A football (or soccer as the Americans call it) lover will vouch for the fact that there are no fans crazier for the game than the South Americans but at the same time will wholeheartedly agree that the best club football is played in Europe. With the advent of the premier league in England since the year 1992, club football has soared to a completely different level. Recent years have seen an unprecedented rise in global fan following and with domestic TV revenues earning the league in billions of pounds every year, the English Premier League is no doubt the biggest and the most exciting league in the world.
For a football fan, England in general and London in particular provide a unique insight into the beautiful game. In recent years there have been at least a minimum of 5 London clubs in the premier league out of the total of 20 clubs which compete from all over the nation. This makes London a treasure trove of football history, fans, stadiums and football experiences which you should never miss while you’re there. From personal experience, I can guarantee that you will fall in love with football however much you try to resist if you spend a few days in London.
The local people support their local clubs and they are extremely loyal. They will stand by their club through thick and thin, they will attend all home matches by buying season tickets and make a conscious effort to attend away games as well, travelling together and making merry. The premier league is well known among audiences outside Britain but the lower leagues have as much fan following as their premier league counterparts locally. Therefore, do not be surprised if you meet locals who are die-hard fans of clubs whose names you have never heard off and do not expect them to support a big club just because it’s doing well in the Premier League.
There’s a never ending debate among loyal fans as to which club is the biggest in London. I believe that the legacy of a club keeps evolving over time and one cannot determine which club is bigger. The best way to settle the debate is to go by current form and settling on the club which is bigger in terms of form and performance in today’s date. Chelsea FC & Arsenal FC are two clubs in today’s date which are right up there when it comes to claiming the bragging rights for the biggest club in London with Chelsea edging past Arsenal in recent years.
There are many ways you can enjoy the football experience. It need not be limited to visiting a football game although match day experience is the best among all. Most of the big club tickets are sold out before match day, the publicly available tickets are limited in number and hard to get. You can buy tickets which are being re-sold online, from genuine ticket sites which is legal in Britain. The other option is to walk to the stadium an hour before kick-off where you will find several touts re-selling match day tickets. If you want to buy from them, you have to exercise caution and negotiate, do not make a poor judgement and get cheated in your excitement to get in. Ask for the face value of the ticket and how much the tout re-selling it for, he may quote 100 pounds or more. There is no fixed price here but from personal experience I can say that it is not advisable to pay more than double the face value. Bargain for the best price. Of course it depends who the opponent team is and also the demand around, based on which the tout will sell the ticket to you. Make sure you see the ticket and inspect it before you handover the cash to ensure that it’s genuine. Do not buy tickets marked as “OAP” since they are meant for the old aged, pensioners and differently abled people. Although risky and non-sanctioned by the clubs, buying from touts is the quickest way to obtain tickets while you are on holiday or travelling in London.
Get inside the stadium at least half an hour before kick-off, this is when you can watch the players warm up. Keep your camera handy, you will need a larger zoom if you want to capture every aspect of the stadium, the players and the fans. The sight of the pitch and the vast expanse of the stadium will engulf you irrespective of which stadium you are in, remember that this is where the world’s best players play. The pitch is bright green and serene, it is a sight to behold and you might want to pinch yourself to ensure that you are not dreaming. The local football fan who visits every week may not feel the same but if you are from a place a place where you hardly get to see world class stadiums and matches, you will certainly appreciate the magnificence of the stadium and the atmosphere. As you take your seat and the stadium starts filling up, you will notice an atmosphere of togetherness and unity among fans. The chants and songs start flowing, join in and cheer your team. Every kick, every pass and every foul will be met by a loud cheer. At the same time, every mistake will be followed up by the choicest of abuses. Be aware that any sort of racial and homophobic slurs, abuses and comments are absolutely not tolerated and are punishable offences. If its winter time, ensure that you are fully covered with woollen caps and scarves because it can get quite chilly despite the number of people around. Half time breaks are meant for grabbing a bite or a drink, brace up for long queues for food, drink & the loo.
All the London premier league stadiums are easily accessible by public transport and it gets crowded before and after a match. The Emirates stadium (Arsenal) can be reached by getting off at the Arsenal station on the Piccadilly Line and Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) can be reached by getting off at Fulham Broadway station on the Circle & District Line. West ham United is moving to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford for the 2016-17 season and therefore you have a year left to see them in action at the Boleyn Stadium at Upton Park. After a match, you may be redirected by local authorities to different tube stations around the stadium in order to control the crowd for which you may have to walk for about 15 to 20 minutes.
If you are unable to get match tickets and watch a game, do not be disheartened. All clubs have stadium tours which run on non-match days. It is advisable to buy tickets online, in advance and plan your visit as per the scheduled time. The tours are guided and is limited to a certain number of people. It covers a visit to the home and away dressing rooms, the dugouts and a walk around the stadium alongside the pitch. You will also been taken to the museum where you can pose with all the trophies which your team has won over the years.
There’s another exciting way to enjoy football if you can’t make it all the way to the stadium. It is to walk down to your local pub. Pubs are found all over England and wherever you are, I can assure you that you are not far away from a pub. The locals love their pint and I suggest that you walk into a pub which advertises telecast of live football and enjoy one yourself. Go for the local brew, the bitter the better. Try the ales, they are perfect with a packet of crisps and the football action. It costs about 4 to 5 pounds a pint. The crowd gets noisier and rowdier as the game goes on and it’s a unique experience in itself. If you’re still able to walk out without assistance after the game, I would suggest having the beer battered fish and chips before you leave!
The football fanatic has more than enough around London and in England to satisfy his footballing appetite. I suggest that you enjoy it with the locals in the different ways highlighted here and you will have a memory that lasts a lifetime.