Groundhop Week

by Neil Sherwin

This coming weekend will see four football fans attempt something unique and exciting as they look to visit 165 grounds around the UK in just 165 hours.

Groundhop Week is a road trip of epic proportions that will see Ben Trasler, Aaron Trasler, Andy Trasler and Chris Marriott take in both league and non-league grounds over the course of a week. The lads are aiming to raise money for two worthy charities, Parkinson’s UK and Cancer Research UK, and have received plenty of support so far.

We caught up with Ben who filled us in on all the details ahead of the journey.

So Ben, 165 grounds in 165 hours. How did it all come about?

My parents took a trip to Scotland in the summer and on the long drive home to Northampton my dad Andy started to think (for reasons only known to himself!) about other long drives that could be undertaken around the British Isles. As a football fan, his mind automatically began to associate the dull towns and cities he was passing on the motorway with their respective teams and by the time he had arrived back he had already decided he wanted to take on some sort of wacky and challenging drive! He swiftly spoke to myself, my brother Aaron and our friend Chris (Mazza) and after a couple of meetings and several brainstorms we had devised what we have now come to know as Groundhop Week.

 

We initially spoke about visiting the 92 league grounds in just 92 hours (a challenge undertaken by several different groups previously) but we decided we wanted to do something a little bit different and that little bit more challenging. After the release of Northampton Town’s fixtures, we identified a week and particular games which would suit us all and before too long the idea of 165 in 165 (taking into account kick off times etc…) was decided as the venture we’d like to take on. Not only would it give us the chance to attempt an exciting football-related challenge but it would also give us the opportunity to raise money for two charities close to our hearts, Parkinson’s UK and Cancer Research UK.

Can you give us a bit of an insight into the planning involved and how the route was determined?

As you can probably imagine, when taking on a challenge of this size the amount of planning that goes on in the weeks and months building up to the event is actually quite staggering. We’ve had to arrange transport; build our website/create social networking pages to spread word about our challenge; plug our charities to the masses whilst politely requesting donations (hint, hint!) and that’s before we have even determined the route or contacted the clubs to arrange access to their grounds for photographs. I can assure you we’ve been rather busy! The route is still being tinkered with as I write and I don’t think we’ll be in a position to confirm it until a day or two beforehand. Quite a few football clubs have offered us signed pieces of memorabilia to pick up along the way so we have tried to re-jig to ensure we have time to visit those grounds during office hours.

 

However, the route essentially sees us leaving Northampton at 3pm on Saturday 8th October (after our Sky-televised game at home to Crawley Town) arriving 165 hours later at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent at around 12pm ahead of Stoke City vs. Fulham. We had initially planned to finish at our away game at Port Vale on the Saturday however this was moved to the Friday evening due to police advice. We still plan to head to this game (time permitting!) before finishing the last few grounds the next day before arriving at the home of their city-rivals. During the week we’ll be visiting all 92 league clubs, Wembley Stadium, The Millennium Stadium and then numerous non-league outposts around the country. It’s going to be quite a journey!

Which grounds are you most looking forward to seeing?

The four of us are actually well-seasoned travellers and we’ve visited a lot of the lower Football League grounds following our beloved Northampton Town over the years. Disappointingly though, we’ve scarcely had the opportunity to see our team at many of the more famous arenas in English football. Whilst we were fortunate to see our triumph in the Carling Cup against Liverpool at Anfield last season, I haven’t ever visited the likes of Stamford Bridge, Etihad Stadium, Goodison Park or White Hart Lane which I’m sure will be enjoyable and a bit of a change for lower league supporters like ourselves. However, at the opposite end of the scale I’m sure that among the non-league grounds we’ll meet a few interesting characters and visit some unusual places on our travels. For example, since we have been planning our route we have discovered Lancaster City’s home is known as “The Giant Axe”. I’ve got no idea what lies in store for us there but based on the name alone that’s got to be worth visiting, surely.

Is there any aspect of the trip that you think will be difficult?

From a personal point of view I’m quite a fidgety person so being cramped inside a car for the best part of a week will be something of a nightmare for me! Other than that, I suppose it’ll be difficult to keep ourselves entertained between the grounds. I’m usually someone who gets bored on a short bus journey across town so god knows what the many hours inside a car and thousands upon thousands of miles of “beautiful” British roads are going to do for my enthusiasm. Andy has already joked it’s going to be like “Chinese water torture” for the week! I suppose when it gets tough we’ll just have to remember why we are taking on the challenge and the people we’ll be able to help as a result of the money raised if we succeed.

How has the support been for Groundhop Week so far?

We didn’t want to set a fundraising target when we initially started planning the challenge because we didn’t want to be disappointed if we weren’t able to reach that figure. However, we needn’t have worried because the support and response from everyone who has heard about Groundhop Week has been absolutely fantastic so far. We’ve had plenty of donations and pledges and with a few days to go until we set off we’ve already raised a fantastic amount of money with lots more to trickle in over the next few weeks and months.

 

People like yourselves have helped us to increase the exposure for our challenge and we’ve also appeared in our local paper and on lots of club websites/forums, been featured by numerous podcasts/blogs and we’re due to be interviewed daily by our local radio station during the challenge to highlight our progress. Business Energy supplier Opus Energy have also kindly offered to sponsor our transport costs for the challenge which has been a massive boost to us and allowed us to focus on organising the challenge without worrying about financing the journey!

Finally, let’s be honest here, do you think it’ll be done?!

Based on our initial calculations I think that we should just scrap it by the skin of our teeth! Obviously, we cannot work it out for definite now but we believe that the challenge will see us travelling in the region of 3,200-3,300 miles throughout the week. I worked out the other day that this distance is the pretty much the equilivant of driving from London to New York City so it’s not exactly the shortest or most comfortable journey we’ll ever experience. However, providing that we don’t have any major obstacles and we stick to the pencilled plan that we currently have in place then the very long days that we have planned should ensure that we arrive at Britannia Stadium before we hit the 165 hour mark. At this stage, I’m sure we’ll be gasping for a well-earnt pint!

Thanks Ben! Best of luck on the trip and we’ll catch up with you afterwards to find out how it all went.

To keep up with all the Groundhop Week adventures, check out the official website and their Twitter, and if you would like to make a donation simply click here.

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