Martin's bid to visit every football ground in a season

WHEN football fan Martin McNelis set himself a ­challenge he didn't expect it to take him across 6000 miles - without leaving Scotland.

Loading Comments
Share
Print
Martin McNelis with his sons Ryan (black jacket) and Conor, at Partick Thistle's Firhill Stadium  Pictures:  Colin Templeton
Martin McNelis with his sons Ryan (black jacket) and Conor, at Partick Thistle's Firhill Stadium Pictures: Colin Templeton

A passion for the sport turned into a crusade that took him to all 42 professional football grounds in the country in one season.

Now his blog of the experience from 2012/13 has just been turned into a book documenting the very personal journey that kicked off after his son took ill and a friend died in a car accident.

"Conor was 13 at the time when he collapsed, fell into a coma and was diagnosed with diabetes," remembers Martin, from Erskine, the father of two boys and a girl.

"Just a few weeks later a friend, who had known the family for the best part of 35 years, was killed.

"I just thought, I'm going to do this now. I spoke to a couple of my pals who support St Mirren, others who follow Thistle and Morton, and I thought, I'll tag along and take the boys.

"We went to two games in the September and it started from there but in a short time it really did become like a crusade."

Cowdenbeath was the first ground he ticked off his list in September 2012, travelling the length and breadth of the country every week after that, using days off and holidays to bag as many football grounds as possible.

"I have to say, it was great going along and you're watching a game and just enjoying it because you don't really care who wins. You're not affected by it," smiles the Morton fan.

A friend at work suggested he start a blog with his thoughts and experiences and the project took off from there.

"When you talk to people they say they've been to 38 grounds but haven't been to the new St Mirren or the new Douglas Park and that doesn't count," he says firmly.

"I feel to go to every ground in the one season is a significant achievement.

"When you talk to people it sounds easy because it is enjoyable. Try it, I dare you. It's unbelievably difficult."

While Martin's wife Donna and their 13-year-old daughter Bethany stayed at home, Martin, Conor, 15, and Ryan, 10, hit the road.

The boys didn't get to all the grounds because of after-school commitments - Conor plays for Bridge­water Boys Club in Erskine - but tried to go to as many as possible with Martin and some of his friends.

The housing officer for East Renfrewshire Council travelled about 6000 miles, the distance between London and Cape Town, and spent about £1000 in petrol and £800 in tickets and programmes.

He was bowled over by the scenery in some parts of Scotland, from the drive north to Elgin to the coastal views from Arbroath's Gayfield Park and the friendliness of locals at different grounds.

The Scottish weather played a role in his adventure too.

"At the end of March we went to six games in a week," he laughs, remembering.

"We did Dunfermline on the Wednesday night, it was midweek before Easter and the coldest I've ever been at a game.

"So cold I couldn't even put the satnav on, I couldn't touch it, my hands were frozen."

HE continued: "On the Saturday we went to Ayr, they were playing East Fife. On the Sunday it was St Mirren and Celtic.

"On Monday it was April 1, Easter Monday, and we went to St Johnstone and Dundee United.

"And on the Tuesday we went to Brechin against Stranraer and the Wednesday night was Kilmarnock and St Mirren.

"We were just trying to pick off rearranged games and slot them all in. I was sitting at 36, 37 games, I was nearly there."

The challenge was also an interesting exercise in looking at the span of ticket prices.

From clubs that let kids in for free - Partick Thistle - to lower division clubs with hair-raising prices.

"I was quite surprised at Falkirk, Alloa and Ayr United, it was something like £15 for an adult and £8 for a child, so you're talking about £31 for a second division team. Who could sustain that every week?

"We went to a Dumbarton and Morton game recently and Morton brought a really good crowd, about 600 or 700 fans.

"If your price is right, you'll retain that support. Where somewhere like Ayr United, if they start slipping down the league, fans will think, £31 to take two boys, to watch them lose? This is where they need to get the pricing right."

Some of the more unusual experiences he encountered along the way included a game being almost drowned out by the noise of stock cars revving up outside Cowdenbeath and not just the teams but fans change ends at half-time.

"I'd never seen this before," he says.

"When we went to Arbroath, the half-time whistle went and the crowd walked out through a gate and come back in at the opposite end. The fans at the other side did the same."

For the moment, Martin is taking it easy this season and enjoying a bit more time at home. Who knows where his next challenge will take him.

n To buy a copy of Got to do the 42, contact Martin on gtdt42@aol.co.uk. If you want to hear more about his trip, go to Clarkston Library on February 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets are free from 0141 577 4972 or libraries@eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk

Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on Evening Times on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

148153

Have you got a story?

Contact the news desk on 0141 302 6520 or email news@eveningtimes.co.uk
                A weekly round up of social highlights                
                               

A weekly round up of social highlights

                               

Cat's Eyes on Glasgow

                               

Why the Harlem Globetrotters weren't so slam dunking and making a boob at Debenhams

               
Free swim at a Glasgow Club pool for every reader - Click here

Entertainment

Lifestyle

Wedding
Gail’s Gab

Gail’s Gab

Gail Sheridan is a mother-of-one and wife to Tommy and she likes to get political with the hot topic of the week in her column Gail’s Gab.

            Michelle McManus            
                       

Michelle McManus

                       

Sussed in the City

                       

Why women are better at spotting so called 'bluff' when it comes to the independence debate.

           
Janice Bell

Janice Bell

You couldn’t make up half the stuff that happens to PA Janice Bell- some of the jams she gets herself into are worth a story or two.