John Hopton, probably best-known to Driffield folk for being a member of rock band Infinitum, has recently had a new book published.
Entitled “Following Football,” and available from Amazon, it charts an epic round-the-world trip that he made whilst attending as many football fixtures as he could.
Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, John chats about his match-attending obsession, his experiences of living and working in Japan and South Korea, and his hope to get Infinitum back together in order to celebrate an upcoming anniversary…
Q. So you’ve just returned from Japan! What was it like living and working in the Far East?
A. It was wonderful in many ways. Japan is a good country to live in if you have the time and means to enjoy it.
The weather is fantastic, but the work ethic is such that most people only see the sun through an office window, and while there are amazing places, it’s pretty expensive to get around.
If you have the money, the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) will get you where you want to go unbelievably quickly!
Q. It’s not the first time you’ve lived and worked in a foreign country.
A. I’ve lived in South Korea, too. That’s much cheaper and a bit crazier. I think it was the right place to go before moving to straight-laced Japan in order to keep me on the straight and narrow!
I say “straight-laced,” but as many people probably know, when things get “weird” in Japan, they get really weird. I guess that’s what happens to people when you try to make them too straight-laced!
Q. A huge football fan, you’ve attended a huge number of matches in different countries over the past few years. A proportion of such fixtures occurred in the run-up to the most recent World Cup in Brazil. What motivated you to attend so many far-flung engagements?
A. It was an adventure that combined two of my great loves: football and travel.
I think you can get a better feel for a country by visiting events such as football matches… even more than you can by just visiting churches and museums. Going to bars is also a good way to do it!
Q. At what point did you consider pitting your experiences into a book?
A. I started researching literature on the combined subjects of football and travel and found that there’s surprisingly little on the two together. There are a couple of great examples, but not a huge number.
Q. So how many pre-World Cup fixtures did you attend, and which matches stand out the most in your memory?
A. I attended three official fixtures during the journey before getting to Brazil. The trip was also tailored around visiting cities that had hosted World Cup finals to see what they were like as a whole.
Aside from the World Cup, my stand-out match was in China, at the “Shanghai Derby,” in a huge stadium rife with local rivalry.
Q. What was the funniest incident that occurred on your journey?
A. The one that stands out for me probably sticks in my mind because it was so embarrassing. In Rio de Janeiro, I was forced to stay in a favela – one of the slums that clings to the mountainside above the city.
There was just nowhere else available during the World Cup.
Most people get up to them on motorbike taxis; there are big queues of people down the bottom, waiting to be taken up. Being very unfamiliar with motorbikes, the first time I got on one, I threw my arms around the driver a little too enthusiastically.
Most people just hold on to the back of the bike! Another driver shouted, “If you want, you can kiss him!” At that, all the drivers and people in the queue laughed.
Q. Would you say that Rio is genuinely as dangerous as some people make out?
A. The favela should, in theory, have been one of the more dangerous areas, but I never really felt unsafe.
However, many of them have been “pacified,” which means that the police have gone in hard and retaken control. Indeed, cops with huge machine guns were among the people laughing at me at the bottom of the favela!
Security was even tighter than normal during the World Cup. I’m not sure that Rio would be as “safe” all the time, though.
Q. Were you surprised that England crashed out of the tournament when they did?
A. I was sad and annoyed, but not surprised! I, like all England fans, have seen it all before. Fortunately, I was in a bar that served free cocktails as we crashed out, so that softened the blow.
Q. Are you considering writing a sequel to “Following Football” (perhaps called “Following Football Again”?) when the next World Cup swings around?
A. I hadn’t thought about that! I might do, so long as FIFA doesn’t collapse in the meantime and get the tournament cancelled.
The theme of FIFA corruption was one that cropped up right across the planet as I spoke to people along my journey.
Q. You’ve just nicely returned to the UK, having settled in Selby. Have you found it easy to readjust to Yorkshire-life after having been away for so long?
A. I’m really liking it at the moment, and I’m enjoying doing the things that I haven’t been able to do for a while, like going to see regular live music, as well as familiar sports teams.
Q. As well as being an author and teacher, you’re a talented musician, having gigged in Driffield with Infinitum. Now you’re back home, do you harbour any intention of gigging again?
A. Myself and the other former members of Infinitum realised just recently that we’re only a couple of years off the twentieth anniversary of our first ever gig at the famous “Duchess of York” in Leeds!
Once we got over the shock, we said it would be a nice idea to do a reunion gig to mark the occasion…
l Visit www.johnhoptonwriting.com for more information on his work.
l Visit www.steverudd.co.uk for more about our regular contributor.