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Football fan on crusade to see game in all 55 Uefa nations hails Oval experience

By Victoria Leonard

A globetrotting football fan who is on a mission to watch a match in all 55 countries where Uefa has a presence has hailed Glentoran fans as "frustrated, but quite knowledgeable" after his visit to The Oval.

Matt Walker, a 40-year-old Ministry of Justice statistician from London, is taking a year off work to fulfil a sporting dream which has already seen him visit over a dozen countries.

On Friday Matt was in Co Wicklow to watch Bray Wanderers play Drogheda United.

The next day he travelled to The Oval to see Glentoran take on Carrick Rangers in the Irish League, which ended 1-1.

"This was my 14th football nation and the attendance was probably higher than all bar Norway, Sweden, Kazakhstan and Russia," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I found the Glentoran crowd to be a frustrated, but quite knowledgeable bunch. The match was certainly no classic, a scrappy affair not helped by some iffy conditions.

"I sat with a German ground-hopper in the first half and we both appreciated the history of The Oval, something that has been lost in many countries. I liked the community feel in the Glentoran bar.

"The Glentoran players and manager also waved goodbye to me from their cars, something you don't see so often in other leagues."

Matt has visited 14 countries so far, including Georgia, Italy, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Lativa, Norway, Sweden and Russia.

"The idea came about when I read a book called Stamping Grounds by Charlie Connelly the Christmas before last," he recalled.

"It's about Liechtenstein's bid to reach the 2002 World Cup finals and I wondered whether it was feasible to visit all 55 Uefa nations in a season.

"I am a statistician, so I got the 2015/2016 fixtures and put them in spreadsheet and figured that, yes, it was just about possible.

"It might be a cliche, but the best part of it so far has been the fans.

"It is great how they have all taken to this random English person turning up at their games and taking me in and letting me take their photographs and sing with them.

"Obviously, in places like Russia and Estonia the language barrier is tough, but generally it has been a great insight into football and football supporters."

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