All too often, we see celebrities and well-known personalities being interviewed but sometimes, the really interesting interviews are the ones people don’t think to do. For instance, who better for us to interview than a fellow football-mad Hopper?
Not your common or garden Hopper either.
This is a Hopper who has set himself on a mission to visit every one of the two-hundred and eighty-two Scottish teams in the pyramid structure.
He also has an interesting football-related job with a nod to the history of Scottish football that is quite fascinating too.
Rather than listen to me waffle on, let’s get started with the interview and let Paul introduce himself.
The interview took the form of a series of written questions and answers via email and this is the transcript of that process.
Hoppers Guide Interview with @GroundhopScot (Twitter)
Most of your followers know you only as @GroundhopScot, tell us a little about who you are beyond the Twitter moniker.
@GroundhopScot – Paul:
Football is my entire life – I mean that. If I’m in the house I’ll have a game on the TV whilst doing some kind of research with Football Manager on in the background.
It’s an obsession!
I really enjoy walking and music but my life is a simple one. I was football daft as a boy and I’ve yet to grow up.
You are on a mission to visit every Scottish club in the pyramid. What prompted you to take on this monumental task?
I hadn’t been to a game for eighteen months and it was taking its toll. Before Scotland had a full working pyramid, non-league or ‘junior’ football didn’t interest me.
It was announced that 2,000 spectators were allowed inside Premiership grounds meaning my wait for any tickets would go on. Outside the SPFL that same limit still applied, meaning, I could go there to watch live football.
Reading about all of these clubs gave me a burning desire to visit them. The list got silly to the point I decided to try and visit them all!
How long do you envisage it will take you to visit them all and how many have you ticked off so far?
Initially, I planned to do this over six seasons but my circumstances have changed and my free weekends are fewer now. I’m at peace with the fact it’ll take as long as it takes but I’m certain I’ll eventually get to them all.
I wanted to blog about every club and keep it as a diary, so, there are clubs such as Celtic, East Fife, Kilmarnock etc. that I’ve been to before but will do again for a blog entry. At the time of writing, I’ve blogged 78 of the 282 clubs.
Have you worked out the total mileage involved and roughly how much this journey will cost at current prices?
Roughly 43,000 miles!
I’ve done just under ten thousand miles in nearly two seasons, so I’ll need to venture further more often. It’s easier said than done. Cost-wise I have not worked out nor do I want to know!
Between tickets and travel it’ll probably be four to five thousand pounds. It’s a lot of money but when spread over a number of years I’ll make it work.
I don’t spend my money on much other than football, so that’s how I justify it (in my head at least).
What have been the standout matches you have seen so far?
Like any football fan, I’ve had great games and some absolute stinkers.
My favourite so far was Tynecastle v Dundonald Bluebell in 2021/22.
(Link to Paul’s blog post from that match.)
It was a dark, cold midweek fixture and I was writing about Tynecastle FC for the blog. They were 3-0 behind and down to ten men at halftime!
Somehow, they got back into the game in the second half and equalised with the last kick of the game. There were some wild celebrations and the roar sounded like thousands instead of hundreds.
As a neutral, I just want to see goals!
In terms of atmosphere, I’ve blogged about an Edinburgh derby at Easter Road. The game wasn’t a classic but the atmosphere will stay with me for a long time.
It was a poisonous atmosphere but in a good way.
Which have been your favourite grounds to visit so far and what made them stand out for you?
Ayr United’s Somerset Park will take some beating!
The main stand is the best part of one hundred years old and there’s still a fair amount of terracing that gets busy on a match day. It’s like entering a time machine and walking out into the 1970s.
For me, the older the better.
Vale of Leven’s Millburn Park is up there too. To think this is home to one of the most historically important clubs in Scotland and to stand on these crumbling terraces trying to imagine the stories they could tell, it’s special.
Do you have a ground in mind that you would like to finish your odyssey with?
Yes! I plan to finish my project with Orkney FC.
They are the only club in our pyramid not on the mainland and are the furthest from my house.
Even for non-football reasons, Orkney is a place I’ve always wanted to go. I think I’ll make a holiday out of it, but that’s a long way off at the moment!
Do you have any goals beyond completing the Scottish pyramid?
To be honest, no.
There are some tasty and meaningful games I’ve shunned in favour of going somewhere for my project so I’ll probably head to all the big games.
I think I’ll still travel around the country doing so, being a Hopper is a way of life now.
For anyone who has never visited a Scottish football ground, where would you recommend they visit, to sow the seeds of wanting more?
I mentioned Ayr above but I get that old grounds aren’t for everyone.
My advice would be to focus on fixtures rather than grounds.
We have one of the biggest derbies in the world in Celtic v Rangers. Other big derbies too, in Edinburgh and Dundee. We have grudge games like Dundee United v Aberdeen and Rangers v Aberdeen.
Even outside of the professional teams Kilbirnie v Beith, Auchinleck Talbot v Cumnock or Irvine Meadow v Irvine Victoria are massive games that always draw a good crowd.
This is when you see Scottish football at its best!
Have you ever visited football stadia outside of Scotland? Do you plan to? (Or do more?)
I have only done five or six in England and I don’t envisage ever completing the 92.
Outside of the UK, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve only done one!
It was the Stadio Olimpico in Rome which, let’s be honest, is a great place to start. Europe is somewhere I’d like to tackle more often for sure.
You also have another interesting role in Scottish football, tell us about it…
I am also a tour guide at the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park.
How many jobs do you get to turn up and talk about football whilst getting paid for it? It’s a dream!
We have a team of people with different alliances and backgrounds but we all learn from each other on a daily basis – some of the guys are like a footballing encyclopedia.
If you haven’t done the tour or museum already… come see us!
(HG: You can visit the Hamden Park Museum tour website here.)
What are your favourite artefacts at the museum?
I don’t want to give too much away but we have the oldest football trophy in the world, a ticket from the world’s first international football match, a Champions League trophy won by Manchester United and George Best’s Hibernian shirt!
There’s so much more and I still notice things in a cabinet I’ve never seen before.
Every day’s a school day.
Do you have any amusing stories for us from doing tours of Hampden Park?
Haha! I’m racking my brains but I have very little I’d class as funny.
It’s such a historical stadium and Scotland is so important in the formation of football as we know it today.
For a small country, it’s remarkable and it’s our job to keep these stories alive.
Have you ever had any famous people on the tour?
Not personally. I haven’t been there too long but I’ve heard stories about guys like Ally McCoist taking a tour and Chris Sutton’s son having his birthday party at the stadium when he was at Celtic.
I’ve seen guys like Dick Campbell, Craig Brown and Shaun Maloney pottering about though, so that’s pretty cool.
Mick Jagger apparently loved our museum too!
I once got really excited that a guy called Alan Shearer had booked to do our tour. Unfortunately, it wasn’t THAT Alan Shearer!
A bit of a leftfield question now. As someone who appreciates Scottish footballing history and stadiums, what are your thoughts on places like Glasgow’s Cathkin Park and the Shawfield Stadium? Should they be preserved, restored, or something else?
In Scotland, we are TERRIBLE at preserving our history.
The first Hampden Park was the first purpose-built football stadium anywhere in the world and we lost information on its exact location for over a hundred years! It’s now a bowling club with a train line that passes through – lost to time.
We simply don’t have the money in Scotland to restore them. I think that’s a pipe dream, but we need to do more to recognise our heritage.
The world’s first international game was played 150 years ago at a cricket pitch in Glasgow. There’s a very small plaque on the cricket club’s wall but other than that, you’d never know!
On a similar note, what would you like to see the Scottish Football Association do with regard to Colt teams in (or out of) the Scottish pyramid?
I don’t think we can deny Colt teams a place purely on the basis that teams like Stranraer, Caledonian Braves, Nairn County and Stirling University have teams there already.
For the integrity of the pyramid, these teams absolutely must start at the bottom.
Would Celtic and Rangers rattle through the West of Scotland Leagues?
Probably, but it’s not the point.
It’s going to happen anyway, so I hope their inclusion opens up automatic relegation from the SPFL into the non-league tiers.
There has to be a compromise somewhere.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to head along to a non-league game.
It’s a fraction of the price of top-level football, cheap pies, fans are valued so much more and on average you’ll probably see more goals.
I’m not saying you should turn your back on your ‘big’ teams but give this a go when they’re away from home or playing on a Sunday – you’ll love it.
End of Interview
I would like to thank Paul for his candid and great answers to my questions.
I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him the best of luck as he continues his mission.
If you are on Twitter, give him a follow at @GroundhopScot.
Alternatively, you can keep up to date with his adventures on his blog website here.