Groundhopper John Stancombe chose to add the MPM Stadium to his extensive repertoire of football grounds visited on Saturday as Ilkley Town took on Daisy Hill. In fact, his visit to see the Baht’atters was his 1,767th football ground!
Talking about his passion for the sport, John says, "I first got into groundhopping in the mid-eighties, after reading Ron Jones and Steve King’s articles in the Dons Outlook (Wimbledon FC fanzine) where they penned their rambles around the Isthmian League. While attending a London Spartan League game in April 1988 at Southwark Sports, I got chatting with their chairman Mike Keegan and to cut a long story short, he asked me whether I fancied getting involved with his club next season."
Naturally, John accepted this offer. Over the next 15 years, John worked tirelessly in football administration and programme editing for several southern football clubs and organisations, including Merstham, St Andrews and even the London FA. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and subsequently the matchday programmes that were produced by John won the Wirral Award on four occasions between 1992-2000.
John’s story as an avid groundhopper is especially remarkable considering he has achieved this feat with severe visual impairment. Regarding this, he notes, "I’d previously been a season ticket holder at Plough Lane for five years and - at 19 - I thought this would be a step into the sport that I loved, but due to my visual handicap I couldn’t compete. I went to Clapham Park School, which was one of five partially sighted schools under the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) umbrella.
"There were numerous 5 and 7 a side tournaments between the five schools and I played in central defence, but I never played blind adult football. I left school after taking my O levels and started to do voluntary work in my local Blind Day Centre in Balham, for Projects By The Blind in Wandsworth. I was born with a congenital eye complaint and both my parents also had a visual impairment; my mother was totally blind and my father is partially blind. I lost what sight I had in my left eye at 15 and my stronger right eye was gradually getting worse."
Despite this adding incomprehensible obstacles to his daily life, John has never let his blindness overcome his love for football. In 2017, he was the subject of an insightful article in the Guardian written by football journalist Jacque Talbot. Regarding his matchday routine, Talbot states, "Stancombe sets off for his chosen ground with a good couple of hours to spare before kick-off. He is then escorted around the perimeter by a volunteer, who explains the intricacies of the stadium: the number of floodlights, length of grass, diameter of the clubhouse, the detail of the sky and the size, colour and quantity of stands. This helps John create a picture of the ground in his mind."
"Stancombe also arranges with the club for a commentator to sit with him, describing the play on a voluntary basis. From this he has been able to keep a fastidious record of the games attended, released in an annual book. He has been producing match reports for around 30 years, an interest which began when he followed Wimbledon."
John obviously brought Ilkley luck, with their 2-1 win being their fourth win from five games and the result seeing them climb to second in the league table.
Written by Matthew Lambe