Fans of some of the nation’s less glamorous football teams are gearing up for the drama of a trip to Wembley this weekend, as the Football League’s play-offs are contested to determine the final promotion places.
But not all supporters can be at Wembley, or even in the same time zone as the football match that will establish whether the season is a success or a failure. What are the challenges faced by fans trying to follow their teams from hundreds or thousands of miles away?
‘No-one can say I’m a glory hunter’
Motorsport journalist Scott Mitchell is thrilled his beloved Charlton Athletic are in the League One play-off final at Wembley. However, he will not be there. Instead, he will be covering the Monaco Grand Prix, which starts about an hour before his side take on Sunderland.
He hopes to be able to stay across the start of the match but, once the Grand Prix begins, it will be goal alerts only.
“Obviously, I have an amazing job – I am lucky,” he says. “But for 90 minutes on Sunday I would rather be somewhere else.”
A Manchester United fan as a boy, Scott became enthralled by Charlton when he got free tickets to see them 12 years ago. It was his first live game, and they won 3-0. It’s been somewhat downhill since.
“I managed to see them in the Premier League – since then they got relegated twice,” he says. “No-one can say I’m a glory hunter.”
Newly based in Stockholm, the 26-year-old says modern technology means that following Charlton from abroad has been relatively easy. But it has “felt different” – and he has had to be more organised than if he was back in the UK.
“It feels like I’m following them more closely,” he says.
The first leg of Charlton’s play-off semi-final took place during the Spanish Grand Prix and he managed to watch the first half hour on his laptop before work took over. He toyed with the idea of flying home for the second leg but, as he’s setting up a new home, he found the £230 airfare prohibitive.
That game, which went to extra time and penalties, was watched at home with some Swedish friends.
“It was a crazy tie, I hated it,” he says. “And I didn’t know what my friends would make of watching League One football.
“But by the end of the game, they were going through it with me. One afterwards said ‘I think I have an English team to support now’, which I think is brilliant.”
His new neighbours might feel differently though. As Sweden is an hour ahead of the UK, it was about 23:00 local time when the game finished – by which time Scott had loudly slammed his hand on the floor of his apartment, as the tension of the penalty shoot-out became unbearable.
“I hurt my hand and then we were shrieking when [Charlton goalkeeper] Dillon Phillips saved a penalty, and then Doncaster missed.”
Scott will continue doing his best to create an atmosphere in his home when circumstances dictate – although he accepts it’s not quite the same as being at the stadium.
“It’s a bit weird singing along [to the chants] in the living room.”
‘You have to get creative’
Trekking from the Everest base camp in order to watch Yeovil Town might seem extreme. But Michael Bromfield does not let time differences, dodgy wi-fi or even negotiating with Maoists get in the way of supporting his team.
In 1972, when travelling through Asia, he came across newspapers that had three-week-old football results in them, something he thought was “terrific”.
Thanks to technological advances, he says that these days he “can keep across six matches concurrently”.
Having sold his tour operator business, Michael is free to live where he chooses and spends a lot of time in Thailand.
But despite the internet making the world a smaller place, there are still challenges to football fans who are based abroad. In Thailand, it’s 22:00 when a 15:00 game kicks off in England. Evening matches can begin as late – or early – as 03:00.
“In 2013, Yeovil were in the play-offs (against Sheffield United) to get into the Championship. I was on Ko Khang, an island in Thailand, and the play-offs were not being shown there,” he says.
“I had a good wi-fi signal and got my wife [who was at home near Sherborne, Dorset] to use her iPad, put it on a stool, and then a table, and turn her phone to the iPad screen and then I used FaceTime to watch the match. You have to get creative.”
He estimates he has spent up to £12,000 over the years to see his team play in various matches. In 2004 he embarked on a six-day mission that involved trekking from the Everest base camp and taking two flights to get home in time to see if Yeovil would make the League One play-offs. They didn’t.
It wasn’t the first time Michael had to dig deep into his pockets to follow his beloved Yeovil.
While trekking in Nepal a few years previously, Michael was asked to pay more money than he thought reasonable – during the civil war it had been agreed with Maoists that trekkers would make payments to use the trails.
But one man was asking for significantly more money than usual and the negotiations took a long time.
“Eventually, when it got to 16:30 UK time, I agreed to the payments,” Michael says. “The reason being I wanted to use my satellite phone to get the football results and I thought if they saw the phone they might want it.
“So I paid up, went behind a rock and phoned home.”
‘I got in so much trouble at work’
Spending Saturday mornings drinking coffee at his kitchen table in Montreal while watching Walsall on the computer is now a familiar routine for marketing director Jason Broadhurst.
He arrived in Canada in 2000, with Walsall winning promotion to Division One (now the Championship) via the play-offs the following year.
But as he explains, Jason didn’t have have internet access for the play-off final against Reading.
“The only way to follow the game was to go into work and follow it through text updates,” he says.
A colleague who knew of his plan brought him some thoughtful gifts to get him through the game – a steak and kidney pie, a Pot Noodle and some Irn Bru.
As the game went into extra time, the tension grew.
“I gave a friend a call and asked what the game was like on the TV, and she held her phone up to the commentary. So I’m at work, making an international call and listening to the game for about 45 minutes.
“I got in so much trouble at work.”
Life as a fan abroad can often be frustrating.
“I missed out on some of the team’s best players ever – Vinny Samways and Paul Merson – I didn’t see much of them. Now [through the internet] you feel you can participate.”
He did fly back to the UK for Walsall’s first appearance at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final in 2015, only to see his team lose 2-0 to Bristol City.
“We were rubbish,” Jason says.
‘I can spot fans I know behind the goal’
When journalist Chris Bishop was first living in Africa, he could only find Stourbridge FC’s results and the lower league tables in a copy of the International Express, a newspaper for expats. Now, though, the internet enables him to listen in to the exploits of the Southern League outfit.
“My first game was in 1970 when I was seven years old. I went with my father and grandfather to watch Stourbridge v Kidderminster Harriers,” he says.
“I had never seen anything like it. I grew up in a small village and to see all those people in one place, about 700 people – I fell in love with it.”
Since making the move to South Africa 25 years ago, he has continued to follow Stourbridge.
“The only way of getting the scores then was by ringing my dad. I still ring him on Saturdays now, to talk about the latest goings on.
“I eventually discovered the International Express, which had all the football results, which was a boon whilst working in Angola and Mozambique.”
But calamity struck in 2000 when Stourbridge dropped into the Midland Alliance, a league so lowly that the Express did not print the results. It was back to ringing Dad until the internet enabled Chris to follow games online.
“So on a Saturday I would just sit there listening to games. I remember my nephew visiting and we sat listening to Stourbridge beat Northampton Town (in the FA Cup in 2016).
“I just love the game. Some of my happiest moments were when I was on the terraces as a kid.
“And the internet has changed everything: now you can watch the highlights on video, and I can spot fans I know sat behind the goal.”