By Jack Rubinger

The Groundhopper Guide to Soccer in England is a 380-page travel and cultural guide to all things football in the UK, completely updated for the 2020-21 season. Written by Portland’s Paul Gerald, the book is a fun and informative read.

Gerald is a sports writer, an enormous soccer fan and a seasoned traveler, and he’s combined all three of his passions into this book. 

“Groundhopper” is an old-fashioned term for people who literally dwell on the soil of the old stadiums found all over England.

Author Paul Gerald in his happy place. Photo by Paul Gerald.

In this new guide, Gerald checks out pubs, what’s good to eat and where to stay near each club. He doesn’t write about players. He’s more interested in showcasing clubs most Americans have never heard about, the food, the entertainment and the singing.

Andrew Tice, a local who works at House of Spirits, went on a tour with Gerald a couple years ago, and found it really fun. 

He went to several games, from a lower level League Two match (fourth tier) to a Premier League game at Wembley Stadium when Tottenham played there. 

“For the League Two game,” Tice said, “there were about six of us who met up at a pub near the stadium before the match, had lunch and then made our way to the match.”

Gerald plans to do a European version of the soccer guide, modeled after the Rick Steves’ books, because that’s where the money is. He’s also planning a travel adventure story book.

The soccer season in the UK goes from August to May. Every season there are major changes.

“My goal is to teach people the history of each club,” Gerald said. “Some teams go back to the 1860s with four generations of fans.”

He intends to move to the UK next fall and live there for six months from October to March. During the summer, he does tour guide gigs and sells tickets to soccer games.

He has attended more than 100 games at 60+ clubs all over the country and encourages folks to visit an England you typically wouldn’t see; to leave London and find a true English soccer experience by checking out teams like Charlton, QPR, Millwall, Fulham. Sheffield, Nottingham, Brighton, Norwich and Newcastle.

This whole thing actually started from Gerald’s mission in life to go to interesting places, do interesting things, meet interesting people, then share the story and maybe help others do the same.

A professional writer and ardent traveler since the mid-1980s, Gerald used to watch a highlight show called “Soccer Made in Germany,” and fell in love with the game and the singing of the fans. He decided he would have to get to one of those games one day.

He had a career in newspapers, mostly in sports, and by the 90s he had moved to Portland. As a freelancer, he specialized in sports, travel and the outdoors, and along the way, wrote five guidebooks to Portland and Oregon. The best known is the best-selling 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland and one he self-published, Breakfast in Bridgetown: The Definitive Guide to Portland’s Favorite Meal.

He is a devoted fan of the Portland Timbers, a member of the Timbers Army and actually got to see them win the 2015 MLS Cup on a magical night in Columbus.

“The soccer book idea came from a simple combination of facts: I love to travel and write, I love soccer and nobody has ever written a book like this,” he said.

The Premier League is the one most Americans have heard of; that’s where you find Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. 

Beneath that level, there are three more fully professional leagues, known collectively as the English Football League, or EFL. They are called the Championship, League One and League Two.

Throughout the year there are Cup and League competitions that overlap the regular league seasons. 

The FA Cup is a tournament for all clubs in England; the EFL Cup (aka League Cup or Carabao Cup) is for all professional clubs; the EFL Trophy is for smaller professional clubs; the Champions League is a European championship and the Europa League is a lesser European championship.

Where to sit when attending a game is a matter of choice. The short answer is either (A) with the rowdy fans or (B) with a good view of the away fans.

“The funniest thing to me as an American is that you can’t drink alcohol in your seats during English football matches, so they put out a huge table full of cups of Budweiser at halftime and everyone in our section ran in to have a quick pint,” said Tice.

Purchase Gerald’s book at groundhopperguides.com.