There are hundreds of teams in England and over 140 leagues! Each team has its own stadium, and over the course of a season, it plays every other team twice--in its own stadium for home games and in the opposing team’s stadium for away games. Here are the four predominant leagues in order:
Sometimes called the Premiership or Barclay’s (the sponsors) Premier League. It consists of 20 teams that play each other twice, equalling 38 games for each team in a season. (Premier League website)
Used to be called Division 1, this league is sponsored by ‘Sky Bet’--as are the other leagues listed below. This league consists of 24 teams that play one another 46 times.
Consists of 24 teams that play 46 games.
Also consists of 24 teams playing 46 games.
The football season starts in the middle of August and continues through to May. Alongside the leagues, there are two knock-out competitions played between English teams. The important one is the FA Cup, and the less important one, the Capital One Cup. These are the ‘domestic’ competitions.
During football season, European competitions also take place. A selection of the previous season's top-placed teams take part in the Champion’s league and the Uefa cup with other top-placed teams in Europe. The Champion’s league is seen as the highest honour a team can achieve, as it must beat the best of Europe. Countries such as Italy, Spain, and Germany can almost match the English for footballing passion!
TEAMS TO KNOW
Here’s a brief guide to the top teams in the Premier League (the most popular league), their rivalries, nicknames, and things to say if you ever meet a fan!
A north London club known as the ‘gunners’, their fans affectionately called ‘gooners’. Their rivals are Tottenham Hotspur, and there is always a great match between them. In 2003-4 they went a record 49 matches unbeaten, earning the nickname ‘the Invincibles’, even more impressively, they did so playing free-flowing, fast, and creative football. Song: ‘One-nil, to the Arsenal!’
Man Utd - the ‘Red Devils’ - have dominated English football for years and are known all over the world as one of the biggest franchises not only in England but the world. Despite their popularity, you won’t find much affection for them amongst rival teams, owing to their ‘win at all costs’ mentality and incredible success. Their rivals are none other than…
“Blue moon, now I’m no longer alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” So goes the song for Man City, a team that plays in sky-blue shirts and since being bought by wealthy Saudi Arabians, are known for spending big on players. Their superstar team won the league in 2012 with a memorably dramatic, last-minute-of-the-season goal!
The Beatles, the Mersey, and the Kop (a famous terrace in Anfield) singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ - these are the first things that come to mind when thinking of Liverpool. Their team was one of the best in the world throughout the 70s, and they earned a worldwide reputation in places like Europe, Africa, and South America. Since then, they have been patchy on the field, but their renown and allure still resonates.
There are few places in the UK that you can experience the kind of buzz and sense of community that surrounds a stadium on match day. Wherever you are, the process is usually the same. Games tend to be at 3 pm on a Saturday, and the morning will usually see replica shirt-wearing fans proceeding toward the stadium (and the pubs!) in groups. Various teams and stadiums tend to have somewhat different atmospheres, and you can almost tell the expectations of the coming game from the level of tension and joviality in the air!
The atmosphere after the match entirely depends on the result! A bad one will see hung heads traipse to the pubs for a post-match analysis, whereas a good one will see raised heads chant their way to the pubs for a post-match analysis! As such, you never quite know what the atmosphere will be like just as you never know how the match will turn out - but if you choose smartly, it can be quite euphoric! I remember vividly being there when Arsenal won the league in 2004; huge crowds poured out of pubs into the surrounding streets, singing and dancing, standing on cars, and expressing their love for the team. It was like Notting Hill Carnival in May!
HOW TO SEE A MATCH
The process of arranging to see a match varies somewhat between teams. The first thing you need to do is find your team’s stadium and decide on the match - make sure to check if the game is ‘Home’ or ‘Away’. (Usually the first team named is the home team, e.g. Tottenham vs Man Utd would be played at Tottenham’s ground). Most modern stadiums have good facilities including wheelchair access, though be aware that parking is often very scarce on a match day. (You’ll often see people leaving a match 5 or 10 minutes early just to avoid the rush!) Larger teams can often cause quite a bit of traffic in the surrounding area. The best way to travel to and from stadiums is by public transport, and stadiums in cities tend to be located near tube stations and bus stops.
The next step is to buy tickets. Unless the team you’d like to watch is smaller, or the match is unlikely to be very popular, then it’s never a good idea to buy your tickets at the stadium. It’s difficult to judge when a stadium will be sold out, but the process of buying a ticket at the stadium can take quite a lot of time and tickets are often cheaper if bought in advance.
Most stadiums usually have snacks and drinks available, but the quality can vary wildly, and as expected, it won’t be cheap! It’s a good idea to eat before you head out, and possibly bring something with you. Pubs and diners in the area will usually be quite busy also, but you’ll usually find some very good places to eat and drink around stadiums.
Be sure to pick up a program when you arrive. It’s a small magazine that usually features articles and information on the players, managers, and the situation they find themselves in. You can glean pretty much everything you need to know about the game from a program, and they make a nice souvenir - people even collect them! Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, join in a chant, or get enthusiastic about the team. Supporters are only too happy to explain their views on players, managers, and results. Never underestimate how invested fans are in their teams!
That’s all you need to know to have a great time at a football game! If you like the UK and its culture, seeing a football match is one of the most British things you can experience, and will give you real insight into how British people think. I’ll leave you with a quote from ex-Liverpool manager Bill Shankly that sums it up perfectly: 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’
Johnny Peters was born and raised in East London, and it's still the place he calls home when he isn't travelling. He has worked as a musician, teacher, and librarian. Currently, he is writing a novel set on the very streets he grew up in.