The rules are simple, but the choices are less straightforward. If money was no object, where would an A-Z tour of European football take you?
Since promoting the ‘Look at These Scenes’ A-Z tour series on Twitter, there have been some fascinating tour itineraries submitted to the site so far, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them all! Next up, I share my own alphabetical ‘top 26’!…..
My A-Z Tour of European Football:
The inspiration for my love of travel and watching football overseas came as a teenager watching Channel 4’s Gazetta Football Italia back in the 90’s. My early forages into European football took me to iconic Italian grounds such as the San Siro, Stadio Delle Alpi and the Stadio Olimpico. It was those early experiences of something altogether different from the English game that fuelled my subsequent addiction to visiting foreign football fields! I have been fortunate enough to visit 90 plus games abroad, and many of those encounters are featured on this blog. I have a penchant for football in Eastern Europe – the passionate fans, the old school grounds, the lack of financial investment and the general gritty, post communist feel of these places often make these the most memorable of experiences.
So onto my A-Z. This wasn’t as straightforward a task as it may seem! It’s definitely helped me narrow down my bucket list of ‘must visit’ clubs, and some big club experiences have had to fall by the wayside in the process. Conversely the restrictive nature of letters such as Q, X and Y, for example, has meant some off the beaten track destinations feature in my top 26. Here’s my A-Z tour itinerary:
A is for…AIK
Hopefully the curtain raiser on my A-Z tour wouldn’t disappoint. A visit to the ‘Friends Arena’ for a less than friendly encounter between AIK and Djurgarden. In terms of fan culture and fanaticism the ultras of both these clubs know how to put on a show, and I would love to witness this at some point. Immaculately prepared tifo’s, flares, and smoke are all frequent fayre at this classic Stockholm derby.
I’m gutted I didn’t get to experience a derby day at Besiktas’ old ground the İnönü Stadium. Whilst the Vodafone Arena lacks the character and charm of their previous home, the reputation of Besiktas fans and an Istanbul derby day lures strong!
The blame for my love of travel and watching football in foreign fields has to land squarely at the feet of Channel 4’s Gazetta Football Italia! That classic Serie A round up show with James Richardson at the helm was TV gold to me and inspired my first ventures to foreign football fields! With the San Siro, Stadio Delle Alpi, Stadio Olimpico and the Luigi Ferraris already ticked off, the door opens for a slightly less well known name to receive a visit here. Step forward Chievo Verona! Despite being one of the less fashionable Italian clubs, their stadium and classic blue and yellow for some reason draws me in. A short hop from Venice too, this would make for a decent weekend stop off. Maybe the wife would fancy this one?!
Despite stopping off in Bucharest en route to Moldova a few years back, unfortunately I’ve yet to see a game in Romania. My Romanian ‘fotbal’ debut would lead me to watch Dinamo Bucharest. The derby v Steaua is often moved to the National Stadium but that’ll do for starters!
A few days lapping up the sun on the Costa Blanca would be perfectly topped off with a trip to the Martinez Valero Stadium to see Elche play. Not a big name in the Spanish game, but their stadium is a classic – a multi-tiered South American-esque bowl of a ground ticks all the boxes and would make for a decent football weekend!
Talinn – well, what a city! I went there back in 2007 for England’s qualifier against Estonia but didn’t manage to get into the ‘Le Coq Arena’ for the game! En route to Moscow I’d stop off here for a 2nd visit and catch a Flora game instead. Any city derby would do!
Whilst a visit to rivals Besiktas would be my Turkish football ‘first choice’, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of a trip to the Ali Sami Yen Stadium too. Welcome to Hell!
The reputation of derby days in Stockholm is so good I’m venturing back for a 2nd course here! This time the green and white of Hammarby and a visit to the Tele2 Arena beckons. The fans here are passionate, committed and love their choreos. Game of choice v Djurgarden.
A trip to Iceland has long been on my bucket list – more to experience the beautiful landscapes rather than the beautiful game. But while I’m here it would be rude not too wouldn’t it! IBV are based on the small island of Vestmannaeyja and have one of the most picturesque grounds in Europe. Click here.
Polish football in the main is accompanied by a superb fan culture, and one that I’d definitely be up for experiencing a few more times on this A-Z! I’ve spent a bit of time in Poland and have had memorable football trips to watch Legia, Polonia, Lech Poznan and Slask Wroclaw. More often than not it’s the passionate ultras that make it such a good experience. Jagiellonia have always caught my eye with their colourful displays and fervent support, so they would be next on my Polish football hit list.
K was a difficult one. There are loads of ‘K’s in Turkey for example that were half tempting, but having included 2 of the big 3 from Istanbul in this A-Z, I’ve decided to opt for something a bit different here. Another opportunity for the beautiful game amongst a beautiful landscape sells it for me, and a visit to the Faroe Islands has so far alluded me on my travels around Europe following England. I don’t know much about KI Klaksvik, but I cant pass up the opportunity of watching a bit of football amongst the stunning island landscapes of the Faroes!
There’s plenty of L’s knocking about and this was a tough call. Lokomotiv Plovdiv and Levski Sofia came close, but I ended up going for Lokomotiv Moscow. I visited Moscow back in 2007 when England played at the Luzinksi Stadium for a European qualifier. Despite there being a bit of trouble knocking about, I thought the city itself was fascinating. I would love to return there one day and catch a club game, and any stadium with a monument dedicated to a steam train outside it deserves a visit in my book! A game in the Russian capital at a club with such a strong historic connection to the Russian Railways is also the perfect link to my letter ‘Y’ choice!
Slovenia is quite simply one of my favourite countries in Europe. So much so that I even got married there! The Triglav National Park and the mountain lakes of Bled and Bohinj are a must see – and from what I’ve heard so is the Eternal derby between Maribor and Olimpija!
Retro memories in the shape of Diego Maradona, Careca, that classic ‘Mars’ kit, Italia 90, Zola and Di Canio are enough for me to include a visit to Naples in my A-Z! I’ve heard mixed things about the city itself, but one things for sure it’s a fiercely passionate footballing city and the iconic yet decaying San Paolo deserves a place on this alphabetical football pilgrimage!
Greek football fans are immense and can create one of the most hostile atmospheres of anywhere in Europe. My one taste of Greek football so far has been the Thessaloniki derby between Aris v PAOK, and that was incredible. Olympiakos v Panathinaikos would be next on my list without doubt.
Palermo and Poli Timosoarra came close here. But just edging it was a trip to the Pancho Arena to see Hungarian 2nd division side Puskas Akademia. As the name suggests Puskas Akademia are an academy club, and act as a feeder to top flight team Videoton. The club have one of the most unique looking stadiums I’ve ever seen (see header image) and its one that warrants inclusion in my 26! With wood carvings gracing the back of each stand the stadium resembles an ancient palace or place of worship.
This was a tough one as Q’s don’t grow on trees! As much as I love Scotland, Qarabag gets the nod over Queens Park and Queen of the South purely because I love heading east for the beautiful game. These kind of trips usually throw up something a bit different, and that along with their unique looking stadium means Qarabag does enough to get the nod here.
It was probably Denilson’s £21.5 million move to Real Beits in the late 90’s that first turned my attention to the ‘Los Verdiblancos’. Ever since then I’ve had a real soft spot for Betis. The Estadio Benito Villamarin has a real South American feel to it too – stick me in there for the derby with Sevilla and I’ll be like a pig in shit!
I’ve been to Prague a few times before, but regrettably I’ve never managed to slot a game into the weekend itinerary! For no other reason than the fact I like their club badge, I would opt for the Prague derby v Sparta at the Eden Stadium. Scenes to be had here surely?
I’ve never been to football in Norway and the chance to visit Europe’s Northern most top flight football club, coupled with watching a game in the arctic circle deserves a slot on my A-Z ground-hop! With the stunningly beautiful Lofoten Islands close by this would be another club on my A-Z where the great outdoors has influenced my decision making.
Union Berlin are not your ordinary club. The club that lived in the shadow of the Stasi-sponsored Dynamo Berlin for so many years are now thriving in the German second division. The clubs fans once saved their club by fundraising by giving en masse blood transfusions and then, in 2008, worked for 140,000 hours to rebuild their own stadium. This is one of those clubs that is deeply rooted in its local community and I would guess it doesn’t care much for billionaire ownership and global domination.
Viitorul came onto my radar about 3 years ago, not long after one of my favourite ever players – Gheorge Hagi – took over the club and developed a unique philosophy of bedding young academy graduates into first team football. (view my 2015 ‘In Bed With Maradona’ piece here). After taking over the licence of CSO Ovidiu in 2009, the club have risen through the lower leagues and are now in the Romanian top flight. This season they won the initial league phase and are currently battling it out with Steau to win the title. A visit to Viitorul and a chance to see this unique philosophy in action, as well a true footballing legend – well, enough said!
I’m gutted I didn’t make it to Widzew Lodz when they played at their old ground as it looked like it would offer a proper old school Polish football experience. The club have fallen on troubled times recently after they got demoted to Poland’s 5th tier after going bankrupt in 2014/15. They are on the way back up now though and are currently playing in the Polish 3rd division. With a new stadium and a passionate and committed set of fans, the Lodz derby probably wouldn’t be too shabby an experience.
There’s not much to be had with the letter ‘X’. Xamax Neuchatel, located on the shores of Lake Geneva, would probably get my vote.
After watching Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian capital who wouldn’t fancy a 57 hour train ride drinking Vodka with the locals in a sweaty 4-berth sleeper compartment to the Russian outpost that is Krasnoyarsk! I would definitely be out of my comfort zone on this one, but what doesn’t break you makes you stronger! Lying on the Trans Siberian train route from Moscow to Beijing, a trip to Krasnoyarsk kills two birds with one stone; the chance to experience one of the most famous train rides in the world, and to watch some football in a random Siberian outpost!
Yenisey Krasnoyarsk play in the Russian 2nd Division, and have a classic Eastern bloc stadium located on an island in the middle of the Yenisei River. This one’s worth the effort I reckon, but note to self – book a flight back to Moscow!
Bosnia has long been on my ‘to do list’ and after the struggles with X and Y all of a sudden I’m spoilt for choice. It was tempting to stay in the capital Sarajevo for the Zeleznicar experience, but Zrinski just nicks it for me. Mostar’s famous bridge is the ‘postcard’ shot the tourists want, but chuck in the Mostar derby whilst your there and I’m sure that will leave a few other lasting memories for sure!
by Jeff Prevost
Main photo: courtesy of http://www.iaks.org