Football trips and expeditions are immensely enjoyable – new cultures, different football styles, different atmospheres and a chance to appreciate football from a broader context, what’s not to love?
I’ve written before on expeditions to Prague, Berlin and Warsaw and the experiences enjoyed, the different elements of the football world experienced – be that great atmospheres, revolutionary tactics or refreshing fan culture.
So what is the best way to organise, enjoy or plan football trips and expeditions – there is no hard and fast rule, but I’ve listed below some top tips and advice which I’ve found to be useful.
The first element of planning this is, perhaps rather obviously, choosing a destination. In my experience there are a few ways to do this. You can of course target a team to watch, or a city to visit – choosing to visit a great city with your visit coinciding with a home match for your selected team. This approach allows for greater flexibility, you can search for a number of dates to get optimal value on travel and accommodation as well as ensuring availability of tickets, there’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up about a specific game only to realise that there are no tickets, or that travel or accommodation costs are prohibitive. This could also be employed to target a certain derby or headline fixture as soon as the league schedule is announced.
The second way, if you are not on a pilgrimage to see a specific team or city, is to have a rummage around on the internet for cheap flights, either to specific cities or countries before then planning or choosing a game which matches your travel times. Aspects to bear in mind here are to be mindful of what day of the week league games are played on (for example lots of Italian or Czech games are not necessarily played on a Saturday afternoon) and to plan your trip and travel accordingly – based on your budget of course. To mitigate this, when cheap flights have been sourced, run a quick check on fixtures to make sure that you can fit a game, or games into your trip and avoid a nightmare scenario of flying back at say 6pm on a Sunday when the game you want to see kicks off at 7pm that same night.
Just like British football, bigger games can be moved for TV purposes to evening kick off times, so pay cognisance to this potential issue when booking and if you can, and costs aren’t prohibitive, try build some flexibility into your travel based onto the most likely TV times (for example if games are routinely moved to a Sunday night, then make sure you don’t fly home before then).
Another factor to consider is the largely excellent transport network within Europe. Many large airport hubs like Frankfurt, Paris or Amsterdam are really well connected to many other cities in mainland Europe both through well priced connecting flights (for example it can sometimes be around half the price to fly to Paris via Amsterdam rather than direct with certain airlines) as well as being well connected via exceptional High Speed Railways (200mph). From destinations like Frankfurt you can reach most of Germany via High Speed Rail within around 3 hours or so (the airport has a great station), as well as many other mainland European cities equally as fast. So building flight times round train travel is also a good tip – allow flexibility for getting the train to or from a more distant city. On average, trains can be booked through a plethora of websites from around 90 days beforehand – most rail companies and communal ticketing websites also have dynamically priced ticket options. In my experience, booking direct with the rail operator is often cheaper than via communal portals and if travelling between countries, try both the relevant rail companies – for example a train from Germany to Czech Republic can be booked via both German and Czech railway websites, with differing prices for the same train at times.
When your destination has been chosen, you can then move on to sorting your accommodation depending on your budget and travel plans. Another tip is that if travelling between relatively distant cities, many trains run overnight which could cut down on hotel costs while undertaking necessary travel for reasonable prices.
When you have selected the game you want to see, you need to find out how to purchase tickets. Most clubs now offer online ticket purchasing options via their own websites – but do your research first. Many places have communal ticketing websites where numerous clubs share a communal portal. Buying tickets from abroad has rarely caused me a problem, but common issues involve getting eTickets printed locally which is a requirement when buying from abroad at times. You might need to source a print shop, or a location with self-print ticket machines so try to find this out if you can beforehand.
If available, collection at ticket office options are preferable and many clubs also send you PDF tickets, which despite instructions to print, can be used via your smartphone – most of the time the stewards simply scan the barcode which can be done via your phone if necessary.
When selecting seats and tickets, it is also always best to do a bit of research first if you can. Firstly, try to work out via the club website or via other means where the home fans sit, or where the Ultras sit also. You may choose to sit in the same stand as the Ultras to experience some of the atmosphere, or alternatively you may wish to sit elsewhere to avoid any potential trouble should things kick off. If you cannot find all the details you need, my top tip would be to sit within the top tier of the stand and along the side touchline of the pitch if you are unsure. Usually, Ultras base themselves behind the goals and in the top tier – so bottom tier behind the goals could (on rare occasions) put you at risk from the odd missile or drink being thrown (not necessarily at you, but you might get caught in the crossfire). While tickets up the sideline may be slightly more pricey, if you are unsure then it is probably the safest bet – and you might as well treat yourself to a good view as well.
The City – pre and post match
Personally, I always try to learn some of the local language when visiting somewhere. Your basics like “hello”, “thank you”, “two beers please” will go a long way to endearing yourself within the locality. It isn’t an essential, but in my experience you make more friends and get more help when you open up and try to speak the local language – at least until the person who you are speaking to answers you in perfect English and schools you in the art of being multilingual.
Researching the match day culture is also a top tip, working out whether the culture is to get to the ground early for things like American style “tailgate parties” in the surrounding area, or whether to enter the wider complex and have a few beers or a coffee with fans before taking seats. It may be that there are plenty of bars around to soak up some atmosphere, but make sure you are aware of how to enter the ground and the time this may take. If this isn’t available online or in any research beforehand, a good idea is to ask your hotel reception or even at the tourist information office, or indeed a friendly barman/barlady/waiter/waitress who might be able to recommend bars, restaurants or the like prior to the game and also offer tips on any locations to avoid from their own local knowledge. Failing that, many clubs also have English language websites and social media – so try contacting the club directly to ask, in my experience most are friendly and forthcoming with information and are of course keen to make sure fans get to and from the match safely
Further to the above, work out public transport links beforehand (easy enough via your smartphone or online), including travel times and routes from your pre-match location. Make sure you have valid travel tickets for your inward and outward journeys to avoid panic or delays at the wrong moments also.
Post match, with large crowds leaving at the same time you might also wish to research nearby restaurants or bars to go and discuss the game with locals and wait for metro, tram or bus stations or stops to quieten down and make sure travel back to your hotel or the city centre is slightly more comfortable – of course this isn’t always possible with newer stadia outwith the city, but it is worth researching in any case.
The Game Itself
Aside from watching and enjoying the game, some other tips for the actual match are to find and purchase a matchday programme. While this will be in the local language which you may or may not understand, one thing that will easily translate will be the squad lists usually contained within. You might already know all the players on show, but it is often a good idea so you can make sure you know the name of the player who has scored or had an absolute howler – particularly if you are less familiar with the teams on show.
Many grounds in mainland Europe offer beers within the ground, a good tip is to work out the situation with regard to the plastic tumbler the beers are served in – often you will get money off a second for reusing your tumbler or even money back at the end of the match for handing this back in. It might only be a few coins, but it is a good tip to keep an eye out for this nonetheless.
Enjoy Your Trip
After travelling, watching and enjoying football games in different countries and cultures, you may well develop your own tastes and methods of organising such trips. However hopefully the above offers a starting point and some useful hints and tips for undertaking your own football expeditions. In any case – happy travelling!!