Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Fans all over the globe literally live and die by their teams, and some countries have actually gone to war over it — all this for a sport which requires little more in the way of equipment than two feet and a ball. Experience the thrills, the passion, the artistry and the unparalleled dedication of soccer fans worldwide by taking a brief look at the world’s best soccer stadiums. Note that the season in most European leagues begins in the fall and carries into early spring, while in Latin America the situation is reversed, with play beginning in the spring.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires is known throughout the world for two things — the tango and the Boca Juniors soccer team. And as far as Boca’s avid, working-class fans are concerned, the two are one in the same. La Bombonera (in English, “the candy dish”) will never win any beauty prizes, and fans used to North American and European stadium amenities will feel out of place here. Instead, what visitors will find is the passion that makes soccer the most popular sport in the world.
What’s Cool: Boca forward Martin Palermo seems to think of a unique celebration every time he scores a goal, and he scores a lot of goals.
San Siro has the good fortune to be the home of two of the biggest sports teams in the world: AC Milan and Internazionale (better known simply as “Inter”). The rectangular stadium, which seats 85,500, has a distinctive Plexiglas roof supported by huge concrete cylinders at each corner. The fan culture in Italy is the best in the world — choreographed chants, massive banners covering the entire deck of San Siro, and fireworks and flares after a scored goal are just some of the facets of a typical Italian league game.
What’s Cool: The fans, the fans, and the fans: the most spirited in the world — often imitated, never copied.
Estadio Vasco da Gama
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The English may have invented the sport, but none would dispute that el jogo bonito (the beautiful game) has found its true home in Brazil. Estadio Vasco da Gama, an intimate 40,000-seat stadium, is the home ground for Rio de Janeiro’s Vasco da Gama soccer club, one of the most successful in all of Brazil.
What’s Cool: Vasco played an instrumental role in breaking the color barrier in Brazilian soccer by signing players of African descent in the 1920s.
Chelsea Football Club play smack dab in the middle of swinging London, home to many trendy bars and restaurants. The stadium, called Stamford Bridge, was built in 1904 and offers a cozy atmosphere with a capacity of 42,055. The past decade has been the most successful period in Chelseas history. “The Blues” won Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006 and reached their first UEFA Champions League final in 2008. The Bridge is a stylish stadium for a stylish team.
What’s Cool: It’s like Fenway Park, only with action and noise included.
Allianz Arena, home to FC Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munich, is one of the most exciting new soccer stadiums in the world. Built for the 2006 World Cup, its most characteristic feature is its outer covering — 2,784 diamond-shaped plastic cushions inflated by a constant stream of warm air, and illuminated by 5,344 lamps. On game nights, depending on which team is playing, the entire building glows: red for Bayern, blue for 1860 Munich and white when the arena hosts Germanys national squad. Not only is the stadium cool, but tenants FC Bayern Munich have been known to put on a show for the fans. Bayern has won a record 21 German league titles and four European Championships.
What’s Cool: This stadium is a work of art that needs to be seen to be believed.
A trip to the cold north of Britain to see the Glasgow Rangers Football Club is sure to “put some hairs on yer wee chest.” At Ibrox, 50,500 Rangers fanatics have created one of the most fervent, electric match-day atmospheres in the entire world, and it’s worth a look. Although fans of cross-town rival Glasgow Celtic will beg to differ (will insist on differing, in fact), Rangers FC are the class leaders of Scottish soccer, having won multiple titles.
What’s Cool: Rangers fans love to sing, and their songs are just that — actual songs with melodies, not chants.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, and FC Barcelona is the de facto Catalonian national team. The matches against rival Real Madrid stir up nationalistic passions throughout the region, the result of a schism dating at least to the Spanish Civil War and the autocratic regime of General Francisco Franco. Barcelona is one of the biggest and richest sports teams in the world and plays in the grandest stadium in Europe, the 118,000 seat Nou Camp. Nearly all of the world’s best players have displayed their skills at Nou Camp, and if they haven’t, they probably dream of doing so some day.
What’s Cool: If you attend only one soccer game in your lifetime, see FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid at Nou Camp in Barcelona.