Football in Europe
This article is a travel topic
This article refers to the game of Association Football, to give its full title. In North America, Australia, NZ, parts of Ireland, and South Africa, this version of football is often referred to as Soccer.
Europe is gripped by football fever every year between September and May: bars show matches, huge arenas host games, kids play football in the streets, overweight adults play football on pitches in pub teams. However, what sets Europe apart in footballing terms from the rest of the world is the sheer quality of their leagues which are head and shoulders above those from elsewhere around the world.
Real Madrid, FC Internazionale Milano, Manchester United, AS Roma, Bayern Munchen, Ajax, AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Juventus, Chelsea and Barcelona are all truly world class teams with world class players that play week in week out against other top rate teams in world class stadia.
Attending a football match can be a fantastic way of experiencing a city's culture and getting up close and intimate to locals in a what is in most cases a relatively safe environment (see the Stay Safe paragraphs below for country-specific advice).
The English Premier League is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Football played in the Premiership tends to be faster than the Italian Serie A, and the stadiums, despite being dogged by hooligan troubles in the 70s and 80s, are very family friendly and safe.
Top clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool play in front of packed out stadiums week in week out, so it can often be tricky to find tickets for Premier League matches that they play in. Instead, why not try seeing them play in European Champions League matches, which there are often tickets available for the general public.
Match tickets range from around £20 for the smaller games of the lower quality teams, up to around £60 for the best seats at the best matches of the big teams, some tickets can be bought on match days at the grounds, but it is best to buy them online well in advance from the club's websites.
Top clubs include:
- Arsenal (London)
- Aston Villa (Birmingham)
- Chelsea – Winners of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League (London)
- Everton (Liverpool)
- Liverpool (Liverpool)
- Manchester City - Current Premier League Champions (2011–12 season) (Manchester)
- Manchester United (Manchester)
- Newcastle United (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
- Tottenham Hotspur (London)
In the 70s and 80s, hooliganism was a major problem in English football, but now it is highly unlikely for violent incidents to occur in and around football stadia. Still, certain precautions must be taken:
- It is very unwise to support opposition teams openly in home sections of the stadia. At the very least you will be shouted at, or possibly ejected from the stadium by the police for your own safety.
- Try not to wear clothing in the opposition's colours.
Certain items allowed in foreign stadia are banned from being taken into football grounds in the UK:
Top sides compete in France's Ligue 1 , the top level of the two-division Ligue de Football Professionnel. Top clubs include:
- Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) play at Stade de Gerland. The dominant team in French football in the early 2000s; won seven consecutive French championships from 2002 to 2008, a French record.
- Olympique Marseille (Marseille) play at the Stade Vélodrome. Traditionally one of the great French football powers, they won the Champions League in the early 90s.
- Paris St.-Germain (Paris) play ar Parc des Princes (Paris/16th arrondissement).
- Girondins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux) play at Stade Chaban Delmas.
The German premier league is called Bundesliga. It is said, that the quality is a bit behind other top European leagues but on the other hand the fan scene is known to be one of the healthiest in the world. The Bundesliga has the highest attendance figures of any European league, and at all clubs the fans participate in fan displays and co-ordinated chanting, creating an excellent atmosphere within the stadia. The most succesful team in Germany is FC Bayern München. Bayern is record champion and has won every European cup.
Top Bundesliga clubs include
- 1 FC Köln (Cologne)
- Bayern München (Munich)
- Borussia Dortmund
- Borussia Mönchengladbach
- 1 FC Kaiserslautern
- Hertha Berlin
- HSV (Hamburg)
- Schalke 04 (Gelsenkirchen)
- VfB Stuttgart
- Werder Bremen
The second league (2. Bundesliga) has a high average of quality and many very old traditional clubs like
- FC St.Pauli (Hamburg "Kultclub" - fanbase dominated by leftwing fan(atic)s, Celebrity fans: (Bela B., Turbonegro etc).
About 7 to 9 clubs have serious ambitions to get promoted to the Bundesliga so it is a very hard league. The support is not much worse than in in the Bundesliga(some say its even better).
Even in the lower leagues there are many clubs with a healthy fanbase so some clubs below the 2. league have 10,000 visitors per game and more. If you want to "feel" an atmosphere of real football it might be good to visit a game of such a team The most important
- Dynamo Dresden (ex-GDR club, hughe fanbase, said to be violent)
- 1.FC Union Berlin
- Fortuna Düsseldorf (supported by German Punkstars " Die Toten Hosen ")
- VfL Osnabrück
- SG Wattenscheid 09 (Bochum)
- SV Waldhof Mannheim
- Stuttgarter Kickers (Stuttgart)
- Sachsen Leipzig
- Lokomotiv Leipzig
In the Bundesliga violence is not a problem due to a high amount of police officers inside and around the stadium. Just don't support the wrong team in the wrong corner of the stadium and everything will be all right. The former GDR clubs have more problems with violence than the (West-Clubs) due to social problems with in society there. In lower leagues violence may occur more often but is an exeption. German police have an eye on problematic fans even down to 4th or in one case (Lok Leipzig) even down to Germany's 7th league.
The top clubs in Italy's Serie A are currently:
- Internazionale (Milan)—Completed the Serie A/Coppa Italia/Champions League treble in 2009–10; the Serie A title was their fifth in a row.
- AC Milan (Milan)—Ended Inter's five-year reign atop Serie A in 2010–11.
- Lazio (Rome)
- AS Roma (Rome)
- Juventus (Torino)—2011–12 champions
- Napoli (Naples)
- Genoa (Genoa)
- ACF Fiorentina (Florence)
- Napoli (Naples)
The top league in the Netherlands is the Eredivisie. Traditionally, it has been dominated by three clubs:
- Ajax (Amsterdam) — One of the most decorated clubs in European football, with 31 national titles, 18 wins in the KNVB Cup (Dutch Cup), four wins in the European Champions Cup/UEFA Champions League, and one UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League).
- Feyenoord (Rotterdam) — Not quite as decorated as Ajax, but with a still-impressive 14 national titles, 11 Dutch Cups, a European Cup, and two UEFA Cups.
- PSV (Eindhoven) — Second only to Ajax in domestic titles, with 21. Also has 8 Dutch Cups, plus one European Cup and one UEFA Cup.
However, recent years have seen teams outside the "big three" contend for titles—AZ (Alkmaar) won the championship in 2008–09, and Twente (Enschede) won the title in 2009–10 and finished just behind Ajax in 2010–11.
The top Portuguese league, the Primeira Liga, has been steadily climbing the European rankings in the 21st century. Many of the country's top clubs play in state-of-the-art grounds, a legacy of the country's hosting of UEFA Euro 2004. The historic "Big Three" clubs have completely dominated the league. None have ever been relegated from the top flight, and they have collectively won 74 of the 76 league championships to date.
- Benfica (Lisbon) — Boasts the most wins in both of the major domestic competitions, with 32 league titles and 27 Portuguese Cups. Also a two-time winner of the European Champions Cup (now UEFA Champions League) in the early 1960s.
- Sporting (Lisbon) — Often incorrectly called "Sporting Lisbon" by English-language media, Benfica's eternal crosstown rival has 18 league titles and 15 Portuguese Cups. They also have a win in the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
- FC Porto — Porto are second to Benfica in domestic trophies, having won the league 25 times and the cup 16 times. However, their accomplishments in European play stand above those of the two big Lisbon clubs. They match Benfica with two wins in the European Champions Cup/Champions League, and have also claimed the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League twice, most recently in 2011. Porto also won the domestic league and cup in 2011.
Scotland is a fanatical football country. Per head of population, it has the highest number of football supporters (those who actually attend games) of any country in the World. While clubs in Scotland sometimes struggle to attract World-class players due to the proximity of the much more affluent English clubs, the standard of football compares well with other European leagues. This is borne out by the successes of Scottish clubs in European competitions from the 1950s to the present. Indeed, Celtic were the first club from any country other than Italy, Spain or Portugal to win the European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) when they defeated Internazionale of Milan in the 1967 final in Lisbon, Portugal.
Forty-two clubs play in the national football leagues in Scotland. At the top, there is the 12 club Scottish Premier League (SPL), while below the SPL the Scottish Football League (SFL) has 3 divisions of 10 teams each. Below the SFL, teams take part in regional leagues.
The top football clubs in Scotland include:
- Aberdeen. Nickname: The (Dandy) Dons. Home ground: Pittodrie. Shirt colour: red
- Celtic (Glasgow). Nickname: The Bhoys, The Tims, The Tic. Home ground: Celtic Park. Shirt colour: green and white hoops
- Dundee United. Nickname: The Arabs, The Tangerines. Home ground: Tannadice (once (in)famously pronounced "Tanna-dee-chay" by a BBC newsreader to much hilarity north of the border). Shirt colour: tangerine
- Heart of Midlothian (Edinburgh). Nickname: The Jambos (Hearts --> Jam Tarts). Home ground: Tynecastle Park. Shirt colour: maroon
- Hibernian (Edinburgh). Nickname: The HiBees. Home ground: Easter Road Stadium. Shirt colour: green
- Rangers (Glasgow). Nickname: The Teddy Bears, The Gers ,The Huns , Sons of William . Home ground: Ibrox Park (UEFA Award *****). Shirt colour: royal blue.
Fixtures are listed on the clubs' websites and in the local press. Tickets can be purchased directly from the relevant club. Tickets can be hard to come by for matches between Celtic and Rangers (the "Old Firm" derby), for European ties involving Celtic or Rangers and sometimes for home matches of other teams against the 2 big Glasgow clubs.
Stadiums are all-seater and generally attending a match is a safe experience. Bear in mind that opposing supporters seating areas are segregated - avoid cheering for the "wrong" team, or wearing their colours (though the worst that is likely to happen to you is verbal abuse followed by ejection by stewards or police). Trouble often occurs around the city (and indeed, around other towns in Scotland) after derby matches in Glasgow, and (to a lesser extent) Edinburgh. Caution should be exercised on these occasions.
Top clubs include:
- Barcelona (Barcelona)
- Real Madrid (Madrid)
- Valencia (Valencia)
- Villareal (Villa-real)
- Seville (Seville)
- Athletic Bilbao (Bilbao)
Historically, Wales did not have a national league. The top tier was divided between the Cymru Alliance , for teams in North and Mid Wales, and the Welsh League, for teams in South Wales. Consequently, many of the bigger clubs chose to compete within the English football pyramid. Starting from the 1992/93 season, the League of Wales, now the Welsh Premier League, was founded to form a national competition. The "exiled" clubs were invited to resign their positions in the English leagues, and enter the League of Wales, along with the top teams from the Cymru Alliance and Welsh League. Some of the clubs chose to remain within the English system.
Wales' two largest teams both play in the English league system:
- Swansea City  have played in the top-level Premier League since the 2011–12 season. Nickname: The Swans. Home ground: The Liberty Stadium.
- Cardiff City  play in the second level, the Football League Championship. Nickname: The Bluebirds. Home ground: Cardiff City Stadium.
Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County and Wrexham all compete at a lower level within the English game.
The biggest clubs in the Welsh Premier League are
- Aberystwyth Town 
- Bangor City 
- Rhyl 
- The New Saints  - whose Park Hall stadium is actually just across the English border in Oswestry
Compared to neighbouring England, Welsh Premier League stadiums are small, and attendances are low. In South Wales, the popularity of Rugby Union and the presence of the large exiled clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, conspire to keep attendances down. In North and Mid Wales, the proximity of the glamourous Premiership teams in the English North-West and West Midlands means that many football fans prefer to journey across the border rather than watch their local teams. This often means that attending matches can be a fairly relaxed activity, with a strong community feel at clubs. Tickets are fairly cheap, there is usually a small clubhouse for a drink before and/or after the match, and visitors will generally be made to feel welcome by the locals. Violence between fans is very rare, though bad feeling between fans of Rhyl and Bangor City can sometimes go too far.