Football may well be one of modern Britain’s biggest and best known exports. Even in remote villages of west Africa, a football shirt from an English club is hot property and small kids list names of Premiership footballers with gusto.
It has made football tourism a thing. People travel from afar to London, Manchester and Liverpool to watch their teams live in action and take in the famous atmosphere.
A lot of the big clubs boast the superstar players but also come with extortionate prices and increasingly feel like trips to the theatre rather than the stadium-shaking thunder that’s hoped for. Here are some of our favourite places where you’re more likely to get a bit of roar.
Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park
This is the place to watch football in the whole country right now. The Eagles welcomed back former player Alan Pardew as their manager earlier in the season, taking charge of a young team with attitude. Their fans seem to love them. Even rival fans have talked enviously of how the stadium is rocked by the home crowd. For a Premiership club with a strong following, tickets are relatively easy to come by with some scouring and searching.
Selhurst Park, Whitehorse Lane
Closest station: Norwood Junction
West Ham at Upton Park
In 2016, West Ham will move from its historic ground in the heart of east London and into the London 2012 Olympic Stadium. It’s worth checking out Upton Park (or The Boleyn Ground to give it its official name) before then. It’s among a dying breed of old-fashioned stadiums in the Premiership, having been the club’s home since 1903.
Although the move to the new stadium makes sense (modern facilities and doubling the club’s attendance), it will be sad to see the club lose a ground with character and an intense atmosphere generated by how close the fans are to the action. Go while you still can.
The Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park
Closest station: Upton Park
Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road
This is what English Football purists call ‘proper football’. The Os play in League One, which is actually the third tier behind the Premiership and Championship. It’s a highly competitive league where the football can vary between rough and tumble with flashes of terrific skill.
The stadium capacity is less than 10,000 and there’s no sign of touch-screen scanners. Tickets are a snip in comparison to Premiership prices, ranging from £15 to £40.
The Matchroom Stadium, Brisbane Road
Closest station: Leyton
Charlton Athletic at The Valley
Another of the more saltier places to watch football in London. The atmosphere at The Valley is routinely described as ‘family-friendly’, and Charlton definitely has one of the more amiable atmospheres with a ranges of fans present among the crowd. The club has maintained a deep connection to its local community, giving one-off visitors a feeling that they’re part of the club.
The best place to sit is in what is known as The Covered End, where most of the singing goes on.
The Valley, Floyd Road
Closest station: Charlton
Millwall at The Den
In the dark days of English football back in the 80s Millwall became synonymous with hooliganism and battle ready ‘firms’. How much worse the cubs fans were than any others is however open to debate. Nowadays The Den, built relatively recently in 1993, is as good a place as any to catch a Championship game, even if the fans might still occasionally chant “No one likes us, we don’t care”. It also happens to be the equal quickest ground to get to from Qbic (along with rivals West Ham) – just jump on the Overground down to Surrey Quays.
The Den, Zampa Road
Closest station: Surrey Quays