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John O'Groats set for challenge match with Dutch team

By Jean Gunn

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John O'Groats play in Division One of the Caithness AFA league.
John O'Groats play in Division One of the Caithness AFA league.

A challenge match has been organised at the home of John O'Groats to celebrate the completion of a Dutchman's epic walk from Land's End visiting football grounds along the way.

The Rambling Groundhopper, Gijs van der Poel, plans to complete his journey from Land's End tomorrow afternoon (Thursday), raising money for Street Soccer Scotland in the process.

Iain Green, of John O'Groats FC, explained that Gijs had got in touch with the club in early 2020 outlining his plans. However, Covid meant a delay of two years.

The groundhopper, who was working along with Staantribune, a Dutch football culture magazine, planned to take in around 25 games on his journey north, travelling up through the leagues. He has been documenting his journey and is writing a book which is commissioned for publication later in the year.

Iain said: "We as a club have built up a relationship with the editor of Staantribune. Joris van de Wier visited the club last season and we have stayed in touch since then."

The fixture between a John O'Groats XI and FC Staantribune will go ahead at the village's Folke Park on Saturday with a 3pm kick-off. The match will be in aid of Street Soccer Scotland with auction prizes available from each of the clubs Gijs has visited.

The Staantribune team will consist of players and football fanatics who are travelling over from the Netherlands, as well as some expats based in Scotland or England.

The Dutch magazine put out a post saying any abilities were welcome to play in the exhibition team – they just had to pay their own way to Groats.

Gijs van der Poel setting off from Land's End.
Gijs van der Poel setting off from Land's End.

It's a fitting occasion for John O'Groats which got its name from the Dutchman Jan de Groot, who ran a ferry to Orkney and had a house with eight doors.

The village team is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and trying to involve some veterans who played in the first John O'Groats side in 1982.

"We should have some old faces on show," Iain said. "We will be on standby with the medi bag as well."

They will be wearing special edition tops which are in demand with orders coming in from Australia, France and Ireland.

The Dutchman has told the club that he has organised a call to be broadcast on Sky Sports News on the day.

Iain added: "I hope the game goes well and everyone has a good time. I do hope they invite us over for a replay, but I am certainly not walking there."

Gijs also plans to take in matches at Watten on Thursday and Keiss on Friday.

He embarked on his adventure in February, travelling from his home in Amsterdam, and set off on his walk from Land's End.

He told Street Soccer: "I have always been a fan of groundhopping in Scotland, England, Scandinavia and Germany. My partner is from Milton Keynes and has ancestry from Scotland, so hill-walks and hikes in the UK have always been a hobby of ours. I decided to tie these two passions together and create Lejog."

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