I love going to random football matches whenever I’m abroad. It has always been hard to explain that the real highlight of a 2 week holiday in Eastern Europe was the 0-0 Champions League second qualifying round 1st leg match between Ferencváros and Sparta Prague. Little did I realise there is a huge football subculture of ground-hoppers who travel the world solely to go to football games of teams they have no particular connection to.
Matt Walker, a British civil servant, took the idea of ground-hopping to a whole new level and spent a year travelling Europe to attend a league game in all 55 UEFA nations. Why, you ask? Why not! As soon as I saw the book I was immediately jealous and curious to see how he got on.
Europe United is Walker’s account of his travels. Essentially it’s the story of more than 70 different random football matches in 55 different countries. As a statistician Walker couldn’t help but keep detailed notes of every game, goal, yellow card etc. But the heart of the book is the conversations he had along the way.
Walker managed to drum up some media attention for his adventure which led to meeting local fans in almost every destination to share the journey with. He met a variety of different people along the way all united by their passion for their local team. The book therefore becomes a love letter to football’s place in communities across Europe. Each of the teams he watched are a significant part of their many fans’ lives. Each game matters to a select group of people who share a common, irrational but wonderful love of their football team .
There is always a risk of a book like this getting repetitive as games and countries blend into each other. Wisely, Walker broke up the chapters with general collective observations from his travels.
Overall, I really loved this book. The football team in my hometown folded very recently (RIP Limerick FC) and football more widely in Ireland is on the verge of financial collapse amid corruption and incompetence. If ever a reminder was needed of the importance of the beautiful game, Europe United provides it.