The top ten fans of 2013
Ever since I began to travel Europe to join as many different sets of brilliant football supporters as possible, I have been bombarded with questions on Twitter as to who I believe the best fans in the world to be. It is a fairly impossible question to answer, finances have meant that I have so far been unable to visit South America, and even with how understanding my boss is when it comes to booking time off work, time constraints has prevented me from watching all of the teams that I would like to see such as Dynamo Dresden, Aris, Besiktas and many more.
With these disclaimers hopefully enough to prevent the comments section being full of rage as to why your team was not included, here are the top ten fan groups I have personally witnessed during 2013:
10. Malaga (away) – Complete with a heavy English presence from ex-pats, the Malaga fans at Borussia Dortmund were truly incredible for 93 minutes, before the most devastating moment in the history of the club saw a famous victory stolen away. Many of the top Spanish clubs have extremely dull fans, but this could not be further from the truth when it comes to Malaga. They bounced, they sang, the climbed the walls of the stands after their goals and gave a standing ovation to their team after the final whistle despite the crushing disappointment they suffered.
Match report – Borussia Dortmund 3 – Malaga 2
9. Wales (away) – Wales home fans, much like the team, are nothing special. These days we only sell out the stadium if we’re playing England, and you’ll almost definitely be sat just in front of a small child with a horn who will then proceed to blow it directly into your ear for 90 minutes. However, take your passport out of the drawer to follow Wales and you discover a hidden gem. The best example of this came in Brussels, when an extremely late Aaron Ramsey sparked scenes in the away end which would be difficult to replicate anywhere else in the world. It was a meaningless point at the end of an unsuccessful campaign which saw us finish fifth out of six, but somehow it was so much more than that. Wales partied with the Belgians long into the night, with the stadium turning into a rave that even Warehouse Project would be proud of. If we do ever go to a World Cup we’ll probably lose every game, but there will be few who can compete with us in the stands.
Match report – Belgium 1 – Wales 1
8. Austria Salzburg – A club that was close to my heart even before I visited them, their 5 – 2 victory over Eugendorf confirmed what I already knew. The fans of Austria Salzburg formed their own club after the evil of Red Bull ruined the original variation of the club, charging through the leagues as they chase down a return to the Bundesliga. They are currently in the third tier of Austrian football, top of the league and undefeated at the halfway point of the season. Red Bull Salzburg regularly play in the early stages of the Champions League, but Salzburg is Violet and White. As you would expect from fans who cared enough to rip it up and start again, they provide absolutely sensational support, with every game featuring pyro, huge flags, sustained chanting and a woman employed to hose down the crowd every time they score due to the over-exuberant celebrations!
Match report – Austria Salzburg 5 – Eugendorf 2
7. FC United of Manchester – The only non-league club to make the list, I have made the most of living in Manchester by visiting FCUM on several occasions. They have many detractors (including Alex Ferguson), but the spirit of the supporters is something to behold, a genuinely touching bond between players and supporters. Put it this way, where else would you see a peaceful pitch invasion to congratulate the players after LOSING a play-off final? There are two red clubs in Manchester, one which wins the Premier League almost every year, and one with a soul. FCUM have an enjoyable varied variety of songs, thankfully steering clear of the 20 versions of Sloop John B employed by many clubs in England these days. The matchday experience isn’t perfect at FC United by any means, but once they move to their own stadium next season it may very well be close.
Match report – Trafford FC 2 – FC United of Manchester 3
6. Leeds (away) – Certainly the best away fans in England, Leeds consistently take more fans away than many clubs in England are able to attract at home. Not only do they take big numbers and sell out allocations wherever they go, they also create a great deal of noise and sheer insanity. On my visit they danced on pub tables, got all the way to number 100 when singing a song about dreaming of a team of Michael Browns, swung from chandeliers and generally unleashed mayhem on Blackburn. The fact they lost 1 – 0 and barely had a shot on goal didn’t particularly seem to matter, and in fact they still got to celebrate on two occasions. The first was in the pub before the game, chanting “Let’s pretend we scored a goal” before counting down from ten and going absolutely mental, celebrating this imaginary goal more than most teams fans celebrate a real goal! The second came after the match, standing on Mill Hill train station waiting for an extremely delayed service so they could make their connection back to Leeds. “Let’s pretend our trains arrived” was followed by the same countdown from ten, followed by a platform of around 300 going bonkers and chanting “train train train train train”. They clearly have a great time wherever they go, what must it be like when they win?!
5. Eintracht Frankfurt – If Borussia Dortmund are the loudest fans in Germany, Eintracht Frankfurt are certainly the craziest. I was lucky enough to get hold of a ticket on their hugely impressive terrace, and the scenes after each goal were truly something to behold. Frankfurt is also the only place where I have walked into a bar containing at least 100 people and been the only one not to have a tattoo on their face. They didn’t win the game (Hamburg scoring a last minute equaliser), but they do win a place in my personal top five. If Borussia Dortmund are too mainstream for you, get yourself to Waldstadion instead. At 10 Euros a ticket and one of the best German Ultras groups, can you afford not to?
4. Sunderland – Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list, and I certainly did not expect to include an English club in my top five when it came around to writing this list. However, Sunderland are not your average set of English supporters, having seemingly avoided the modern football curse of the middle-class customer who sits down and waits to be entertained. It helped that I visited on derby day, but the Mackems should be commended for keeping the spirit of English support alive. If you’re planning a trip to a British derby and can’t wait two years for Rangers vs. Celtic to return, make it the war on Wearside.
Match report – Sunderland 2 – Newcastle 1
3. Borussia Dortmund – Borussia Dortmund fans created the ‘Supporters Not Customers’ banner which gave this website its name, and have become widely recognised as some of the very best around. The amount of love around Dortmund fans on Twitter becomes fairly unbearable at times, but the truth is they really are that good. Standing on the Sudtribune was my first ambition when I began my football travels, and it remains one of the best things I have ever done. When it comes to the Yellow Wall and BVB, you really should believe the hype.
Match report – Borussia Dortmund 2 – Wolfsburg 3
2. Feyenoord – Ajax are the most famous and successful team in Holland, but nobody comes close to Feyenoord when it comes to support. From the fan drinking twenty beers to himself before the game to the wildly dangerous celebrations stood on top of the seats every time they scored, Rotterdam is the place I have felt most at home watching football since losing my club. Nothing can replace the love I felt for Cardiff City before they rebranded, but Feyenoord Rotterdam come extremely close. I still follow their results every week and plan to return many times in the future.
Match report – Feyenoord 4 – Den Haag 2
1. Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade (away) – It would be unfair to separate these two at the top of the list, as they both combined to create an atmosphere which is impossible to compare to anything else I have seen. When it comes to the standard of football the Eternal Derbi cannot come close to many other fixtures around Europe, but purely on passion, atmosphere and intensity it stands alone at number one. If you only ever visit one game that does not involve your team, make it Red Star vs. Partizan.
Match report – Red Star Belgrade 1 – Partizan Belgrade 0
With many more trips planned in 2014, this list is sure to change in the near future. I will be attending derbies in Rome, Krakow and Istanbul next year, in addition to a return to Rotterdam when the despised Ajax ( or 020 if you’re a Feyenoord fan) come to town. Feel free to leave your suggestions for places to visit in the comments below and next year I may well be reporting from a stadium near you!