When someone says that he is going on a pilgrimage to Europe, it may not always mean the visit of the famous churches there. For the ardent devotees of football (soccer), Europe is a good destination for a pilgrimage. Visiting the famous football stadiums dotting the European nations will be almost a divine experience for the football aficionados. The mere sight of a famous football stadium could flood them with the euphoria akin to watching a match live.
Most of the European football clubs have their own stadium. These home grounds are usually open to visitors when there is no match going on. A tour inside the stadium needs to be booked in advance and it is not free. These are guided tours and the guides are normally the second or third generation club members who as toddlers had taken their first baby steps inside the home stadium. For them, these stadiums are like their homes.
The tour begins at the entrance. After a welcome speech and a brief introduction, the visitors are taken inside the stadium. Different stadiums have different layout. Many of them have a museum. The important milestones of the club will be showcased here with the assistance of audio-visual aids. This is followed by a visit of the dressing room. The jersey, boots, gloves etc. of the players will be shown to the visitors. Many of these tours also include a meal inside the dining area of the stadium. The dining area, which is mostly on the first level of the stadium, offers nothing less than the luxury of star hotels. Some of these dining rooms can host up to 200 visitors at a time. The VIP gallery and dining area may not be accessible with normal ticket.
The next is the visit to the gallery itself. This must be the most exciting part of the tour for a football addict. A true football enthusiast will feel the roar of the crowd and the overall festive ambience of a football match even as the multi-coloured seats are all vacant and the lush green carpet of the pitch is devoid of football and the players. The imagery of various European league matches the fans had seen only on television will all come flooding back to their mind.
Many of these stadiums have what is known as a terrace. This is a part of the gallery behind the goal post where there will not be many seats. This is the area for watching the match while standing. Some of these terraces can accommodate something like 15,000 to 20,000 standing football fans. This large terrace is for the home crowd. There will be a smaller terrace behind the opposite goal post for the fans of the ‘away’ team. These smaller terraces usually accommodate 3000 to 5000 fans. The ticket rate for the terraces is lower than that for the main gallery. The rates are even lesser for the unemployed in Europe. The clubs sensibly give special consideration to the unemployed.
The tour will take the visitors right up to the edge of the pitch. Entry into the pitch is not allowed but some clubs allow the visitors to sit and take photos by the side bench where the extra players, the coach, managers etc. sit during the match. Going behind the goal posts and touching the net etc. are not allowed by most clubs. It is the time to see and feel the empty stadium and the silence within. The guides though will keep giving the commentary.
Towards the end of the tour, the visitors are taken out through the souvenir shop. The home team’s products are sold here. A lot of souvenirs like the team jersey, key chains, caps, dolls, scarves, CDs, books etc. can be bought here. Many of these souvenir shops facilitate printing the visitor’s name on the team jersey if required. Many of these shops are interactive and any amount of time can be spent here.
The souvenir shops generate a lot of revenue for the clubs. Even the pieces of grass collected from the pitch while mowing and levelling are on sale. These grass blades are cut into a uniform size and treated with preservatives. They are then stuck on a surface and the whole thing is encased in cute glass boxes. These glass boxes can cost anything like 30 or 40 Euros. For a football fan, this is still a proud and invaluable trophy. The grass blades from Camp Nou, the home ground of the Spanish football club Barcelona for example will be like a treasure for a Messi fan. His boots had once graced those grass blades.
Veltins Arena, the home ground of the football club Schalke 04 of the German league has a chapel inside the stadium complex. Built on demand from the club members and fans, this chapel conducts wedding ceremonies, baptism etc. There is one condition though. No one is allowed to enter the chapel with the team jersey.
Every stadium will have some specialities and some emotional bonding with the fans. Some of the stadium fans dream to visit include the home grounds of the Spanish giants- Camp Nou of FC Barcelona and Santiago Bernabeu of FC Real Madrid. The Allianz Arena of the super team FC Bayern Munich and the Signal Iduna Park of the club Borussia Dortmund, both of Germany, are also worth visiting. The San Siro stadium belonging to the big Italian clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan may also be the dream of many fans of these clubs. The Stad De France in Paris and the Wembley Stadium in London are also very popular among the tourists.
If visiting these stadiums in August when the European League season starts, the electrifying atmosphere of the football matches can be enjoyed. The tickets will need to be booked online in May or June. At 11 Euro and upward, the German League Bundesliga, which is also the league most prolific in goal-scoring, must be one of the cheapest. The cheapest of the English Premier League matches may cost anything upward of 35 Euro.