Hop and glory: in search of the beautiful game
Sam Ferguson gets an insight into an eccentric footie passion enjoyed by a member of our newspaper delivery team
08 October, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
Michael Grimes, on the left of this photo, with fellow groundhoppers
MICHAEL Grimes is one of the dedicated team that deliver our newspapers to readers in three boroughs. But he doubles-up as a football sports writer whose lifelong interest in the beautiful game has extended into one of the less well-known niche areas occupied by footie fans – ground-hopping.
And a true footballing odyssey fills the pages of Michael’s debut book, From Saint to Druids, in which the intrepid author travels the length and breadth of Wales to observe the sport at all 12 JD Cymru Premier League grounds.
From Bridgend to Bala, a tour of a league ranked 46th out of 55 in Europe might not be how most people opt to take in the Welsh countryside, but West Ham fan and veteran ground-hopper Michael told Review the scale of the task didn’t faze him.
“Why am I doing this?” writes Mr Grimes. “Why is a Londoner who supports West Ham United and has no connection to Wales writing a book on his travels? Why did he decide to travel to all of the JD Cymru Premier League grounds? I explain most of that in the book.”
What started as a work project quickly became a labour of love for Michael.
“I’ve been writing for a while for Football Weekends magazine, that focuses on ground-hopping,” he said.
“As a West Ham fan from a young age I’ve been to weird and wonderful grounds all over England, and a few years ago I set a target for myself to visit all 92 football league grounds.
A match at Cefn Druids
“I was looking around for another assignment, and the editor told me we hadn’t done anything in Wales before. That’s where it started really.”
The season kicks off with a North Wales derby as the catchily named Airbus Broughton play host to Bala Town.
Humour can be found from the get-go as Michael battles with Wales’ intermittent, often non-existent public transport system to reach his destination, while the welcome the author receives at various grounds adds warmth to the tale.
His short and snappy style leads the reader through a league where the football is simple, the grounds are traditional and the half-time sausages leave plenty of change from a tenner.
As well as a comprehensive match report for each game and details of struggles to reach the grounds, Michael includes a history of each club, complete with explanations of some of the stranger team names.
“My friends and family think it’s pretty normal to be honest, at least no one has said otherwise to my face. I just think it’s a different way to enjoy the game and see parts of the country you wouldn’t usually.
“For most grounds I would turn up incognito, but at a couple of places I announced myself and met with the directors and had a tour. The welcome on offer was astounding really. People are really proud of their clubs and can’t wait to show you around.”
While the quality of football on offer hardly shines through on the pages, football fans of a certain generation will savour the descriptions of tiny crowds, ramshackle club houses and dodgy pitches.
“My favourite ground was Cefn Druids,” adds Michael. That is the aptly-named The Rock, at Rhosymedre, near Wrexham in North Wales.
“It was just such a lovely, traditional setting to play football.
“But my favourite trip was Bala in Gwynnedd, where we ended up staying for the whole weekend.”
The tour of one of the smallest national leagues in Europe manages to fit in all 12 teams and their home grounds before the season is cut short by the coronavirus crisis, and includes a season wrap-up in the back of the book.
• From Saint to Druids. By Michael Grimes is available price £7.99 + £2 postage from www.dognduck.net,
For more on the book email email@example.com