Soccer -- Going to the Game

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Home Page > Features > 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.

  1. Background.  Comparing American Sports Leagues to the European Soccer System

  2. The National League Competitions

  3. The National Cup Competitions

  4. Qualifying for the UEFA Competitions

  5. The UEFA Champions League

  6. The UEFA Cup

  7. The European Championships ("EURO")

  8. The International Scene -- Competitions and Friendlies

  9. The World Cup Qualification Tournament

  10. Other Competitions

  11. Going to the Game and Enjoying It (and Avoiding Trouble)

11.  Understanding the Venue

The following table will help explain the basic differences between attending sports events in American and Europe.



Scheduling of 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. Europe 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 other events.
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. European 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.
Security 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 press credentials. Security 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.
Alcohol 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'. Few such 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.
All stadiums 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. The majority 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.
The 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. European 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 final whistle. European 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 television.


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.

13.  Avoiding Trouble

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 the stadium.


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 halftime crowds.


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 it.


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

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