Our A-Z tour series continues here as Kent Sports News match-day reporter Jason Button shares his perfect A-Z European tour itinerary….
My A-Z Tour of European Football:
As a first year university student, my opportunities to travel the continent and the wider world have been limited. On the plus side, this lack of experiences means I can be more open in these types of challenges! The world – or continent – was my oyster! Working my way through the alphabet, each decision came with its own argument as to why each club ended up in my final itinerary. Here’s my A-Z!…
The birthplace of total football. Nothing else really needs to be said. One of the sleeping giants of the upper regions of European competition, Ajax’s classic white and red shirts are consistently seen in the recent history of the game. The stadium itself isn’t as awe inspiring as many others of its size, but who would turn down a weekend in the ‘Dam?
Moving to the other end of the continent and, in a city which is dominated by its derby, Besiktas can be overlooked when considering a trip to Istanbul. While I’m not a fan of modern bowls, the atmosphere generated from the Carsi fangroup would be a joy to behold.
In all honesty, I could have selected either Brugge club who play at the Jan Breydel Stadium but this choice is more for the stadium than its tenants. Bruges looks like a wonderful city – with great beer, so I’ve been told – and the stadium itself is one of the most classic looking grounds you can find – any place which holds a game as good as Yugoslavia vs Spain in Euro 2000 deserves a place in the list.
I’m almost cheating to allow myself a trip to Besiktas with B, but this really is a place you just can’t ignore. Yes, it’s an obvious choice, but the Westfalenstadion is one of the must see stadiums in world football in the 21st century. There is very little that hasn’t already been said about the largest stadium in – in my eyes – one of the top three footballing nations of all time, its just a shame I couldn’t have been there to see Klopp’s Dortmund side at their best.
My fifth pick brings me closer to home and a classic ground of the English game. For any baseball fans, I’d compare Goodison Park to old Wrigley Field – the second oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues. The wooden seats. The blue and white supports on the overhang of the bottom tier. The Z Cars theme. It all comes together to give you a sense of looking to the past whist the abundance of attacking talent Ronald Koeman currently has at his disposal is enough to warrant a visit in itself at the moment.
Another underrated classic. Freiburg’s Schwarzwald Stadion won’t be around for much longer and that’s a huge shame. Nestled at the bottom of a valley in the Black Forest, you get fantastic views of the surrounding area throughout the ground and the town of Freiburg also looks like a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours in the build up to a game.
I’ve already mentioned the derby between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce and that fixture is the main reason I’m back in Turkey’s capital. This choice also begins a trend of simply going to a stadium for its team’s derby and the atmosphere generated from such fixtures.
One of the few trips I’ve been able to make for football was to Denmark and ever since I’ve wanted to head back to Scandinavia to experience more. The club is back on the rise as well – after nearly being relegated to the third division of Swedish football, they have clawed themselves back up to the Allsvenskan. They’re also one of the best supported teams in the country, boasting an average attendance of over 20,000- the highest in Sweden.
The San Siro is one of those places you need get to and the San Siro is up there with the most famous arenas in sport. It’s hosted games at two World Cups, one European Championship and four European Cup finals and is home to two of the most decorated clubs in European football.
When thinking about this A-Z I really didn’t think it would be tough to find teams at all until it came to the latter stages of the alphabet. However, J stopped me in my tracks. The obvious pick would be Juventus, but their stadium offers nothing for me and I saw their squad when they opened the London Stadium in their game against West Ham. Therefore a trip to Eastern Europe was on the books leaving me with Javor, Jagiellonia or Jagodina. This was simply chosen at random thanks to the lack of options.
No European groundhopping trip would be complete without going to a far flung Island simply because you can. This Reykjavik side have very little to offer but on the pitch the club can boast being crowned Icelandic champions 26 times.
Another less usual league selection takes me to the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps. Games on the Island are sometimes paired up as all ten teams play at the Victoria Stadium on the Island, potentially letting you see two games one after the other!
Another choice where I may be cheating. The original club was excluded from Ukrainian competitions in 2016 and since then two phoenix clubs have formed- 1925 Kharkiv and SK Metalist Kharkiv. The former is currently playing in the regional amateur leagues with one standout player- Oleksandr Horyanov who has 428 appearances for the original club and SK are looking to return to professional status as quickly as possible. It doesn’t get much better than Ukrainian amateur games – so I’m told.
Wikipedia describes their fans as “A flamboyant mix of Burgundian fun, beer, fanaticism and love for the club ensures that during home matches the atmosphere in the stadium is intimidating.” Who wouldn’t want that?
Another choice based on my trip to Denmark in 2016. I really wanted to get to EWII Park, but the way the fixtures fell on my visit meant I’d be at FC Copenhagen instead. This time I’d return for an Odense game!
The Belgrade Derby. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years but I’ve never had the opportunity. Red Star’s dominance of the league in recent seasons has left Partizan as second best but their fans still one of the most impressive groups I’ve ever seen. A must see for any groundhopper and I’m no different.
Queen’s Park are a very, very special football club. Not only are they the oldest club outside of England and Wales but they are also the only team in the Scottish Football League to maintain their amateur status. If that wasn’t enough, they also play at Hampden Park – Scotland’s 52,000 capacity all seater stadium. While it won’t offer much for the atmosphere, it’s a club too good to ignore.
This club from Madrid won’t be the first choice for most people when planning a trip to the Spanish capital, but it offers something which neither Real not Atletico can. It really is a club for the local area and their fan group and their club are one of a kind within Spain. The players themselves have assisted local fans with paying rent to avoid eviction from the area!
Shakhtar have fallen on tough times recently through no fault of their own. The issues in Crimea have left them unable to play at the hugely impressive Donbass Arena, leaving them forced to make their own groundhopping journey, first playing at Lviv before moving to Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv – around 150 miles from their spiritual home. Despite their nomadic recent history, on the pitch they have been hugely impressive on whichever field they are playing at. Their Brazilian imports have left them with a flair ridden side who have been very fun to watch in the last 5 or so years.
My third visit to Turkey on this tour sees my favourite of the lot. The Senol Gunes Stadium sits on the southern coast of the Black sea and gives the appearance of a single tiered, pointed Allianz Arena. Internally however, it’s just a generic modern two tiered stadium, the redeeming feature being the impressive gradient pattern on the seats.
Their derby with Ferencvaros is another in the series of choices I’ve selected for a specific fixture. Despite not being given as much coverage as other derbies on the continent, the Budapest clash is something I’d love to experience.
As well as having one of the greatest nicknames in all of sport in ‘the yellow submarine’, Villarreal can also boast playing at El Madrigal. I’m a huge fan of stadiums with the tallest stand being at either end of the pitch. It’s also close enough to Valencia – another team I could have selected – to potentially do two top level games in two days.
A fairly standard Belgian team in a fairly standard Belgian ground. One of those letters which is tough to think of a choice. However, this gives me a chance to see the country beyond its capital.
By far the most difficult choice throughout this entire process. It was either a trip to Greece to see Xanthi or trip to southern Spain to see a team whose fall from grace has been unparalleled. As recently as 2010 Los Azules (The blues) were clashing with giants Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga, but now languish in the fifth tier of the Spanish pyramid after being the victims of major financial difficulties.
Any opportunity to go to the Wankdorf Stadium can’t be turned down. This paired with the lack of other options with this letter leave the Bern side as one of the only viable option for me.
My final selection takes me to Sarajevo in Bosnia for another hotly contested eastern European derby. Nothing really appeals about FK Sarajevo’s ground but the sweeping terrace of Stadion Grbavica and the train on an unused side really appeal. A fantastic way to bring this hypothetical trip around Europe to an impressive end.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @Butskijnr
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