Association Football in Europe

This article is about the game of association football, often called soccer in North America, Australia, parts of Ireland, and South Africa. Any unqualified use of the term "Football" in this article will refer to association football / soccer, unless otherwise noted

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. What sets Europe apart in footballing terms from the rest of the world is the sheer quality of the leagues, which are head and shoulders above those from elsewhere around the world.

Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, AS Roma, Bayern Munich, Liverpool FC, Ajax, AC Milan, Arsenal, 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). Many of the teams also hold stadium tours where you get to take a look at their trophy cabinets (empty or not), club museums and changing rooms, though mostly only of interest to supporters.

England

Inside Old Trafford, home of Manchester United
This is Anfield, Liverpool FC

The Premier League, run by The Football Association, is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Football played in the English Premier League 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 Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United play in front of packed out stadiums every week, so it can often be tricky to find tickets for their Premier League fixtures. Instead, why not try seeing them play in European Champions League matches, for which there are often tickets available to 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.

Teams

Top clubs include:

Stay safe

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:

Partly due to past problems with hooliganism, certain items allowed in foreign stadia are banned from being taken into football grounds in England. They include aerosols, air horns, bottles, fireworks, flags with poles, flares, glass vessels, smoke bombs and vuvuzelas.

Other strict regulations also apply to football in England. Spectators are not allowed to drink alcohol in view of the pitch, unless they are in an executive box. Standing up for long periods in all-seater stadia is also strongly discouraged. Standing sections are not allowed in top tier stadia and are rare even in the lower leagues.

France

Top sides compete in France's Ligue 1, the top level of the two-division Ligue de Football Professionnel under the purview of the France Football Federation. Top clubs include:

Germany

The highest level league in Germany is called Bundesliga. It has quickly caught up to other top European leagues and 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 coordinated chanting, creating an excellent atmosphere within the stadia. The most successful team in Germany is FC Bayern München. Bayern have won more Bundesliga titles than any other club, have won every European cup, and most recently completed "the treble" in 2013, winning the Bundesliga, German Cup, and UEFA Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund supporters
Allianz Arena, home of Bayern München, lit up during the 2011-2012 Champions League Final

Top Bundesliga clubs include

The second league (2. Bundesliga) has a high average of quality and many very old traditional clubs like

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 the Bundesliga(some say its even better).

Even in the lower leagues there are many clubs with a healthy fan base 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

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 Western Germany clubs due to social problems. In lower leagues violence may occur more often but is an exception. 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.

Italy

The San Siro is shared by Inter and AC Milan and is electric during a derby

The top clubs in Italy's Serie A are currently:

Netherlands

The top league in the Netherlands is the Eredivisie. Traditionally, it has been dominated by three clubs:

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.

Portugal

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 79 of the 81 league championships to date.

Scotland

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.

Teams

42 clubs play in the Scottish Professional Football League, the four-level national football league. At the top, there is the 12-club Scottish Premiership; below that are the Scottish Championship, Scottish League One and Scottish League Two, each with 10 teams. Below League Two, teams take part in regional leagues.

Supporters of Celtic and Rangers display their banners at half time in a derby match

The top football clubs in Scotland include:

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, now dormant at league level due to Rangers' bankruptcy and relegation), for European ties involving Celtic or Rangers and sometimes for home matches of other teams against the 2 big Glasgow clubs. The "Old Firm" derby between Celtic and Rangers is by far the biggest rivalry in Scotland, and also ranks among the most intense in the world as a result of its sectarian undertones; Celtic is traditionally supported by Catholics while Rangers is traditionally supported by Protestants.

Stay safe

Stadia 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.

Spain

Camp Nou

Top clubs in Spain's Primera División, more often known as La Liga in the English-speaking world, include:

The biggest rivalry by far in Spanish football is "El Clasico" between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and this rivalry goes beyond just football with a long history of politics behind it. Back during the Franco era, Real Madrid was widely regarded as the club of the ruling establishment, and till this day, the club is still strongly associated with the Spanish royal family. On the other hand, FC Barcelona is seen as a symbol of Catalan indentity, which was brutally suppressed during the Franco era.

Wales

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:

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

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 glamorous 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 feelings between fans of Rhyl and Bangor City can sometimes go too far.

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