I have always dreamed of leading a soccer tour of England, so this year I simply announced that the first one was happening over the 2018-19 holiday season.
As of October 12, with the TV networks announcing their changes to the fixtures list, I can finally get serious about the details of the trip.
Why a soccer tour of England? Because the only thing that makes watching soccer in person better is watching it with other people who are into it. Because I want to introduce people to some of the magical experiences I’ve been having while going to 80 games at 54 different clubs. Because I want to encourage people to go beyond the Premier League — although we will definitely see some Premier League action — and into the lower leagues. To get out of London. To see some rivalries when we can. To tour around a bit in a place we wouldn’t ordinarily go.
And finally, just to have some fun.
Groundhop 1: The Groundhopper Guides Soccer Tour of England
Here’s the deal: I set up a plan, you decide if you want to come along for some or all of it. It’s like an a la carte offering. Maybe you just want to come in for a game, or maybe just do the London part, or whatever. You let me know what sounds good, I quote you a price.
It’s not the traditional way of doing a tour, but I don’t care. I’m a groundhopper, dammit, not some big tour company. (I do actually help people see games, though; here are my services, and here are my Google reviews.)
What Kind of Tour?
This is what I call ground-level touring. We’ll be using public transit and the occasional taxi — traveling like regular folk, in other words. We’ll stay in three-star hotels or perhaps an AirBnB. At the big Premier League games we’ll be sitting in hospitality areas, but that just means seats plus some kind of perk, the only way to get a group to sit together. At the other games we’ll be in regular seats, or even standing on the terraces. We’ll be touring stadiums and cities, checking out local culinary specialties, meeting supporters, and making the whole thing as authentic as we can.
I am happy to arrange hotels for you, or you can stay wherever you like and meet us for the day’s activities. Or skip the activities and just do the game. Honestly, I’m trying to make this as easy as I can!
This isn’t final, especially January 1 and 2, but it’s pretty darn close.
Saturday, December 29
We meet in the morning, have a proper English breakfast, and head off for a tour of the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC. The tour will be led by a former Arsenal player and include the locker rooms, going pitch-side, etc. Then, that afternoon, we go see Tottenham Hotspur host Wolverhampton Wanderers in their spiffy new White Hart Lane. After the game, we’ll take an evening bus tour of the city to check out all the amazing Christmas lights.
Sunday, December 30
We hit a street market for breakfast and then head for South London, where Crystal Palace will play host to Chelsea. Afterwards, we’ll check out a couple more sites in the area, then you’ll have the evening to yourself.
Monday, December 31
With no games happening today, we tour another Premier League stadium in the morning, then in the afternoon take a train to our next destination, Nottingham. There, we’ll hit up a 900-year-old pub and have a little dinner. (Note: if you’d prefer to spend New Years Eve in London and come up on a train in the morning, that’s fine.)
Tuesday, January 1
After a morning tour of Nottingham — yes, the one with Robin Hood — we head out for some Football League Championship action, with Nottingham Forest hosting Leeds United. We’ll even meet a Leeds supporter — one of several thousand who will make the trip. After this 1 pm kickoff game, we hop a train to Manchester and head out for dinner on the famous Curry Mile.
Wednesday, January 2
We check out Manchester in the morning, take a tour of Manchester United’s Old Trafford, then head out of town a short way to Huddersfield, where Huddersfield Town host Burnley in a Premier League game that evening. Overnight back in Manchester.
Thursday, January 3
You’ll have the day free in Manchester, but there will be tours available in or out of town. Then we’ll grab an early dinner in their amazing Chinatown and head out for the biggest game of our trip, Liverpool at Manchester City. We’ll be in great seats with access to the 93:20 lounge as the top two teams in England go at it.
Friday, January 4
We take the train over to Liverpool, where we spend the day touring, football style. We’ll be hosted by members of the Shankly family, descendants of Liverpool FC’s legendary manager, for a tour of the city, their memorabilia collection, and Anfield Stadium itself, the awesome home of Liverpool FC. We will also have time to check out Goodison Park, home of Everton FC, and/or some Beatles-related sites. We’ll have dinner in Liverpool, then overnight back in Manchester.
Saturday, January 5
We’ll head back for London eventually, but we don’t know which game we’ll see, because it’s the Third Round of the FA Cup. That’s when Premier League and Championship clubs enter the competition, but those pairings won’t be known until early December. If none of the FA Cup games work out, we will hit up some League One action at AFC Wimbledon or Charlton Athletic, or we’ll go non-league to a place like Dagenham and Redbridge, Bromley, or Leyton Orient.
Sunday, January 6
We’ll wrap up our trip with an FA Cup game in the London area. Again, we won’t know which one until about a month before, but we’ll just have to hope something good comes up. Then we’ll have one last pint and say our farewells … until Groundhop 2.