Top ten fans of 2014
This is always the most controversial article I write every year, and the one which results in the most Newcastle fans tweeting rude words in my direction. I will make the same disclaimer as everyone ignored last year, and point out that this list only includes teams I saw live in 2014. This explains the absence of teams with sensational supporters like Borussia Dortmund, Leeds United, Eintracht Frankfurt and so on, I simply didn’t get to one of their games this year.
With that out of the way, here is the countdown of the ten best supporters I saw in 2014. For most of these clubs, you can click on their name to read my report from the game in question where they impressed me so much.
10 – Go Ahead Eagles (away)
This was one of the first matches I attended since moving to the Netherlands in February, and I have yet to see any other set of Dutch away fans at De Kuip come anywhere close to Go Ahead Eagles. Despite getting an absolute spanking on the pitch (it finished 5 – 0 to Feyenoord), their supporters were a credit to the team off of it. Particular highlights included the large amount of red and yellow pyro they were able to sneak past the strict Rotterdam police, the numerous flags which waved for the entire game, and the non-stop chanting from the boys from Deventer. Their best chant involved the away end splitting in two, with one half shouting ‘GO AHEAD’, with a response of ‘EAGLES’ from the other half. This got faster and faster, until it sounded like a war chant. I’m already looking forward to their next visit to Rotterdam.
9 – Royal Antwerp
I watch a lot of football every year. A lot. For every match I write about, there are at least three I don’t. While there are many clubs who impress me with their support, there are very few who have left such a lasting impression on me as the one I got from Royal Antwerp. Arsenal fans are currently calling for the resignation of their legendary manager and hurling abuse at him at train stations, because there is a possibility they might not qualify for the Champions League this year (I believe they will). Now imagine their reaction if they were in the second tier. For a decade.
That is the story at Royal Antwerp, one of the biggest clubs in Belgium, who have suffered more than a decade of disappointment and somehow continue to offer their side absolutely superb support. No matter the anguish they feel for their current situation, it does not defeat the love they have for the red and white of Royal Antwerp. The division you play in, the manager you have and the players you watch, these things come and go. But true love lasts forever, and the fans of ‘The Great Old’ prove this. When I visited them, they were beaten by Virton and their hopes of promotion were effectively ended for another season. Despite this, they continued to support the team, often in English, with a noise and passion that you don’t see at stadiums ten times as big. When a (very very small) number of supporters did decide to leave early, the others chanted at them “You’re a (fill in the blanks) disgrace” and hurled toilet paper at them. It isn’t easy to be a supporter of Royal Antwerp, but for the ones who are – they couldn’t do it any better.
8 – Union Berlin
There aren’t many German teams with bad support, but there are some whose support is simply on another level. One such team is Union Berlin, who have one of the most beautiful stadiums I have ever visited. Around 75 – 80% of the capacity of the ground is terracing. This allows every single Union Berlin fan the ability to watch the game they way it should be done – standing up.
Not only do they have an outstanding (see what I did there?) stadium, their support is also absolutely top class. I saw them take on FSV Frankfurt in a game which was about as midtable as midtable can be (12th vs. 13th) with very few away fans, and yet the noise was still constant throughout the match. There is a considerable amount of fan power at Union, even by German standards, and this is evident everywhere you look. From a platform to the capo to stand on to allowing items which could certainly be considered dangerous into the stadium to perform tifo displays, there is a strong bond between the club and the supporters at Union Berlin. When this happens the outcome is always the same, full stadiums, great support and motivated players. Looking for an example for how English football should be? Look for Union Berlin.
7 – Wales (away)
It’s finally fun to support Wales again. Following the death of Gary Speed I had a few months off from attending games, the memories of what Speed had achieved over the last 21 years were too fresh and it didn’t feel right to watch them without him. With this in mind, the Welsh side is currently providing Speed with the best possible tribute, by playing with the spirit and determination he showed on all 85 occasions he pulled on a Welsh jersey. While the pitch invasion in Andorra (yes, we really did that) was the moment which captured the attention of the world, the atmosphere in Belgium was even better. Wales took a huge step towards qualification by taking a point from the group favourites, and they were backed by a huge number of away supporters. There were 2,800 in the ground, and another 3,000 or so in Brussels either without tickets or keeping quiet in the home sections. The highlight of the game? The Belgian DJ playing ‘Zombie Nation’ at full-time, and our away end bouncing around like a warehouse full of people on drugs in the 90’s. Whether we qualify or not, I’ll never forget it.
6 – Besiktas
If football was a video game, going to an away game in Istanbul would probably be the final level. While Turkish football culture has been ruined for most people by the numerous murders conducted by Galatasaray, it is unfair to judge Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Trabzanspor by the same standards. Let’s make it clear, these supporters are no angels, and certainly don’t wait outside the away end to hand out cups of tea and friendship scarves, but I never really felt in danger when visiting Istanbul for the Champions League qualifier, while I would have been on edge for the entire journey should Galatasaray have been the opposition.
Both at De Kuip and their ‘home’ ground (Besiktas currently play at the Olympic stadium due to renovation on their own stadium), their supporters created an excellent display of noise and passion. The most impressive thing about their support was the sheer variety, I can’t think of any club outside of England that has such a wide number of songs that are sung during a game. The most memorable of all is their most famous chant, when the supporters make a ‘shhhhhh’ noise before different groups chant “BE”-“SIK”-“TAS”, which is followed by jumping up and down and going completely mental. It’s quite something, and my ears were still ringing with the noise as I waited for my delayed flight home the next morning.
5 – Legia Warsaw
I had wanted to go to a match in Poland for some time before this trip to Warsaw in May, with the only stumbling block being the strict restrictions which are placed on supporters in the country. To get a ticket for a Polish fixture you pretty much have to send the Polish FA a copy of your passport, your birth certificate, a blood sample, school report card, a testimonial from your mother that you are a nice boy, and promise to take all of their daughters out for an expensive steak dinner. Safe to say, it’s a hassle. Then you turn up at Legia vs. Lech, and it’s all worthwhile.
I really thought about including Lech in this list also, but I think they are capable of better than I saw on this occasion. Next year I will return to another of their games for the full experience. With that said, lets talk about Legia. Having won the title the week before, this would be the day they lifted the trophy. There was a special atmosphere to mark a special occasion, with the pre-match tifo the undisputed highlight. A huge image was displayed which depicted Legia as the kings of Poland, with all their rival clubs shown as servants. This was followed by 90 minutes of noise and pyro by the ‘white wall’ at the other end of the stadium to me. When they jumped up and down (and believe me, they do it a lot), the whole stadium seems to shake to the very foundations. It’s an incredible spectacle for the eyes and ears, and one you should really experience for yourself if you are able to bypass the anti-supporter legislation that is put in place.
4 – Feyenoord
As I am now a season ticket holder at De Kuip, I’m sure you could probably guess the boys from Rotterdam would feature at some point. However, they do not do so out of bias, but the simple fact that the atmosphere created at Feyenoord is truly the envy of most of Europe. On the night that Sevilla were defeated 2 – 0 in the crucial Europa League game, there is not a single team in world football that would have come away from De Kuip with a victory. From the moment the giant tifo display was unveiled in the middle of a gigantic techno and pyro party, I knew that what followed was going to be special. I did not know quite how special. At the time of writing, this match was played almost three weeks ago, and yet I still have bruises all over my legs from the celebration which followed the second goal. A Spanish journalist was so blown away from the noise that he thought the stadium was collapsing and ran to look for the evacuation point, while the president of Sevilla remarked “Feyenoord’s hardcore are the most dangerous in Europe”. If you heard the noise and witnessed the scenes that night, it’s hard to disagree.
The joint winners from last year make the top three again this year, after my second visit to the most intense fixture in European football. In all probability, they would have topped the list again this year if not for the events which had taken place in the days before this game. The now infamous clash between Serbia and Albania was still fresh in the memory, taking most of the focus away from the Eternal Derby. Having said that, it was still 90 minutes (and more) of pure mayhem. Whether it’s football, basketball or even cooking, you’ll never see pride, passion and sometimes chaos like you do in Serbia. Whenever people who want to start making the same trips as me ask me for advice on which games to go, I tell them not to do this one first for fear of spoiling their future adventures. Because once you have seen the Belgrade derby, there are very few experiences which can even come close.
2 – Dynamo Dresden (away) (no pictures or report by request of the Dynamo ultras)
Along with Hansa Rostock, Dynamo are probably the most infamous club in Germany. Their supporters are labelled by many as being right-wing hooligans who only go to matches to cause trouble. While their support is loud and chaotic and arguably does cause trouble more often than most, I certainly do not believe this to be true.
Dynamo Dresden is a club which can fight against relegation from 2. Bundesliga for many years, and attract more supporters than clubs in the Bundesliga. Then they finally do get relegated, and their crowds actually increase. I plan to visit a home game in Dresden next year, but due to the geographical location of the city I was only able to attend an away fixture this year, the visit to Arminia Bielefeld. Despite losing 4 – 1 and dropping essential points in the battle for promotion, Dynamo were absolutely exceptional. My German is not perfect, but it is good enough to notice any right-wing chanting or racism, and there certainly was not any to be heard on this occasion. Instead, there was constant support and encouragement for the team, even once the fourth goal had gone in and made the situation hopeless. To make it clear just how good Dynamo are, they reach number two on my list when the only game I attended was probably the worst performance the team will give all season. Rightly or wrongly, Borussia Dortmund and St Pauli are the German teams most famous for atmosphere outside of the country. It’s time to add a third name to that list – Dynamo Dresden.
2014 was the year I discovered just how good Swedish fan culture can be, as well as being the year I was lucky enough to experience the best away end of my life so far. I visited Stockholm for the so-called ‘twin derby’ between Djurgarden and AIK, with around 6,000 visiting fans from DIF packing in to the Friends Arena for this one.
From the moment the supporters met in the park before the escort to the ground until the referee blew the final whistle, it was an evening of absolute mayhem. Not only were Djurgarden supporters incredibly loud, but their support was truly different and innovative, which is the reason they take the number one spot over the many other worthy contenders. They have a full range of chants rather than singing the same one for 20 minutes as you can see in some places in Europe, and their innovative use of pyro ensures that it really is used to add to the atmosphere rather than just for the sake of it. At half time they used flares to spell out the initials of the club in fire, certainly one of the coolest things I have been a part of inside a football stadium. Hammarby were promoted to the top flight for the first time in many years at the end of this season, with all of my Swedish connections telling me that this fixture will be even more intense next time around. If that is even possible, the world may well finally sit up and pay attention to Swedish football culture.
So, a club from Sweden tops the list, while Serbia, Germany and the Netherlands are the only countries to feature more than one club. Please take the time to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below and why Port Vale should clearly have been #1, or suggest some new clubs for me to visit in 2015 to consider for next years awards.