The following are Groundhopper Paul’s best tips for planning a trip to watch soccer in England.
I have seen more than 100 games at more than 60 different stadiums and I have developed something of a system for planning my trips to watch soccer in England. So I thought I would share my process here.
Tip 1: When to See English Soccer
Maybe your dates are fixed, like you have a couple days free in the middle of a family or work trip. Or maybe you’re planning a whole trip just for footy, which is something else entirely. Either way, I start with the master schedule for English soccer to see what is happening on my weekend, or to pick a weekend or two for my trip.
For details on who is playing whom and where, I turn to the various websites with schedules:
- PremierLeague.com for the Premier League.
- EFL.com for the fixtures in the Championship, League One, and League Two.
- EFL.com for the EFL Cup, or Carabao Cup. (What’s that?)
- TheFA.com for the FA Cup. (What’s that?)
Important note: In England, the home team is listed first! So a line that says Liverpool-Chelsea means that Chelsea is playing at (or “away to”) Liverpool.
Tip 2: Where to See English Soccer
Again, maybe this is pretty well fixed — you have a free day in London, for example — or maybe you’re roaming around. I have a helpful map on my English Soccer Clubs Page, showing all the top leagues in the country. With the fixtures list and this map, I have a list of all the games fairly close to where I will be.
If you’ll be in London, check out the amazing London Football Guide, which is updated weekly.
Important note: It’s around two hours by train from London to either Liverpool or Manchester.
Tip 3: Which English Soccer Game to See
Now we’re at the fun part! You know who’s playing and where you’ll be, but how do you know which game would be fun to see? This is assuming you aren’t tied to a particular club but just want to see a fun game, something with good atmosphere, a neat stadium, cool town, etc.
To work on this, I search for both teams in Google Maps and estimate the travel time between them. Shorter travel time means more visiting fans and a “cracking atmosphere.”
Next I look for rivalries and other “fun factors.” I check Wikipedia for the home team. There, I look for the following:
- Is the visiting team one of their rivals?
- How old is the stadium? (The old ones are cooler.)
- Are their fans known for being rowdy?
I will also check the league tables (standings) at BBC.com to see how good both teams are this year. If the home team, especially, if having a good season, that will help the atmosphere. If the two teams are close together at the top or bottom of the table, that will crank things up as well.
If it’s a League or FA Cup game, it’s really fun to look for a team from a lower league playing one of the big boys. Everybody wants to see, for example, Manchester United have to play at Gateshead or something. Tickets will be tough, but what an event!
Important note: Another fun thing about Cup games is there are more visiting fans.
Tip 4: Getting Tickets to English Soccer
If it’s anything other than the Premier League, I just go to the home club’s website and get tickets from them. If it’s in the Premier League, getting tickets might be tricky. Also, if it’s a big rivalry game in any league, tickets will be harder to come by. For example, I once tried to get to a game between Nottingham Forest and Derby County and couldn’t figure out why it was sold out way in advance; well, it’s because they are 17 miles apart and hate each other!
Important note: I have a whole blog post about buying tickets for English soccer. Also, Groundhopper Soccer Guides is an authorized reseller of Premier League tickets.
Tip 5: Best Seats at an English Soccer Game
Before you buy your tickets, I suggest you consult two sources on where to sit — if you even have a choice in the matter. One is FootballGroundGuide.com, which does a great job of describing stadiums, towns, etc. Then I look at the club’s seating chart to pick my seats. The thing you’re looking for is where the visiting fans will be sitting. This is important, because they do the most singing, and what I aim for is to sit either right across from them (better to hear and see them) or in the home section closest to them, to enjoy the banter. Sitting across from them is how I get videos like this one:
Sitting near them is how even a dull game on a rainy night can be entertaining. See my report from Manchester City at West Ham.
Important note: Here is a whole blog post on deciding where to sit.
Tip 6: Getting to Your English Soccer Game
Okay, let’s assume you have now chosen your game and gotten your tickets. How do you get there?
If it’s in London, you’ll want the Tube’s Plan a Journey page at tfl.gov.uk along with an Oyster Card or contactless debit/credit card.
Important note: All trains and stations after the game will be, as they say, “heaving.” Plan to have a snack or drink in the area after the game, then head over to the station. Speaking of which …
Tip 7: Before and After the Game
You will, of course, want something to eat and drink before the game. For this, I go back to FootballGroundGuide.com for help. The thing to watch for is which pubs are for the home fans, and which are for away fans. (They are kept separate for safety’s sake!) You will often need to show your ticket to get into a “home” pub.
Speaking of this, and for seating at the game, be careful about what colors you wear; if you happen to wear, for example, red at Goodison Park (home of blue Everton), you’ll at least get stares. And home-fan pubs might not even let you in!
If you’re in a smaller town, find out what the local sights are. Who knew, for example, that Stoke is the home of Wedgwood China and its museum? (I found this out when I went to a game there.) And I had a great time exploring lovely Reading before a game there.
You might also look into taking a stadium tour. Almost every club offers them, but never on match days. When I went to Fulham, for example, I toured Craven Cottage the day before the game. You might also check out the National Football Museum if you’re in Manchester, which is actually an incredible hub for English soccer trips.
Planning a Trip to Watch Soccer in England: The Bottom Line
I hope this post has been helpful. The main thing I recommend to people — unless they are just focused on seeing one team in particular — is to get to an old stadium for a game between two pretty good teams with lots of visiting fans, and sit where you have a good view of not only the game but also those away fans. If you can find all that in a Premier League game, go for it. If not, at least you’ll save money and have an easier time getting into the game. And, for me, you’ll have a more truly English football adventure.