Doing the 55

One June morning, Libero correspondent Matt Walker stepped out from his south London home and took a flight to Georgia. He then went to Iceland, the Faroes, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Andorra… 52 countries and 72 football matches later, Matt met up with Peterjon Cresswell in Budapest.

Next Saturday, April 28, FK Kom host Mladost in the Montenegrin First League. On a day when Inter play Juventus and Bilbao go to Sociedad, this particular fixture may not be the one that grabbed your attention if you were planning a football jaunt for that weekend.

Kom’s last home game, a 0-0 draw to fellow relegation strugglers Iskra, attracted 300 people to the equally modest Stadion Zlatica.

Great Scott! It must be Lithuania!

But for one football traveller, the meeting of these Podgorica rivals represents the end of a personal soccer quest. Matt Walker will have done the 55.

55 Football Nations is an idea I had,” he told Libero Guide in Hungary, destination 52 on his schedule, “to see a top league game in every single UEFA country over the course of one season”.

Inspired by football travel books such as Charlie Connelly’s Stamping Grounds – Liechtenstein’s Quest for the World Cup, Fulham fan Matt has taken an 18-month sabbatical from his regular job as a government statistician to experience the game first-hand from the Faroes to Kazakhstan. “I doubt if the panel had seen such a left-field submission for long-term leave before,” he admitted.

If it's Friday, it must be Moldova

After persuading the powers that be of the validity of his mission, Matt was settling down to watch Stalin’s home team, Gori, play Lokomotivi Tblisi at the Mekheil Meshki Stadion. The attendance was 200. Matt knows this because he counted them. (“Often reported attendances are way out,” he complained, citing the 300 figure given elsewhere for this fixture.)

Not surprisingly, the game in Montenegro Matt has chosen to bookend his odyssey next Saturday, inviting a number of friends and fellow travellers, isn’t the one that same afternoon involving multi-titled Budućnost at Podgorica’s national stadium.

“Many of the best experiences have been at lesser-known clubs,” said Matt. “At Krško in Slovenia I met three Danish anthropologists who were at their first football match.” Typically, Matt befriended the Nuclear Power Boys, loyal followers of NK Krško, for another Saturday afternoon of lively random encounters and scarf-wielding selfies.

Best fans in Europe? Trabzonspor welcomes Matt Walker

The day before, Matt’s arrival at Ljubljana Airport had made the news in local sports paper Ekipa. Whether it’s on San Marino TV, BBC Football Focus or Football Gibraltar, Matt’s voyage has generated entertainly unusual video content and reams of newsprint in impossibly obscure languages.

“League football forms the backbone of the European game,” explained Matt. “And supporters remain its lifeblood.”

Apart from Roy Castlesque dedication, Matt’s determination to complete the cross-continent groundhop over the course of one season captures a specific moment in time while these leagues still survive relatively intact. How many of these clubs will be playing in 2027-28? As Matt reflected: “At a surprising number of games, admission was completely free”.

Getting the Napredak pitch ready for the visit of Red Star Belgrade

Each destination – the wild night in Trabzon, the monsoon in Corfu, the fiery derby in Kraków – will provide a chapter in the book Matt has been commissioned to write once he arrives back in south London.

So, what next?

“At some point I’d like to tackle another continent. Ideally Asia.”

See Matt’s football adventures at 55 Football Nations and look out for his stellar contributions to Libero from Malta, Gibraltar and beyond.