Ray Pantling has watched football in a whopping 51 countries and been to over 450 stadiums across the world. He has had so many life changing experiences from his travels – including being shot at by rival fans, walking with crocodiles and running with cheetahs – that he is writing a book about his adventures. We sat down with Ray, who is owner of Tyres Direct in Bletchley, to hear all about it…
Anyone who has had their tyres changed by Ray Pantling at his Bletchley business will more than likely have encountered a mild-mannered, gentle man who is eager to please, writes Jon Boyle.
But away from Tyres Direct, Ray transforms into a different guy – an adventurer who routinely plunges himself into life-threatening situations insearch of the world’s ultimate football fan experiences.
Ray is a groundhopper who has reached his landmark half-century of countries he has watched football in, and attended 452 grounds.
He has had to dodge bullets on two separate occasions along the way – in Italy and Argentina – and his travels have brought him face-toface with some of the world’sdeadliest animals. He has had so many life changing experiences that he has decided to write a book about his adventures, which he is halfway through.
But to save you the wait, we caught up with Ray – who is also a regular Celebrate:MK columnist – to hear some of his most dangerous and exciting experiences so far.
“I’m very fortunate to have watched football in so many countries and I can honestly say I’ve loved them all,” he said. “I’m always looking for adventure and I think I secretly look for danger! I get in so many situations where I don’t feel safe but I actually get a bit of a buzz from being out of my comfort zone.
“I once got shot at in Italy after an England match in Rome. The bullet just missed my face by about 6 inches. My mate noticed a bloke with a gun pop out in front of us and dragged me out of the way just in time.
“Another scary moment was when I was caught in a gun battle between rival fans in Buenos Aires after a Velez v Estudiantes match. I ducked down behind a low wall and bullets were pinging everywhere – it was just like being in a film.
“But I lived to tell the tale and, after watching a Premier League match in Ghana, a guy invited me to come and meet the crocodiles, lions and cheetahs at his farm. It was a remarkable experience to get so close to them – I even got to take a cheetah for a run on a leash!”
Ray has watched football in Europe, South America, Asia and more, but there is one particular club and one particular continent that are firm favourites for him.
“The Boca Juniors fans in Argentina are the best for pure noise, atmosphere and colour,” he said.
“I’ve been back there three times as I love it. But my favourite continent to watch football in is Africa as it’s got so much character.
“I watched a linesman in Ghana break off a branch from a bush to use as his flag. Next time I go I want to visit Uganda as I’ve heard that clubs employ their own witch doctor to bless each goal before the match!”
Do you have any recommendations for Ray on football grounds around the world he should check out for his book? He would especially like to hear from people who have witnessed unusual or frightening events. If so, email him on firstname.lastname@example.org