Have Passion, Will Travel: Three Cities Perfect For Football Lovers

18 February 2015
Read Time: 3.2 mins

You’re going on a holiday. You want to see a bit of the culture that incites passion among the locals; something which crosses gender, age, education and economics. And something which – almost without exception, wherever you are in the world – speaks a common language.

There’s only one thing for it: Go see a football match! With that in mind, here are three of the best football holiday experiences in Europe, if not the world.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4_wtqqR44w[/embed]

 .........................................................................................................................................................

Meet Messi in Barcelona

.........................................................................................................................................................

 FC Barcelona's famous home, Camp Nou (Image: Getty)

It’s almost the bleeding obvious, isn’t it? It’s a city synonymous with its eponymous football team – although it actually has two of them.

Start your visit by catching a train from central Barcelona to Barcelona-Sants, and then either a 15-minute walk, or a combination of a metro to Les Corts plus a five-minute walk, to visit the museum at the famous Camp Nou.

If you’re already a fan of FC Barcelona (or Barça to the initiated), you’ll fall even more in love when you spend time soaking up the history and the atmosphere at the club which declares it is més que un club (more than a club).

If you’re more of a neutral, or even a little agnostic, you can’t help but be impressed by the club’s central place in the Catalan narrative and Spanish political history.

The museum tour includes an impressive array of trophies, superstar Lionel Messi’s four Ballon d’Or awards, and a look inside and behind the stadium itself – including the unexpected ecumenical prayer room located just near the players’ tunnel as they get ready to enter the field of play.

All that is before you even see the match! With a seated capacity of over 90,000, Barcelona’s home games have an average attendance of around 72,000 and reach capacity for the local derby against Espanyol and matches against the other super-teams of Spanish football such as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, plus any Champions League matches.

 Park Guell in Barcelona (Image: Getty)

And then there’s Barcelona, with its Gaudi-inspired architecture – an intriguing and invigorating city!

The football season runs from August to May. If you can time it, visit towards the end of September when Barcelona is host to La Mercè Festival – a fantastic four-day street festival that includes free concerts, a parade of giants, city illuminations, human towers and the Fire Run.

.........................................................................................................................................................

See the Beautiful Game in Istanbul

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Kadikoy and Sukru Saracoglu Stadium (Image: Getty)

Istanbul is full of beautiful vistas, magnificent Byzantine and Ottoman sites, great food, friendly people and three top football teams – Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş – as well as being home to some great local derbies.

If you want a taste of the Asian side of Istanbul, take a ferry to Kadikoy, hop on a train or bus and head for Fenerbahçe’s remodelled 50,000 all-seater Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.

Istanbul’s biggest club, Galatasaray, plays at the 52,000-seat Turk Telekom Arena around 16 kilometres north of the city in the historical district of Sultanahmet, and is easily reached by train.

If you’re not visiting Istanbul until later in the year, the best option is new home ground of Beşiktaş, Vodafone Area, which is expected to be completed by June.

It’s six kilometres from Sultanahmet and can easily be combined with a ferry ride on the Bosphorus to the Dolmabahçe Palace, followed by a five-minute walk to the ground.

 Ferry down the scenic Bosphorus (Image: Getty)

The Dolmabahçe Palace was the centre of Ottoman administration from 1856 until 1922 and the summer residence of Ataturk, located on 11 acres and containing 286 rooms.

It may be a relief to learn that not all of the rooms are included in the guided tour, but it’s definitely worth a visit – along with the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, all in Sultanahmet.

.........................................................................................................................................................

Roar with the crowd in London

.........................................................................................................................................................

 Chelsea FC's home at Stamford Bridge (Image: Getty)

The best known stadium in London is Wembley, and the ultimate experience for any football fanatic would be to see the FA Cup Final. If you can’t score a ticket to the Cup, head for Stamford Bridge, home to Chelsea FC on Fulham Road.

It’s not the newest stadium in London but it’s a hop, step and a jump away from Fulham Broadway tube station and about five kilometres from Buckingham Palace.

While nowhere near as impressive as Camp Nou’s museum, Chelsea FC has the largest football museum in London that includes an introductory film narrated by Richard Attenborough, a WAGS lounge, Jose Mourinho’s coat and a look inside the dressing rooms.

There are tour options well suited to the interested observer and the fanatical fan alike – and all finishing at the Chelsea megastore.

Because of its location and its ownership by a Russian oligarch, Chelsea tends to be the favoured team of celebrities and blue bloods.

 Stamford Bridge is a stone's throw from Buckingham (Image: Getty)

They meet on match day in the Armani Lounge to enjoy a sumptuous three-course meal, never-ending drinks, half-time canapés, champagne and cheese board and Armani-clad hostesses and waitstaff.

But the best way to see football is out on the terraces.

Despite its rich list fans and members, Chelsea has a deep and broad history and fan base, and it’s worthwhile just milling around outside the ground to experience this great melting pot mix of London.

If you can, time your visit to coincide with a match against a rival London team, such as Arsenal, Spurs (Tottenham Hotspur) or Socceroos’ captain Mile Jedinak’s team, Crystal Palace.

Bonita Mersiades

Bonita Mersiades is a respected sports administrator and former team manager of the Socceroos. A life-long football fan, she has travelled the world in search of the beautiful game.