There is a certain amount of shade thrown at people who take a day trip to watch football. Some people argue that non-affiliated fans in a stadium add to a sense of sterility in modern football that goes against everything football is supposed to be about. And while nobody would argue that a pulsating atmosphere certainly adds to the enjoyment of a football match, the above mindset is probably one that is best left behind. Lots of things were different about football in the 1970s, and not all of them are worth bringing back.
The truth is that going to a match outside of your usual haunts is something that every football fan should do at least once in their lives. One of the great things about the game is that the experience of watching a game in the Bundesliga feels different from watching the Premier League. An MLS match will have a different rhythm from one in the Norwegian Eliteserien. Experiencing the differences between football grounds and cities is enriching – and the truth is, once you’ve bought a ticket, you’ve pretty much ceased to be neutral whether you realise it yet or not.
The following are some of the best cities to visit for a match – though be aware that, as ever, it pays to be careful and respectful of local complexities.
Perpetually the second fiddle to Bayern in Germany’s Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund could have been designed to appeal to football hipsters and the occasional digital nomad. That’s not an insult – there’s a lot to enjoy about a trip to the city’s Signal Iduna Park. If you can, try to make sure that you get a ticket for the stadium’s Südtribüne (South Stand), the largest standing-only terrace in Europe. The atmosphere among the Yellow Wall is an experience not to be forgotten, and BvB always endeavour to play a fast, attacking style of football that has seen them develop some of the best players in the world.
A word of warning: you may think you’d like to attend an Old Firm game once in your life. If that is an ambition you hold, simply know that the noise and electricity of the occasion come with a vein of genuine loathing between the two sides. This is not one of those derbies where you can pick up a half-and-half scarf. Nonetheless, a visit to either Celtic Park or Ibrox – particularly on a European night – can be genuinely magical. The clubs may not be able to attract the standard of player on show in the league south of the border, but many a European fixture has seen the atmosphere turn a relatively ordinary Celtic or Rangers side into a powerful adversary for the Manchester Uniteds and Barcelonas of this world.
If football history is something that interests you, then Mexico’s Estadio Azteca is the Pyramids of Giza, Macchu Pichu and Stonehenge rolled into one. The city is the first in world football to have hosted two World Cup finals. In those finals, the winning captains were Pele (1970) and Diego Maradona (1986), arguably the two best players ever to have laced up a pair of boots. With a capacity of 104,000 this is also one of the largest and noisiest grounds in the world, and it’s probably at its best and loudest when the national team play there. It might be worth a trip in the summer of 2026, when Mexico will host ten matches at the World Cup finals; though, sadly, not the final itself which will be held in New York.