East Ham football fan’s visits to 101 grounds in one summer

Barry met Arsenal player Tony Adams.

Barry met Arsenal player Tony Adams. - Credit: Archant

The Ford Maverick wasn’t a very popular car when it rolled off production lines in the 1990s, but it did have a reputation for being reliable.

He also met Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp.

He also met Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp. - Credit: Archant

For football mad Barry Summers, the 4X4’s reliability proved to be quite valuable after he agreed to what might appear to some as a mad-cap scheme.

Working in East Ham’s South Essex Video shop in 1998, Barry’s animal-loving-boss David Duggan came up with an idea to raise money for charities the RSPCA and PDSA by visiting 101 football grounds up and down the country.

Barry, aged 24 at the time and a lifelong Hammers fan, just like his friend and employer, leapt at the chance.

“He just came up with the idea one day. I’m a great, big football fan so doing it was ideal for me,” Barry said.

Barry with his boss, far right, and Sir Stanley Matthews, second left.

Barry with his boss, far right, and Sir Stanley Matthews, second left. - Credit: Archant

Jumping into his boss’s Ford Maverick, Barry and David set out on their first trip to Southend United.

“We wrote letters to the clubs before where we asked if they could donate a football or something. The only club that flatly refused us was Man United,” he said.

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But the club got its just desserts soon after when the side were knocked out of a Champions League quarter final by Monaco.

A cheeky David, writing to the victors soon after to explain Man United’s refusal, was delighted when the club wrote back, sending him a signed shirt.

Barry with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Barry with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. - Credit: Archant

“He was over the moon,” Barry said. “He just laughed. I thought it was great.”

Hitting the country’s motorways most weekends, the furthest the charitable pair ventured was Newcastle via Stoke and Liverpool in one weekend.

“My partner at the time was happy for me to do it,” Barry, a dad with one son, sixteen-year-old Tom, added.

After arriving at Stoke City, David and Barry discovered they had just missed footballing legend Sir Stanley Matthews.

But after the receptionist phoned the star player to explain, the “Wizard of the Dribble” invited them to meet him two days later.

“He was a fantastic fella. A great man.”

Covering thousands of miles in about six months, the two friends visited premier league and lower league clubs alike, taking a leather-bound autograph book with them with star players’ signatures including Sir Stanley, Kevin Keegan and George Best.

“We met Best in a pub. It was about 11 o’clock in the morning. You couldn’t tell, but he seemed sober. We had a pint of lager, but it was a bit early for me,” Barry, a deliveryman, said.

One face they didn’t recognise on a visit to Preston North End’s ground would go on to become manager of one of the country’s biggest clubs.

“We turned up and announced ourselves and someone came down. We felt really embarrassed because we didn’t know who he was. It turned out to be David Moyes.”

After reaching their 101st ground by late summer, the pair auctioned off their autograph book in a Stratford pub, raising £2,500.

Reminiscing about the epic trip, the 43-year-old said: “It’s definitely my claim to fame. I would probably do it again. A lot of new grounds have been built now, but I think it would be harder to get into them.

“It was a real accomplishment. We were proud at the end. There was never a low point. We were just massive football fans.”

But one ground Barry wishes he could revisit most of all is number 101 - his club’s former home in Upton Park, now being raised to the ground.

“When I drive past, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”