What's on your football bucket list? It's time to tick some of those items off.
The sun's out once more, the summer is ahead of us and without an international tournament – in the men's game, at least – you might be wondering how to spend your summer. Especially if it's the first one that you can really see mates, following a COVID nightmare.
Well, we've got you covered. Some dream of Machu Picchu, others of the Camp Nou; some harbour ambitions to see the northern lights, others European nights. Here's our definitive guide of what a football lover needs to see and do before they die.
1. Play football on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo
Why: The Adidas Futsal Park is a uniquely Japanese answer to finding somewhere for a kickabout in the world’s most populous city. Having opened ahead of the 2002 World Cup, it’s 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. Tip: bring spare balls.
How: Get organised. It’s popular, so nabbing a booking isn’t easy, particularly as it can’t be done online and there’s no English-language website offering a phone number. Enlist the help of a local, and be ready to pay top dollar.
Local knowledge: Can’t get a booking? There are spectator areas, and Mark City Shopping Centre’s top floor has the best matchday view.
Cost: Peak rates are 20,000 Yen (around £150) for 90 minutes – not cheap, but still only £15 each for a long game of five-a-side.
2. Visit the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium via cable car
Why: Perched 2,000m (about 6,500ft) above sea level and within spitting distance of trendy Zermatt, one of Europe’s most fashionable ski resorts, 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. It’s definitely worth a visit, 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, as usual modes of transport splutter to a standstill in air so thin. Who knows? You might even find yourself travelling up with the Gspon FC players on their way to the highest pitch in Europe.
How: There’s really no need to book in advance for this one, as the cable car from the village of Stalden to Gspon runs all year round (except the first two Mondays of every month, when it’s shut for maintenance). There are hourly train connections to Zermatt from Geneva and Zurich airports.
Local knowledge: Duck inside the Bahnhofbuffet il Buffeto in Stalden for a bite to eat and an alpine beer before the lung-bursting ride above the clouds.
Cost: The cable car journey costs £8.
3. Sample the wine from Andres Iniesta’s vineyard
Why: Some might ask: “Why would you want to make an incredibly rich man even richer by buying his wares?” We’d reply: “Stop being a killjoy and have some midfield-genius booze already.” 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 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.
How: The 100-acre site is located at Fuentealbilla, Albacete, and produces Bobal, Macabeo, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It’s open daily from 9am to 2pm, then 4pm to 6pm (this is Spain, after all). Call +34 967 09 06 50 or email email@example.com.
Local knowledge: While in Albacete, check out the stunning architecture around the Pasaje de Lodares and the Catedral de San Juan Bautista.
Cost: Bottles start at a very reasonable €4.90; the most expensive is €18. You’d pay more than that for plonk from Waitrose.
4. See a Superclasico
The Buenos Aires biggie was ranked No.1 in FFT’s 2014 rundown of the world’s best derbies, 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.
5. Tuck into a pie at Morecambe
With their menu including a four-time Football category winner (chicken and leek) and three-time Dessert champion (apple, sultana and cinnamon) at the British Pie Awards, Morecambe are the UK’s premier purveyors of pastry-cased perfection. Their pies were once sold at Harrods, feeding fans in west London as well as in coastal Lancashire.
6. 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.
7. Attend an FA Cup match before November
So the FA Cup doesn’t matter any more? Tell that to the supporters who attend matches as early as August – the First Round Proper doesn't begin till November when Football League teams join in the fun. You’ll get change from a tenner and a chance to see an early part of an historic cup run.
8. 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...
9. Start a chant and watch everyone around you join in
Jack White said the terrace ubiquity of Seven Nation Army is “the greatest thing that could happen as a songwriter”. The rock star experience doesn’t come easy, but all chants start somewhere. Hearing hundreds or thousands sing your words is an extraordinary feeling, so have a go and see what happens.
10. 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 www.passolig.com.tr is the place to get it.
11. Become a club owner
Why: 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. “Investing a few quid gave me a deeper passion for the side,” says Wrexham fan Robbie Jones. “It’s gratifying being involved – and we can’t moan if things go wrong.”
How: Portsmouth (pompeytrust.com), 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.
Local knowledge: Buying a stake in a trust entitles you to a vote on numerous matters, and also the opportunity to stand for a position at a club or on the board (it’s usually unpaid, mind). If Football Manager isn’t cutting it for you any more, why not immerse yourself in the real thing?
Cost: As little as £5 a year.
12. Sing yourself hoarse in Dortmund’s Yellow Wall
Why: 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.
How: While the waiting list for the club’s 50,000 season ticket places lasts years, you can buy match tickets individually or as part of a travel package via the club’s website, complete with an excellent English-language version. Don’t expect to stand in the Yellow Wall when Schalke or Bayern Munich are in town, though, and come with an open mind if you’re of an anti-Liverpool leaning: one of the club anthems is You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Local knowledge: The stadium is served well by public transport, but take the 40-minute stroll from the city centre – as FFT did last time we were in Dortmund – and you can take in the other thing this place is famous for: beer. There are many fine BVB-themed boozers along the way.
13. Make Diego your middle name at the church of Maradona
Why: Either blasphemous or just plain barmy, 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. Just imagine you’re outjumping Peter Shilton’s perm at the Azteca Stadium.
How: “Any Maradona fan is welcome to this Church,” explained co-founder Hernan Amez. “We invite them to our Facebook page. And in the name of the Tota [Maradona’s mother] and of Mr Diego [his father] and the fruit of their love [take a wild guess], the soccer god blesses you all.” Obviously.
Local knowledge: Well, here’s the thing. While the Church of Maradona was born in Argentina’s third largest city, Rosario, and also has a base in Diego’s other spiritual home, Naples, there is no church per se. So after you have become a member, the church will travel to any part of Argentina – for the right price – to arrange any extras.
Cost: Potential pilgrims can request ‘Iglesia Maradoniana’s price range’ by visiting their Facebook page.
14. Watch a night game in broad daylight
Why: There are two ways to approach Iceland during a summer visit: try to live by ‘regular’ hours and end up going completely batty like Al Pacino in Insomnia (yes, we know that film is set in Alaska) or just roll with the 24-hour daylight and start attending football matches that kick off at 10pm without the need for floodlights. We recommend the latter: this is a land of confusion after all – don’t get the locals started on trolls and the secret Huldufolk people – and Iceland’s top Premier League, the Urvalsdeild, is one of Europe’s most fascinating, fun and well-attended divisions in terms of proportion to population size.
How: The Urvalsdeild runs from May to early October and tickets can be easily procured on the gate. Among the top recommendations are capital derbies between KR, Fram, Valur and Vikingur.
Local knowledge: Most of Iceland’s top clubs are inevitably found in Reykjavik, but two of the country’s top sides are not. Champions Fimleikafelag play in the cultural hub of Hafnarfjardar – sensibly, the team are known as FH – while rivals Breidablik UBK, part of Iceland’s largest sports club, are located in lovely Kopavogur, which is home to the country’s tallest building.
Cost: Flights to Reykjavik can be bagged for under £50 and tickets for most of the games won’t cost much more than a tenner. You may need to remortgage your house to buy a pint, however.
15. Speak the international language of football
There’s only one language spoken more than Mandarin, and that’s the shared tongue of footballers’ names. Whoever you come across on your travels, be they African, Asian or Inuit, there’s no better ice-breaker than invoking George Weah, Shinji Okazaki or any Eskimo footballers you can think of, while giving a hopeful thumbs-up. It will always get a grin, because our game truly does unite.
16. 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.”
17. 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.
18. Have your hair cut by Pele’s barber
If Pele’s passing through Santos, he’ll be sure to pop into Didi’s for a trim. The three-time world champion’s favourite barber shop is right next to the Vila Belmiro stadium he called home for most of his career, and its status as Pele’s salon of choice has seen it included in many city guides. A cut will set you back R$20 (under £5).
19. Ring the bell at Montreal
Sourced from Ohio by the 1642 MTL supporters’ group and installed last year, 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.
20. Eat world-class pulled pork from West Ham’s Ribman
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Why can’t all vans – or in this case, milk floats – outside football grounds dish up food as good as this, eh? Mark Gevaux, AKA The Ribman, is a trained butcher and his pulled pork, which is cooked on a barbecue using a closely guarded recipe, is the grub of the gods. He also sells his own range of spicy condiments, including ‘Christ on a Bike’ hot sauce.
21. Attend an MLS tailgate party
Car parks in British football are drizzly, miserable places made for congestion, overcharging and minor scuffles, but one of the finest traditions of American football – tailgating – has translated seamlessly to MLS. Pre-game, fans grill meat, drink kegs and mix happily, often feeding opposition supporters. Weirdos.
22. See stained glass of Duncan Edwards
The iconic footballer, thought before his untimely Munich death at 21 to be the most complete England player of all time, is poignantly memorialised in two stained-glass windows within St Francis Church in his hometown of Dudley. The church is open 9.15am to 2pm, Monday to Friday. There's a car park behind the church and you can also visit Edwards’ grave, located in the town’s cemetery.
23. Do the Poznan… in Poznan
Why: Possibly invented by Lech Poznan fans in the 1980s – though other Polish supporters did it too – ‘the Poznan’ became globally famous when the Manchester City faithful adopted it after a Europa League match in 2010. It has been performed with varying degrees of competence elsewhere. In Spain, Alaves fans do the Poznan while singing the theme to children’s TV series Pippi Longstocking – obviously – but for the real deal, go and see Lech.
How: When your side scores, turn your back on the pitch, lock arms with other fans and jump. You can buy tickets via the club’s Android app (they’re sent via SMS), or take a guided stadium tour. Tram 6 from Poznan’s main train station to the stadium takes just 15 minutes.
Local knowledge: Poznan is considered the home of the potato in Poland, so there’s no shortage of spuds on menus. The BSA Sport Pub (Ulica Dluga 11) is plastered with football memorabilia, including Lech souvenirs, and you’ll find home and away fans drinking cheap beer here when there’s a game on.
Cost: Tickets from £9. Potatoes vary.
24. Play with (or against) your hero
Why: PlayWithALegend.com, brainchild of ex-Gunner Perry Groves, is a neat idea for stag dos or birthday surprises. Within reason (and allowing a loose definition of the term ‘legend’), a Premier League legend will join you and your mates for a match. What Liverpool fan wouldn’t want to set up a tap-in for Rushie? Could any Chelsea diehard resist being the victim of a Michael Duberry reducer?
How: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 202 6766, for anything from five-a-side to a match at a club ground.
Local knowledge: Don’t think you can mix it. As FFT discovers every time we face an ex-pro, just because they’re 58 and have two new knees doesn’t mean they aren’t 800 times better than you. Who needs speed with a touch like that?
Cost: Prices start from £80 per person.
25. Watch two teams defend a hemisphere each
Why: According to Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano, there’s only one place on Earth where the north and south do battle on a level playing field: the Zerao stadium in Macapa, northern Brazil. The halfway line runs along the Equator, so each side defends a hemisphere for 45 minutes each way.
How: Well... even people who regularly travel to Brazil may never meet anyone who’s been to Macapa – flights aren’t cheap and there are very few direct routes from major cities. Good luck!
Local knowledge: Most tourists in Macapa are passing through en route to French Guiana. There’s not a whole lot to see in this part of the world, once you’re done larking about with a foot in each hemisphere, so maybe just stop by the Mercado Central (Central Market) and search for Amazonian souvenirs.
Cost: Match tickets are R$10 – about £2.
26. Play five-a-side while floating around in the Andaman Sea
Why: This certainly isn’t your local Goals Centre. Having been glued to the 1986 World Cup, bored kids in the tiny Thai fishing village of Koh Panyee built a pitch from wooden crates and bits of rafts, then proceeded to win regional tournaments – now they’re one of the best youth teams in the country. There can be no doubt that a game here will help to hone your shooting skills, as any shot off target results in a swim in the ocean to get the ball back.
How: You can get to Koh Panyee directly from Thai tourist hotspot Phuket, or from Krabi. It’s close to the island of Khao Phing Kan, which became famous as Scaramanga’s lair in 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun, so it’s very much on the boat trip circuit. Once you’re in Koh Panyee, you’ll pretty much be dragged to the pitch for a quick kickaround.
Local knowledge: There used to be protruding nails between the boards of the pitch, so locals learned where to avoid flinging themselves when trying to win a free-kick. These days there’s a new nail-free pitch, but you can still have a go on the old one. Just cut down on the diving, unless it’s into the sea.
Cost: After the flight to Thailand (about £500), everything else is pretty much free – though it wouldn’t hurt to bring a spare ball for the kids in case all their own have floated off towards Malaysia.
27. Experience the world’s biggest unsegregated derby
Why: At least twice every year, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs meet in the Soweto Derby at Soccer City, venue of the 2010 World Cup Final, to do battle in front of 95,000 supporters. Buccaneers (Pirates) fans sit alongside their Amakhosi rivals as they sing, dance and blow on their vuvuzelas – remember them? – to cheer on South Africa’s two biggest clubs. In a country that has spent so much of its history segregated by law, it is a fascinating experience to see two bitter rivals get together for the love of a game that gives so many supporters an escape from everyday life. People come from the affluent Sandton suburbs as well as the poverty-stricken townships in order to witness the spectacle.
How: Once you’ve made it as far as Johannesburg, getting to the game is easy. Go to www.computicket.com to book your ticket, then order an Uber through to Soccer City a few hours before the game is due to get started.
Local knowledge: You won’t see traffic like Soweto Derby traffic anywhere else in the world. It’s better to get yourself to the stadium early doors and then hang around for a while afterwards, instead of braving the rather boisterous derby-day queues. Pick up a beer and a boerewors roll inside the stadium and take in the impressive surroundings.
Cost: Match tickets are R80 (about £4), while a taxi will set you back in the region of R200 (approximately £10).
28. Have a kickabout in the world’s biggest stadium
If you think we mean the Maracana, think again. Instead, head to Prague, where this giant gem (below) is only a 15-minute walk from the famous Charles Bridge. The Strahov Stadium was completely rebuilt in the Soviet era – today, its stands are an amazing blast from the past – and its perimeter is so vast that no fewer than nine football pitches can be housed within it.
The stadium used to house athletics events as well as football, and in its prime, the capacity was 230,000, which is just plain silly. Best of all: though it’s currently being used as Sparta Prague’s training complex, it’s accessible to everyone.
29. Hear You’ll Never Walk Alone being belted out at Anfield
Some hostile visiting supporters still attempt to chant dismissively over the Scouse hymn, but it speaks volumes to the appeal of YNWA that most fans don’t, choosing instead to savour the optimistic ode to perseverance in adverse weather conditions. Catch the Kop on top form, though, and it still retains the ability to tingle a spine.
30. Eat Edin Dzeko’s favourite dinner
The Balkan bite cevapi – minced pork and/or beef in a flatbread served with a hot pepper sauce – is sold in grounds and loved by one of Sarajevo’s favourite sons, Edin Dzeko, but arguably the best place to eat it in the Bosnian capital is actually Galatasaray. The restaurant is owned by former footballer Tarik Hodzic, who brought the Turkish influence back from his former club by adding salad.
31. 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.
32. Join in the applause at Rapid Vienna
In the 75th minute of every Rapid Vienna home match, the fans start clapping rapidly – and continue to do so until the final whistle. The uplifting ritual started during the pre-war years, when such applause inspired Rapid to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat. Fancy being a part of it? The nearest Metro stop to the new Allianz Stadium is Hutteldorf, found on the U4 line from Vienna’s historic centre, and prices for a match ticket vary from £40 to £150.
33. Watch a match with 100,000 others in Tehran
Getting an Iranian visa – a must if you want to enter the country – can be “long and unpredictable”, say the Foreign Office, but if successful you’ll be rewarded with one of the world’s most intense derbies: Persepolis vs Esteghlal.
The attendances are staggering – but if you don’t want to get caught in the crossfire of a game that makes not just the capital but the whole country come to a halt, seeing a crucial World Cup qualifier for Iran is the next best thing.
34. Watch the worst team in the world
Why: Ibis in Brazil pride themselves on being the worst team in the world, after setting a Guinness World Record in the ’80s for playing the most games without a win (55). Watching them play is an experience: their fans spend most of the time gently mocking their own players and don’t really care about the result, as long as they lose in the end.
How: With difficulty – Ibis play mostly at Paulo Petribu stadium in Carpina, more than 50km inland from Recife. To watch Ibis, you’ll have to take a (cheap) Expresso 1002 bus into the desert.
Local knowledge: Don’t worry about buying a ticket in advance – only six fans showed to watch their first game of one season in the Pernambuco state second division (they lost, obviously). A mandatory stop on your way should be the Recife barbershop owned by former Ibis ‘star’ Mauro Shampoo, a cult hero midfielder who scored only one goal in his entire career.
Cost: Tickets are R$5 – just over £1.
35. Watch Hajduk Split go to battle with Dinamo Zagreb
Why: Dinamo have the recent history. Hajduk, though, are the best-supported club in the country, with well over 40,000 paid members and die-hard supporters who never, ever stop singing. Earlier on this season, their team fell 4-0 behind in the derby, but rather than quietly file out of the stadium, their fans just turned up the volume. Win or lose, you’re up for one hell of an experience with that lot.
How: Unless Hajduk are fairly close to Dinamo in the league table (and they usually aren’t), there will be plenty of tickets available on matchday. You can buy them at the ground in the hours running up to kick-off. Though Hajduk’s Poljud Stadium is less than a mile from the city centre, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, but you’re unlikely to miss groups of people wearing Hajduk tops and singing, so just follow them.
Local knowledge: Members of the Hajduk-crazy Torcida Split, the oldest organised supporters’ group in Europe, gather in a bar called Krom, which is also within walking distance of the city centre and the stadium. They can be pretty friendly, provided you’ve done your homework: before you go there, learn why Hajduk are the people’s club and why Dinamo belong to the devil.
Cost: It’s £11-£14 for a match ticket. To sit in the North End with the Torcida costs only £7, but it’ll be packed.
36. Visit Buenos Aires’ football-themed cafe
Why: If you’re visiting Argentina with an interest in its two major passions – tango and football – then you should not spurn the opportunity to chow down at a venue that celebrates both. El Banderin is where idols including Adolfo Pedernera, of River’s famous La Maquina side, and tango singer Carlos Gardel would spend their afternoons in the 1930s. Whether it’s Manchester United or an Italian third-division side, it’s likely your team will be represented on the walls: the pennants are so popular, tourists now offer to send their own paraphernalia so that their clubs are also present.
How: This famous spot is located in Almagro, a few short steps from Carlos Gardel underground station, and picked up the name El Banderin (The Pennant) in 1960, after owner Mario Riesco had started to collect them. Now its walls bear more than 500 banderines from all over the world. “What really saved me was plastic,” says Riesco. “Old ones are a thick fabric, which is impossible to clean or wash.” Riesco still serves coffee every afternoon and is more than willing to chat with customers.
Local knowledge: The phrase, “Tiene el banderin de...?” (“Do you have the pennant of...?”) will certainly come in handy. If you want to follow the tradition, ask for a mighty picada (assorted cold cuts) with a fernet (an alcoholic spirit), having heeded the notice that reads: “If you drink to forget, please pay before drinking”. Cash only.
Cost: One picada will set you back £6.60 and a fernet just £3.30, making El Banderin considerably cheaper than the fancy bars in the Palermo district.
37. Get involved in a Timbers tifo
Why: Tifos are beautiful displays of synchronicity, art and passion, and in Portland, the Timbers Army take theirs very seriously, demanding total secrecy in the weeks of preparation. As an iconic piece of US soccer culture, the banners are often associated with the game in question, so you can be part of history.
How: You can join the Timbers Army via their website. Then, volunteer to help and start adding your own bit of colour to the tifo. You don’t need to be artistic, either – all skill levels are welcome, with enthusiasm the only requirement.
Local knowledge: While you’re there, keep your eyes open for Timber Joey’s log. The club mascot slices off a slab of tree for each home goal scored, and it’s then passed around the crowd before being presented to the goalscorer later.
Cost: Membership to the Timbers Army is priced at $25 per year. Bargain!
38. Try some tropeiro (‘troopers’ beans) in Belo Horizonte
The mix of beans, pork, bacon, onion and spices known to Brazilians as tropeiro has long been synonymous with the Mineirao stadium, especially at a time when ticket prices were cheap and attendances were massive. During the 1990s, both Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro would attract in excess of 100,000 people to watch the Belo Horizonte derby, which sounds perfect when accompanied by a few beers.
39. Head a clearance back onto the pitch from the stands
This will happen once in every 1,847 matches you attend, so pay attention. Should a football ever skim off Boaz Myhill’s shin and arc perfectly towards you, do not attempt to either evade it or catch it. As Eminem said, you only get one shot – so plant your forehead on it, propel it back onto the field of play and await the chant: “Sign him up, sign him up, sign him up!”
40. Don the coolest football shirt ever
Many kits are heralded as football’s hippest, but Peru’s iconic red sash on a white backdrop symbolised the swashbuckling style with which the team, coached by Brazilian legend Didi, reached the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals. For less than £40 you can buy one from various online emporiums and then pretend to be Teofilo Cubillas – or a time-travelling Nobby Solano, perhaps.
41. Take a child to his or her first match
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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.
42. See 13 European Cups in one place
Why: All right, some of those cups are replicas, but seeing football’s blingest trophy room at Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is still genuinely awesome, in the original sense of the word. It is all staged in the best possible taste, but the sheer volume of silverware crammed into the glass cases and cabinets is almost oppressive. The gaudiest concoction of all is the Super Ballon d’Or, created in 1989 to honour the genius of los Merengues’ Argentine legend Alfredo Di Stefano, which looks more like an absurdly complicated piece of confectionery.
How: The Bernabeu has its own metro station on Line 10, which can be caught from the Plaza de Espana in the centre. From the main Atocha railway station, take the No.14 bus to the stadium.
Local knowledge: Come back down to Earth by watching a game at Madrid’s yo-yo club, Rayo Vallecano. Currently playing in the second tier, the Red Sashes’ eclectic list of former greats includes Laurie Cunningham, Michu and Toni Polster. Listen out for the song La Vida Pirata, in which fans praise rum and make politically incorrect claims about the morality of French women.
Cost: The entire Bernabeu stadium tour, which also includes the dressing rooms, costs around €20 – so it’s well worth it.
43. Play where the Incas walked
Why: If you’re brave enough to hike the Machu Picchu trail, rather than taking the lazy day bus, then have a word with your sherpas and go for a kickabout on one of the highest football pitches in the world. At about 13,000 feet above sea level, you probably won’t last long running around with your incredibly fit hosts in their sandals made of tyres, but it’s worth giving it a go just for the view. Dusty pitch, rolling landscape, benches for goals – it’s beautiful.
How: First, you need to book a flight to Peru and a Machu Picchu expedition (G Adventures are a good company to use). You’ll have to fly into Lima; from there, the tour company should have you covered. The Inca Trail’s demanding but worth every single ounce of sweat.
Local knowledge: You’ll need to ask the sherpas specifically about having a game, as it’s not part of the tour but something they just do for themselves. Also, when you get to Cuzco and they say don’t drink alcohol until you are acclimatised, don’t drink alcohol until you are acclimatised. The altitude will quickly turn you into a Freshers’ Week lightweight. Do try a piscola cocktail when you finally are used to it, though.
Cost: Once you’ve got yourself to Lima, it’ll set you back another £764 for the tour, including accommodation.
44. Take a boat up the river Weser to see Werder Bremen
Why: The Weserstadion could hardly be located in any more picturesque surrounds: it’s set right on the river Weser (as the name would suggest) and surrounded by wooded parkland. You owe it to yourself, then, to arrive in a fashion that makes the most of that natural beauty, giving the city hustle and bustle a wide berth and taking the boat instead. By the time you dock, you’ll have whetted your appetite for a few minutes already by seeing the floodlights poking above the trees.
How: Get on at Martinianleger, the quay on Martinistrasse, which is a short walk from the town hall. The ferry leaves from Pier 2, and it takes 20 minutes of pleasant chugging to arrive at the stadium. You can buy tickets at the quay and the boat will drop you at the park next to the stadium.
Local knowledge: If the weather’s OK and you are not too pressed for time, walk back at least some of the way into town. The one downside of taking the boat is that you’ll miss the array of bars on Vor dem Steintor. Get a drink with the locals there and share a chorus of Wonderwall (adopted as the club song) with them.
Cost: €3.50 one-way or €5.50 return, and half-price for kids.
45. 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.
46. Lose your breath at the world’s highest-altitude national stadium
At an altitude of 3,637m (11,932ft), Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz is Bolivia’s hallowed turf – they beat Argentina 6-1 here in 2009. Away teams hate the ground, because you can struggle for breath after a mere walk. For a cheap white-knuckle ride to the stadium, jump on a collectivo bus.
47. 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.
48. 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...
49. 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.
50. Grab Argentina’s best football grub
Choripan is essentially a pimped-up version of a hotdog, with the sausage existing somewhere between chorizo, frankfurter and a British butcher’s banger. It’s popular all over South America but best in Argentina, where you can buy it from one of the many barbecues that pop up outside football grounds on a matchday, smothered in some traditional chimichurri sauce.
51. Relive Zizou’s darkest moment
‘Headbutt’, Abel Abdessemed’s captivating statue of the worst (and last) header of Zinedine Zidane’s career, treats Zizou and Marco Materazzi as if they’re figures in Greek myths. To see it, fly to Qatar, hire a cab from Hamad International Airport to the Museum of Islamic Art and take the courtesy bus to Doha’s Arab Museum of Modern Art. Entry is free but it’s shut on Mondays.
52. Enjoy a beer with Coutinho
Why: No, not the Aston Villa schemer, but one of the stars of Santos’s iconic ’50s and ’60s team. The man regarded as Pele’s best ever strike partner was celebrating his 73rd birthday last June, joined by other former stars including Rivellino, one of the best midfielders of all time. The group enjoyed a few drinks at Padaria do Carlinhos, a favourite haunt for ex-players. Head to Carlinhos and, if you’re lucky, you could bump into them and chat about the golden days of Brazilian football. Lovely stuff.
How: Buses to Santos leave from Sao Paulo’s Jabaquara terminal and take about an hour. In Santos bus station, ask for Padaria do Carlinhos – anybody local will know it. The place is named after its owner, a famous Santos fan.
Local knowledge: Having some trouble finding it? Look out for the Santos banners outside the entrance: a few of them demand Robinho’s return to the club, while others simply criticise the board. Oh, and never visit there wearing the shirt of rivals Sao Paulo, Corinthians or Palmeiras. Ever.
Cost: It’s pretty cheap: just $7 for a pint, which is about £1.60, or $6 for a shot of cachaça. Cheers!
53. Go to the World Cup final
Why: 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.
How: What were we saying about that kidney? You have to pay thousands to secure an official FIFA ‘Final Round’ package, which guarantees entry to the endgame and one semi. Beyond that, though, ensuring yourself a ticket is nigh-on impossible unless you’re the CEO of a well-positioned sponsor. It’s a lottery – quite literally, in most cases. FIFA’s allocation is divided among member countries according to their registered participants, and most choose to ration them out using a vastly oversubscribed and highly frustrating online application process.
Local knowledge: Monitor federations’ websites and www.fifa.com/tickets for information on ticket releases. Joining a national supporters’ organisation can help with insider info and earlier access.
Cost: Goodness only knows. Perhaps if England get there this year, though…
This feature first appeared in the November 2016 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!
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