You may notice them scouring local fixtures, noting attendances and ticking grounds off a list, but the power of Groundhoppers can make a dramatic positive impact on a club’s financial fortunes, as one non-league side found out.

The sleepy Lancashire village of Euxton had never seen anything like it.

Nestled just south of footballing institutions Blackburn and Preston, locals typically spend their weekends migrating to neighbouring areas for their matchday fix. However, on this early March Sunday morning, Euxton Villa were no longer bypassed.

It wasn’t a cup final, promotion six pointer, or heated local derby. Yet, Villa’s fixture against Darwen drew the largest crowd in the club’s 117-year history – 618 spectators gathered for a tenth-tier game.

What stirred such enthusiasm for an ordinary Northern Counties Division One North match? The answer lies in a community so engrossed by non-league football they traverse the country to attend as many games in a month as you may in a season.

They are the Groundhoppers.

“Becoming a groundhopper is a slippery slope.”

Before delving into the exact reason many chose that specific Euxton match, GroundhopUK organiser Laurence Reade told us how fans enter the world of hopping through reflecting on his journey.

Fed up with overzealous policing of Football League fixtures while following his team, Oxford United, on the road, Laurence decided to try something different.

He said: “I thought, ‘I don’t need this, I’m just trying to watch a football game.’ So, going forwards, when we were playing away, if I had already been to the ground, I’d watch a local non-league match instead. That’s where the hop behaviour started.”

That behaviour compels Hoppers to seek out the beautiful game wherever it exists, in an effort to visit as many grounds as possible.

“For me, it began with a game at Didcot Town. From there I began looking at the pyramid and thought about watching a match in each local league, then going to every ground in a certain division. It spiralled from there.”

That was the mid-90s. Since then, through online forums and social media, Groundhopper communities have built up, with enthusiasts travelling to games together. Within that, Laurence’s friend Chris Berezai spotted an opportunity, as Laurence explains. 

“Travelling to games, Chris would chew my ear off about different ideas, which all kept returning to an organised Groundhop weekend. I was the one person that told him it was a load of rubbish but that was 16 years ago, now look where we are.”

Alongside Laurence, Chris founded GroundhopUK who formally organise match-watching weekends with leagues from step five downwards. Kickoffs are staggered and transport provided as hoppers convene in a specific area to take in six games. This is what takes us back to Euxton Villa.

The Lancashire side were in local leagues just two years ago, when their application to join the 10th tier was accepted. Since that promotion, according to Club President Mark McDonnell, “crowds have been increasing, heading steadily above three figures.There’s a lot of local competition but we’ve averaged 120.

“I was aware of Groundhoppers as many had travelled when we made it to the Counties League, as we were a new ground to tick off. Nothing like the incredible numbers during the groundhop weekend though.”

In November, Euxton were approached about moving their meeting with Darwen to accommodate the Groundhoppers, and after agreeing were soon given their slot – an 11am kickoff on Sunday morning. 

“I was initially unsure about that time, but it was a blessing in disguise. It rained all day Saturday and we’ve had a problem with the drainage on our pitch. Had it been called off, we would have lost about £1000 – massive for a club our size.”

However, the sun dried any doubts of a postponement and with cars lining the quiet village streets, Euxton welcomed 618 people through their turnstiles. That was not only the largest attendance in the 10th tier that weekend but also in their own history.

“It was brilliant for the football club – the crowd was like having seven or possibly eight home games in one go from an income perspective.

“We sold over £400 of merchandise alone when most games we barely manage a hat and pin badge, so it was financially fantastic for us! The players loved it in front of that crowd and most importantly we got the three points with a great 3-0 win!”

In theory, groundhop weekends are no-brainers for leagues and clubs.

“There’s a compromise that just works,” Laurence says, “The league gets publicity, the Hoppers get multiple ticks over a weekend, and the club get a financial windfall.

“It’s just about getting that balance right, between those three sets of needs. In a nutshell, that’s what we organise on a groundhop weekend.”

It wasn’t just Euxton who benefited that weekend. Charnock Richard’s attendance swelled to 534 from an average of 150, Longridge Town exceeded 400 while Garstang hosted 338 when they often struggle to reach three figures. Adverse weather rained off fixtures at AFC Blackpool and Squires Gate, but the Groundhopping community rallied to ensure they didn’t miss out.

Over £2000 was raised for the clubs, bars were still drunk dry and excess food donated to food banks, underscoring the Groundhopper’s collective values.

“For me, that showed what I enjoyed the most about Groundhopping.” Laurence assessed.

“It’s the people, no question.

“At every club you find, don’t worry about the stands or the pitch, instead worry about the person that’s running it, the people you meet along the way in grassroots football, the community around us. Because I promise you, they’re all heroes.”

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and as a group who inadvertently offer much needed revenue to a club, driven by a desire to consume football everywhere, Euxton’s heroes that weekend just happened to be Groundhoppers.