A Football Fan's Guide to Europe

Introduction

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The big concrete terracing at Akritas Chloraka (bottom of Cyprus Division 2) is baking hot so I’m sitting on a stray bit of cardboard. There are maybe 100 fans dotted around in the area where my cousin Lewis and I, and thousands of flies, have settled to watch the game against the second-placed side from Larnaca. Just in front of the children aiming toilet rolls quite accurately at the halfway line is a guy hopping about selling tickets. But whether they are for the match (the turnstiles were unmanned) or for a raffle is unclear.

About the same number of people are dotted around on the terracing behind the goal, a bit of concrete that seems to hang on the hillside. Well, actually, it does hang on the hillside, as the whole stadium is cut into a massive drop from what is little more than a village, situated a few miles from the tourist town of Paphos. The stadium is rubbish, the football is rubbish and youngsters from the home side’s youth team are throwing things at the opposition’s big wigs who are sitting in front of me.

But I love every minute of it because I am a football lover. And if you love football, you know going to a game is about way more than football itself. It’s about laughing at the opposition striker when he misses an easy chance (come on, that’s the best bit), the beer before the game (hang on, maybe that’s the best bit) and providing the perfect excuse for getting home late (sorry, that’s the best bit). It’s about discovering there’s a second division team called Akritas Chloraka just up the road from where you are staying and astonishing the locals that you even care. And strolling up the road to watch them, then following their results on the internet for years to come.

Akritas Chloraka are not featured in this book. But football lovers across the world are always looking for any excuse for a beer, a plane trip and a chance to laugh at the opposition striker missing a sitter.

So welcome to this offer of 26 countries, 49 cities and 61 clubs not a million miles from where you are sitting right now.Featuring clubs from Barcelona and Real Madrid to IFK Gothenburg and Lyon; cities from London and Milan to Villarreal and Haifa; and countries from the east of Europe to the west, north and south. They’ve been chosen for their footballing ability and the city’s visitability. And also because more of us than ever want to go away, watch a match and enjoy ourselves in a place that isn’t where our season ticket tells us to go and who to watch.

Of course there are some clubs missing. Is it anyone’s fault Uefa has expanded more than the Roman Empire? But hopefully this is a list to tempt your taste buds and stretch your Easyjet account.

 

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Football, royalty and chatty taxi drivers

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London
Travel on London’s famous Underground on a weekend or weekday evening and it will be rare if you don’t come across a group of (mostly) men travelling to or from a game of football and singing out of tune. With 13 professional clubs, numerous non-league clubs, plus England internationals at Wembley, it’s unlikely you’ll go short of your football fix in one of the world’s great capitals.
With more tourist books on London than other cities have attractions, if you struggle for something to do while you are here then you are probably still in bed. Pubs? On every street corner. History? Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the whole city. Theatre? Head to the West End. Museums, clubs, fashion, royalty, parks and football, this is a city that can offer it all. You want a chat with a Londoner? Get in a taxi. Drivers are paid to take you where you are going and give you their views on everything from politics to the national obsession, the weather. Fancy a kickaround? Put on your sports shoes and head to a park where you will find any number of casual games to get you puffing.
People have lived along this part of the River Thames, where London is situated, for thousands of years, and today more than 7.5 million people call it home. Famously the city grew as a collection of villages simply merged together, which is why you will find pockets of neighborhood life like other great old cities such as New York and Paris.
Among the city’s clubs you will find Arsenal and Tottenham to the north (along with Wembley Stadium), Chelsea and Fulham to the southwest and West Ham to the east, not far from the 2012 Olympic Stadium.