This article was first written back in 2011 but is one of the top five viewed posts I’ve ever published – if you view it in terms of population of the highest ranked country, then everyone there would have read it….twice. Below was the original article and ranking back then with an update today to see how things have changed in the last eight years.
Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport. His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”. He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league. In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position. Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn. You name it, he knew the answer. He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game. He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe. His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-
Celtic, Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.
But this meeting got me thinking. Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league? My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.
So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were. Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.
- Population figures were taken from the CIA database
- To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
- Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
- I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league. However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.
The results were indeed very surprising. The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23). There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe. So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style lets countdown from 10 to 1.
10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000. Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential. One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position. However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years.
2019 update – Switzerland has now dropped out of the top ten, falling to 11th place as of the end of the 2018/19 season, replaced by Sweden. Average attendance was 11,273 but for the first time in nearly 20 years, the best supported club wasn’t FC Basel. Champions Young Boys of Berne averaged 25,781 last season perhaps indicating a shift in power in the Alps? Oh, and Neuchâtel Xamax FCS have been born out of the ashes of the original club and are now playing in the Super League, whilst neither team from Zurich has finished in top spot.