By Lewis Fraser
TRAVELLING almost 10,000 miles a season in support of their team, David Chandler and Christine Balmer are perhaps the UK’s most dedicated football fans.
The couple – from Morecambe, in Lancashire – do not think twice about their weekly seven-hour, 360-mile round-trips to Scotland after falling in love with a team north of the Border. However, it isn’t Celtic, Rangers, Hearts or Hibs that have captured the hearts of David and Christine – in fact, it is fifth-tier side University of Stirling.
Their relationship with the University – who currently sit tenth in the Lowland League – began almost four years ago when midfielder Thomas Cowley joined the ranks. Cowley, 21, had previously stayed with David and Christine while a young player at Morecambe.
“We started to occasionally attend the games because Tom was here,” Christine explained. “But we just gradually got more and more into it, and became increasingly involved in the club – and last year we attended pretty much every game.”
David added: “I doubt whether there’s anybody – certainly within the Lowland League – who travels as far as we do each week.”
Typically, David and Christine start their journey to Scotland at around 9am. If Stirling are playing at home, they will arrive at about lunchtime, leaving enough time for them to stretch their legs and mingle with the rest of the support before kick-off.
“Up here in Stirling, one of the things that makes it so nice is that the people involved with the club are so welcoming,” David said. “If they weren’t then we probably wouldn’t be as enthusiastic supporting the team as we are. You feel like home when you are up here.”
As with many Lowland League sides, the University of Stirling relies upon volunteers to provide support to the team on match days. David looks after media duties at the club – creating video highlights packages of each game, and conducting post-match interviews with First Team Coach, Chris Geddes.
“We realise that many of the University’s fans – including relatives of the players – might not be able to make as many games as we do. So, we wanted to help make it easier for those people to be part of the club – by sharing the highlights and post-match reaction.
“Watching the games with my phone in my hand, I’d starting taking photos and videos. After the games, players would start asking, ‘did you get this or that?’
“I thought it would just be easier if I could film the whole game and put a highlights reel together, so that’s what I’ve done this season. It’s a lot of work but the lads appreciate it, as do the parents who can’t make it to the game.”
Although the University sit in the bottom half of the league and were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Linlithgow Rose, David and Christine rarely miss the opportunity to come and cheer on the team.
Christine said: “It’s more important to show support when the lads aren’t playing well, because that’s when they need the support. We don’t just think, ‘they lost this week, we won’t bother next week’. We still make the journey.
“It’s important that we show the lads we’re always behind them. You’ve got to keep going, they can’t say we’re not coming next week if things are going badly – and we see it the same way.”
She added: “The standard of football is very good, it’s very technical. They play positive football as well which makes it good to watch, teams go out to win games. You rarely see a boring game.”
“There’s no doubt that the lads appreciate our efforts. At this level, it’s not like the Premier League – you really appreciate those people who come to support you.”
David added: “It sounds cheesy but Stirling has a place in our heart now – and we’re loving every minute of it. The club has given us lots of memories that we will certainly never forget.”
Chris Geddes, University First Team Coach, said: “We really appreciate David and Christine’s support of the team from the stands – and behind the scenes. If there are more dedicated football fans in the UK – or even just here in Scotland – I would like to meet them!”
Featured image credit: Stirling University Football Club