One of my favourite things to do on my travels is go to football games. I love to see the different atmospheres that each country brings (especially as atmospheres in England are pretty poor these days), visit different stadia and see the different styles and players that foreign teams have.
To date, I’ve seen football games in 14 countries (if memory serves me correctly), so, to celebrate the return of the Premier League, here are seven of the best I’ve been to in no particular order.
1. Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona
Goals: Rakitić (26’)
Date: 2 March 2019 | Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid | Attendance: 78,819
As far as matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona go, this one was pretty tame. The headlines were dominated by Real Madrid fans booing Gareth Bale (at the time I thought they were jeering that he was being substituted, but apparently not) and Sergio Ramos getting in an altercation with Lionel Messi. It was nothing really to do with the match itself.
However, it was still El Clásico, the Santiago Bernabeu is still the best stadium I’ve been to and the experience was still breathtaking. There were fans from all over the world there, and although the cost of our tickets was far from a princely sum (they were €192 each), I just had to take the opportunity as we happened to be in Madrid at the exact time Real and Barca were going toe-to-toe.
2. Liechtenstein 0-1 Israel
Goals: Tibi (21’)
Date: 6 October 2017 | Venue: Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz | Attendance: 3,498
Listen, this game wasn’t a classic – there was barely any quality to speak of and action was a rarity. But to say that the first and only international game of football I’ve ever been to (accurate at time of writing) gives it a novelty factor so high that it has to feature on this list.
This FIFA World Cup Qualifier was also a dead rubber – neither team could even mathematically make it to the tournament in Russia – but there was something about it being a game with teams representing two counties, one a landlocked Principality in the Alps and the other located outside of the European continent in the Middle East. Or maybe it’s just that I’m so football obsessed that I found it inordinately cool.
3. AEK Athens 2-0 Levadiakos
Goals: Bakasetas (12’, 33’)
Date: 22 April 2018 | Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens | Attendance: 50,141
We knew when we booked to go to Athens that there would be a game on. The three major football teams in Greece are all from the city – Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and AEK – so no matter who was at home and who was away, a game was a guarantee.
Olympiacos have dominated the scene since 2000, winning 16 of the first 18 league titles in the 21st century. But on a sunny April evening in the capital, AEK Athens had the chance to break Olympiacos’ stranglehold and, in the process, win their first Super League Greece championship since 1994.
Teams in the Greek leagues usually get poor attendances, but for this one their fans were out in full force and over 50,000 of us packed into Athens Olympic Stadium to watch AEK seal the deal. Although they didn’t present the trophy on the day, it was great to be a part of the celebrations and see a team win something.
4. Atalanta 3-3 AS Roma
Goals: Digne (23’), Nainggolan (27’), D’Alessandro (33’), Borriello (37’, 50’), Totti (85’)
Date: 17 April 2016 | Venue: Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Bergamo | Attendance: 15,326
Although this game didn’t go to plan (I’ve written about the difficulty of getting Atalanta tickets with only four out of nine of the lads who travelled actually getting in to the stadium), it’s probably one of the best games of football I’ve been to watch.
Roma dominated the early proceedings and took a two-goal lead before the half hour mark. But Atalanta stormed back and turned the game on its head to go 3-2 up, thanks in no small part to former Roma player Marco Borriello’s glittering performance.
But it would be one of my favourite players of all-time, Francesco Totti, who had the last say as he scored an equaliser five minutes from time to clinch the visitors a point. It may not have been a game of great importance, but Il Capitano gave me one of my most cherished footballing memories.
5. CSKA Sofia 1-1 Ludogorets Razgrad
Goals: Boumal (64’), Marcelinho (75’)
Date: 23 April 2017 | Venue: Balgarska Armia Stadium, Sofia | Attendance: 4,200
There may only have been 4,200 of us packed into the crumbling Balgarska Armia Stadium on a cool evening in April 2017, but what happened on that evening was the best atmosphere I have experienced at a game of football. Hands down.
The game itself was absolutely abysmal, but the entertainment that evening was in the stands and not on the pitch. A dull 1-1 draw game was second to non-stop chanting, choreography, confetti, smoke bombs and flares. Both goals failed to generate any more noise, such was the volume inside the ground
AS Roma 4-1 Viktoria Plzeň
Goals: Džeko (11’, 61’, 88’), Zeman (18’), Matějů (OG, 83’)
Date: 24 November 2016 | Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome | Attendance: 13,789
I’m an Everton fan, but I also follow the Italian team AS Roma. I’ve got Italian ancestors on my Dad’s side of the family and so I’ve always had an interest in Italian football. Because Totti is one of my favourite players, it seemed only natural to start following Roma, especially as I’d also watched them live in that aforementioned 3-3 draw with Atalanta.
My first, and so far only Roma game at Stadio Olimpico was the November 2016 Europa League group stage showdown with Czech side Viktoria Plzeň. It was a routine victory in the end, but what I loved most about the game (other than going to watch Roma in Rome) was Diego Perotti’s rabona goal (bizarrely given as an own goal) even though it made the slightest of deflections which didn’t really alter the trajectory of the ball. It may be the best goal I’ve ever seen in person.
FC Copenhagen 1-0 SønderjyskE
Goals: Verbič (43’)
Date: 3 April 2016 | Venue: Parken Stadium, Copenhagen | Attendance: 15,842
It was another one of those games that lacked quality and didn’t have many talking points, but was more than made up for with a stellar atmosphere. I was bouncing with the home fans, joining in with the chanting where I could and generally loving life.
Although it wasn’t a great match, the only goal of the game was an absolute cracker by Benjamin Verbič, so at least it was won by a moment of brilliance from the home side.