Say you are taking a trip to Spain and while in Barcelona you want to take in a match. Of course you go on the weekend of El Clasico, so while tickets may be available, you have not had time to mortgage your condo to buy them. Or maybe the thought of giving money to Barcelona disgusts you, but you still want that Spanish top-flight soccer experience. What to do? Are there alternatives available to fans?
This is the reality facing many travelers to popular destinations in Europe. You may want “the experience” of European soccer but for any number of reasons that experience at the world’s biggest clubs is unavailable. What can you do? Soccer Minnows has our popular guide to soccer at major tourist destinations, where we dig into major cities’ soccer cultures and clubs, but we wanted to give a quick answer to a popular question.
What is a viable alternative to experiencing major European soccer in the same city as a soccer behemoth?
For this purpose, we chose ten clubs in seven cities where tickets to a match may be hard to come by. One massive city is missing. London is a bit tougher and more diverse than most cities, so if you can’t grab Arsenal/Chelsea/Spurs tickets there is always West Ham or Crystal Palace. Or QPR. Or any number of clubs in the top two divisions of English soccer. At many other locations, the options are more limited. You may also notice some major cities are not represented here. Likely that’s because they lack a massive European power and your odds of snagging a ticket to a match are higher (Berlin for example). Many of these cities are or will be covered in our city guide series.
So your plane ticket is purchased, you’ve reserved a hotel room, and booked a table at that New York Times recommended restaurant. What are some of your “other” options for top-flight soccer?
Munich and Bayern Munich
For a number of reasons, soccer is incredibly more affordable to watch live in Germany than in almost any other country. With that affordability comes a great opportunity to see great crowds, but also a tougher time getting tickets. Bayern is one of the world’s greatest clubs so you may strike out in securing tickets if you do not plan far enough in advance.
A great alternative is going to see 1860 Munich, to use the Anglicized version of their name. The best thing about seeing them play at home is that they share a home stadium with Bayern. Thus purchasing a ticket allows you to enter into one of soccer’s most beautiful stadiums – Allianz Arena. While Die Loewen are not nearly as internationally or domestically successful as their rivals, they do have a rich history. The club was a founding member of the Bundesliga and won the league in 1966. For the last decade they’ve played in 2. Bundesliga, but going to a match still allows you to see quality clubs like St. Pauli.
PSG is the result of a merger of a few smaller clubs, so it was not always the massive global brand it is today. That said, if in Paris and you are tired of wine and art, but don’t want to go see PSG, there are a few professional options.
Red Star FC (which is its name in French and English) has an illustrious history by association. Its founder was Jules Rimet, the famous FIFA president. The club was an original member of Ligue 1 but has not been in the top flight since 1975. Instead, it has fluctuated between semi-pro status and lower professional levels; currently the club plays in Ligue 2.
If you lean left on the political spectrum, this is the club for you. While the name is not a reference to communism (it may be a reference to a steamship), the club’s identity has increasingly been in contrast to the foreign-owned PSG. Another contrast is the level of funding – if you attend a Red Star match make sure you go to the current stadium – 75 kilometers away in Beauvais. The club’s Paris-based Stade Bauer lacks the necessary modern amenities required by Ligue 2, including modern toilets.
If you are skipping the Camp Nou for whatever reason, Espanyol is another option to see quality soccer. El derbi Barceloni is the oldest soccer derby in Spain and in some ways is more of a must-see than El Clasico. Espanyol was founded in 1900 and became a founding member of La Liga in 1928. Despite Barcelona receiving some financial support from the Franco government, Barca has always been seen as the more left-wing, anti-Madrid team. Thus Espanyol became popular with local government officials, police, and civil servants.
Despite being a founding member of the league, Espanyol have never won La Liga. They have been twice finalists in the Europa Cup and its predecessors, but success domestically has eluded them. If you attend a match you will do so in the newer and fancier RCDE Stadium (Estadi Cornelia-El Prat). It was named the 2010 Venue of the Year at the Stadium Business Awards.
Real Madrid/Atletico Madrid
If you want to shun the glitz and glamour of two of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, Madrid also offers Rayo Vallecano. A “yo-yo club“, Los Franijrrojos take pride in their affinity with River Plate in Argentina, adopting the aforementioned red sash on their uniform and crest in the 1940s. The club currently plays in the Spanish second division but was a quarter-finalist of the UEFA Cup in 2000-2001.
Rayo play in Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, a 14,000 plus seater stadium in southeast Madrid. The names used to be the more interesting Campo de Futbol De Vallecos Teresa Rivero, named for the first female club president in Spain, but the club dropped her name when she left the club presidency. Interestingly, one side of the stadium does not have seats, so the side only has a goal and an advertising board.
There was a time that “Man Citeh” was the smaller club alternative to ManU. The locally owned club was a favorite of many locals and won over admirers for their players and culture. Now they have grown up JUST a bit. So if you find yourself in Manchester for some reason and want to see a soccer match not in Old Trafford or the Etihad (or more likely can’t get tickets), you have to drop down the English pyramid.
Staying in the Greater Manchester area, you can go to the matches of a few names familiar to Premier League fans. Wigan’s DW Stadium is about a half hour drive from Old Trafford and you can watch a club that was in the Premiership until 2013. For those with Premier League nostalgia, Bolton Wanderers are an option to the east of Wigan. The clubs is playing its first season in the third division in 23 years after financial issues led to the club’s decline. Another option is to see Oldham Athletic. The Latics were a founding member of the Premier League but has spent most of their existence in the lower leagues. A final option is Rochdale, who is one of our listed options for the Chicago Cubs of European soccer.
Glasgow is a beautiful city, full of artistic expression and darn good food and drink. It’s also home to two of the greatest brands in world soccer. With Celtic and Rangers so massive around the world, you’d think there would be no fans or energy to support other clubs sufficiently. And you’d be wrong.
If you are looking for a hipster alternative in a somewhat hipster town, you can support Partick Thistle. Partick is an area in northern Glasgow known for its Highlands connections, but the club – while founded there – actually plays in the Maryhill section of the city (aka “The Venice of the North”). The Jags are not nearly as successful as their neighbors. They were promoted to the topflight three years ago and won Scottish Cup in 1921 and Scottish League Cup in 1971.
The Jags are recognizable; their club colors are essentially red and yellow with the occasional pink kit mixed in. Unlike the Old Firm, which was built on religious conflict, the club has a non-sectarian history and thus doesn’t consider Rangers or Celtics true rivals. That honor belongs to Clyde FC, and the matches go by the name “The Glasgow Derby” or “Old Firm Alternative”.
But what you may best know The Jags for is their mascot Kingsley. Unveiled last year, the kind-of sun monster earned massive ridicule across the soccer world but has generated significant revenue for the club.
The Old Lady’s rival in the city of Turin is a club that could have surpassed them in fame. Torino FC also plays in Serie A. Its founders were disgruntled Juve fans who in 1906 disapproved of their former club’s decision to pay players. In the 1940s, Grande Torino was the dominant club in Italy, winning five consecutive scudetto. In 1949, the club’s plane crashed into the Basilica di Superga, killing 31 of the club’s players and executives. Since then, the club has seen a general decline although it has from time-to-time found success domestically and internationally.
The Derby della Mole is alleged to be Italy’s oldest soccer rivalry. Regardless of whether it holds that title, it is passionate even to this day. The character of it has changed over the years; originally it was based heavily on class-warfare as Torino was a refuge for the city’s working class. Now, as the area’s economy has changed, rooting for Torino is a statement against the European-wide brand of Juventus.
Torino adopted the city of Turin’s symbol of a bull as heir club nickname and badge. They play in the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, a stadium with less than 30,000 seats but updated in recent decades to serve as the host for the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening ceremonies. Recently attending a Torino match has been quite entertaining, as Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side is known for its aggressive attack and high-quality of play.