Belfast Telegraph

Next stop is The Oval as football fanatic Matt continues quest to see game in all 55 Uefa nations

Destination: The Oval

By Eamon Sweeney

Matt Walker is a man on a mission - a football-related mission.

And the latest step in that quest will today see him reach Belfast.

His journey began around six weeks ago, and before the season reaches a conclusion next May, the plan is that he will have watched a match in all 55 nations affiliated to Uefa.

To date his sporting odyssey has seen him visit 12 counties.

At 3pm today he will be at The Oval to watch Glentoran take on Carrick Rangers in the Irish League.

Last night he was in Co Wicklow to watch Bray Wanderers play Drogheda United.

What, though, inspired a 40-year-old statistician at the Department of Justice in London to take a year off work and travel Europe on such a quest?

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

"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."

So far Matt has been to Georgia, the Aland Islands - a Swedish-speaking region of Finland where he saw IFK Mariehamn attempt to defend their Finnish title - Italy, Turkey, Lativa, Norway, Sweden and Russia among others.

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

Matt admitted that his knowledge of club football in Ireland was low.

So, what standard was he expecting to see at both Bray Wanderers and Glentoran?

"I was aware of Dundalk last year when they made the group stages of the Europa League and I usually pay attention when Irish clubs play in Europe," Matt told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I am a Fulham fan so my knowledge of Irish players comes largely from English football because there are so many there.

"Especially when Lawrie McMenemy was manager at Fulham and we had many Irish players on the club's books.

"I suppose I am expecting an old-style British-type of encounter in the games I am here to watch.

"I think the build-up play will be quite slow and the ball to be played directly.

"I know that Bray Wanderers have had their troubles financially this year and that Glentoran have got off to a good start with two wins in a row."

As well as being a football fanatic, Matt is an accomplished photographer and has been capturing images not only of the fans and stadiums, but also of the places he's visited.

When his saga eventually ends he plans to turn his experiences into a book.

"The photographic side is easy for me, but writing a book will definitely be a challenge," he explained.

"However, I have already spoken to some publishing companies so I am hopeful of getting a deal."

You can follow his continuing journey through the footballing cities and islands of Europe on his own website by searching for 55 football nations

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