Download GPX file for this article

From Wikivoyage
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The 2021 Veikkausliiga match between AC Oulu and IFK Mariehamn at Raatti Stadium in Oulu, Finland

Europe is gripped by football fever every year between September and May: bars show matches, huge arenas host games, children play football in the streets, overweight adults play football on pitches in pub teams. What sets Europe apart in footballing terms from the rest of the world is the sheer quality of the domestic leagues, which are head and shoulders above those from elsewhere around the world.

AC Milan, Ajax, Arsenal, AS Roma, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are all truly world class teams with world class players that play week in week out against other top rate teams in internationally-known stadiums. The premier club competition in Europe, and arguably the world, is the UEFA Champions League. Most football enthusiasts regard the level of football in the UEFA Champions League to be even higher than in the FIFA World Cup. UEFA runs two other club competitions for men, the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Conference League, as well as the UEFA Women's Champions League.

The elite tournament for men's national teams is the European Championships, often shortened to just Euros. Women's national teams have their own European Championships, shortened to Women's Euro. UEFA also operates the UEFA Nations League (men) and UEFA Women's Nations League, biennial tournaments split into leagues based on competitive level, though with all teams having the chance to qualify for the final round. The traditional footballing powerhouses with regard to men's national teams are Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Traditional women's powerhouses have been France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, but since 2010 England, the Netherlands, and Spain have emerged as major contenders.

Attending a football match can be a fantastic way of experiencing a city's culture and getting up close and intimate to locals in a what is in most cases a relatively safe environment (see the "Stay safe" paragraphs below for country-specific advice). Many of the teams also hold stadium tours where you get to take a look at their trophy cabinets (empty or not), club museums and changing rooms, though mostly only of interest to supporters.

Inside Old Trafford, home of Manchester United
This is Anfield, Liverpool FC

The Premier League, run by The Football Association (FA), is undoubtedly one of the best in the world, and keenly followed throughout much of the former British Empire. Football played in the English Premier League tends to be faster but less technical than the Italian Serie A or Spanish Primera División, and the stadiums, despite being dogged by hooligan troubles in the 70s and 80s, are very family friendly and safe. The main domestic cup competition, the FA Cup, is the oldest football competition in the world, and is open to all clubs that are affiliated with the FA. England also has a second, less prestigious domestic cup competition known as the EFL Cup (or League Cup), which unlike the FA Cup is only open to clubs in the top four divisions. This means that England is one of the few European countries in which it is possible to achieve a domestic treble.

Top clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United play in front of packed out stadiums every week, and the majority of seats are reserved for season ticket holders, so it can often be tricky to find tickets for their Premier League fixtures. Instead, why not try seeing them play in European Champions League matches, for which there are often tickets available to the general public.

Match tickets range from around £20 for the smaller games of the lower quality teams, up to around £60 for the best seats at the best matches of the big teams; some tickets can be bought on match days at the grounds, but it is best to buy them online well in advance from the clubs' websites.



Top clubs include:

  • Arsenal (London) have spent the most number of consecutive seasons in the top division, and play at the Emirates Stadium, which is sadly lacking in atmosphere compared to their old grounds at Highbury. They finished the 2003-04 league season unbeaten, the only one to do so since the Premier League was formed in 1992, and the second in the history of English top flight football after Preston North End did so in the inaugural 1888–89 season.
  • Aston Villa (Birmingham) were 1982 European champions and play at Villa Park.
  • Chelsea (London), Premier League champions twice in the last decade (2015, 2017) and winners of the 2011–12 and 2020-21 UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League 2012-13 and 2018-19, play at Stamford Bridge.
  • Everton (Liverpool) have spent more seasons in the top division than any other team.
  • Leicester City (Leicester) completed one of the most astonishing turnarounds in sports history—going from likely relegation in April 2015 to Premier League champions for 2015–16. They've remained a contender for European places, and won the 2020–21 FA Cup. Play at King Power Stadium. Unfortunately, they were relegated to the second-level EFL Championship after the 2022–23 season, but are returning to the Prem for 2024–25.
  • Liverpool (Liverpool) play at the famous Anfield stadium, which saw better days in the 1980s when the club won title after title, but the drought has come to end; they won the 2019-20 English Premier League title, making it their first domestic league win since the 1989-90 season. They have been European champions a total of 6 times, most recently in 2019, making them the most successful English club in European competition.
  • Manchester City[dead link] (Manchester) are the current Premier League champions (2023–24) and winners of five of the last six league titles, and play at City of Manchester Stadium (commercially known as Etihad Stadium). The only English team to have won a domestic treble when they won the League Cup, Premier League and FA Cup in 2019, and achieved a continental treble by wining the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in 2023.
  • Manchester United (Manchester) have collected a very healthy trophy haul (most recently the 2023–24 FA Cup), and play at Old Trafford. The first English club to become European champions when they did so in 1968. Also the first English team to win a continental treble, when they won the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League in 1999.
  • Newcastle United (Newcastle upon Tyne) play at St James' Park, also known as the Sports Direct Arena if you wish to annoy a Magpie supporter.
  • Tottenham Hotspur (London) opened a new stadium late in the 2018–19 season on the site of their former home of White Hart Lane.

The English Premier League is also well known for some of the intense rivalries between clubs. By far the most famous one is the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, a rivalry that stems partly from the city rivalry that has existed between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool since the Industrial Revolution. The rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds United is also an intense one stemming from the traditional rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire which has existed since the Wars of the Roses. Of course, there are also many notable local derbies, such as the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham, the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton, the Manchester Derby between Manchester United and Manchester City and the Tyne-Wear Derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland.

Women's football


Although football had long been regarded as a male sport in England, the popularity of women's football has taken off in the 2020s, after England made deep runs in the two most recent FIFA Women's World Cups (semifinals in 2019, final in 2023), and won the UEFA European Women's Championship in 2022. England now has a well-patronised women's professional league, with the top tier being the Women's Super League. Many of the top tier men's teams now field professional women's teams in the competition. Women also routinely referee top-tier men's fixtures, and act as their trainers and managers, establishing role models in the sport.

Stay safe


In the 1970s and 80s, hooliganism was a major problem in English football, but now it is highly unlikely for violent incidents to occur in and around football stadiums. Still, certain precautions must be taken:

  • It is very unwise to support opposition teams openly in home sections of the stadiums. At the very least you will be shouted at, or possibly ejected from the stadium by the police for your own safety.
  • Try not to wear clothing in the opposition's colours in the home areas of the stadiums.

Partly due to past problems with hooliganism, certain items allowed in foreign stadiums are banned from being taken into football grounds in England. They include aerosols, air horns, bottles, fireworks, flags with poles, flares, glass vessels, smoke bombs and vuvuzelas.

Other strict regulations also apply to football in England. Spectators are not allowed to drink alcohol in view of the pitch, unless they are in an executive box. Standing up for long periods in all-seater stadiums is also strongly discouraged. Standing sections are not allowed in top tier stadiums (although there is growing demand for, and political support for changing this), and are rare in the second tier ('The Championship') but are common, particularly in older stadiums, below this level.

Don't be alarmed if you see if a visible police presence at certain matches, they are typically deployed with the co-operation of the clubs playing, to ensure that the match remains a safe experience for all the fans. A number of clubs also have visible stewards or marshals inside the stadium.

Top sides compete in France's Ligue 1, the top level of the two-division Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) under the purview of the France Football Federation (website in French only). The cup competition is the Coupe de France, open to professional and amateur clubs, including those in France's overseas possessions. France once had a second cup competition, the Coupe de la Ligue, open only to professional sides in the top three divisions, but even before COVID-19 it was a blip on the radar, and LFP announced that the 2019–20 edition would be the last for that competition. Due to the history of French colonialism, the French league is home to a particularly high concentration of top-class African players, primarily from the former French colonies in North and West Africa, and the French national team also includes many players of African descent.

Top clubs include:

  • Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) play at Groupama Stadium (Parc Olympique Lyonnais behind the corporate naming rights) in the adjacent suburb of Décines-Charpieu. The dominant team in French football in the early 2000s; won seven consecutive French championships from 2002 to 2008, a French record. Also of note is that OL's women's section has been even more dominant than the men were in the decade of the 2000s. The OL women, who play at the OL training center next to the stadium, had two dominant streaks ended in 2020–21: 14 straight French women's titles and five straight victories in the UEFA Women's Champions League. They reclaimed both titles in 2022, and won the league in 2023.
  • Olympique de Marseille (Marseille) play at the Stade Vélodrome. Traditionally one of the great French football powers, they won the Champions League in the early 90s.
  • Paris Saint-Germain (Paris) play at Parc des Princes (Paris/16th arrondissement). The current dominant team; won six of seven titles from 2013 to 2020, a streak interrupted by Monaco (below) in 2017, and won the 2022 and 2023 titles as well. The 2023 title broke a tie with Saint-Étienne for the most in French men's history. The women's section, which plays across the street at Stade Jean-Bouin, ended both of the OL women's streaks in 2021, winning the French league title and eliminating OL from the Women's Champions League (though PSG would lose that final to Barcelona).
  • Girondins de Bordeaux[dead link] (Bordeaux) play at Stade Chaban Delmas.
  • Lille OSC (Lille) play at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in the nearby town of Villeneuve d'Ascq. They ended PSG's recent national dominance on the men's side by winning the 2021 title. (The site nominally offers an English-language option, but the English version is not yet active.)
  • AS Monaco (Monaco) play at Stade Louis II. Although it plays in the French league system, it is not actually based in France but in the neighbouring country of Monaco. It is nevertheless one of the most successful clubs in the French league system, having reached the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2005, claiming the scalp of Spanish giants Real Madrid in the process.
  • AS Saint-Étienne (Saint-Étienne) play at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Saint-Étienne have won a 10 Ligue 1 titles (a record until PSG surpassed it in 2023), as well as six Coupe de France titles, a Coupe de la Ligue title and five Trophée des Champions.

Although many rivalries exist, the most historically significant one is Le Classique between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille, which stems in large part from a regional rivalry between Paris and the north of France, as well as the class divide between the nobility of Paris and the working class of Marseille.

The highest level league in Germany is called Bundesliga. It has quickly caught up to other top European leagues and the fan scene is known to be one of the healthiest in the world. The Bundesliga has the highest attendance figures of any European league, and at all clubs the fans participate in fan displays and coordinated chanting, creating an excellent atmosphere within the stadiums. The most successful team in Germany is FC Bayern München. Bayern have won more Bundesliga titles than any other club, have won every European cup, and "the treble" in 2013, winning the Bundesliga, German Cup, and UEFA Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund supporters
Allianz Arena, home of Bayern München, lit up during the 2011-2012 Champions League Final

The Bundesliga has a relatively large number of contenders for the top ranks, making it a remarkably diversified and unpredictable league, compared to other countries' leagues that are dominated by just a few top teams. A club that was champion or runner-up in the last season may find itself struggling against relegation in the next (and vice versa).

  • Bayern München (Munich) — Germany's most successful team and holder of most records — naturally hated as much as it is beloved. Its women's section has three of the four most recent Frauen-Bundesliga titles (2021, 2023, 2024).
  • Borussia Dortmund — Bayern's chief rival in the 1990s and 2010s. Its home of Westfalenstadion (commercially Signal Iduna Park), the country's largest stadium, is famous for its atmosphere. The stadium's south terrace, known as the "Yellow Wall", is the largest terrace for standing spectators in Europe, holding over 24,000. (For European and international matches that require an all-seated configuration, seats are installed.)
  • 1. FC Union Berlin — A club from East Berlin that had a non-conformist image during GDR times, and even before reaching the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019 enjoyed at least as loyal a following in Berlin as Hertha, traditionally the city's main team. This rise was capped off in 2022–23 by Union finishing fourth, qualifying it for the Champions League for the first time ever, while Hertha was relegated to the 2. Bundesliga.
  • Werder Bremen — Often a good team, especially in the 2000s, have had trouble since the 2013/14 season.
  • Eintracht Frankfurt — Winners of the 2022 UEFA Europa League. Also notable for having amicably taken over the former 1. FFC Frankfurt, four-time Women's Champions League winners, in 2020.
  • 1899 Hoffenheim (Sinsheim) — Rose dramatically from the fifth division in 2000 to the Bundesliga in 2008, and now a regular contender for Champions League places, though disliked by many because their rise was funded mainly by a billionaire software mogul who had been a youth player with the club.
  • RB Leipzig — A rising power thanks to its backing by Red Bull, finishing second in 2016–17 and third in 2018–19, winning the DFB-Pokal (domestic cup) in 2022 and 2023, and reaching the Champions League semifinals in 2022, but have replaced Hoffenheim as the most hated team in the country because of said corporate involvement
  • Bayer 04 Leverkusen — Came close to being champions several times, including reaching a "vice treble" in 2002 when they placed second in the Champions League, the domestic cup and the domestic league, before finally winning their first Bundesliga title in 2024, also becoming the first team to go through the entire league season unbeaten; originally the factory team of chemicals giant Bayer AG and still owned by the company.
  • Borussia Mönchengladbach — Bayern's chief rival in the 1970s, but have entered a slow decline since then.
  • FC St PauliHamburg "cult club" based in a bohemian borough, the fan base is considered to be unconventional and left-wing. Celebrity fans include Bela B. of Die Ärzte and Turbonegro. Won the 2. Bundesliga in 2023–24 to return to the top flight for the first time in over a decade.
  • VfB Stuttgart
  • VfL Wolfsburg — Originally the factory team of Volkswagen, and still owned by the company; they have managed one men's national championship so far. The women's section has enjoyed much more success, with seven national titles and six appearances in the Women's Champions League final, winning it twice.

The fiercest rivalry in German football has traditionally been the Revierderby between Gelsenkirchen-based FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund, and matches between the two are guaranteed to draw partisan sell-out crowds. However, it's dormant as of 2024 (apart from the possible cup match) because the clubs are no longer in the same league.

As alluded to above, the Frauen-Bundesliga is also one of the world's best women's leagues. Most of the top women's sides are under the umbrella of the men's clubs, with the most prominent teams nowadays being Bayern and Wolfsburg.

The second league (2. Bundesliga) has a high quality level and many long-standing traditional clubs, including:

  • Hertha BSC (Berlin) – Traditionally the capital's premier club, which isn't saying much and not necessarily the most popular or ardently supported team among "true Berliners". Relegated from the Bundesliga after the 2022–23 season.
  • 1. FC Köln (Cologne) — The first Bundesliga champion in 1963/64, formed in 1948 to bring first class soccer to Cologne. Most recently relegated after 2023–24.
  • Fortuna Düsseldorf (supported by German Punk band "Die Toten Hosen")
  • SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Nuremberg's rival from the 1920s, still not much love lost. Nuremberg-Fürth is the most played "Derby" in Germany)
  • FC Schalke 04 (Gelsenkirchen) — Often a championship contender in its earlier history, though unable to win the big one since the 1950s, and having a fierce rivalry with Dortmund. Went into severe decline during the 2020s, and relegated at the end of the 2022–23 season.
  • Hamburger SV — The only team to play in the Bundesliga without interruption since its inaugural season in 1963, until being relegated for the first time in 2018. Hasn't returned to the top flight yet, notably losing the promotion/relegation playoffs in both 2022 and 2023.
  • 1. FC Kaiserslautern (historically, one of Germany's best clubs, the only team to ever win the championship the year after being promoted)
  • 1. FC Nürnberg (won nine German championships during the early years of the sport, since 1968 - their last championship and only one in the 1963 established Bundesliga - however they have been struggling between promotion and relegation with few truly good seasons in the Bundesliga - their 2018 promotion from second to first Bundesliga was the eighth in club history - a German record. In addition to those eight promotions and relegations between the top two tiers (the first as reigning champion in 1969 and another one as reigning cup winner in 2008) they also had to endure relegation to and promotion from the third tier in the mid 1990s)

About seven to nine clubs have serious ambitions to get promoted to the Bundesliga so it is a very tough league. The support is not weaker than in the Bundesliga (some say it is even better).

Even in the lower leagues there are many clubs with a healthy fan base so some clubs below the 2nd league have 10,000 visitors per game and more. If you want to "feel" an atmosphere of authentic, not so commercialised football, it might be good to visit a game of one of these teams. One notable lower-league team is:

  • Dynamo Dresden — An ex-GDR club now playing in the 3. Liga with a huge fanbase, a part of which is said to be violent.

In the Bundesliga violence is not a serious problem due to a high number of police inside and around the stadium. Just don't support the wrong team in the wrong corner of the stadium and everything will be all right.

There is a bigger problem with violence in the lower leagues, especially with regard to some East German clubs, where social issues meet with a sharp decline in sporting success and relevance. German police have an eye on problematic fans even down to the 4th league.

Greece may not have the illustrious football history that its neighbours have, but what the fans certainly do not lack is the passion for their teams, and Greek teams have been known to pull off upsets at European competition. The top tier domestic league in Greece is Super League Greece (Ελληνική Super League). The most famous Greek clubs are:

  • Olympiacos (Piraeus) — the most successful team domestically, Olympiacos has won 44 Championships and 27 Cups. Also the first club outside the so-called "big leagues" to win UEFA's newest club tournament, the Conference League, doing so in 2024.
  • Panathinaikos (Athens) — the most successful Greek team in European competition, and the only one to have reached the final of the European Cup.
  • PAOK (Thessaloniki) — the reigning champions (2023–24) and the most popular team from Northern Greece; went unbeaten in domestic competition in the 2018-19 season on their way to Championship and Cup glory.
  • AEK (Athens) — the third most successful Greek team.
  • Aris (Thessaloniki) — the second most popular team from Thessaloniki.

By far the largest rivalry in Greece is the Derby of the eternal enemies (Ντέρμπι των αιωνίων αντιπάλων) between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, which can trace its history to a class rivalry, with Olympiacos traditionally being supported by the working class and Panathinaikos traditionally being supported by the nobility.

The San Siro is shared by Inter and AC Milan and is electric during a derby

The Italian Serie A is one of the top leagues in the world, and the second most popular destination for the top South American players after Spain's La Liga. In particular, many Argentinian players are of Italian descent and choose to play in the Serie A. The top clubs in Italy's Serie A are:

  • Internazionale (Milan) — Often shortened to just "Inter", and called "Inter Milan" by English-language media. Regular contenders, though they fell into a dry spell after claiming the Serie A/Coppa Italia/Champions League treble in 2009–10, not claiming the scudetto (league title) again until 2021. They clinched the 2024 scudetto with five matches to spare. Shares its home stadium with AC Milan. Inter is the only team that has never been relegated from Serie A.
  • AC Milan (Milan) — Ended Inter's five-year reign atop Serie A in 2010–11, and ended their own title drought in 2022. Shares its home stadium with Inter. The second most successful team in European competition after Spain's Real Madrid with a total of 7 titles to its name.
  • Lazio (Rome) — Shares its home stadium with AS Roma
  • AS Roma (Rome) — Shares its home stadium with Lazio. Winners of the inaugural UEFA Conference League in 2022.
  • Juventus (Turin) — The dominant team throughout the 2010s, winning every league title from 2012 to 2020. Having won 65 official national and international titles throughout its history, Juve is also the most successful Italian football club and one of the top teams worldwide.
  • Napoli (Naples) – Probably best known as the club for which Diego Maradona played at the height of his career. After going bankrupt twice at the turn of the 21st century and being dropped to Serie C, they made it back to Serie A a few years later, and became contenders in the 2020s, capped off by clinching the 2023 scudetto with five matches to spare.
  • Genoa (Genoa)
  • ACF Fiorentina[dead link] (Florence)
  • Atalanta (Bergamo) – An entertaining side that has become a millstone to more prominent sides in recent years. The club's victorious 2024 Europa League campaign was capped off by spoiling Bayer Leverkusen's quest to finish unbeaten in all competitions.

Among the most notable local football rivalries in the world are the Derby della Madonnina between the Milanese clubs of Internazionale and AC Milan, and the Derby della Capitale between the Roman clubs of Lazio and AS Roma. The Derby della Capitale is the more intense of the two owing to its political undertones; AS Roma is supported by many left-wing groups, while Lazio is supported by many overt fascists. However, the clubs involved in the Derby della Madonnina have been the more successful pair in terms of domestic and European trophies won. Another notable and bitter rivalry is that between Juventus and Internazionale, known as the Derby d'Italia, which involves the two most successful teams in Italian football.

Ajax' supporters during a match of one of the best football team of the Netherlands.

The top league in the Netherlands is the Eredivisie. Traditionally, it has been dominated by three clubs, none of which have been relegated since the formation of the Eredivisie in 1956 (though all had been relegated from the top level before then):

  • Ajax (Amsterdam) — One of the most decorated clubs in European football, with 33 national titles, 18 wins in the KNVB Cup (Dutch Cup), four wins in the European Champions Cup/UEFA Champions League, and one UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League).
  • Feyenoord (Rotterdam) — Not quite as decorated as Ajax, but with a still-impressive 14 national titles, 11 Dutch Cups, a European Cup, and two UEFA Cups.
  • PSV (Eindhoven) — Second only to Ajax in domestic titles, with 21. Also has 8 Dutch Cups, plus one European Cup and one UEFA Cup.

Other contending teams for the top half of the season standings tend to be AZ, FC Twente, Sparta Rotterdam and FC Utrecht. Additionally, the 2023/24 season is the first time that FC Almere is in the top league, having slowly crawled its way up the ranks since the 1990s.

The KNVB Beker, as per the 2018 edition of the cup the Toto KNVB Beker is the more all-round championship of the Netherlands, featuring clubs from the Eredivisie, the best amateurs from the Topklasse, and clubs that have won the district cups. The KNVB Beker is less conform to the same winning clubs than the Eredivisie, and often features Eredivisie clubs winning, though rarely a club wins both the Eredivisie and KNVB Beker. The KNVB Beker's outcome tends to be a bit more varied compared to the Eredivisie. Since 2010, the cup has been won by FC Twente, PSV, AZ, PEC Zwolle, FC Groningen, Feyenoord, Vitesse and Ajax. In the same time, the Eredivisie has only been won by Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord.

The top Portuguese league, the Primeira Liga, has been steadily climbing the European rankings in the 21st century. Many of the country's top clubs play in state-of-the-art grounds, a legacy of the country's hosting of UEFA Euro 2004. The historic "Big Three" clubs have completely dominated the league. None have ever been relegated from the top flight, and they have collectively won 82 of the 84 league championships to date.

  • S.L. Benfica (Lisbon) — Boasts the most wins in both of the major domestic competitions, with 36 league titles and 26 Portuguese Cups. Also a two-time winner of the European Champions Cup (now UEFA Champions League) in the early 1960s.
  • Sporting Clube de Portugal (Lisbon) — Often incorrectly called "Sporting Lisbon" by English-language media, Benfica's eternal crosstown rival has 18 league titles and 16 Portuguese Cups. They also have a win in the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
  • FC Porto (Porto)— Porto are second to Benfica in domestic trophies, having won the league 28 times and the cup 16 times. However, their accomplishments in European play stand above those of the two big Lisbon clubs. They match Benfica with two wins in the European Champions Cup/Champions League, and have also claimed the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League twice, most recently in 2011.

The most famous rivalry in Portugal is O Clássico between Benfica and FC Porto, fuelled in part by the rivalry between Portugal's two largest cities, and that both clubs are the most successful Portuguese clubs in domestic and European competition. As with many local rivalries, the Derby de Lisboa between Benfica and Sporting is also an intense one, and has produced many classic matches over the years.

Scotland is a fanatical football country. Per head of population, it has the highest number of football supporters (those who actually attend games) of any country in the World. While clubs in Scotland sometimes struggle to attract world-class players, the standard of football compares well with other European leagues. This is borne out by the successes of Scottish clubs in European competitions from the 1950s to the present. Indeed, Celtic were the first club from any country other than Italy, Spain or Portugal to win the European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) when they defeated Internazionale of Milan in the 1967 final in Lisbon.



42 clubs play in the Scottish Professional Football League, the four-level national football league. At the top, there is the 12-club Scottish Premiership; below that are the Scottish Championship, Scottish League One and Scottish League Two, each with 10 teams. Below League Two, teams take part in regional leagues. Like England, Scotland operates two cup competitions—the Scottish Cup, open to all clubs that are members of the country's governing body, and the Scottish League Cup, open only to the 42 SPFL clubs.

Supporters of Celtic and Rangers display their banners at half time in a derby match

The top football clubs in Scotland include:

  • Aberdeen (Aberdeen). Nickname: The (Dandy) Dons. Home ground: Pittodrie. Shirt colour: red. Have been in Scotland's top level since 1905, longer than any other club except Celtic.
  • Celtic (Glasgow). Nickname: The Bhoys, The Tims, The Tic. Home ground: Celtic Park. Shirt colour: green and white hoops. The first British club, and to date the only Scottish club to ever become European champions when they did so in 1967. The only founding member of Scotland's league to have been in the top flight continuously since the league's formation in 1890. Current Premiership champions (2023–24).
  • Dundee United (Dundee). Nickname: The Arabs, The Tangerines. Home ground: Tannadice (once (in)famously pronounced "Tanna-dee-chay" by a BBC newsreader to much hilarity north of the border). Shirt colour: tangerine. Relegated to the Championship following the 2015–16 season, and have yet to return.
  • Heart of Midlothian (Edinburgh). Nickname: The Jambos (Hearts --> Jam Tarts). Home ground: Tynecastle Park. Shirt colour: maroon. Most recently promoted to the Premiership in 2015.
  • Hibernian (Edinburgh). Nickname: The HiBees. Home ground: Easter Road Stadium. Shirt colour: green. Most recently promoted to the Premiership in 2017.
  • Rangers (Glasgow). Nickname: The Teddy Bears, The Gers, Sons of William . Home ground: Ibrox Park. Shirt colour: royal blue. Returned to the Premiership for 2016–17 after being forced into the Scottish Football League Third Division (now known as League Two) in 2012 due to bankruptcy. They fully returned to their historic prominence in 2020–21, ending Celtic's nine-year reign over the Premiership with an unbeaten league season.

Fixtures are listed on the clubs' websites and in the local press. Tickets can be purchased directly from the relevant club. Tickets can be hard to come by for matches between Celtic and Rangers, for European ties involving Celtic or Rangers and sometimes for home matches of other teams against the 2 big Glasgow clubs. The "Old Firm" derby between Celtic and Rangers is by far the biggest rivalry in Scotland, and also ranks among the most intense in the world as a result of its sectarian undertones; Celtic is traditionally supported by Catholics while Rangers is traditionally supported by Protestants. Incidentally, this makes Old Firm matchdays especially volatile in Northern Ireland — arguably as much as in Glasgow itself.

Stay safe


Stadiums are all-seater and generally attending a match is a safe experience. Bear in mind that opposing supporters' seating areas are segregated - avoid cheering for the "wrong" team, or wearing their colours (though the worst that is likely to happen to you is verbal abuse followed by ejection by stewards or police). Trouble often occurs around the city (and indeed, around other towns in Scotland) after derby matches in Glasgow, and (to a lesser extent) Edinburgh. Caution should be exercised on these occasions.

Camp Nou

Spain's Primera División, more often known as La Liga, is one of the best in the world, and very keenly followed in much of Latin America. Most of the top South American footballers, as well as a handful of top Mexican footballers, spend much of their professional careers in Spain. The top clubs include:

The biggest rivalry by far in Spanish football is El Clásico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, and this rivalry goes beyond just football with a long history of politics behind it. Back during the Franco era, Real Madrid was supported by Franco himself and widely regarded as the club of the ruling establishment, and till this day, the club is still strongly associated with the Spanish state. FC Barcelona, on the other hand, is seen as a symbol of Catalan identity, which was brutally suppressed during the Franco era. Even today, Catalan nationalism is a political hot button issue and "El Clásico" often gets bundled up in it. However, the avid following this game in particular has in much of Latin America is not nearly as connected to politics.

Spain's top women's league, Liga F, has emerged in the 2020s as one of the world's top women's leagues thanks to huge investments by the top men's sides. This emergence was cemented by Barcelona winning the Women's Champions League three times in four years (2021, 2023, 2024), and even more so by Spain winning the 2023 World Cup.

While Turkish clubs have never been European champions, and the quality of players is somewhat below those of the leagues in the major footballing countries, there is no shortage of passion from Turkish football fans, and matches involving both clubs and the Turkish national team regularly result in violent confrontations with the opposing team. The Turkish Süper Lig has traditionally been dominated by three teams, all based in the largest city, Istanbul.

The rivalry among all the three clubs is very intense, though the Intercontinental Derby (Turkish: Kıtalararası Derbi) between Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, so named because the two clubs are based on the Asian and European side of Istanbul respectively, is the most famous in all of Turkey. While the class differences between the supporters have since blurred, Galatasaray is traditionally supported by the nobility, while Fenerbahçe is traditionally supported by the working class.

Historically, Wales did not have a national league. The top tier was divided between the Cymru Alliance, for teams in North and Mid Wales, and the Welsh League, for teams in South Wales. Consequently, many of the bigger clubs chose to compete within the English football pyramid. Starting from the 1992/93 season, the League of Wales, now Cymru Premier[dead link], was founded to form a national competition. The "exiled" clubs were invited to resign their positions in the English leagues, and enter the League of Wales, along with the top teams from the Cymru Alliance and Welsh League. Some of the clubs chose to remain within the English system. The Cymru Alliance and Welsh League were replaced in 2019 by the current second-level leagues, Cymru North[dead link] and Cymru South[dead link].

Wales' two largest teams both play in the English league system:

  • Cardiff City (Cardiff) returned to the EFL Championship for 2019–20 after being relegated from the Premier League after the 2018–19 season. Nickname: The Bluebirds. Home ground: Cardiff City Stadium.
  • Swansea City (Swansea) have played in the EFL Championship since the 2018–19 season, having been relegated from the Premier League after seven seasons at that level. Nickname: The Swans. Home ground: The Liberty Stadium.

Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County and Wrexham all compete at a lower level within the English game. Wrexham is most notable outside the UK for its purchase in 2021 by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The club has since become the subject of Welcome to Wrexham, a documentary TV series on the U.S. FX network.

The biggest clubs in Cymru Premier are

Compared to neighbouring England, Cymru Premier stadiums are small, and attendances are low. In South Wales, the popularity of Rugby Union and the presence of the large exiled clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, conspire to keep attendances down. In North and Mid Wales, the proximity of the glamorous Premiership teams in the English North-West and West Midlands, as well as the presence of the increasingly prominent Wrexham within the region, means that many football fans prefer to journey across the border or follow Wrexham rather than watch their local teams, and nearly all the top Welsh players play for English clubs. This often means that attending matches can be a fairly relaxed activity, with a strong community feel at clubs. Tickets are fairly cheap, there is usually a small clubhouse for a drink before and/or after the match, and visitors will generally be made to feel welcome by the locals. Violence between fans is very rare, though bad feelings between fans of Rhyl and Bangor City, before the latter club's demise, could sometimes go too far.



Soccer is mostly a winter game, but the northernmost countries of Europe have such harsh winters that playing and travelling as a supporter is unrealistic. These countries are Belarus, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Two other UEFA member countries play in summer—the Caucasus country of Georgia and the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. Their Premier Leagues (under equivalent local names) have a dozen or so teams playing April to October, plus or minus a couple of weeks. Their league leaders thereby qualify for European tournaments, when unheard-of teams containing the letter "ø" briefly trouble the sun-pampered elite, but they seldom progress far.

Almost all of their national teams play in their capital city, which usually but not invariably has the strongest club sides. Georgia is a partial exception; most of its home international matches are in the capital of Tbilisi, but matches are also taken to Batumi and Kutaisi. Lithuania plays in its second-largest city of Kaunas, which is more centrally located within the country than the capital of Vilnius. Sweden's men's national team plays in Stockholm, but the women's national team plays in Gothenburg. These summer nations do not include Russia's men's league, which takes a long mid-winter break but finishes its season around May, as do other winter-playing nations (though its women's league does play a summer season).

  • Sweden is by far the strongest of the summer-playing nations. The national men's team (home ground Strawberry Arena, in the Stockholm-area community of Solna) often qualify for the Euros and World Cups. The top tier is Allsvenskan, with 16 teams and relegation of the bottom two to Superettan the second tier. There's also a knock-out, Svenska Cupen. The women's national team (home ground Gamla Ullevi in Gothenburg) has qualified for every World Cup to date. The top tier for women is Damallsvenskan, with 14 teams.
  • Ireland is famously mild though rain-lashed in winter, and the point of summer soccer in the Republic is to avoid competing for support with rugby union and Gaelic football. (For some reason, they're not bothered by competition from cricket.) The national men's team play in Dublin; Northern Ireland play separately in Belfast, unlike rugby. The top tier for clubs is the League of Ireland Premier Division of ten teams. The bottom team is relegated to First Division and the penultimate faces a play-off. Oh lucky people of Derry, who in summer can watch Derry City FC, and in winter Institute FC playing in the NIFL, as the north hews to the UK winter playing season.


Go next


See also


This travel topic about Association football in Europe is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.