The rules are simple, but the choices are less straightforward. Assuming money was no object, where would an A-Z tour of European football end up taking you?
As a well-travelled 48-year-old Chelsea season ticket holder, I’ve had my fair share of trips to the continent following the Blues and England. Moscow, Munich, Barcelona, and Zagreb among others spring to mind, but there is still an untold amount of places – and clubs – to discover. In putting this list together I’ve tried to avoid the obvious names and look for the more quirky or interesting. The restrictive nature of one club per letter means some must-sees have had to miss out, but equally it’s thrown up some teams I’d never even heard of. Here is my list…
A is for… AaB
So, where to start? Look no further than the first team on the UEFA website’s list of clubs in alphabetical order – AaB or Aalborg BK of the Danish Super League. What’s not to like about a team that sounds like the noise you make when the doctor checks your tonsils. The city is situated on the Limfjord, which cuts through the Jutland region in the north of the country, conjuring up images of the famous naval battle that took place there in World War I, or the local derby with Aarhus.
B is for… Berwick Rangers
To watch the only English team playing in the Scottish League is reason enough to venture to the Caledonian border. Berwickers are renowned for feeling independent, considering themselves neither Scottish nor English. So a trip to Rangers’ Sheffield Park is a real case of watching football in no man’s land, or Scottish League 2 as it is otherwise known.
C is for… Cagliari Calcio
The beautiful isle of Sardinia is the birthplace of the greatest diminutive footballer I have ever had the pleasure to see play – Gianfranco Zola. Cagliari is where the Italian magician finished his career. Enough said.
D is for… Dukla Praha
“And he’d managed to get hold of a Dukla Prague away kit, ‘Cos his uncle owned a sports shop and he’d kept it to one side”, sang Tranmere fans Half Man Half Biscuit in the ’80s. Dukla, Sparta’s poorer cousin, is the perfect excuse to visit one of Europe’s great cities. It also provides the chance to pick up that coveted yellow away top from the club shop.
E is for… 1860 Munich
I think I can get away with Eighteen Sixty, can’t I? Munich needs no introduction, but why I’d go to the Allianz Arena to watch the city’s tier 2 club, rather than their more illustrious neighbours, is because of the guy I met in a bar prior to the 2012 Champions League final. As one of a handful of Chelsea fans mingling with hundreds of Bayern supporters we struck up a conversation with a lone 1860 fan. He absolutely hated Bayern and had come into town to publicly show his contempt of them by drinking with some Chels fans. After sharing a few beers, he wished us good luck and headed home to not watch the game as we headed for the stadium.
F is for… Fiorentina
Resplendent in their famous purple kit, the Viola are one of Italy’s great clubs – although, it has to be said, not the most successful. For me, they conjure up the romanticism of Italian football; and the city of Florence is on my bucket list. It’s a win-win.
G is for…Genk (or Gent)
Forget Galatasaray and their “Welcome to Hell” banners, the Gent-Genk derby or the Battle of the Gens (I’ve just made that up) has piqued my interest in visiting one of these Belgium towns – which are just 125km and one letter apart. Plus Bruges isn’t too far away, and it’s quite nice there.
H is for… Honvéd
“I was a teenage armchair Honved fan,” sang the Biscuits, as they paid homage to yet another lesser light of Eastern European football. The Budapest club are down on their luck at the moment, but the legend that was Ferenc Puskás played for them back in the ’50s, so they get my support – armchair or no armchair.
I is for… ÍF Fuglafjørður
I wonder if fans of this largely unsuccessful Faroe Islands’ team (just one title, which came back in 1979) sit and cogitate in bars after a game, saying: “IF only…” I’d like to find out.
J is for… Jeunesse Esch
Think of Luxembourg, and apart from regular 5-0 thumpings at Wembley back in the day I couldn’t tell you anything about the place. Pure curiosity would take me to this tiny country’s most successful club.
K is for… Knattspyrnufélagið Valur
Ediur Gudjohnson started his career at this Reykjavík-based club in the Icelandic Úrvalsdeild. Iceland’s Euro 2016 success and their infamous clapping chant have raised this European outpost’s profile, and made the country a must-visit on a European tour. Like many European clubs they have an associated handball team, but they also compete at skiing. Football on skis, now that would be interesting… just don’t mention it to Marco van Basten.
L is for Lech Posnań
Halfway between Berlin and Warsaw in west Poland lies Posnań, the home of the original, erm, Posnań, which Man City fans brought home with them after a Europa League match. It’s quite a sight, but, to me, turning your back on your team seems a bit odd – maybe after watching a Polish Ekstraklasa game it will all become clear.
M is for… (Borussia) Mönchengladbach
Located in the North Rhine region, where Westphalia is not an option (sorry for nicking the name of your tour Henning Wehn), this Bundesliga team first came to my attention when Liverpool beat them to become the first English club to win the European Cup in 1977. I’m sure this is a lovely part of Germany to visit, but to be honest I just want to stand on the Nordkurve at Borussia-Park and shout: “Why don’t you give me a B-eeee.”
N is for… Nantes
The canaries of France, with their yellow and green kit, Nantes – based in the picturesque region of Brittany – are just a short hop over the English Channel away. Their youth team has produced the likes of Marcel Desailley, Didier Deschamps and Claude Makélélé, so worth checking out or some up-and-coming talent.
O is for… Olimpija Ljubljana
They say never go back. But I’ll break the rule for this one – what a top place, as you can read here.
P is for… Petrocub Hîncești
Ever since I read Tony Hawks’ book Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, where the English comedian challenged players from the Moldovan national football team to a game of tennis – and beat them all – I’ve wanted to go and visit the country and watch footy there. From what I remember of the book, the crowds were sparse and it cost next to nothing to get in. Petrocub, who have never won anything, seem the ideal team to follow.
Q is for… Qabala
Once managed by Tony Adams, this Azerbaijani team, founded just 11 years ago, provides a good opportunity to venture into the far reaches of the old Soviet Union, in an area full of history. When Qabala played Borussia Dortmund in the 2015 Europa League, just the one fan travelled to the away leg – he has to worth seeking out.
R is for… Red Star Belgrade
To continue the musical theme, Billy Bragg once sung, in fact he still does sing: “I had an uncle who once played for Red Star Belgrade”. Apparently he never did, but that won’t stop me heading for this Serbian hotbed of football, rooted in history and fanaticism.
S is for… St Pauli
A chance to visit the delights of Hamburg and to take in some league two German footy. St Pauli, also known as the “Brothel of the League”, due to their ground being just around the corner from the infamous Reeperbahn red-light district, is the place where “punk, politics and pirates meet”. Any club that has a skull and cross bones as their emblem get my vote.
T is for… Tromsø
No tour of Europe can be complete without visiting the continent’s most northerly team. Situated inside the Artic Circle at the top of Norway, there’s more chance of seeing polar bears than the other end of the pitch (possibly). I remember Chelsea playing there in a blizzard back in 1997, in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup. The groundsmen just shovelled enough snow away so that you could see the lines, threw on a bright orange ball and the first episode of Dancing on Ice got underway.
U is for… União da Madeira
This Portuguese club is based on the island of Madeira (birthplace of you know who), off the northwest coast of Africa. One of Portugal’s oldest club, they have spent much of their existence in the lower leagues. So if the football’s not up to much, you can always visit the Ronaldo museum.
V is for… Villarreal
The first time I came across El Submarino Amarillo (the Yellow Submarine – surely the finest nickname ever) was at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Recently promoted Villarreal – whose 1000 or so fans were right up in the gods, half at one end and half at the other – had the cheek to nick a 2-1 win, prompting 60 thousand white hankies to be waved in the air. A trip to the Estadio de la Cerámica is therefore long overdue.
W is for… Willem II
Any team named after a king surely has to be worth a look. They also boast a hideous red, white and blue striped kit. Not one of the Netherlands big names, but they can list the likes of Jaap Stam, Marc Overmars and Sami Hyppia among their past players.
X is for… Xanthi
Not a great deal of choice for this one, so I’ll take the opportunity to pop into Greece. I think it’s lost a bit in translation but the Xanthi anthem is something to behold: “We have great craze in the head, and a kapsoura we have rich, we do not mind, catching us a dizzy, a team from the first in Greece. Oleo XANTHI, XANTHI oleo… but even if I die, and climb up to heaven, the blonde again, would love, and another that the world will believe.” Fantastic stuff.
Y is for… Young Boys
What with their name and a stadium called Wankdorf, this Bern-based side is the innuendo capital of European football – and therefore a must visit on any self-respecting lads tour, Fnaar, fnarr.
Z is for… Žalgiris Vilnius
This Lithuanian team went through the mill in the early 2000s, suffering bankruptcy in 2008 and reforming in 2009, but they have won the A Lyga title for the last four years. Their fans, know as Pietų IV “sing, wave flags and create impressive choreography”, apparently.
Written for Look at These Scenes, a blog dedicated to a passion for watching football in foreign lands and sampling the culture that surrounds the beautiful game, www.lookatthesescenes.com