One of the highlights of living abroad this year has been the proximity of European Football. It is difficult to summarize the experience other than to say the fans on this side of the pond have an incredible passion for the beautiful game. They possess the devotion of religious fanatics, the intense focus and knowledge of theatergoers, and they prepare for each match in the same manner one might prepare to ascend Everest. They have the gear and supplies. They have studied the opponent and they know the challenge before them. They aren’t so much rooting for their club, but rather they function more like a veritable part of it. An integral part, with a vested interest in the outcome. Although each fanbase is unique, this feeling of real ownership exists in every stadium we have visited. Here is a look at the venues we have been to and how they stack up against one another for those seeking football or futbol in their travels abroad.
Stadium: Easter Road
This is an incredible stadium set right, smack in the center or the Leith neighborhood. It is small and intimate and fans feel like they are right on top of the field. Just a great place to see a match with an awesome fan base who helped will them back to the top flight this year. Great history and hearing the fans sing Sunshine On Leith is special.
Ticket Tip: Tickets are cheap and well worth it! Just walked up to the ticket booth before the match and bought four tickets.
Stadium: The Emirates
We saw Arsenal open the campaign this year against Liverpool. If I had to sum up the Emirates in one word I would say….impressive. This is a beautiful stadium, sort of like riding in a Rolls Royce. We sat up high, but there are no bad seats here. The fans are serious about football and well coordinated but also very respectful. From the photos to the statues surrounding the building, everything about the Emirates says pure class.
Tickets: These weren’t easy to come by. I connected with a season ticket holder via Craigslist, met him in London days prior, and took his tickets (which are in the form of credit cards with names on them) and hoped it would work out. It did, and he met us outside the stadium after match to collect them since he ended up sitting with a friend somewhere else.
Stadium: Stamford Bridge
Cassius and I went to watch Chelsea begin their Championship season with a London Derby against West Ham. It was a Monday night and the rivalry just poured into the streets. When we moved through a crowd of Hammers, one man said to me, “You lost mate?” It was pretty electric outside, and it was even more electric inside. Stamford Bridge has none of the polished finishings of The Emirates but the fans rattled the bones of the venue all night long and exploded when Diego Costa notched the winner in the final minutes. One of the loudest venues we have experienced. To top it off, Cassius was interviewed outside the stadium and predicted Chelsea’s return to the top.
Tickets: Had to go Craigslist again to wheel and deal for this derby. Met Peter at a cafe near Hyde Park and had to go on faith. Great guy who even came by the seats to be sure Cassius was enjoying the match. See below. He was!
Team: Paris Saint Germaine
Stadium: Parc de Princes
We saw PSG’s home opener last fall, and the security around the perimeter of Parc de Princes was immense following the recent attacks in Paris. The stadium has a pristine quality to it, complete with red carpets outside and an incredible Team Store. There was certainly a Parisian flair to the venue and the logo painted across the seats was really cool to see. A wonderful venue with good fans, but this stadium probably doesn’t have quite as much character or distinguishable characteristics as some of the others we visited.
Ticket Tip: Went online and purchased them through the PSG site. Pretty simple. Printed them out at the Westin in Paris since we are Starwood Members even though we weren’t staying at the hotel. Very nice of them to do that for us.
Team: FC Barcelona
Stadium: Camp Nou
We decided to go to Barcelona for one match this year–the second leg of their epic Champions League tie with PSG that saw Barca score one of the most improbably, epic comebacks in futbol history. Who knew?? We aren’t even Barcelona fans, but this was truly an experience to behold. The game had it all–bad calls, brilliant free kicks, egregious dives, and last second dramatics. It can’t possibly be encapsulated in a few sentences, but perhaps I can capture the atmosphere. The Camp Nou fans are savage really, in stark contrast to the elegance Barca displays on the pitch. They are passionate, loud, and at times vulgar. This was the first game where we received an official letter notifying us that we were not permitted to wear any clothing of the opposing team (since we were not sitting in the away section) and that we could be removed from the stadium for doing so. The decibel level in this monstrous cavern is nearly unmatched and we have rarely seen fans so incredibly fierce in their loyalty, commitment, and furor. As the bones of the stadium shook at the conclusion of the match, you might of thought the Catalonians were going to break from Spain that night and declare their independence. I am not sure they could have been stopped. Pretty spectacular.
Ticket Tip: Went to Viagogo for these and printed them out at home. Viagogo is like StubHub here, so you may pay a little more, but this was a once in a lifetime. Will say the tickets didn’t get sent to me to download until the day before the game and I was getting nervous. But it all worked out.
Team: Real Madrid
Stadium Santiago Bernabéu
We went to the Bernabéu to watch our hometown team Granada take on mighty Real Madrid. It was a lopsided affair that saw the hosts cost to a 5-0 victory. Karen and I sat in the very top row, while the boys took the more expensive tickets and sat near the field. The stadium is. If and classy, and the fans followed suit for the most part. They aren’t afraid to whistle an official or player, but they displayed little of the hostility we saw in Camp Nou. Of course, the game was less competitive but the entire environment was much less aggressive. More women. More families. Each person held up a gold piece of paper at the start which made for a spectacular setting inside the stadium before the start of the match, but it was pretty tame. Jackson even wore a Granada jersey and wasn’t given any crap for it. Pretty impressive.
Ticket Tip: Granada is obviously not the biggest draw, but we bought the tickets at the ticket window a couple of days before the game.
Team: Sevilla FC
Stadium: Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium
Sevilla is a great place to see a game. Perfect size venue. Big but not huge, with a sea of red flooding the venue. We stumbled into this one, when Jackson had breakfast with a friend from LA who is playing in an academy in Sevilla. I walked over to the stadium while they were eating and picked up 3 tickets right at the window on Game Day. It didn’t disappoint! Also, as you can see, Sevilla has the most eye catching, glorious logo on the outside of their stadium. It glimmers in the Andalusian sun and is a point of pride.
Team: Athletic Bilbao
Stadium: San Mamés Stadium
We headed to Bilbao to celebrate Jackson’s 15th birthday watching our home team Granada CF take on Athletic Bilbao. The Stadium sits right on the river down from the Guggenheim and is an exceptional, modern structure that fits right in with the tenor and tone of the stadium. It is easy to get you, with the metro delivering us right to the front of the stadium. The fans of Athletic Bilbao are tremendous, tied to their team that is comprised solely of players with ties to Basque Country. Fans drenched themselves in a sea of red, exhibited incredible pride throughout the match. The stadium was also incredibly clean and a great place for families. I
Ticket Tip: Went to Viagogo again. Their fans are passionate and it was Jackson’s birthday, so there was no margin for error.
Team: Atlético Madrid
Stadium: Vicente Calderón
I can only say that if you never saw a game at the Calderon because you opted for a match with giants Real Madrid or Barcelona, you missed something. Now having played their final game there, Atlético Madrid and its relationship were special. This is the working class stadium for the working class fans, for the team willing to prove the will has the potential to triumph wealth. The stadium was right in the heart of the city, an old neighborhood venue that welcomed the locals and had character in spades. From its unusual geometry and construction to the passion of its fan base, the Calderon was the type of place that truly means something, filled with people and players who defended its honor to its dying day. We feel so lucky to have seen a game here before Atléti moves into its new stadium in 2017. It will never be the same.
Ticket Tip: Purchased online through the site. Took time and patience, but we managed to pull it off.
Team: Benfica FC
Stadium: Estadio de La Luz
Of all of the stadiums we saw matches at this year (with apologies to Camp Nou) Estadio de La Luz and the Benfica fans provided the most incredible atmosphere of any venue were lucky enough to visit. If you have a chance to see the Portuguese Champions play at home, this is an experience not to be missed. I hardly know where to begin, but it started with the manner in which people just leave their cars anywhere in the surrounding area or the stadium, walk past the historic statue of Eusebio, and then proceed to to cheer in a coordinated fashion for 2 solid hours. Not to mention they let an eagle fly in circles inside the stadium before returning to its post in the center or the pitch or the fact that the ultras at Benfica boast more singing men than we have ever witnessed in one location or the fact that they balance celebration without aggression better than any fans we witnessed. It doesn’t hurt that they team is tremendous, but that atmosphere was electric and safe, festive and frantic. Just incredible. A must for anyone in Lisbon. Lastly, eating at European futbol matches is adventurous, but Jackson and I tried a Bifana which looked awful but tasted good.
Tickets: Viagogo again. Should have bought them earlier. They pack the house. Fortunate this time to be sure.
Team: Granada CF
Stadium: Estadio Nuevo Las Cármenes
When we first arrived in Granada, we decided to look into season tickets for their La Liga side Granada CF. We already knew the cost or living was far less in Granada, but I am not sure we realized just how much until we went to inquire about season tickets for the whole family. When the woman at the ticket window told me the price, I had to ask again to be sure I understood. “Si,” she said. To my utter disbelief, 4 season tickets in the 10th row cost our family 800€ for 19 games and 76 individual tickets!!! Can you believe that? We can’t even go to one Laker game for that price, and here we had the privilege or watching Granada take on Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and others in our adopted hometown! What an incredible deal, and it was so much fun to root on Granada CF–with the upset victory over Sevilla being the highlight. The stadium itself seats around 20,000 and isn’t particularly modern or glamorous, but it was ours. We walked to every game and cheered on the side with a fanbase that is both educated and passionate. Jackson has proclaimed his eternal devotion to GCF, and our passion will never fade. 🙂
Team: La Selecion (The Spanish National Team)
Stadium Estadio Nuevo Las Cármenes
There is an earlier, complete blog post about seeing La Roja in person, but let me say simply that anyone with the opportunity should do this. There is no way not to be swept up in the immense pride this country has for this team from the colors to the pageantry to the songs. An exceptional experience.
Ticket Tip: We waited outside the stadium for more than 3 hours. This was done the hard way, but we weren’t alone in thinking it would be worth it.
In conclusion, we have been incredibly lucky stand in these great cathedrals of the game, to witness legions of fans break out into song, and see the remnants of the competition spill into the streets in so many glorious venues. Looking back through all the stadium gates we entered, it is almost hard to believe it was real, that it happened, and that we were there. In life, a moment seems to disappear nearly as fast as it arrives. Fortunately, for us, a memory lasts a bit longer. We’ve made quite a few of them inside stadiums.