(Written for my football club’s match-day programme – January 2019)

On our recent holiday, my wife and I met a very interesting lady. I’m not sure what her exact job-title is, but she is a ward manager in secure units. As such she has come face to face (or, more accurately, face to shoulder – she’s rather petite and definitely not the kind of person you’d imagine in that type of role) with some of the country’s most notorious killers.

She does all that ‘seeing inside the mind,’ stuff, and although I don’t think she is a criminal profiler per se, her experiences mean she has a good handle on people’s true personalities.

“So how would you categorize Cee Tee?” asked my wife.
“Warm hearted, friendly, determined and kind to animals,” I envisioned the reply, as I smugly quaffed my beer.
“Obsessive,” she said.

I was momentarily stunned, but before I could blurt my protestations, she explained

“You’ve felt compelled to go to the gym every morning. At the same time.”
“But …”
She wasn’t finished yet.
“You also need to write your daily diary, even here in the glorious sunshine. You have routines.”

Blimey! OK – so I had mentioned the gym in conversation. But my diary writing habits …? Offender profiler? Criminal psychologist? She’s a bleedin’ stalker, that’s what she is!

My wife damn near choked on her vodka as she managed to laugh out loud and cast me that easily recognised and well used, ‘I told you so,’ look.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. The word burned into my brain.
Obsessive? Me?

This called for a period of reflection. And you know what? By about 3am, my power of self-denial waned. Perhaps my wife was right after all – what I consider to be my ‘collection’ of football programmes is perhaps just another instance of obsessive hoarding tendencies. Maybe I don’t really NEED the new County shirt each season. Do I really need to keep paying for the never ending series of DC Comic graphic novels? So what if I don’t complete the full collection – it will save hundreds of pounds if I cancel my subscription as soon as I get home.
I was confused, but had to rather reluctantly accept the fact. So, here we go:

“I am Cee Tee, and I am an ‘obsessive.’” There – I’ve said it.

But you know what? There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being ‘obsessive,’ is actually a pre-requisite for any self-respecting football fan. It’s what drives us to matches in inclement weather. (I’ve resisted the temptation for the obvious line, here.) It’s what keeps us coming back when our team is enduring a barren spell.

For the true footy fan, ‘obsession’ simply means ‘commitment.’ A dedication to the club we love. A chest out, fist-punching club badge type of devotedness.

Although in some cases, the commitment is not to any team in particular, but to a cause.

It used to be the only people seen at non-league football matches, plastic carrier bag in one hand and a furiously scribbling pen in the other, were the reporter from the local newspaper or a scout from another team. Or maybe a referee supervisor – though you could usually spot them from their dark glasses and false beards.

Now though, there is a new breed of obsessive, or let’s just say, enthusiast, to be considered.

I’m talking Groundhoppers, here.

These folk take ‘obsession’ to a whole new level.

I’m sure I don’t really have to explain what a ‘groundhopper,’ is, but it will account for a further twenty-eight words towards the article word-count, so here: a ‘groundhopper,’ is a person who takes pleasure from attending football matches at different grounds and most likely blogging details of the match, facilities, programme, available food and attendance.

The hobby of groundhopping has become a bit of a modern day phenomenon. For instance, the Facebook page for ‘Non-League Grounds of England, Wales & Scotland,’ has 8,165 members. The Twitter page of ‘Stadium Hoppers,’ has 6,150 followers. WordPress hosts over fifty groundhopping themed blogs. I haven’t even looked at Blogspot.

From various articles I have read, it seems there are two distinct views of these people. Usually, those who support the ‘big’ teams of England and Scotland seem to look down their noses and rather haughtily dismiss them as eccentric at best. Nerdy saddos is the considered opinion of those less charitable.

However, to supporters and fans of non-league football, these folk are heroes; fine, upstanding members of the football community. They would not hesitate to  spend in petrol money, the equivalent of a seat at The Emirates or Stamford Bridge, to travel across the country and stand in a rain drenched field, watching a match involving teams from the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League, Division One.

Or beyond. One blog recounts the details of Czech 4th Division match. Now that’s extreme groundhopping in anyone’s book! And there are a good many enthusiasts who have visited in excess of one thousand, five hundred non-league grounds across the UK.

I must admit, when I was little, I was always excited when dragged to various family holiday destinations down south and we stumbled across a local town / village football club. I still am. Both excited and little, that is.

I’m pretty sure that were it not for my dedication to Renfrew FC, I would probably have joined the merry band of hoppers by now and provided my wife much more ammunition with which to arm her case against my perceived personality disorder.

Perhaps now though, my new friend from holiday would like to put my gym workouts and diary keeping into perspective, and reconsider her rather hastily delivered professional assessment of my being ‘obsessive.’

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