffee area but no one was serving – although this was rectified half time.
We sat with our pretend-lot for the night. One scout was representing Sheffield United and he was kitted out in official club clobber. We chatted briefly and we seemed to be fitting in well.
We were missing a few essential things compared to the rest, though – a pen and note pad.
The match itself was seemingly a home banker, with Burton Albion flying high in the upper echelons of League One, whilst the visitors had recently received a 7-1 battering at Chesterfield.
Given I cover many a Welsh Premier League match in a season, I immediately noticed that the pace of a League One match was much quicker and to use an old cliché; both teams tried to play football.
Up front for Shrewsbury Town was Andy Mangan, who is known as the rascal in the eye of many a Wrexham F.C. fan having never forgiven Mangan for upping sticks and leaving for Fleetwood Town in 2011.
There was a decent atmosphere in the ground with approximately 400-500 fans having made the journey. The visitors only seemed to have the single chant in their armoury and took every opportunity to emphasise they are from Salop. The Burton fans behind the other goal had plenty of flags to make for a colourful afternoon.
Sitting next to us whilst scouting for an unnamed agency was former Leicester City and most recently manager of Irish side Sligo Rovers: Mickey Adams.
We left on 80 minutes – as scouts do – with the score at 1-1 and to ruin many a betting man’s afternoon, Shrewsbury Town scored at the death to record a 2-1 away win – a real coupon buster.
One thing that drew my attention in the official programme was the price of tickets in League One. Burton Albion are away to Peterborough next with the price of admission set at £23. Watching football at any level is an expensive business nowadays, it seems.
Unless you’re a scout.
Programme – £2.50
Obligatory pin badge – £2.50
Chips – £1.80
Tea (very hot) – £1.30
See more Groundhopper reports here –