20. Ring the bell at Montreal
Sourced from Ohio by the 1642 MTL supporters’ group and installed in 2015, the bell refers to Montreal’s nickname as ‘the city of a hundred steeples’. You’ll need to be a member ($20 per year) if you want to ring it.
19. Rock up at Braga
Former quarries generally don’t get transformed into things of beauty. The Estadio Municipal de Braga, brilliantly rendered by the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, is the exception.
Hewn from the rockface, it has only two lateral stands that are tied together by cables. It’s a unique place to take in a Primeira Liga fixture – and cheap on the gate to get in, too.
18. See football’s most famous hedge
Brechin City’s charming Glebe Park ground is home to the most famous hedge in British football – few league clubs anywhere have one running adjacent to more than half of the pitch.
Match tickets cost £13 and home and away fans are rarely segregated – plus the snack bar’s soup is immense. To get there, take a bus to Brechin from Montrose train station.
17. Witness the Intercontinental Derby live in Istanbul
Terrorism, violence and civil war among Turkey’s clubs, fans and the authorities make this trans-continental tear-up between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce one of football’s most complex derbies.
Beneath that, though, is a colourful, historic and utterly mad rivalry in one of the world’s most alluring cities. To buy tickets, you’ll need to get one of these cards, and is the place to get it.
16. Watch elephant football
There’s nothing quite like watching an elephant dribble past an opponent and lash the ball into the net. You can see this spectacle in the elephant football match at Nepal’s Chitwan Elephant Festival, held in Sauhara National Park every December. A return flight on Yeti Airlines (great name) to Chitwan from Kathmandu costs less than £120.
15. Sing Abide With Me at the FA Cup final
This mournfully uplifting number was first performed at the FA Cup final by a military band in 1927, and fans were so taken that it became a permanent fixture. Traditionally, the first and last of its seven verses are sung.
Try not to miss your cue, as singer Karen Harding did at the 2016 final. You had one job...
14. Educate yourself at the CR7 Museum
With flights to Funchal in Madeira available from Gatwick, Glasgow and everywhere in between, the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo is within easy reach for a long weekend.
The altar to CR7 was opened by his brother in 2013 and recently expanded, and features two of Cristiano’s Ballon d’Or trophies, among other memorabilia. Pilgrims beware: it’s closed on Sundays.
13. Sample the wine from Andres Iniesta’s vineyard
Besides, one of the great things about vineyards is that you can go along and have a glug with no obligation to buy anything. The tasting tour at Bodega Iniesta, located at Fuentealbilla, Albacete, comes highly recommended, as does the tapas restaurant.
This isn’t just a pet project for the Barcelona great, either. “My family has always dreamed of owning a bodega,” he has said. “It’s a way of giving back to the place I was born. You don’t pay for the name – you pay for the wine.” Next: Xavi goes into cheesemaking.
12. Get yourself to an Old Firm Derby
The Old Firm’s got a new vibe, with back-from-the-dead Rangers cast in the unlikely role of plucky underdogs against Celtic, who represented a dog without a bone during the four seasons they were gone.
With both clubs under the stewardship of forward-thinking managers and local fans baulking at increased ticket prices, there may never be a better time for neutrals to taste the derby’s unique atmosphere. As Paolo Di Canio said, “There’s nothing like it.”
11. Take a child to his or her first match
Youngsters can react to their first game with wide-eyed delight or utter boredom. It’s a rite of passage either way – but when it goes well, it feels special to help an enthusiastic new recruit onto your club’s emotional rollercoaster and the lifelong personal connection that brings.
10. Visit the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium via cable car
Perched 2,000m (about 6,500ft) above sea level and within spitting distance of trendy Zermatt, the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium was built on the only piece of flat land available in the tiny Swiss village of Gspon.
As a result, the pitch is only three-quarter size. But it’s worth visiting, with the breathtaking views making this one of the world’s most beautiful grounds. Home to Swiss no-marks FC Gspon, the ground is accessible only by cable car – more standard modes of transport grind to a standstill in air so thin.
9. Make a pilgrimage to the Maracana
Rome has the Colosseum; Paris has the Eiffel Tower; Rio de Janeiro has the Maracana (or the Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, if you prefer). This temple of football no longer holds 200,000 (it’s a 78,000 all-seater) but its rich history is reflected in the excellent one-hour tour, which will set you back less than 20 quid even for the VIP treatment.
8. Make Diego your middle name at the church of Maradona
Iglesia Maradoniana was set up in 1998 by two friends and now has 200,000 members and counting. But why stop there? Pay homage to Argentina’s (and Scotland’s) unholy spirit by getting married, baptised or, yes, renamed at his altar.
Be warned, though: this is no half-arsed religion. The Church of Maradona has its own epoch (Maradona’s date of birth), version of the Lord’s Prayer and an alternative to the 10 Commandments, and to prove your allegiance to this particular footballing deity, you must re-enact the Hand of God in front of other members of the congregation.
7. Visit the home of park football
Hackney Marshes is the Wembley of Sunday League football, and a thrilling reminder of the game’s community roots (David Beckham and Bobby Moore once played here, y’know).
You can gaze across all the action from the Hackney Marshes centre and even go spotting for resident bats. Take the bus: the 236, 276, 308, W15 and N26 all stop there.
6. Sample Europe’s biggest rivalry
Tickets for the world’s most high-profile football match, the titanic showdown between Barcelona and Real Madrid, have now “reached Super Bowl prices” according to one report. But the NFL-esque salaries of Messi, Ronaldo and chums won’t pay for themselves.
A travel package (flights, hotel, tickets) offers the best guarantee of a seat, and although it won’t be cheap, it’ll be hundreds rather than thousands. Go on, treat yourself – just think of all the boasting you can do when you return.
5. Play football on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo
The Adidas Futsal Park is Japan’s answer to finding somewhere to play in the world’s most populous city. It opened ahead of the 2002 World Cup, and is still popular among those who favour the small-sided game (or just like a good view).
The 270-degree panorama, 10 storeys above one of Tokyo’s busiest stations, Shibuya, makes it one pitch where taking your eye off the ball is actively encouraged.
4. Sing yourself hoarse in Dortmund’s Yellow Wall
Cheap beer, cheap grub and cheap tickets – the Bundesliga’s reputation for fans-first football is very much deserved. Nowhere is this more evident than at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, which sells out its 80,000 capacity for every home league match.
Nearly 25,000 of them pack into the famous Sudtribune, where you can enjoy safe standing for peanuts, decibel-defying yet aggro-free. No wonder a reported 1,000 British supporters make the trip out every other weekend.
3. Become a club owner
Megabucks flooding into football has unfortunately led to all manner of borderline and actual criminals trying to get rich quick, with often-disastrous results. Supporters’ trusts and fan ownership schemes are a wonderful way to take the power back.
Wrexham (wst.org.uk), Exeter City (ecfcst.org.uk), AFC Wimbledon (thedonstrust.org) and FC United of Manchester (fc-utd.co.uk) all have a degree of fan ownership. For those after a more exotic investment, SV Austria Salzburg (set up after Red Bull’s involvement in the original club) and protest side Spartak Varna in Bulgaria provide some interesting alternatives.
2. See a Superclasico
The Buenos Aires biggie was ranked No.1 in , and getting tickets is reassuringly tricky – especially at Boca’s Bombonera, where there are more season ticket holders than seats. An established tour or package is your best bet and worth the extra outlay, while Copa Libertadores clashes aren’t always covered by season tickets and are less likely to see away fans banned.
1. Go to the World Cup final
Some might contend that the Champions League final is of better quality, or that watching club football is a purer high, and a (frankly deluded) case could even be put forward to argue that the Super Bowl or the Olympic 100m final is the biggest in size, but we’re having none of it.
The World Cup final, for fans and players alike, is the most-watched, most-revered, most-tweeted, biggest, bestest sporting event on Earth, and should the opportunity ever arise, we’d advise selling a kidney to be there.
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