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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 18:32 GMT
Going to ground (all 92 of them)
By Claire Heald
BBC News

92 Club
Is it the green and white badge that gives members away?
The FA Cup third round plays out this weekend and among those travelling to games will be an exclusive club that you won't find on the fixture list. They're members of a society for those who have been to every ground in the country.

Now why would anyone want to do that?

In 1966, the year of England's World Cup win, Gordon Pearce completed his own unique achievement in football. But the Bristol City fan had no trophy to show for his feat of watching a game at every Football League ground.

So he set up a group that today numbers 1,100 fans - the 92 Club.

What compels potential recruits to brave the bad weather, remote or run-down locations, spiralling costs and the wife's wrath? For that you have to reach deep into their psyche.

Sticker album

"It's the sticker album for grown ups," says one member, Roger Titford, 50, Reading season-ticket holder and football writer. He saw his team at Elm Park in 1964 and 25 years later completed the "the 92" at Stoke City's Victoria ground.

You realise you have almost accidentally done 60 or 65 grounds
Roger Titford
92 club member

"With a lot of men who follow sport, there's this completion aspect, to say 'I've ticked all the boxes'. It's satisfying to do that, to join a relatively small bunch of people who've seen football in every stadium in the country. The odd occasion apart, it's been enjoyable."

Birmingham City fan Duncan Adams, 41, topped off the 92 in 1996-7 and has a website to give visiting fans the low-down on good pubs near league grounds, the best stand to go for, lyrics to chant, even where to park the car for the speediest post-match exit.

Gordon and the others agree it's not something you suddenly decide to start. They were seduced into the challenge after years as travelling fans.

"For many people," explains Roger, "you realise you have almost accidentally done 60 or 65 grounds, especially if your club moves up and down the divisions. It's at that point that you plan to do the rest of them."

'Floodlights and pies'

With relegations and promotions, the make-up of the 92 clubs is not set in stone. Rules state that a fan must have been to all clubs that are in the league during the season that they complete it. They're then free to relish a 92-motifed badge, tie and annual newsletter.

Pie shop, Sunderland
Distance between pie shop and ground is essential knowledge

Such dedication requires a certain sort of personality. It's mostly "a young man's game" and a "single man's game", for people with no mortgage or family to hold them back, says Gordon, now 61.

"It's probably people who can talk knowledgeably about floodlights and pies," says Roger, "and have a love for football grounds more as they were, a little more individual than stadiums as they have become."

He's a man who can describe Wrexham's cinema balcony installed above the terrace and conjure up Derby's old Baseball Ground in the fog: "A real tight, industrial feel to it, with steep stands, close to the pitch."

No anorak required

Sunderland's Stadium of Light draws praise from Duncan for paying tribute in its design and sculptures to the site's history as a colliery.

He believes going to other team's grounds makes a fan more rounded, rather than "a football supporter who's just 'Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea'". Contrary to the stereotype, he adds: "I haven't got an anorak".

This "ground-spotting" is not limited to English football fans. Mainland continentals struggle to resist their vast potential stadium territory, says Ian Plenderleith, columnist with football magazine When Saturday Comes.

"In Germany, there is a fat, glossy, monthly magazine called Stadium World (Stadionwelt) packed with this kind of stuff. It's a fascinating read, but not a very amusing one."

Such devotion comes with a human cost, although there are a handful of husband and wife teams.

Come August I had to break the bad news. If you want to see me, come to the football too
Duncan Adams
Ground expert

Duncan recalls how he and his wife-to-be started dating, when he was halfway through several years of doing the 92. She lived in Surrey, he in Birmingham. It was May, no football in the summer, no problem.

"Come August I had to break the bad news," he says. "I said, 'If you want to see me, why don't you come to the football too?'" Mrs Adams has been to 50 grounds.

In the rafters

Intrinsic though the grounds are, it is football itself at the root of 92 club members' travel habit. Ask each for their greatest moment, and it is down to the game, not the climbing of steps in the stand.

"It was one of the most emotional crowd scenes I have ever seen," says Roger, of Burnley v Orient in 1987, when Burnley fought to avoid relegation from the league.

"People were in the rafters of the roofs, dancing for joy."


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