I first learned about the practice of groundhopping through someone who has now become a friend. He is from Kiel in northern Germany and his name is Hendrik. I met him in Prague, where he presented on groundhopping as practiced by Germans and English. I presented a paper about PSIM’s supporter group, the Brajamusti. While in Prague, I visited two football grounds. Owing to the limited time I had available,I was not able to get into the stadium or to even visit the fan shop of Sparta Prague. Instead, I only managed to take a couple of photographs from the surrounding streets.
The other ground I visited was that of Bohemians. Fortunately for me, it was Hendrik who had knowledge of their game and knew how to buy tickets and get to the stadium. It was late October and it was getting cold: I had been for a couple of 10km runs along the river and was the only runner still wearing shorts, rather than long tights. On the night of the game, we took a tram from Central Prague and went south to the stadium. Hendrik’s girlfriend came too and we made slow, hesitating conversation. The three of us were getting used to each other’s company, working out what specifically was of interest for the other. The two full days at the conference had been both stimulating and tiring. There were a few Bohemians fans on the tram, but there was little sense of excitement; little sense of tension. At the time, Bohemians were mid-table and were in no danger of being relegated and had no chance of winning a trophy.
Upon arriving, the stadium – Dolicek – was particularly underwhelming. There was no stand behind one end of the goals, and along one side, there was also no grandstand. So, once we were in our seats, we had a good view of the surrounding apartment blocks, just like those in the apartments could have a good view of the game, if they chose to step out onto their balconies. Indeed, a few had: a couple or so were leaning against the low-walls on their balconies, having something hot to drink, it seemed. Upon passing through security, we quickly made our way to the hot-dog stand and Hendrik and his girlfriend had a beer. The weather was cold enough; and I went back for a second hotdog, just to warm up. The small crowd, the cheap ticket, the relaxed atmosphere made it very enjoyable.
We went into the stands and watched a dull, slow game which ended 0:0. I didn’t know any of the players and only had briefly checked the team’s history on Wikipedia. My primary point of consideration was to wonder whether or not the standard of football was more or less the same as the A-League – the only other football that I had watched regularly. Perhaps I was at this game more as a ‘football tourist’ than as a groundhopper. And now, I don’t know where my ticket to that game is: a cardinal sin for would-be groundhoppers. Perhaps it has become a bookmark in a book somewhere. Nonetheless, I regard this as my ‘first stadium’. Football took me to a part of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise have visited.
The Asian Cup was held in Australia in January 2015: and, I was lucky. I would be in Melbourne during the time the tournament. I was able to go to some games at the ‘Melbourne Rectangular Stadium’ – a stadium that was usually called ‘AAMI Park’ when it is used for A-League or NRL (rugby league) games. The stadium, designed by Cox Architects and Partners was opened in 2010 and was built a few meters from the now demolished Olympic Park – the site on which the Indonesian football team played during the 1956 Olympic Games, including their famous game against the USSR, featuring the great goalkeeper Lev Yashin. The weather was warm; the crowds were festive: this was a football festival during the holiday season. We could go to the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, in central Melbourne, and watch world-class quality football; featuring teams such as Iran, Japan, North Korea, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia Jordan, and for the romantics, Palestine – a national team without a country recognised by the UN. I went to the games with friends and part-time football fans. I went to a game with my father; who I believe had never paid to watch ‘soccer’ before. We watched the games without being partisan to any particular team. Danius Kesminas, Melbourne’s very own enfant terrible, came along too, to watch the Palestine-Jordan game. He is a football nut and has a substantial collection of football jerseys and Australian rules jumpers. The tournament showed what kind of a future football could have in Australia. Perhaps, Indonesia and Australia will share a football future; where more players have careers that cover spells of playing in both countries.
Groundhopping, it turns out, can be a slow process. I’m not in a position where I can spend the whole weekend going to a series games, whether in The Netherlands or in neighboring countries. Groundhopping culture often seems heavily linked to drinking lots of beer and eating lots of sausages. It seems an overwhelmingly dominated by men. Many of the stadiums in the Eredivisie or the Jupiler League (the second tier in the Dutch system) are subject to very tight security and clubs have rules where you must have a club card in order to buy tickets for some games. There is a strong fear of co-ordinated violence, but for the most of it, there is little trouble at most games. The smaller grounds, with capacities of no more than 10,000 often have the most appeal for me: plentiful trees, only two or three stands, and the outside world still being visible beyond the stadium or ground. Like other fans, I long too for the euphoria of an unexpected victory, and of hearing 40,000 fans chanting or singing in unison (like here, in Cologne). That too provides much exhilaration and an adrenaline rush. Groundhopping is a visceral, temporal and multi-layered process for both socialising and exploring space, architecture and fandom.
Lebak Bulus, Jakarta (almost gone)
*the featured photograph is of Simonds Stadium (formerly known as ‘Kardinia Park’), Geelong.