Listen closely as soccer fans roar and send echos through the streets, there you’ll find your answer. From my experiences playing professionally in Europe, the fans I played in front of in Eastern Europe were second to none. The noise, the unity, the visual attractiveness and passion in their chants sent chills down my spine.
Are they the best though? Tough to say, I bet the Italians and English will have something to say about that.
It’s more than just a simple “D-FENCE” dum dum “D-FENCE” dum dum “D-FENCE” chant you hear at basketball and American football games. These are songs that have been part of the teams, cities and peoples culture for decades. No matter the score or situation of the country these fans are singing and dancing away celebrating their team and cities history. This is an escape for the people and brings joy to them at the end of their work filled weeks. The stadium is always a place friends and family can gather to get the blood rushing through their veins a little quicker than usual.
First time going to a pro match and you're not sure what to expect? First thing you need to do is re-check your ticket and see which two teams are playing. It may look like a harmless detail but the stakes are one thing (regular season match, knock out, cup, league clinching or even a Europa or champions league match up). That will add some more tension to the game but the most important thing is if the two teams are rivals. Rivals can come about in a few ways the most common (and dangerous) is typically if the two clubs are from the same town or city. These are more commonly referred to as derby games and they can get the most passionate, fierce and ugly at times.
1. Boca Juniors vs River Plate (Argentina)
2. Barcelona vs Real Madrid (Spain)
3. Manchester United vs Manchester City (England)
4. AC Milan vs Inter Milan (Italy)
5. Celtic vs Rangers (Scotland)
6. Bayern Munich vs Dortmund (Germany)
7. Arsenal vs Tottenham (England)
8. Liverpool vs Everton (England)
9. Benfica vs Porto (Portugal)
10. Olympiacos vs Panathinaikos (Greece)
1. Don't Go Alone - This is not the type of event you want to go solo to, especially if it's your first time catching a match at the stadium packed with soccer fans. Go with a friend or two just to present yourself as less of a target and some back up just in case. It's not exactly a war zone but if you go alone you never know what kind of non-sense you may fall into.
2. Stay in East or West Stands - Typically the East and West ends of every stadium is for the home or neutral everyday fan who is there to watch the game but not looking to get too rowdy. It's the North and South ends that have the more hardcore hooligan type of fans from the home and guest teams. If you've ever seen a game on TV with the fans chanting, waving flags and letting off flares these are the designated areas of the stadium (both north and south) where the most passionate fans stand.
3. Neutral Clothes - Stick to grey's, blacks and browns. If you're going to a traditionally dangerous match like Boca vs River, Olympiacos vs Pana or anything else try to stick to neutral colours. Even if you support one side or the other and you're not looking for any trouble wear neutral clothes and enjoy the game without expressing it. Last thing you want is to be caught alone in the wrong place with the wrong colours.
4. Avoid Pre and Post Match Hooligan Groups - Hours before the match hooligan fans gather and smoke, drink and sometime fight rival hooligan fans in an attempt to flex their territorial power. So if you see one in the distance keep your head down and keep moving, no good will come from staring or trying to be all friendly and buddy buddy with them. Now after the match can be even more dangerous especially if you are with the losing team and they are looking to blow off some steam, once again keep your head down and keep moving.
5. Stay Relatively Sober and Not Loud - Don't draw too much attention to yourself by chanting non-sense and try not to get too drunk. Ya of course a drink or two is part of the experience but don't be falling over drunk cursing in every direction asking for trouble.
Many soccer fans and clubs have got a bad reputation because of a handful of fans that have tainted the image for the rest of them. Majority of soccer matches at the professional level are safe, enjoyable and filled with beautiful passion. Some are a littler rougher around the edges but the rule for intense soccer matches is the same as in life, you'll only find trouble if you go looking for it.
The reasons these games can be on the dangerous side compared to a typical game include:
1. Rival teams tend to attract bad blood from a history between the two teams
2. If teams have different religious beliefs (Catholic and Protestants like Celtic and Rangers out of Scotland)
3. Racial differences may play a role between to ethnic groups that have a history of disliking one another
4. Previous iconic player from one team now playing for the opponents can leave a bad taste in fans mouths (most recently Antoine Griezmann leaving Atletico for Barcelona)
These soccer fans have grown up in this city and this team is a representation of them. If the team is good, the town is good, if the team is crap, fans aren’t happy let’s put it that way. You are a supporter for more than just a soccer team, these players wear your town colours and name on their chest and represent all of you.
Fans truly feel part of the team and feel they play a role in influencing wins and loses of their team. They don't just think it, it's actually true, statistics have shown the advantage home teams have are significant. To learn more about the statistics and advantage home teams have feel free to read more about it in the article Home Advantages in Soccer.
For some people this football club is all that keeps them sane in their lives. Such countries have political issues, economic issues and criminal issues that have torn their beloved country apart and this team is the only thing left for them to hold on to and be proud of. A little 90 minute game on a Saturday to hang out with some pals, have a beer and bring a smile to their face if only for a day.
3) Family Tradition
Most fans in football especially overseas link going to matches as a family tradition and a special childhood memory. Father’s take their sons to matches on a Sunday afternoon to cheer on their team much like their fathers did for them. If it's not at the game it's at the local pub or in their own homes having a meal and watching their team play on the TV with the whole family gathered around.
The bond between father and son and going to football has been passed down from families and generations. It’s for that reason that supporters take the game so seriously because it’s a big part of who they are and where they’ve come from. They associate their parents memories with football matches and celebrating big victories together.
Pro team’s fans are actually a large part of the team in every aspect. Not only do they act as the twelfth man on the field many of them come to practices, are in contact with the players and make their voices heard in the media if they do not like what they are seeing within the club. Especially in Eastern Europe where supporters are a big influence on the decisions the club makes and the direction they go.
I guess playing better at home holds true for all professional sports but there’s something about soccer that makes playing at home such a massive advantage. Some professional teams have gone years without being defeated at home because of one reason or another. Sometimes it’s the temperature, the pitch and most definitely the atmosphere the supporters create.
It’s the comfortable atmosphere for the home side and the intimidating atmosphere for the visitors which creates a massive upper hand. Even the best teams in the world feel the wrath of a home crowd in Russia, Turkey, Serbia and other intimidating stadiums that make them happy to leave there with a draw even if they’d have a comfortable win against the same opponents elsewhere.
I’ve had the privilege of playing in front of fans all over the world on several different continents. I’ve played matches in front of fans such as:
-European (Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Irish, English)
-South American (Brazilian)
All of them have been pretty special in their own way but all completely different as well. The Malaysians come in big numbers and are a more reserved crowd all though intelligent. South Americans love to make noise and you wouldn’t know if their teams are up or down ten based on the noise they make from beginning to end.
Now the English and Eastern European fans are loud, aggressive and united in their chants. Songs, hand gestures and dancing around in unison is common practice for these fans before, during and after matches. Oh and having a drink or ten is not unfamiliar ground for them as well. Gotta love it.
Again, it really depends on where. With top 1st division clubs there can be upwards of 100,000 fans in some stadiums but generally 40-50 thousand fans is not uncommon to see with top club teams. Fan numbers (not necessarily fan passion) is generally in line with the division the team plays in. 1st division the most, 2nd division after that and so on. Why is this you ask? Well 1st division teams generally have better players, better play, more success and more money and in turn bring out the bigger crowds.
Although many true supporters follow their team no matter how good or bad they are, top division teams have the nice stadiums and the majority of the cities support to be fair.
The split is usually 70/30 in terms of hard core fans to general supporters. Usually the clubs diehard fans sit on the north end of the stadium, visitors in the south and all neutral or general supporters sit on the east and west ends.
Some clubs have intense rivalries with others and sometimes that spills out onto the streets. Soccer fans have known to be a little on the aggressive side (understatement of the century) when it comes to violence that proceed games, especially in derby’s.
Generally football supporters are passionate, loyal and committed supporters but some groups of fans make them all look bad. The ones that go to games just to fight and start nonsense are the ones that give all of us a bad name. Sometimes you will hear the name firm in place of fans or hooligans, these are more formal established fan groups that go to games to do more than just cheer on their teams.