One man, one month, 31 matches = one legend

We all know people who seem to spend their whole lives watching football. We tend to think that when people say they have seen two or three games in a weekend, but what about if you met someone who literally saw a game a day. For one whole month. That takes some beating, but back in April we did actually meet someone who was doing that. And we were very very jealous indeed. Continuing our series of “extreme” football fans, I give you the legend that is Thomas Rensen.

Your adventure was a work of genius. It made all of us football lovers green with envy. So where did the idea come from?
I always wanted to go on another InterRail, travelling by train through Europe for 31 days. Last time I did that, in 2000, it was in the summer. I saw plenty of big stadiums in Europe, but no matches because of the summer break. It was then that I thought that the next InterRail will be in April or September, because then I can see a few matches. That idea grew and grew, why just a few matches, why not one match a day. Would that be possible? In February 2010 I tried to see whether it was possible on paper and in March 2010 I decided to do it.

With football these days dictated by television, how far ahead could you plan the trip?
I started planning the matches four weeks beforehand. But it was impossible to plan all 31 matches. Several matches were rescheduled for example just two weeks before my trip started. That meant I had to reschedule again. And if one match changed, it meant that it influenced the whole week. For example, on Monday I saw Djurgardens-AIK in Stockholm. The plan was to see Dynamo Dresden-Rot Weiss Erfurt the day after, but that match was rescheduled to Wednesday. That meant I had one day to fill in, in which I saw BK Skjold in Copenhagen (Ed – this is where we met up with Thomas – see here for details). Also, sometimes I just planned a match in France, just one day before I decided which match I would see.

What were your original aims for the trip? Did you set yourself any specific goals?
To see one match every day for 31 days, in as many countries as possible. Just because it would be fun. Not for charity, not to prove something, just cause I wanted to make a once-in-a-lifetime-journey

We all have “rules” we impose on ourselves as to what games count or not. Some people have to get a programme, others it has to be a touch of the match ball. What rules did you set for yourself?
No big rules. I tried to see as many first division (e.g Premier League) matches as possible, in as many countries as possible. I saw two fifth division games. One because I had no other options and one because Fortuna Köln is a special cult club in Germany. But I also saw a Champions League match, an Europa League match, two matches from the English Premier League, a sold out 2. Bundesliga match (70.000) a sold out 3.Bundesliga match (30.000), but also a semi final Liechtenstein Cup and quarter final of the cup in Austria. So, the diversity was high and that was something I aimed for.

It was a huge adventure with so many possibilities that it would go wrong, especially as you were reliant on the weather, public transport and actually getting a ticket for the games. Was there ever a moment when you thought you wouldn’t do it?
No. Of course you experience more difficult times, but from the moment I started planning, I knew I would do this.

You lived your life out of a rucksack for a month, but what item proved indispensable for you?
My InterRail-ticket of course, because I travelled by train it was possible. I could sleep at night, I was flexible when the plan had to change and it was pretty comfortable. Another item was my laptop with internet access. I wrote for several websites (FourFourTwo was one of them), and a Dutch paper, so, had enough to do. Also I wanted to meet other football fans in Europe, and social media and internet was very important for doing that.

There must have been some great moments on the trip, but what was the best?
The last match, Chelsea-Tottenham was great. It was sunny, I completed my journey, had a perfect seat and a match full of incidents. Another great moment was the 24 hours between USV Eschen – Balzers and Schalke04-Inter. Two opposites: a semi final of the cup in Liechtenstein and the quarter final of the Champions League, within 24hours, but both matches were great and the people I met during this day were superb as well.

You had to take the rough with the smooth, so what was the worst moment?
A rookie mistake. I lost my passport. I still don’t know how, but I know where I lost it – at San Siro Stadium in Milan. Not that bad too lose a passport. But unfortunately I couldn’t go to Switzerland (Basel-Grasshoppers) the day after which meant I had to improvise. On Sunday I saw Monza-Spezia instead, and on Monday I went to Karlsruhe as planned. A short hiccup, but not big enough to ruin my trip!

Obviously due to the nature of the trip you needed some help. When you asked them, how helpful were the clubs?
I actually didn’t ask many clubs to help me. I asked fans from around Europe to help me. They were very important for my trip (buying me tickets for almost sold out matches for example). Clubs who helped me like NK Maribor were very friendly and a great help.

Your journey was featured on a number of websites and newspapers. What did the media make of the whole trip?
It was a big thing, especially in German speaking countries. I gave interviews in seven different countries during the month. On radio, television, for magazines and for papers. In Luxembourg a paper wrote two pages just about my trip. Insane!

Deep down every football fan was jealous of your trip and I can honestly say you were a hero in my eyes. So how did your family and friends view you and the trip?
Maybe not as a hero, but they think it’s wonderful that I fullfiled it, that I did what I said and that I had the passion for the sport to do it like this. From other football fans I heard several admiring stories.

You saw 31 games. Can you pick out one that was the best or memorable than the others?
The most fun match was First Vienna versus Kapfenberger, the Quarter Final of the Austrian Cup. It was 0-1 with one minute to go. First Vienna (the oldest club from Austria, currently playing in the second division, Kapfenberger in the first) got a penalty and the opponents had to play with one man less, the ideal chance for a 1-1 and to take the tie into extra time. But First Vienna missed and then Kapfenberger scored a second on the counterattack. First Vienna lost their biggest match of the decade. Oh, and by the way, every groundhopper has to visit Hohe Warte, the stadium of First Vienna. A very old stadium, full of history.

How could you “top” the idea next time? 60 in 60? 365 in 365?
It’s not for me to top this trip. It was a once in a lifetime for me. So, I challenge others to top this. And I would love to help and to visit a match together. I already heard of someone who wanted to visit 29 matches in 29 days, but then just by plane. Sounds great as well, right?

If you were tempted out of “retirement”, what would you do different next time around?
Difficult to say. It was good like it was. If there would be a next time I would do it a bit later in the season, Now I didn’t see a match in which a team became champions. That’s the one miss of the trip.

You kept us informed of your progress via Twitter, so it seems apt to end on that. Sum up the trip in a 140 character tweet?
31matches was a month full of travelling (Europe is beautiful by train), full of meeting footballfans (share the passion) and of… football

Thomas is truly a legend of European football watching and joins the likes of Radish and Stoffers in our hall of fame. You can follow him on Twitter here and read all about his travels on his website.

twitter / theballisround


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