Top ten atmospheres of 2015
Back for another year, it’s the article which causes the most infuriated comments by far (apart from the time some beer cans ended up in a fountain). This year I spent a lot of my time, and even more of my money, following Wales on the road to qualification to Euro 2016 which meant I wasn’t able to get to any games in Serbia – explaining the lack of Crvena zvezda or Partizan in my top ten who are usually a regular feature. Saying that, I was still able to attend over 50 matches in a variety of countries from Israel to Scotland, and these were the top ten best atmospheres I was lucky enough to experience live over the course of the year. In true Top Of The Pops fashion, we’ll get started with number ten…
For most matches, you can click the name of the fixture to read a full report.
The ridiculousness of using the Fair Play League to give out European football was shown by this fixture, as Go Ahead Eagles were relegated but made it into the Europa League anyway due to their disciplinary record. A very silly rule, but one I was pleased with due to the fact it gave the Deventer side their first game in Europe for 50 years. With their striking red and yellow shirts, amazing name and top quality supporters, Go Ahead Eagles are one of the most likable clubs I’ve ever seen and it is a real shame that it currently appears they won’t bounce back into the top flight at the first opportunity, although the unusual promotion and relegation system in the Netherlands means they still have a chance if they are able to put together a good run over the next few months.
Facing up to Hungarian giants Ferencváros as a second tier team seemed like a recipe for disaster, and I was pretty convinced they would take a bit of a battering over the course of 90 minutes. Worse still, stadium renovations meant that the Eagles did not even have home advantage, playing in a whole different city in a stadium that was not their own. It wouldn’t make a bit of difference to the atmosphere, and might even have helped to make it better. Instead of heading to the stadium quickly after work, the Eagles supporters had to travel by coach or train for a couple of hours, giving them time to have plenty of pre-match ‘refreshments’, and good lord were they refreshed. I think this was the drunkest stadium I saw in 2015, with a huge percentage of people who really needed to have a kebab and go to bed. I had to work before the game and so only made it to the stadium about 45 minutes before kick-off, and I was literally stepping over people in the car park by the time I got there. Problems in Hungarian football relating to ID cards meant that the away end was quite empty due to a boycott from most hardcore supporters, but the ones who did attend helped to add to a great atmosphere. The visitors went ahead after just a couple of minutes and you feared that a real hammering could be on the cards, but the constant non-stop support helped to inspire the less talented but more determined players to grab an equaliser. When they did, forget about it. Standing up without falling over is difficult enough when you’re as drunk as these supporters were, but when you score a goal in your biggest match of the season…there were more people throwing themselves wildly to the floor than at a training session of the Portuguese national team. Sadly they were well beaten in the second leg, but it was a summer night to remember for the supporters who faced uncertain times ahead. Hopefully it doesn’t take them another 50 years to play in Europe again, but if it does, at least their hangovers from this game might finally have cleared.
9. Brondby vs. SønderjyskE
The day before I headed to Sweden for my latest visit to a Stockholm derby I watched my first game in Denmark, and it was a great unexpected surprise. With this just being a pretty ordinary league game and Brondby having a disappointing season up until this point, I wasn’t expecting very much from the atmosphere, but I was dead wrong. The South Side at Brondby is home to the ultras, and is one of the best terraces I’ve ever stood on. While it lacks the size of the standing sections in Germany for example, the way it was built helps to create a lot of noise, and when the supporters jump up and down (which is a lot), you can feel the ground bouncing beneath you. Copenhagen is quite expensive for hotels and food, but with cheap flights and beer this is a great destination as part of a football weekend. It’s worth a visit to the stadium if only to see the cool graffiti all around the stadium and the ‘menu’, which features a grand total of two choices – five large beers or five regular beers. Truly a throwback to the glory days.
One of the clashes I had wanted to see for a very long time, I was lucky enough to go to what could be the last ‘proper’ Rome derby for a long time, due to actions being taken against Roma’s curva by the club have resulted in boycotts for the last couple. Lazio were the ‘away’ team for this derby, but it was their supporters who most impressed during this one. The huge away end had around 15,000 people in (possibly more, my estimating skills are weak)and they produced an outstanding tifo featuring Roma being transported to Hell. The noise got even better as the blue side of Rome took a 2 – 0 lead, with some of the best scenes I have ever witnessed over the last three years of running this website as it looked as if they would take victory in this critical fixture for Champions League qualification. The Roma supporters were subdued by the scoreline for quite a while, but did come to life following two goals from inspirational captain Francesco Totti. Not many countries can match the level of intensity and hatred you can feel in an Italian derby, and this was a prime example of that. Let’s hope that the club removes the restrictions on Ultras and this can take back its place as one of the best games in Europe.
It started with the biggest flag ever displayed at a football match in Europe and ended with a 94th minute own goal winner to give the Rotterdam side a first win over their despised rivals for the first time since a John Guidetti hat-trick in 2012. That should tell you everything you need to know about the atmosphere inside one of the most intimidating stadiums in world football, with the locals going wild at finally being able to celebrate winning the game they care about more than any other. While this fixture definitely needs away fans for it to return to being one of the most intense in football, this was the best one I have attended over the last couple of years, the evening kick off and importance of the tie helping to create a ferocious atmosphere. The goal was scored with no time at all remaining, meaning celebrating the goal went straight into celebrating the win, and you better believe that Feyenoord supporters know how to party on the rare occasion they have something worth celebrating. 50,000 people bounced around the stadium and saluted their heroes long into the night. I tweeted at the time that all sleep in Rotterdam was cancelled, and I’m pretty sure a record amount of people called in ‘sick’ the next day in Rotterdam and the surrounding cities. Feyenoord have the chance to win the KNVB cup in 2016 as a result of this victory, and even a small chance to win the league. If they do, a whole week off work might be needed.
I’m not really fussed about rugby (to put it mildly), so while most of Wales was preparing to watch the Rugby World Cup match against England, I was in the capital of the Czech Republic for the derby between the two biggest sides in Prague. Slavia have had very little success against their city neighbours in recent years, but an absolutely amazing display of support from the home crowd helped them to their first win in the derby for a couple of years. Indeed, the Slavia supporters were arguably the best I saw all year, it was just the lack of action from the away end which meant this fixture ended up at number six on the list. Putting together one tifo is hard work, so I can only imagine how many hours were spent preparing for this game, where a total of four were displayed during the first half. Believers in football karma were rewarded in this game, as Slavia scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game just as the final tifo was put on show. It was by far the worst goal I have ever seen live, a weak shot being dropped over the line by the goalkeeper, who seemingly had ages to recover from his mistake but instead seeming not to bother and just watching the ball trickle over the line. It was Slavia’s day on and off the field, the kind of derby domination which will be talked about for years to come by their supporters. I also experienced Czech drinking for the first time, and can confirm the saying “Czechs do not drink, they pour”, referring to the fact they finish their beer almost as fast as it can be filled up. Perhaps that had something to do with just how loud it was…
The same but different. It was the first meeting between the two fiercest rivals in the UK since Rangers were demoted to the bottom tier due to the financial disaster at the club due to years of mismanagement. Celtic have of course dominated Scottish football ever since, with the title decided before the first ball has even been kicked and picking up a good number of cup trophies as well. However without Rangers, something has surely been missing. Crowds have fallen, as has player’s interest in joining the club due to the lack of competition, and the once highly impressive Champions League performances a distant memory. Rangers meanwhile have gone from final Milan, Manchester United and Fiorentina to taking on East Stirling, Montrose and Elgin City. As much as people on both sides (especially Celtic) will deny it, these two clubs need each other.
Unlike the hard fought (literally) contests when both clubs were at their peak, this one was never much of a contest on the field. Celtic bossed the game from pretty much the first whistle, and in the end they were probably quite disappointed to only win 2 – 0. It was in the stands where the real contest took place, with Rangers supporters taking the opportunity of having the eyes of the world on them once more to put on a show of defiance. They never stopped singing from the first moment to the last, bringing out all the songs they haven’t had a chance to sing for far too long, including the offensive ones that cause such controversy and outrage every time the sides meet. There was also a very clever tifo from the Celtic supporters referring to the controversy that comes from their opposition to wearing poppies, replacing the poppy with a red Rangers badge and featuring the line “At the going down of the Hun” with the dates that Rangers supposedly ‘died’. Time clearly isn’t a healer when it comes to these sides, and once Rangers do make their way back to the top of Scottish football, you have to think that the events of the last five years will cause the feelings to be even more intense than before.
4. Panathinaikos vs. AEK Athens
My first taste of Greek football would disappoint on the pitch (my first ever trip for this website that would finish 0 – 0), but was a triumph in the stands as Gate 13 quickly became one of the best places I have ever watched a football game. A Greek friend of mine was able to arrange a ticket in Gate 14, one block over from the legendary home of Panathinaikos’s most hardcore supporters. I spent the days before the game coming up with a couple of plans as to how I could sneak into the block, including jumping over a fence, finding an unlocked door or bribing a steward. Eventually I tried my luck by simply walking in to Gate 13 and putting my finger over the block number, feeling like the sneakiest person alive when I was able to walk past the security without being checked. Then I walked out on to the stand to see it was totally open and I could have just walked there with my original ticket. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.
Despite the poor quality of the game and the disappointing result, it was a great show from the green section of Athens (away supporters were banned), with constant use of pyro, singing, jumping and generally going bonkers. Perhaps my favourite moment came before the game even started, and was probably unnoticed by most. A company had put up advertising banners across the back of the stand, and one supporter took out his keys or some other sharp object (couldn’t work out exactly what it was, but it wasn’t a knife or weapon) and cut down the banner in Gate 13, before hurling it over the wall of the stadium and in to the street. Truly supporters and not customers. There was also a small pitch invasion at the end of the game to protest against the poor results, and the manager had been sacked by the time I flew home. Fan power is clearly still alive in some countries, and none more so than Greece.
When Wales drew 0 – 0 in Belgium, I thought we might qualify. When we won 0 – 3 in Israel, I was confident we would qualify. When we beat Belgium 1 – 0 in Cardiff, I knew we would qualify. While Bosnia away was the night it was confirmed, as well as being the best day of my life and the drunkest night of my life, it was this Friday night in June when Welsh football announced to the world that this time, this time, we should be taken seriously.
The Welsh public has mostly fallen out of love with football in the last decade, save a hardcore of around 10,000 or so. It’s difficult to blame anyone who did really, as we were completely shite. Watching the team you love being managed by John Toshack is pretty similar to watching your beloved family home burn down with everything you own inside, but even worse because Lewin Nyatanga is there. The years of misery (and they were MISERABLE) were blown away in 90 minutes of pure joy, the culmination of the great work done by Chris Coleman and of course, the much missed Gary Speed. The shin smashing, voice losing, row falling goal celebration will be the most replayed moment in the future, but when I close my eyes and think about the game, it is the national anthem in the 70th minute I remember first. I wrote at the time that it was at this moment that I knew we had won. Even if we ended up losing the game, Welsh football had won. Just listen to it.
Definitely the most controversial fixture I attended this year, a huge travelling army of Feyenoord supporters made the trip from Rotterdam to Rome. The word ‘army’ was taken a bit too seriously by the Italian police, who attacked the away supporters several times before the game. This resulted in many media sources reporting that the thousands of visitors from Rotterdam (plus a couple from Sunderland and one from Wales) had done more damage than the Gauls in 390 BC. In reality the damage was extremely overhyped and certainly no worse than Cardiff city centre after a rugby international.
To the game itself, and what a performance it was in the away stand. Feyenoord as a club has been missing from the highest stage for quite some time, a place it truly deserves for the support, and truly doesn’t deserve for the people in charge of the club. This was the chance to show to the world what Feyenoord Rotterdam is all about, and it was an opportunity taken in style. The 7,000 in the away end and the 350 or so in the home end put on a spectacular performance, with the 12th minute and the celebrations following the goal in particular sure to live long in the memory. There was to be no Europa League football for Feyenoord in the 14/15 season, but it seems they will surely be back next season. Watch out Europe…
DIF were the best supporters I saw in 2014, taking the top spot after I travelled with 7,000 or so of their most hardcore supporters to the away derby at AIK. Clearly I needed to go back this year, and this time the game would be even more spectacular. I had been quite disappointed with the AIK fans in the contest last year, not offering much opposition at all. That would not be the case this year, with the Hammarby fans turning up in huge numbers and creating the best atmosphere I would see all year. I went to many matches where the home fans or the away fans were great, but this was the one where both supporters were really at the top of their game. This game deserves more than just a paragraph or two to sum it up, so make sure to click the link in the title for a full report.
Starting from the pre-match tifo to the final whistle the atmosphere never let up once, firmly cementing Swedish football culture in my mind as one of the finest in the world. With Hammarby surviving their first season back in the top flight with relative ease, this is the fixture I recommend for anyone looking for their first Swedish football experience.