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Dutch groundhopper's end-to-end trek marked by challenge match at John O'Groats


By Alan Hendry

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Players from John O'Groats and FC Staantribune before Saturday's challenge match at Folke Park.
Players from John O'Groats and FC Staantribune before Saturday's challenge match at Folke Park.

International football came to John O'Groats at the weekend in the form of a challenge match celebrating the end of a charity fundraising walk by a Dutch groundhopper.

A team of John O'Groats veterans took on a visiting select from Staantribune, a Dutch football magazine, to mark the arrival of Gijs van der Poel following his trek from Land's End via numerous sporting outposts.

Known as the Rambling Groundhopper, he is writing a book based on his journey, which took almost four months. It is commissioned for publication later in the year.

The game at a breezy Folke Park on Saturday afternoon ended in a 7-2 win for the home side – and an invitation for John O'Groats to pay a visit to the Netherlands next spring when the book is published.

With the help of auction prizes from clubs Gijs visited on his journey, around £1500 has been raised, with the final tally still to be confirmed. After a few expenses, the money will go to Street Soccer Scotland, which provides free football-themed training and personal development for socially disadvantaged groups.

Gijs reached John O'Groats on Thursday. Iain Green, a John O'Groats committee member and player, joined him at Nybster for the last eight miles of the walk.

A guard of honour at Folke Park for Gijs van der Poel after his groundhopping trek from Land's End to John O'Groats.
A guard of honour at Folke Park for Gijs van der Poel after his groundhopping trek from Land's End to John O'Groats.

Gijs and some of his friends attended county league second division matches at Watten on Thursday night and at Keiss on Friday. They were interested to find that Watten's ground is on the site of a World War II prison camp.

On Friday they had a tour of Pulteney Distillery before being shown around Harmsworth Park by Wick Academy vice-chairman Stewart Gunn.

Iain said: "Academy were really generous and donated a few things that he auctioned off on the Saturday night to raise money for his charity. The auction itself raised well over £800."

The Scottish and Dutch flags were flying at Folke Park for the match, refereed by Suleiman Makhouli. It was followed by a gathering in the village hall.

Video messages from ex-footballers Brian Irvine, Alex McLeish and Luis Figo congratulated Gijs on his achievement.

The John O'Groats team wore a specially designed strip and there has been a keen demand for replica shirts. Iain is trying to set up an online shop with kit supplier Football Nation.

"There was a wee bit of running about towards the end to get stuff sorted, but it went pretty well and everyone seems to have enjoyed it," Iain said.

"All the guys were well chuffed by the effort that was put in, mainly by myself and Willie Ross and Stuart Sinclair, our captain.

"We've been invited over for a rematch in the Netherlands to celebrate the launch of his book, around about March/April time, but if you're going to get a plane of 30-odd Groatsers over it doesn't give us much wiggle room to sort something.

"We'll wait and see. It's pretty tentative."

In a social media post, Gijs said: "A massive, massive thank you to Iain who went above and beyond to welcome us to John O'Groats where it was one big fundraising party. Absolute class."


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