Since I started writing about my adventures watching soccer in England, I have received many emails like this one: “I will be in England the weekend of October 17, and my family and I want to watch a soccer game. Which one do you recommend, and how do we go about it?”
Planning a trip to watch soccer in England is something I have experience with — I have seen more than 100 games at more than 60 different stadiums — and I have developed something of a system. So I thought I would share that here. It’s not exclusive or anything, but I hope you’ll find it helpful in planning your own English soccer adventure.
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Step 1: Decide When to Go
For our purposes here, I will assume this is fixed; you have a couple days free in the middle of a family or work trip. (If you’re planning a whole trip just for footy, that’s something else entirely.) So, with your weekend in mind, I start with the master schedule of all the league and cups. What is happening that weekend? For this, 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.
Step 2: Where You’ll Be
Again, I assume this is pretty well fixed. And now I have a helpful map on my English Soccer Clubs Page, showing all the top five 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.
Step 3 — Who is Playing?
Chances are, you’ll have several choices of games in your area. (Proximity of games is one of the things I think you’ll love about watching soccer in England.) So, unless there’s a particular team you’re dying to see, you’re looking for the most interesting game. For many folks, this means big clubs playing each other, the same ones you see on NBC all the time.
To me, though, it means the coolest stadium, the best atmosphere, or (ideally) the most riveting game, like a local “derby” or rivalry.
So I search for the visiting team in Google Maps, as well. (For example, when one person asked for help, I realized Bury was playing Wigan, and — who knew? — they’re only about 20 miles apart. This would mean a lot of visiting fans and a “cracking atmosphere.”
Speaking of rivalries, I also open up a window for Wikipedia, so I can research each 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?
- How long a trip is it for the away fans, i.e. how many will there be?
I will also check the league tables (standings) at BBC.com to see how good both teams are this year.
Final note here: 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! Another fun thing about Cup games is there are more visiting fans.
Step 4: Getting Tickets
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, this 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!
I have a whole blog post about buying tickets for English soccer here. Go there for more tips and tricks.
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Step 5: Where to Sit
Before you buy your tickets, I suggest you consult two sources on where to sit. 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.
Here is a whole blog post on deciding where to sit.
Step 6: Getting There
Okay, let’s assume you have now chosen your game and gotten your tickets. How do you get there?
FootballGroundGuide.com is good at this. Also helpful is the British train website. The former will give you the station name (club sites will also have a “how to reach us” page), so just plug that name into the train site, and you’re off.
If it’s in London, you’ll want the Tube’s Plan a Journey page at tfl.gov.uk. And an Oyster Card.
Either way, understand that all train stations after the game will be, as they say, “heaving.” You might as well plan to have a snack or drink in the area after the game.
Step 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!)
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!
As for food, I am a sucker for fish and chips, and the best I’ve found so far were on the way to Crystal Palace in South London. (Email me for details). And don’t get the ones at the station near Millwall. Otherwise, check the FootballGroundGuide.com or ask around.
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.
The Bottom Line
I hope this post has been helpful. The 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.