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> Following Soccer in Europe (Page 2)
How to Follow Soccer in Europe
Page One --
Background -- National League Competitions
-- National Cup Competitions
Page Two --
UEFA Competitions -- UEFA Champions League
-- UEFA Cup -- EURO
-- World Cup Qualification -- International Friendlies
-- Other Competitions
Page Three --
Understanding the Venue -- Following the Game
-- Avoiding Trouble
Page 3. Going to the Game
One often hears the stories about soccer hooligans and can't
figure out why in the world one would want to attend a European soccer
game. I'm here to tell you that the hooligans are extremely small in
number and going to the games is perfectly safe -- if you know what you are
doing. In fact, you will find most soccer venues being very well behaved
and fun, with a lot fewer of the restricted normally encountered in American
sporting venues. This page has some tips.
Background. Comparing American Sports
Leagues to the European Soccer System
The National League Competitions
The National Cup Competitions
Qualifying for the UEFA Competitions
The UEFA Champions League
The UEFA Cup
The European Championships ("EURO")
The International Scene -- Competitions and
The World Cup Qualification Tournament
Going to the Game and Enjoying It (and
11. Understanding the Venue
The following table will help explain the basic differences
between attending sports events in American and Europe.
American sports events are fixed and predictable.
The schedule is normally announced during the off-season, permitting fans
to line up for tickets months in advance (necessary because for most
sports teams, getting tickets is very difficult). It also permits
fixed TV schedules, which is especially important for the NFL, whose every
game is televised, many nationally. It also permits the stadiums to
schedule other events.
soccer schedules are anything but predictable.
Teams usually do not finalize the exact date and time of kickoff until one
month prior. This is to permit the movement of games during weekend
to accommodate TV. This is also permissable because getting tickets
to soccer games is much easier and the soccer venues do not normally host
|In the US,
sports venues are homogenous, and
anyone can purchase a ticket in any part of the stadium with an available
seat. Very few sports fans actually travel to road games, with most
venues selling chiefly to the home crowd. Fans rooting for the
visiting team are integrated into the audience, tending to receive
harassment but normally little else.
soccer venues are built to keep the home fans and visiting fans completely
separate at all times. This is
because of a very long-standing history of trouble between fans at
games. Usually, the visiting team is given a section of the stadium
behind one of the goals, and this section is normally physically separated
from the rest of the venue. Visiting fans come in buses to a special
entrance to keep them from mingling with the home fans.
restrictions typically prohibit fans from bringing most items into the
stadium or ballpark.
Prohibited items often include bottles or cans, flags, or other objects
that could be thrown onto the field or used as a weapon against another
fan. Also, cameras are normally not allowed except for those with
concerns would seemingly dictate the same at European soccer stadiums, but
normally it is 'anything goes'.
This is due to tradition, where fans often bring in flags, sparklers,
flares, and musical instruments. I've never seen cameras
prohibited. Surprisingly, there is little or no restrictions for
bottles or cans, or rather it is rarely enforced.
consumption is very strictly regulated.
No alcohol can be brought in, and usually sales are cut off during the
game to ensure no one buys one 'for the road'.
restrictions exist. Alcohol
from outside is commonly brought in,
and drunkenness at a game is tolerated so long as there's no
violence. Many of the beer booths continue sales after the game.
and venues are seated.
Everyone gets a seat assigned on the ticket. In fact, even in the
oldest of venues, standing is not normally permitted.
of soccer fans in Europe stand at games, and
they normally just stand where they wish within an assigned section
(usually behind one of the goals). There is assigned seating for
sections of the stadium (usually the middle) but the price difference is
huge, and given that the sport is played in cold weather, fans seem to
prefer to stand anyway.
environment at American sports games is relatively passive.
That is, the fans react to the goings-on of the game, and when the game is
not underway, they tend to cheer or sing or clap when cued -- often by
music over the public address system.
soccer fans spend the whole game singing, to
the point where one wonders if they are even paying attention to the
game. Public address systems are rarely used for music, the songs
sung tend to be the local hymn, which all the fans have memorized and are
willing to sing repeatedly over the full course of the game.
|Because most Americans
drive to the game, they tend to
leave early even when the result is in doubt.
There's a culture of not wanting to be stuck in bad traffic after the
soccer fans tend to hang around long after the game,
especially to confront the players and coaches when the home club puts in
a bad effort. This is ok to them since most travel to and from the
game using public transportation, which is very robust in Europe.
12. Following the Game
This section will assume you are familiar with the game of
soccer. If you are not, there are plenty of resources on the Internet to
help you out. These tips will help you with following the game at a
European or international venue, or for that matter, following the game on
When scheduling the day, budget exactly one hour forty-five
minutes for the play of the game. Games will start precisely on time
and will end on time. The break will be exactly 15 minutes.
You can generally buy tickets at the gate, however it is
better to book online. The leagues' websites can connect you to the
team and stadium of your choice. For local venues, you can always buy
at the gate.
If a program is available, buy it. It normally has
roster information that includes information about the yellow cards and red
cards that players have accumulated. Many leagues have limits on them
before suspensions are incurred. It will affect how a player
approaches a given game. UEFA Champions League competition operate on
a two-yellow-card = one-game-suspension rule. National leagues often
issue suspensions at five yellow cards accumulated.
Europeans tend to be fairly strict about behaviors following
a goal. Taking off the shirt is a no-no and often incurs a yellow
card. (FIFA has been cracking down.)
Minutes of stoppage time are normally not announced unless
it is a UEFA-level competition.
This is the most important part. Even at seemingly benign
venues, the explosive mix of alcohol and football fever can bring some beyond
the boiling point. Staying away from trouble is mostly common sense, but
the unfamiliarity with an environment could make one uneasy and fear starting a
conflagration accidentally. Here's some tips, which are similar to those
you ought to follow to avoid trouble anywhere you are traveling.
Wear neutral clothing or the home team colors. Don't
wear the visiting colors.
Stay as far away from the visiting fans and their part of
If you are going to stand, stand as high in the stadium as
you can. The rowdier types tend to stay down low near the field.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Assume
pickpockets are around. Take note of where the police are and who they
are watching. They tend to know where the troublemakers are.
Get your food and drink before the game, stay away from
Keep your alcohol consumption in moderation. If you do
have an encounter with a troublemaker, you want a clear head.
Accept the fact that certain European behaviors are OK
there, and pay no attention to what some are doing. For example,
public urination is very common in Europe at sporting events. Ignore
When the game is over, leave the stadium and its
surroundings. Stay out of the bars near the venue. Go elsewhere.
More importantly -- don't worry, act natural.
Trouble will only find you if you look for it. So don't look for it!
We hope this has been helpful for you. Soccer is a world
pastime, and perhaps someday it will be even more popular in the states.
For now, however, the European soccer leagues are the best, and for any
expatriate who loves soccer, living in Europe is a 'footballers' opportunity not
to be missed.
(C) 2004 Tom Galvin