He has trekked through snow drifts in city suburbs, walked for an hour in freezing conditions and run 4km to make it in time for a memorable kick-off - just to watch football. Magazine creator and Nickes.Com employee Jim Stewart is a real football fanatic in the true sense of the word.
For almost a decade, Nickes.Com has partnered with English journalist Jim Stewart, whose love of "the beautiful game" fits hand in glove with our passion for football travel. Jim has been running the football magazine Football Weekends for six years - a monthly magazine for everyone who loves football and travel.
"Yes, Nickes.Com and Football Weekends is really a perfect match,” says Jim who had been the editor for a local newspaper for a full 18 years before founding the above mentioned magazine.
However, it was not a perfect match when Jim visited a football ground for the first time. He grew up in a small town in Bedfordshire about 50km north of London and got both the football interest and a love of Watford from family connections.
"The first match I saw live was when Watford met Cambridge in the Second Division in 1982. The match ended 0-0 in the rain and we sat in a grandstand without a roof…”
However, that was enough for young Jim to be hooked on the fantastic world of football. A year later, Watford played in the top division for the first time in their history - and finished second in the table, just behind Liverpool!
"At that time I imagined that that magic would last forever. That did not really happen,” laughs Jim, who is behind his team in both ups and downs like most of other true football supporters.
Party in Milan
"As a supporter of a smaller club, it is a huge experience to visit the biggest clubs in the country, even if we most likely lose! These fixtures and the trips to Wembley to the Cup finals are the best moments.”
There have been many matches and trips over the years, both in England and abroad, and it is not entirely easy for Jim to choose his greatest travel memories.
"However the trip to Milan in 2011 probably stands out. I had managed to get a ticket to AC Milan's last match of the season, when the team were due to celebrate with the Italian league trophy in front of their home fans at a packed San Siro. Due to an incident the metro was shut that evening and the few trams that went to the stadium were packed with fans. My only option was to walk, jog and finally run like crazy the 4km to the arena.”
Jim made it to the San Siro right as the match was kicking off and, after a final effort to climb up to the upper tier of the giant arena, was finally able to sit down and enjoy a party that did not end until deep into a magical Milan night.
Freezing cold in Belgium
Jim believes that all his travels have resulted in some good memories, but at the same time admits that he has occasionally encountered some problems along the way.
“After an evening match in the Belgian town of Genk, there was no transport from the arena. That meant I had to walk for an hour back to the hotel, through deserted suburbs - in minus 5 degrees…
"Another time, during a study trip before the World Cup in Russia 2018, I trekked alone through snow drifts in the suburbs of Volgograd - just to get to the arena and find out that the match had been moved to another stadium 5km away. Of course, there was no a match for me for that day.”
Football trips to Germany
Jim Stewart believes that there are three factors that build the experience around a football trip: "The atmosphere in the arena is number one; football is nothing without the crowd. Then there is the tension and drama; in order to fully enjoy the victory, you must also be able to endure the losses. And then you have everything around the journey itself; the planning, the pre-match at the pub and the post-mortem after the match.”
He sees Germany as the ultimate football country for the modern stadia, the intense match atmosphere and the wonderful party atmosphere that prevails even outside the arenas.
"In addition, everyone who has a match ticket travels for free in public transport. Germany is really hard to beat as a destination for football trips.”
Poland - an underestimated country
Jim also suggests another country to try: "Poland is a very underestimated country that is very affordable and has an edgy atmosphere in the stadiums that has, to some extent, disappeared from several of the more famous football leagues. The fans are very passionate and they create a crackling, loud atmosphere at the matches.”
Maybe a football trip to Poland when the pandemic is over is something for you? Or do you prefer the top leagues such as Bundesliga, La Liga or Serie A? No matter what your preferences are, we at Nickes.Com are ready to help you with booking and planning.
JIM STEWART’S 3 BEST TIPS BEFORE THE FOOTBALL JOURNEY
1: Book your match tickets before you leave so you avoid stress and hassle on a matchday.
2: Plan two matches, one in the top league and one in a lower division. The contrast can be fascinating and often the "small" match is at least as memorable as the top match.
3: Book a centrally located hotel. On a weekend trip, you do not want to waste time going back and forth to a hotel located in some industrial park on the outskirts of the city.