For many English football fans there’s little chance to see their team play in European competition; it’s why the supporters at England away games are often from lower league teams. We’re lucky to be able to do that with United, seeing them in so many countries whether in competitive matches or preseason friendlies.
A big part of following your team is the travel to new or unknown places, and for some fans it’s about going even further, with ‘groundhopping’ a popular pastime. In England this is widely known as ‘Doing the 92’ football league grounds. For teams like United this is challenging; we’ve not been relegated out of the top flight since 1974, meaning there’s a little less diversity in terms of teams faced each season. It’s what make cup games extra special though, with the prospect of facing a new or rarely faced opponent.
The 92 Club
‘The 92 Club‘ honours the tradition of fans seeking to tick off all 92 grounds in the top 4 divisions in England. It’s a society, formed in 1978, who track teams moving in and out of the football league each season, any new grounds for existing teams and enforce a fairly strict set of rules for their members. They state, for example, that:
“Friendly matches do not count”
“It is NOT a club for fans who have followed one team to 92 different ground”
That rules out my current attempts, although I’ve seen very few games not involving Manchester United. It’s still something I’ve tracked though, and there’s some great websites to do it with, my preference being The92.net. I’ve managed 30 of the current 92 with multiple trips to most, though I could have done many more in the league and cup; I once made it all the way down to QPR for a 12pm Sunday kick off only to lose my wallet and match ticket, and so Loftus Road still eludes me…
In terms of Premier League clubs, there’s only actually been 6 constants in the current format (Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Spurs and United) whilst 49 clubs have played in it since 1992. The likes of Barnsley (1), Bradford (2), Blackpool (1), Oldham (2) and Swindon (1) all had short spells, with the latter two last featuring in the ’94 season; I’ve still to visit all five.
One of the attractions of groundhopping is to experience the spectrum of grounds. All Premier League and most Championship clubs have all seater stadiums, some a little more soulless than others. The smaller lower league grounds have a little more character, with proper terracing, safe sanding and quirkier facilities. Low capacity means small away allocation space though, making it harder to see some places with United.
I’m always looking to tick new teams off when the opportunity comes up. I’ve taken the same approach to watching United in Europe, trying to visit as many new cities and countries as possible. Given the loyalty system with credits for European games it’s been much easier for me to get tickets for those games. The domestic games go to ballots for qualifying season ticket holders, leaving you with around a 25-50% chance for any given game.
I can’t imagine I’ll come close to completing the full set anytime soon, but I’ll still be doing the 92 as I continue to follow United around the country, even if I’m breaching one of the 92 club’s rules by doing so.