Monday, December 26, 2022

 

Latest Reports:
Kalonji Pro-Profile - Beaman United (20-11-2022) 
 CD Universidad Católica - Ñublense (08-10-2022)
Birmingham Legion - Loudon United FC (27-07-2022)
 
Next Games:
Espanyol - Almeria (04-06-2023)



INTRODUCTION

The terms "groundhopping" and "groundhopper" can not (yet) be found in any dictionary, yet there are hundreds of groundhoppers around the world, most notably in Germany. The word combines the terms "ground" and "hopping" and refers to the visiting of different sports grounds -- usually, though not exclusively, football grounds (for a German description, see Wikipedia).

Whereas normal football fans tend to visit only home games of their favorite team, particularly when they live closeby, and more fanatical fans also attend the away games of their team, the groundhopper aims to visit as many different grounds and teams as possible. Moreover, unlike the normal fan, who generally prefers to visit the big teams in football (e.g. Bayern München, Manchester United, Real Madrid), the groundhopper goes for the exotic (e.g. Avenir Beggen, Ozeta Dukla Trencin, Selangor PKNS) and the tiny, such as the third team of a city (e.g. Partick Thistle, Viktoria Köln, Spvgg Unterhaching).

While groundhopping is largely a non-organized activity, by individuals and small groups, there exist a few organizations of groundhoppers. The most famous is the German Vereinigung der Groundhopper Deutschlands (V.d.G.D.): it's website is one of the major sources of information on clubs, leagues, and stadiums in the world. For other groundhopper websites, see the links on the right.


This website provides an overview of the various groundhops of me, Grondhopper. I'm a Dutch academic and football fan, supporting PSV in the Netherlands, Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany, and the Portland Timbers in the USA. I regularly travel abroad for both work and pleasure, and try to combine these trips with groundhops. In addition, I make several special groundhops every year alone or with one or more of my friends, some of which are active groundhoppers themselves. I have currently visited 470 clubs in 45 countries on 6 continents.

If you like the reports, become a follower of this blog. Comments are also always highly appreciated. You can post them either here on the site or you can email me at grondhopper[at]gmail.com.

Kalonji Pro-Profile — Beaman United (20-11-2022)

As the US has a summer competition, with the MLS season usually running from March to October, and some of the lower leagues playing just 6-8 games over the summer, it is hard to find any soccer in November. However, the qualifying rounds for the US Open Cup are still on, so I went to a game in the third round for the 2023 season. Kalonji Pro-Profile is a soccer academy from Lawrenceville, a suburb of Atlanta, which plays its games at the football stadium of Shiloh High School. Don’t ask me where that name comes from.

 


The stadium is quite big, with huge bleachers, which could easily fit 1.000 people, I think. On this cold Sunday evening, there are less than 20 though. Most seem either family or friends of the players. The game is free, by the way.

 


Despite a minimum number of fans, and a complete lack of atmosphere, the home team already scores in the 4th minute after a quick counter and a cool finish across the goal. About fifteen minutes, the guests, Beaman United, another academy all the way from Nashville, Tennessee, have a header in the box, which goes wide.

 


In the 39th minute a Beaman shot from 20 meters bounces in front of the goalkeeper, who also gets the rebound. A few minutes later the guests get a throw-in at 20 meter, but lose it, and with one pass a Kalonji striker is alone at the goalie, who is about 30 meter outside of his goal, and simply passed by a low shot from almost 40 meter. However, in the extra time, Beaman scores from a deflected rebound just outside of box. Half time score: 2-1.

 


I spend the half time in my car, as there is absolutely nothing to do (or eat) and it is cold, and when I get back, the game has just restarted, and a good attack of the guests leads to a shot from close range and a good safe. In the 72th minute, out of nowhere, a Beaman player accelerates from 20 meter, gets through 2 defenders, and shoots from roughly 13 meter hard and high, leaving the goalie no chance: 2-2.

 


Just five minutes later, a seemingly easy build-up is given away by consecutive terrible passes and in a by-now classic counter Kalonji easily scores the 3-2. Two minutes later, Beaman hits the crossbar with a header. In the 85th minute, Kalonji has a slow counter, where a players stands for almost a minute with the ball on the sideline, gives a pass, and the striker shoots hard from inside box, but the Beaman goalie saves.

 

 

At that time, I decide to leave, as it is both boring and really cold. Turnout out, second before the end of regular time, Beaman equalized, out of a corner, and a freaky own goal from one meter. This led to extra time, without goals, and ultimately penalties, which were won by Beaman United, in the ultimate penalty, 3-4. Quite the turnaround, as Kalonji was much better in the first half and kind of failed to kill off the game at that stage.

 

 

In the end, I am not sad to have left earlier. US soccer at this level is just so sad. I cannot remember ever playing for so few people. Even when I was 6 years old, in the Netherlands, there would be more family and friends. The “soccer academies” are just random selections of players who still hope to make it semi-pro, I guess. Although I miss groundhopping, I don’t think I will go to these low level games in the US anymore.

Monday, October 10, 2022

CD Universidad Católica – Ñublense (08-10-2022)

 


I am in Chile for work and have a long weekend to see games. The idea was to go to see Santiago Wanderers, who somewhat confusingly play in Valparaiso (rather than Santiago), but the stadium and time were changed, so I chose to go to instead see Club Deportivo Universidad Católica, one of the three big teams of Santiago – the other ones being Colo Colo and Club Universidad de Chile. Turns out, they are updating their stadium, so they played their game in the stadium of O’Higgins in Rancagua, about an hour south of Santiago. But that wasn’t the only complication. Because of recent violence in and around the stadiums, tickets for home games of the three big teams are only sold to socios of the home team (and require passport information). Because of connections of one of the people who went with me, we could get tickets.

 



After a heavy lunch in the center of Rancagua, a small and not very attractive mining town, we made it to the Estadio El Teniente, as said, the home ground of O’Higgins, which is also plays in the Campeonato Nacional, the top-tier of Chilean football. The stadium dates back to 1947, but was demolished in 2013 and rebuilt in 2014. 

 

 

The new stadium has a modern design, despite athletics track, and holds 14,087 people. What makes it stand out, however, is the spectacular vista of the Andes mountains around most sides.

 

 

When we arrive at the stadium, our tickets are scanned and our passports are checked – my US driver license creates some confusion but we get in anyway. Unsurprisingly, given that the game is played an hour away from the real “home” of Católica, there are not so many people. The official count is some 2,400 supporters, none from the visitors, but the loudest ones are here, behind one goal, and they would sing for the whole game (although, it seems, mostly the same 1-2 songs).

 


We arrive 15 min late and it is already 1-0 – we find out online, as there is no scoreboard. As we sit down, Católica is about to get a penalty, but after several minutes the VAR overrules that decision. Less than ten minutes later, after a great pass through from the own half, the Ñublense goalie comes out, hesitates, and the striker puts it low in far corner from outside of the box: 2-0.

 



Católica, which plays in gorgeous pink jerseys, is much better but also very sloppy up front and in the back, which means that there are some chances on both sides. Overall though, the pace of the game is very low and the control of the ball is often lacking, despite the artificial pitch. Half time score: 2-0. All is good.

 


The second half continues where the first one left of: slow pace, poor control and passing, and few really clear chances. Católica remains the better team but seems uninterested in scoring a third. In the 65th minute, the assistant coach of Ñublense is sent off for commenting something from inside the dug-out. The most exciting thing related to the game – I mainly spent time admitting the vistas.

 


Although the game remains pedestrian, out of nowhere, some 25 minutes into the second half, a Ñublense player hits the ball with an inside foot volley from 10 meters high in the far corner: 2-1. An absolute beauty and from the response of the player something he doesn’t even do in practice. Roughly ten minutes later, after a corner, a cross from the left side is headed in from the back: 2-2. The fans around us cannot believe what is happening. Only now Católica tries to create some pressure, but the away goalie makes some good saves and the chances aren’t very good anyway. Final score: 2-2.

 


Although the game was quite pedestrian for almost 80 minutes, in which it seemed Católica were getting a very easy win, the “home” team threw away a certain win, which could hurt them in the end (for qualifying for the Copa Libertadores). Because of the crazy last 20 minutes, it was an exciting game after all.

 


More than the game though, the Estadio El Teniente is an absolute must see for groundhoppers. In fact, I loved the stadium and the views so much that I want to return to see an O’Higgins game, which will also see a better atmosphere.

 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Birmingham Legion FC — Loudon United FC (27-07-2022)



It is a Wednesday in July and I drive roughly three hours to Birmingham, the capital of Alabama, to see a midweek game in the USL Championship, the second tier of professional soccer in the US, which is, however, miles away from Major League Soccer. The local team is Birmingham Legion FC, founded in 2017, which plays in the Protective Stadium, the brand new stadium of the football team of the University of Alabama Birmingham (AUB) — note, this is not thé University of Alabama team, which has won more national championships than any other school in the past decade, but technically only the third college football team in the state (after “Bama” and Auburn).

 


I arrive early, at least that is what I think, but when I get to the ticket office, I see on a small screen in the office that they started at 19.05, rather than 20.00 (as I had seen online). As I pay $25 for a ticket, Birmingham Legion FC scores a goal: 1-0.

 


The Protective Stadium opened last year and has a capacity of 47,100! It is too big for the Legion though. Even though there are long banners covering parts of the stands, the stadium looks empty with the roughly 1,500 people inside. A small group of about 50-100 home fans are behind one of the goals and drum and sing for much of the game.

 



There are lot of (young) women and quite a lot of non-whites (although, given demographics of Birmingham, whites are still heavily overrepresented). Moreover, when I walk to the other side, i.e. the expensive section, it is all white. Here, also, few people watch the game. They talk.

 


Ten minutes later, as I finally sit down with a cool bottle of water — it is hot, although with a pleasant breeze — Birmingham Legion gets a penalty after a clumsy challenge. The player scores comfortably and it’s 2-0.

 


In the 42nd minute, the hosts have an enormous chance, after a good attack, but the striker shoots from 7 meter straight at the goalkeeper. Two minutes later, after a long attack, they score easy when a player is totally free at 10 meter and can pick a corner: 3-0. This is also the half-time score.

 


Just two minutes into the second half a Legion striker runs at the goal and a defender gives him a very obvious and dumb push from behind: yet another penalty and a red card. The player scores and it is 4-0, game completely over.

 


Oddly enough, the next goal comes from the Canadian guests, after a sparse attack, scoring easily: 4-1. In fact, Loudon is now better, despite playing with 10 men, mainly because Birmingham can no longer be bothered. The fans are also even quieter now. Fair enough though, as the game is over, despite the guests getting better into the game.

 


A few minutes before the end of regular rime, A Legion player has a great dribble and is tripped in the box. The third penalty of the night, all clear and deserved, and it is 5-1. In the second minute of overtime, 5 hosts attack against 4 visitors, the player picks a corner, and it is 6-1. This is also the final score.

 


With such a high score and such great weather, this was obviously a nice evening. Moreover, while this is not a soccer-specific stadium, it could be a great ground for a (popular) MLS team one day. Now, it looks a bit sad, even though the small group of drummers and singers as well as the stadium’s great acoustics saves it a bit (if you close your eyes).

 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

FC Arminia 03 Ludwigshafen – SV Waldhof Mannheim o7 (02-07-2022)

 


The last Saturday I am joined by my friend MT for my last groundhop of this busy European summer trip. We are going to see a friendly between Oberliga Rheinland-Pfalz/Saar (fifth tier) FC Arminia 03 Ludwigshafen and its big neighbor from the 3. Liga (third tier) SV Waldhof Mannheim. It is a gorgeous afternoon, sunny but not too hot, perfect for a friendly derby.

 



The game is played in the Südweststadion, which the home ground of FSV Oggersheim (or FSV 1913 Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim), not FC Arminia 03 Ludwigshafen, although it used to play there and still occassionamlly uses the ground. It has an interesting history, as it was built on the site of the original Adolf Hitler Stadion, built in 1937 and destroyed by allied bombers during the war. In 1950 the new Südweststadion was inaugurated, with a capacity of 41,383 people (and a record attendance of 82,000!).

 



In the 1980s SV Waldhof Mannheim played its Bundesliga games here but then the stadium fell into disrepair. In 2007 it was renovated and limited to a capacity of 6,100. Today, only one main stand is open, which is very busy, and the vast majority are Waldhof Mannheim supporters. The official tally was an impressive 1,128 people, undoubtedly helped by the weather and low ticket price (€10).

 


We cannot really make out who is who, and for a while we think the better team is Arminia. We are wrong, it’s Waldhof, which in the 10th minute has a beautiful counter but eye in eye with the goalkeeper the striker shoots just wide. Five minutes later, another Waldhof striker goes alone at the goalie, who saves, but in the rebound another player is fouled. The penalty is calmly scored: 1-0.

 


A good fifteen minutes later, after a pinball moment, a Waldhof striker goes alone at the goalie and finishes in the far corner: 0-2. This is also the half-time score. For all the enthusiasm before the game, the fans are a bit dull. There is no real singing and the goals are barely celebrated. People mainly talk and drink beer.

 


In the second half Waldhof remains superior and in the 49th minute a cross is poorly defended, falls in front of a player, who easily scores from 7 meters: 0-3. Roughly 5 minutes later a visitor finishes cool and easy, tipping the ball over the poor goalkeeper: 0-4

 


In the 72nd minute, out of nowhere, Arminia has a counter that is finished beautifully in the far corner: 1-4. After that, the play is disrupted by the many player exchanges. Two minutes before the end, Waldhof counters, the goalie commits too late, and the striker scores from 30 meter into the empty goal: 1-5. That is also the final score.

 


Overall, a very entertaining game in a nice stadium — if you enjoy past glory like me — but much of the atmosphere was made by the away supporters. Hence, do go see Arminia Ludwigshafen but don’t forget SV Waldhof Mannheim either. They are high on my list for the future!

Yverdon Sport FC - Grasshopper Club Zürich (01-07-2022)

 


After a day in Lausanne, I drive up to Yverdon-les-Bains, a small touristic town at the big Lac du Neuchatel. The local team, Yverdon Sport FC, is playing a midday friendly against Grasshopper Club Zürich, once the biggest club in Switzerland, which has recently come back from hard times.

 


Yverdon Sport is a modest team that usually plays in the third or second tier of Swiss professional football. Currently they play in the Swiss Challenger League, the second tier. This preseason friendly is played on a mild Friday afternoon at 3 PM.

 


Although the generic entrance costs a mere CHF 5 ($5), there are only some 150 people — some 50 come in during the game. They are mostly men, and there is some ethnic diversity.

 


The Stade Municipal is in the center of Yverdon-les-Bains, just behind the railway station. It is a cute, small, old ground with two small, relatively new stands on both long sides. The total capacity is 6,600 of which 1,000 are seats. It also has a restaurant with terrace that provides free WIFI! It is the perfect weather for a friendly: sunny with light breeze (20C).

 


The pitch looks great, and is real grass, while both teams play well but create few chances. The first real shot at goal is after almost half an hour, when a Grasshopper attacker is fouled just outside of the box and the free kick is shot low and not too hard at goal; an easy pick up for the goalie.

 


Unsurprisingly, given the lack of chances, it is 0-0 at half time. Still, the first half was actually quite entertaining, although the perfect weather and the excellent free WIFI definitely helped too.

 


The second half starts even more pedestrian and the many player changes don’t help either. There is barely any shot, let alone on goal. In the 67th minute, out of nowhere, a through ball gets behind the Grasshopper defense and a striker puts his toe to it and extends it into the far corner: 1-0.

 

 

In the 85the minute, after terrible defending, Grasshopper loses the ball at 30 meters from their goal and with three passes a striker goes at the goal and finishes hard and high: 2-0. After that Yverdon has one good counter and corner but the score remains 2-0.

 


Undoubtedly, my experience was influenced by the gorgeous weather, but I really enjoyed Yverdon Sport. A small but authentic ground with a bit of luxury (restaurant and WiFi) in the city. Better than all these fancy arenas in the periphery.