With the EPL kicking off last weekend, and football leagues elsewhere in Europe following suit soon, it's soccer heaven for fans again. And if you want to visit some famous clubs to pay homage, we tell you how to have a ball of a time.
FULL OF HISTORY: A portrait of Barcelona club founder Hans Gamper in the Nou Camp museum next to the Barca crest. [Photo: The New Paper]
THERE'S a museum in Barcelona which draws more than a million visitors each year. You are a winner if you guess it's the Barcelona Football Club Museum in Nou Camp stadium.
Few stadiums can score one over the Nou Camp. Its all-seat capacity of 98,000 makes it Europe's biggest football stadium and the world's third largest.
Which means you are almost certain to get match tickets, provided the game is not a major derby or a top Champions League one. I pick a Sunday night game against local rivals Real Mallorca.
The stadium is easy to reach from the city centre. "It's massive," I gasp as I climb the hulking concrete steps, which date from 1957. Suddenly, I come upon a floodlit crater with a vast lake of green grass.
In the blue and claret seats, an impassioned crowd is already roaring and waving huge flags. The match is intense and the artistry of Barcelona's superstars such as Deco, Eto'o and Ronaldinho ensures a 2-0 win.
The next morning, I am back at Nou Camp, having booked a 45-minute stadium tour for about 10 euros (S$20). An English-speaking guide leads our group of mainly Japanese for a behind-the-scenes look at the changing rooms, the manager's dug-outs, the tunnel and chapel.
The huge museum showcases all the trophies won by the club, which was founded in 1899, and the Olympic torch used in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
There are the boots of Stoichkov, Koeman and Ronaldo, and the shirt worn by one Diego Maradona to gawk at.
Climbing to the lofty press box, we learn this is kept open to the elements at the media's request, so commentators can appreciate the full match atmosphere.
We end up at the superstore which is doing a roaring trade. I marvel at the range of merchandise, from dressing gowns to wine to alarm clocks.
How to kick off
- For tickets, check out website www.fcbarcelona. com/eng/noticias/noticias/n04091410.shtml. Or buy them on the day itself from the ticket box outside the grounds. I pay 33 euros.
- Hot dogs cost a few euros but the queue for them is long. Many local fans pack their own food, usually sandwiches. You can drink beer in your seats.
- The stadium is a few minutes' walk from Collblanc Metro station (L5 Light-Blue).
STAND UP FOR CHELSEA: Exciting moments are to be had at Stamford Bridge, home of the Chelsea Football Club. [Photo: Internet]
STAMFORD BRIDGE: A village in blue
MOST football clubs in England have a ground and sporting goods store but Chelsea Football Club has an entire village.
It spent £200 million to transform Stamford Bridge into Chelsea Village with meeting rooms, five restaurants, the Sports bar and Purple nightclub, the Chelsea World of Sport museum and 291 four-star hotel rooms.
On a recent trip to see Chelsea play Reading, I am caught up in the excitement right from the moment I catch a train in Central London underground station.
Everywhere I look, there are Chelsea fans in blue replica jerseys.
Closer to the stadium, the excitement soars higher with makeshift stalls selling badges, programmes, caps, scarves and jerseys. A crowd gathers round the Ladbrokes betting stand.
Stamford Bridge was built in 1876 for athletics, and became the home of Chelsea Football Club in 1905. The current capacity is 42,055.
I am so full of anticipation that I don't mind being seated so high up that the players are tiny specks on the green.
The game starts at 7.30pm and Chelsea are eventually held to a 2-2 draw by Reading.
There is a lot of cussing and swearing on the train journey back to Central London.
I return the next day to visit the museum, which is billed as a place 'where science meets sport'.
You can have a go at 30 interactive exhibits, including those that test ball control and shooting.
A section devoted to memorabilia has programmes from all the major finals and a replica of every trophy won.
How to kick off
- For tickets, call 08719-841905 (UK) and 00 44 20 7915 2900 (international). Stand tickets at £35 (S$108) to £60 are available at firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum tour runs daily, except on match days, at £15 for adults and £8 for senior citizens and children. Log on to www.chelseaworldofsport.com
- Lining the road towards the stadium are takeaway food shops with names like Blues Chip Shop.
- Stamford Bridge is in Fulham Road in London. The nearest Underground station is Fulham Broadway.
FRIENDLY RIVALRY: Two famous clubs, Inter Milan and AC Milan, share the San Siro stadium happily. [Photo: Internet]
SAN SIRO: They sell baby milk bottles
THERE is a small, chic bar at the North End of the imposing San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. It sells beer and an alcoholic brew called cafe borghetti.
But every Sunday lunchtime, it is empty. While most fans elsewhere like nothing better than a pint of lager to warm up before a match, Italians - especially in cosmopolitan Milan - prefer coffee and conversation.
The cultural difference explains why supporters of two famous clubs - Inter Milan and AC Milan - can share the San Siro and exist in harmony.
Originally, just one Milan club existed in 1899. But in 1908, the club split and the breakaway rebels called themselves Internazionale Milan.
It wasn't until after World War II that the clubs moved in to share the San Siro Stadium, built by tyre millionaire Piero Pirelli.
I have seen it many times on TV but once I am there and looking at the massive stands, I am transfixed. I am there to see AC Milan play Roma in the Italian Cup.
Sloping steeply towards the clouds, the stadium seats 85,000 people. But there are no signs or club crests to alert you that you are in a hotbed of football.
The stadium tour takes me around the stands, the dressing and shower rooms and the tunnel, and provides a big thrill from gaining access to the pitch itself.
I expect the dressing rooms to be swanky but they are basic. I watch video clips and look at the exhibits in the museum before heading to the San Siro Store.
The two shopkeepers are kicking a football around in the empty store and they kick the ball to me when I enter.
The store is memorabilia heaven. You can even buy baby milk bottles - I suppose team loyalty starts from young.
How to kick off
- Tickets for AC Milan games are available from 11.85 euros (S$24.60) to 69.60 euros at www.bestticket.it/ Guided tours take place from Mondays to Saturdays, except on match days. The hours are 10am to 6pm. The fee is 9 euros. Those under 18 and over 65 pay 7 euros.
- Take metro line MM1 to Molino Dorino and alight at Lotto-Fiera2. Or take tram line 16 from Cathedral Square.
Nazir Keshvani is a freelance writer.
Top photo: Reuters