Doing the 55

Who needs The 92?

One man, one crazy notion and 55 nations – welcome to Matt Walker and Europe United

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.

The following Saturday, FK Kom hosted Mladost in the Montenegrin First League. On a day when Inter played Juventus and Bilbao went to Sociedad, this particular fixture may not have been 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 represented the end of a personal soccer quest. Matt Walker had 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 undertook 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

The day before our Budapest rendezvous, Matt’s arrival at Ljubljana Airport had made the news in local sports paper Ekipa. Whether it was on San Marino TV, BBC Football Focus or Football Gibraltar, Matt’s voyage generated entertainingly 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 captured a specific moment in time while these leagues still survived 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”.

Best fans in Europe? Trabzonspor welcomes Matt Walker

Each destination – the wild night in Trabzon, the monsoon in Corfu, the fiery derby in Kraków – provided a chapter in the book Matt published in 2019, Europe United, and is now out in paperback.

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.