Top 10 Destinations to Experience Football
We have compiled the Top 10 Destinations where you can experience the Beautiful Game in all its Glory, both from a historical perspective and from a participation perspective.
The perfect place to start your football experience is the one of the places frequently associated with football. Spain is the home to the most successful European club, Real Madrid, and another of the most respected clubs in world football, Barcelona. In the first decade of the 21st Century, the Spanish national team benefited, primarily from the footballing revolution occurring under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, from the strength of these 2 teams and won back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup, in between these two triumphs. As a result of this unprecedented success, the Spanish are regarded throughout the world to be at the pinnacle of World football.
Being home to 11 time Champions League winners, Real Madrid, and the home of the two best footballers in World Football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, allows them to attract even more world class talent and the eyes of the World are consistently focused on what Real Madrid and Barcelona can do next. The passion for football in Spain is palpable and has been frequently documented how a relationship between football politics, identity and attitudes towards regionalism in Spain. Indeed, Barcelona is based in the Catalonia region of Spain, which has frequently been the subject of many separatist movements, and a Catalan national team has been established.
In recent years, the emergence of Atletico Madrid as a credible challenger to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and as a result the intrigue in Spanish football has heightened and the world will be constantly looking to Spain for fresh ideas about how the game should be played. A trip to Spain is truly an education of football and homage to the Beautiful Game, rolled into one.
Seen throughout the World as the home of football, where it is indisputably the most popular national sport, and easily their most successful, Brazil is a football mad nation. The 5 times Champion of the World, the most any team has one, has seen the country to be totally gripped by the Beautiful Game, and a style of football that has been revered and admired throughout the world. The phrase ‘joga bonito’ (Portuguese for ‘Play Beautiful’), was used to promote the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and is seen to be synonymous with the style of football that Brazil play.
Brazil has had some truly extraordinary footballers over the years, most of whom used football to lift themselves out of poverty and conquer the world, including Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and most recently Neymar, inspiring each generation of young Brazilians, and indeed youngsters across the world, to follow their dreams and grasp the opportunity when it presents itself. Despite having quite a fragile economic situation in Brazil, recent years have shown promising signs for the country, and the strong sense of national pride in Brazil for the football team, is seen by many to be a uniting force in the Brazilian population, inspiring them to better themselves.
Of all the countries in the world, football has had undeniably the greatest positive impact in Brazil, despite the economic impact of the last World Cup being a negative impact. It outlines a possible route out of poverty for various people of talent in a society, and with the correct management and redistribution of the wealth and attention that is attracted, a country can develop together.
If you want to go and experience the growing popularity of football throughout the world, the USA should be example number one. Since the turn of the century the increasing popularity and demise of the established American sports in terms of ranking has been widely documented. With the growing influence of European football in America, with former players being imported into the country and the increase in football on television has seen the American public become captivated by the Beautiful Game.
With the increasing demand for ‘soccer’ in America, the countries national football league, the MLS, has been witnessed in the stands, as attendances have increased by 64% since the turn of the Century, although it still lags behind the attendance of NFL games, which averages 67,000, compared to 20,000 for MLS. However, there is a growing feeling that because of the controversy surrounding Concussion’s and subsequent Brain Damage prevalent amongst contact sports such as American ‘gridiron’ football, which some commentators are speculating could lead to ‘soccer’ taking the mantle as most popular sport in America.
This increase in popularity has been reflected in the increased revenue from major tournaments that television channels recoup from increased advertising responding to increased viewership. Fox television network earned $40 million from the Women’s World Cup, which America won in spectacular fashion, and the Men’s National Team got to the Last 16 in Brazil 2014, further than England. Indeed, popularity amongst 12-17 year olds is second only to Basketball in America, and participation has increased drastically. There are an estimated 3 million 12 – 17 year olds registered to play in America, and there are more than 80 Soccer Development Academy’s that teach kids about international football, and can be a feeding academy for MLS and European football.
The opportunity to become involved in the emerging market of American ‘soccer’, is surely something special to become a part of, whether it be on a voluntary basis, or even turning pro, will allow individuals to excel in a widely loved sport and help to develop the emergence of a new national obsession.
Apart from being a simply stunning country to visit, ideally located next to the Mediterranean, guaranteeing an ample amount of year round sunshine, Italy is also the home of one of the most successful National teams in the world, whilst also having a proud history of producing impressive football teams, with legendary players. Having an ardent reputation for building their teams on an impregnable defence, they have won the World Cup a remarkable 4 times, second only to Brazil.
The pride that Italy has for its National team reflects their passion and pride they have in their own country. Commonly referred to as ‘Forza Azzuri’, they play at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and have a strong tradition of being a formidable tournament team, built on the success of their strongest domestic clubs. Juventus, based in Turin, is the most successful domestic football club, and are the current champions, with both Internazionale (Inter Milan) and AC Milan joint second in terms of domestic success.
A trip to Italy, to immerse yourself in the football culture of the country, whilst also experiencing the national culture, would have to include Rome, Milan and Turin. With the Colosseum and the Pantheon, in Rome, being large tourist attractions in themselves, and the glitz and glamour of Milan, a trip to Italy doesn’t just cater to one type of individual and truly has something for
To fully understand the intricacy and complexity of modern football tactics and styles of play, Holland is the best place to start. Holland is the birthplace of Total Football, a method of playing football that shows how best for teams to win games by creating a system where every player could play in every position, with the one fixed position being goalkeeper. Created at the beginning of the 20th Century, the influence of this ground-breaking tactical theory is unparalleled, and most recently was central to the infamous tiki-taka style of play, made famous by Pep Guardiola and Co. at Barcelona, from 2008 to 2012, a team that is widely regarded to be one of the best teams of all time.
The proud footballing tradition in Holland stems from Amsterdam, and in particular, Ajax, the club where the likes of Jack Reynolds, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, made their names and established and developed the Dutch style of football. The strength and success of this method has been successfully demonstrated in the club level of football, however, unfortunately the success of the National team doesn’t reflect this quite so well. Despite having reached 3 World Cup Finals, they are yet to win one (that’s actually a record), and they have one European Championship to their name.
Furthermore, Amsterdam is a world renowned tourist hotspot, with plenty of sightseeing to be done, all to help you immerse in the wider Dutch culture. The intricate canal system and history of fantastic art makes for a truly stunning city, with the football heritage of Ajax providing an undertone, which to the ardent football fan, is hard to miss.
Despite Pele making the bold claim that an African nation would win the World Cup by the end of the 20th Century, the state of football, and in particular its infrastructure, is somewhat lagging to far behind the potential the continent undoubtedly has. Being the country’s, and indeed the continents, most popular sport, Football is at the forefront of many young men and women’s thoughts, at some level. The children of entire neighbourhoods play amongst themselves in the streets outside their homes, and their national team is idealised.
As a result, Ghana’s greatest footballing attraction is, similar to that of America’s, in a sense of laying the foundation at grassroots level so that the country can thrive on the national stage. The benefit of going to Ghana over America is that because the infrastructure and economic clout of Ghana is dwarfed by that of America, getting involved is less rigorous and so becoming part of a special story is a golden opportunity, not to be missed. By signing up for voluntary coaching roles abroad, you can help to lay the foundations for future development of Ghana’s next generation of footballing talent.
What makes Ghana such an attractive destination, apart from its stunning scenery and fantastic weather, is that it has a rich footballing pedigree. The four-time Africa Cup of Nations Champions, have also qualified for the past 3 World Cup’s showing that progress is happening. The next step should surely be for the country’s domestic league to try and retain its talent and develop their players further.
A country with a rich and proud footballing heritage, Germany is the current holders of the World Cup and is the home to one of the most consistently competitive domestic club, Bayern Munich. Being tied on second for the most World Cup’s won, with Italy on 4, demonstrates the strong tradition that Germany has of constantly producing successful football teams, and doing it in style. The top scorer at World Cup’s is a German, Miroslav Klose, and in the top 6, half of the players are German, with Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer joining Klose.
Furthermore, the Germans are the only team to have won both the Men’s and the Women’s World Cup, demonstrating that their passion for the game isn’t based solely on gender. Domestically, Bayern Munich dominate, having won 25 Bundesliga title’s, 17 DFB Cups (their equivalent of the FA Cup) and 5 Champions League titles, demonstrating the strong prowess in competition that German teams have.
Not only being a fantastic international reputation for football, Germany is also a very beautiful country with an interesting and varied history. Whether it be the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, or the Heidelberg Castle in Heidelberg, there is something for everyone to keep the trip varied and dynamic, if football doesn’t keep everyone interested whilst on the trip.
When it comes to footballing dominance in South America, only one team has more pedigree than Argentina … and it’s not Brazil! Uruguay’s 15 Copa America’s trumps Argentina’s 14, and is comfortably ahead of Brazil on 8. However, both Brazil and Argentina have more of an international presence than Uruguay with 5 and 2 trophies won, respectively, compared to the solitary Uruguayan triumph in 1930.
For Argentinian’s, football is a way of life and a chance for them to unite, whether it be supporting their favourite clubs or supporting the national team. Indeed, 90% of Argentinian’s ‘pledge allegiance’ to a local football club, demonstrating how widespread the football bug is spread in Argentina. Furthermore, Argentina has produced some of the most gifted players ever to grace a football pitch, namely Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stéfano, to name but a few.
The two most famous clubs in Argentina, River Plate and Boca Juniors, have seen some truly brilliant footballers grace their turf in recent years, namely Radamel Falcao and Javier Mascherano (both River Plate) and Carlos Tevez and Rodrigo Palacio (both Boca Juniors).
From the country that gave us the tango, the style of football that Argentinian’s predominantly export is an artistic and free moving style, commonly called Creole Football. For generations, Argentinian’s have proceeded to captivate the imagination of the world through their style of play and continues to inspire their compatriots on the streets of Buenos Aires, where street football unearths the most unlikely of hidden gems. Like Brazil, Argentina can use football to lift itself to higher economic development and better circumstances.
9. South Africa
In the Summer of 2010, the world witnessed and was enchanted by the stunning beauty of South Africa, and the passion this amazing country has for the Beautiful Game. When Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the tournament against Mexico, the only people in the world that didn’t celebrate were Mexican. The World Cup demonstrated the talent that lies within Africa and having the eyes of the World turned towards the country can only have enhanced the reputation of South Africa as the truly hospitable place that it is.
Although South Africa is relatively developed, compared to the rest of Africa, it still is lacking in the infrastructure required at a local level. This is apparent when you understand that, unlike the UK, sport is only taught at the very elite, fee-paying schools, and so for a vast amount of the population, the access to sport is limited. As a result, a way to get involved in football in a country so in love with the game as South Africa, is to volunteer to train the kids at the schools that don’t offer it themselves.
By doing this, you can be a part of the development of a national obsession with a brilliant game. It was South Africa’s most famous President, Nelson Mandela, who once said that ‘Sport has the power to change the world’, and with these powerful words ringing in the ears of a nation, the passion and desire to follow their talents, can drive the next generation of footballers to the top of their craft. South Africa doesn’t have the history to rival Spain or Brazil, but it has the passion to join the world stage in a sport that is revered in the Rainbow Nation.
One of the hidden/forgotten gems of the history of football is the ‘Mighty Magyars’ or ‘Golden Team’ of the 1950’s, that ended up writing their very own chapter of footballing history. This team was developed around a core group of six players, who were Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltán Czibor, József Bozsik and Gyula Grosics. The tactics that were employed at the time were revolutionary, and were inspired from the same line of thinking that came from Total Football in Holland.
Furthermore, Hungary is a stunningly beautiful with a rich culture. Its landscape is pretty and undulating, whereas its architecture is phenomenal. In Hungary, you can expect to find baroque churches, Art Nouveau bathhouses and schools, Roman ruins and neoclassical public buildings, to both amaze and inspire you. With a rich and varied culture, there is always something to do, if the football doesn’t quite grab your attention.
Football’s current story, still owes quite a bit to the Hungarian history. FIFA’s Goal of the Year award is actually called the Puskás award, in recognition of the goal scoring feats of Ferenc Puskás. The legacy that this team has left in Hungary has been one that has been proven difficult to live up to, but still continues to inspire the masses, and for football nerds, Hungary is a must see.
If you want to follow your passion for football and share your passion for the Beautiful Game with the rest of the world, why not start your adventure with us, by checking out what we have to offer, here.
Photo's courtesy of:wikipedia, itv (credit:PA), getty images, penalty-kick.com, fifa, football-bible, football.wellknowncelebrities.com,
goal.com, bbc.co.uk, worldcupbrazil.net, media.philstar.com, generationadidasinternational.com, PA, english.ahram.org.eg, pinterest.com
''I would never have thought about going to St Lucia on a sports gap year but I am glad I did. The kids were just amazing and had real passion for the game. I really felt I contributed massively to the development of these young players and I look forward to booking my next trip back to see how they have progressed."Joe Page , Rugby Union, St Lucia
''I have been playing rugby for a number of years through school and university and this experience was a perfect way of sharing my knowledge with a great bunch of young people. The kids really took to the game and working alongside the National Rugby Team is another experience I will never forget. Thanks to everyone involved in organising this fantastic sporting opportunity''.Paul Adams , Rugby Union, St Lucia
"What an amazing 8 weeks had on the rugby coaching placement in Ghana. The kids were just so receptive to what I taught them and there is some serious skill in Ghana! I've made friends for life and this rwho experience really has set me up for wanting to become a sports coach in the future".Rob Davies , Rugby Union, Ghana
"Training in the Ghana heat is a challenge but so worth it. My fitness has improved 10 fold. Working with the young rugby lads was excellent and seeing my team score a winning try has to have been a highlight. Ghana has some amazing places to see and if you like Baboons then a visit to Mole National Park is a must".Phil Hall , Rugby Union, Ghana
''I made a difference by encouraging children and adults to believe that everyone has some degree of talent... and to believe in that talent.''Stuart Garrett , Rugby Union, Ghana
''What they don’t have in skill, they certainly make up for in speed and determination. Ghana also has some very promising youngsters and it has been really exciting, and a real privilege, to share my knowledge of the game with them.''Doug Graham , Rugby Union, Ghana
“Coaching rugby to underprivileged children is a very rewarding experience. I am seriously considering coming back here and staying longer. It’s such a great place and there is so much to do!”Luke Norfolk , Rugby Union, South Africa
“I’ve had the best three months of my life! I would definitely recommend it! Thank you.”Philippa Tollit , Swimming, South Africa
"Being able to teach kids how to swim has to have been one of my most significant moments in life. From seeing 12 year old kids fearful of water on day one to being able to swim full lengths of the pool with confidence after 5 weeks was just incredible. You also know that you are giving these kids a gift for life".Neil Dennison , Swimming, Ghana
"I have had the best three months in Ghana ever! Working a living alongside local Ghanaians and seeing a completely different way of life will live with me forever. My project in helping kids learn how to swim was so rewarding too and it has really made me think about what I want to do when I get home with my future career and working with young people. Thanks to everyone involved and I look forward to coming back to my African home again one day."Sarah Dunbury , Swimming, Ghana
''I really enjoyed the tennis coaching and was amazed at the standard of tennis and the dedication of the children. And they always had a smile on their face too.''Charlotte Wallis , Tennis, Ghana
''Ghanaians are friendly in a way that is almost unheard of in the West. They are extremely affectionate and, once you have got used to it, you can be just as friendly back.''Graeme Acheson , Tennis, Ghana
''I feel really fulfilled that I have aided less fortunate people in giving them a chance to play tennis in the first place and to offer assistance with my coaching knowledge to help the development of the sport in Ghana.''Sal Bolton , Tennis, Ghana
''It was a seriously amazing trip that I will never forget. So thanks for what all you guys have done, and thanks for making it such an unforgettable trip!''Christian Dorin , Tennis, Ghana
“It was an incredible experience coaching the children in Port Elizabeth – they are so enthusiastic about learning to play tennis. Their energy levels are amazing and they had improved greatly by the time I left.”Dave Leicester , Tennis, South Africa
“One of the best experiences of my life! I just can’t believe how enthusiastic and grateful the kids were to learn and play Ultimate. The talent was awesome too – some were naturals! I can’t wait to come back to South Africa one day and see how my players are getting on.”Miles Jackson , Ultimate Frisbee, South Africa
"I've had the best few weeks of my life. The kids loved learning volleyball and in turn I loved every bit of my experience!"James Taylor , Volleyball, Ghana
"Coaching Rugby out here has definitely been one of the best experiences of my life. Met some awesome people and really enjoyed the country. Really kind host family made me feel v-welcome. Would definitely like to come back one day!"Tim Wace , Rugby Union, Argentina
"Taking my love of tennis to Argentina was a dream come true. I will never forget this once in a life time opportunity to play and coach tennis to a range of abilities in such a great country. Thanks to all who were part of this".Ceri Newman , Tennis, Argentina
"The sports tour that Sporting Opportunities arranged for us was perfect. South Africa was a great country and having the mix of playing against locals as well as coaching sport to kids in the townships was a nice balance. Doing two weeks in South Africa has made a number of us want to come back for a longer stint on one of your 5 week volunteer coaching projects so look out for us. Thanks to all involved".Dan Long: Football Captain , Volleyball, South Africa