Jonny Hibber at football matchI grew up in the English home counties, bucking the local trend of supporting Tottenham and Arsenal by following family ties and supporting Portsmouth. In my early years as a Pompey fan I was captivated by the likes of Darren Anderton and Paul Walsh taking us to cup heroics against Liverpool, Man United and Blackburn. I went down to games on the south coast whenever I could and of course wholeheartedly concur with Ronaldinho’s famous assessment of the Fratton Park atmosphere as the best in world football.

Meanwhile, in the depths of Hertfordshire around the mid-90s word was going round that a local non-league side had rapidly risen up the leagues and was playing some fantastic football. Soon I found myself also following Stevenage Borough as they swept to the Conference title in style in 1996 but the talented team of Barry Hayles, Efetober Sodje and co would be denied a place in the Football League because of stadium capacity regulations.

For the next few years Boro’s fortunes fluctuated in the Conference and Pompey’s in Nationwide League Division One (notwithstanding Robert Prosinečki’s free kicks, long range passes, chain smoking and bucketloads of espresso), whilst university took me to Cardiff, Wales where I got in touch with my Welsh roots and became a regular at Wales internationals.After some time in London I struck out to the wild east-Eastern Europe, which took me on another football odyssey, to the minnows of Budapest’s BVSC and Kiev’s Obolon (a brewery team, which did mean what you think it means!) and Polonia Warsaw (the sausages!). I attended the infamous UEFA Cup matchup between Ferencváros and Millwall and witnessed Dynamo Kiev record the worst Champions League group stage tally ever recorded (nul points!).

Jonny Hibber in Portsmouth shirtMeanwhile, Pompey went on to a memorable spell in the Premier League which included winning the FA Cup (I cried when they engraved our name onto the trophy) and playing the likes of AC Milan in the UEFA Cup before the brush with extinction. By that time Stevenage was looking up, winning promotion to the Football League in 2010 and then League One the season after that, beating Newcastle on the way. Since returning to England in 2016 I’ve made good use of a central location in the East Midlands to watch away games far and wide (and blagged free tickets at Leicester City).

Finally lockdown in 2020 led me to the last league standing, the Mad Max dystopian world of Belarusian football and the start of my gig with Across the Pitch covering the Belarus League and yet another unexpected football love affair, with the quirky FC Isloch Minski Raion with its wolf mascot and accordion player. My attitude to football is summed up as, basically, the more eclectic the better!

Play up Pompey!

#StevenageForLeagueFootball

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Teams I look out for: Portsmouth, Stevenage, Wales, Isloch, Dynamo Kiev, Munich 1860, Ferencváros, Detroit City, Austria Salzburg, DAC 1904, Dunajská Streda, Benfica, Hearts, Basford United, Truro City