The most passionate football nation in Europe


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.

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Willem, it was really something


“The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down
oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down

And everybody’s got to live their life
and God knows I’ve got to live mine
God knows I’ve got to live mine”

There’s not many places more depressing than a Dutch town centre at 10am on a Sunday morning.  That is unless it is also a National Holiday.  The excesses of the previous night’s hi-jinx were slowly wearing off, thanks to the cold rain as we wandered the streets of Eindhoven looking for somewhere, anywhere to get some breakfast.  We’d declined the €17 “all you could eat Continental” offering at the hotel,

Finally, we came up trumps.  The Restaurant De Volder was not only open, but the lovely waitresses were almost begging us to come into the warm, flashing their hot Dutch muffins at us.  We all remember the De Volder, right?  Well, perhaps not the restaurant itself, but its outside tables and chairs made a number of appearances across global media channels in June 2000 when England fans decided to use them to launch at the Dutch fans and police prior to the European Championship game against Portugal.  Dave was tempted to re-create the scene but we pointed out that he simply didn’t have enough Stone Island on to be taken credibly.

I can see a hand up at the back. Yes?  Ah, why were we in Eindhoven on a National Holiday I hear you ask.  Well, pull up a seat and let me explain.  Danny said it was what we had to do.  “Stu, do you know Holland has gone craft beer crazy?”  I assumed he had just discovered that Heineken also made Amstel, but no, he was right.  His book “Which countries have gone craft beer crazy” list The Netherlands as a new entry in the top five, pop-pickers.  So that was it, I was sold.  So too was Kenny Legg, hot-footing it from Berlin and a new addition to our gang, Dave who coming from Manchester, had grown up from a teet-filled with Boddingtons.

Oh, and there was the small matter of some football too.  The original plan involved seeing the holy trinity of Dutch football.  PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord.  But then pesky TV coverage got in the way and we had to make some difficult choices with conflicting priorities.  But there was still going to be beer, so it was all right.

16599055966_cfb0bb8745_zSaturday morning and Danny & I met our advance party, who had arrived 24 hours earlier and taken in the Eindhoven FC game, in a bar obviously.  Nothing unusual about that, nor was drinking 9% beer at 2pm.  Seemed a strange choice from Kenny and Dave.  Then we saw the attraction.  A steady stream of young ladies coming through the doors and making their way to “the back room”.  Our minds were racing, Kenny was already pulling on his “hot fireman’s outfit” (his words, not ours) and grabbing a bottle of baby oil.  Alas, the steamiest thing happening in the room was the teapot in the middle of the table.  Ladies who luck, Dutch style.

Our first destination for the weekend was Sittard, a 45 minute (2 can strategy) train ride away, home of Wim Hof or “Iceman” as he is known as, not because of his cool composure under pressure, or the fact he is a look-a-like from Top Gun.  But because he once walked to within 7km of the summit of Mount Everest wearing a small pair of shorts.  It is also the home of Francine Houben, creator of Mecano.  Sittard is a rocking place I can tell you.  Danny had done his research and our first pre-match warm-up location promised a craft beer list as long as your arm.  For sake of brevity, below is an edited conversation that took place between Danny and said landlord:-

“Do you have any of these beers?” Danny shows a list on his phone

“Yes”

“Which ones?”

“Which ones do you want to try?”

“Well, if I know which ones you have then I can let you have them”

Enter Stuart – “Danny, they have Maximus on draft.  That’s on the list”

“We don’t have any Maximus.  The beer pump is just for display”

Danny, sighing..“Do you have a beer list?”

“No….you really do not understand how craft beer works, do you?”

Enter Kenny with a beer list that was on every table “Can I have four Le Trapp Blonde’s?”

“Yes”

As we speak, world-famous playwright and good friend of this website, Patrick Marber, is writing a script for a play that will be put on at the Domnar Warehouse based on the very scene in Sittard.

16434882400_07987e219f_zA few other craft beers later, all of which were on the beer menu, we headed to the Offermans Joosten Stadion, a significantly better name than its previous identity of the Trendwork Arena.  I may not be selling it very well by saying it is an out-of-town, out of the box, identikit stadium with no soul or character.  The club, having survived numerous financial problems seem rooted in the Eereste Division, the second tier of Dutch football, having been relegated from the top tier in 2002 – the Sheffield Wednesday of the league if you like.  The fans, wrapped up warm on a cold and wet night in the far corner of The Netherlands made their way to the stadium, with hope rather than expectation, of a win against the visitors FC Almere City.

Fortuna Sittard 1 FC Almere City 2 – Offermans Joosten Stadion – Saturday 21st February 2015
The Fortuna Sittard website summed up this game perfectly when they said “Op uiterst onfortuinlijke wijze heeft Fortuna Sittard de thuiswedstrijd tegen Almere City FC verloren.” Or, we were robbed.  An 88th minute winner for the away team was rough justice perhaps, but Fortuna paid the price of not putting their chances away.

16414595207_b709b20dfe_zBeing a Dutch ground, we had to get munted up before we could indulge in some traditional refreshments.  These strange plastic coins almost serve no purpose when you think about it. 2 munts cost €1.  A beer costs 2 munts, therefore why not simply charge €2 for a beer?  Logic?  We didn’t complain though, although the walk to the top of the stand holding four of them, plus a couple of Frikadelle in each pocket was problematic.

The home fans tried to raise the team’s performance but ultimately they fell short (the team not the fans).  Almere took a 24th minute lead when Bode Wine (brother of Red and White) scored from close range. Somewhere in the stadium a few away fans made some noise, but that was drowned out three minutes later when Connech equalised, following up like all good strikers should when a shot hit the post.

Alas, there was (almost) last-minute heartache for the 2,000 fans when Ahannach scored from close range and sent the away coach, Fred Grim into frenzied delight that his name suggests.

Despite it only being 9.30pm, Sittard was officially shut.  The only source of heat was a Dominos pizza.  Saturday night appears to be a non-event in these parts.  Our only option was a train back to Eindhoven.

Of course, Eindhoven delivered in large dollops, with the hedonistic delights of Stratumseind delivering on every level.  We turned our back on the ear-splitting Europop bars, taking solace in the 100+ different beers in the BierProfessor and The Jack.  Heck, we even indulged in the Dutch’s third most popular past time, football being the first, the second being….well, we’ve all seen the window displays in Amsterdam.

So back to the future on Sunday morning in the cafe.  Our original plan for the weekend was PSV at home Saturday, then a trip to see Willem II v Ajax on Sunday lunchtime then Feyenoord on Sunday evening.  The reality was essentially all three ending up playing at the same time.  Logic would have seen us make the 10 minute walk through the city centre to the PSV Stadion, but we don’t do logic so we were heading to Tilburg to watch Ajax play on and off the pitch.

16434816068_621aca3d46_zIf Eindhoven was dead, then Tilburg at midday was in Rigor Mortis.  We knocked up a bar owner, not in THAT way – he was in his mid-fifties and well passed his child-bearing years) before heading down to Koning II Stadion.  Ajax’s fearsome reputation seemed to have been lost on the locals who were happily going about their Sunday afternoon, cycling and eating pancakes. But the closer you got to the stadium, the more the atmosphere built.  In the club bar, with the obligatory Europop playing, fans were discussing the recent revelations about match fixing (well, that’s what it sounded like over a soundtrack of Melissa Tkatz and Franky Gee).  In early 2015, journalists from the publication Volkskrant revealed that Willem II had been involved in games that appeared to have been influenced by an “Asian gambling syndicate” in regard to games against Ajax and Feyenoord, played over five years previous. Not much the current owners, players and officials of the club can do about that now.

Willem II Tilburg 1 Ajax 1 – Koning II Stadion – Sunday 22nd February 2015
This was certainly the hottest ticket in town, with the game sold out.  The sun was shining, the fans were singing and the beer was flowing.  You can’t beat a day out like this.  A draw was a fair result as both teams seemed to struggle to break down each other’s midfield.  Champions Ajax came into the game off the back of a tricky Europa League tie in Poland just three days previous and took the lead in the first half when Milik’s low shot found the corner of the net.

16621235692_d41fdf74cc_zAfter the break Tilburg upped their game and grabbed an equaliser when Messaoud and could well have gone on to win the game.  At full-time there was the usual confrontation between the two sets of fans across two sets of security fences and police but it was all good-natured (as good-natured as it can be in these parts anyway).

Our night, well afternoon really, was young and we headed for the bright light of the city centre (there is only one – Cafe Kandinsky) for a couple of well-earned beers before heading back to Eindhoven. One last tip – if you ever find yourself in Eindhoven, forget the bars in Stratumseind and head to Van Moll for one of the best evenings ever, surrounded by over 50 beers.  Lovely stuff – not my words, but those of Kenny “AITINPOT” Legg.

You see – it’s not always about the football…..

Five things from….Brazil 0 Netherlands 3


We all know this is the game that neither team really wants to play. I’m sure a lot of the Dutch team would want to be on a beach somewhere, enjoying a week or so of R & R before they all sign for Manchester United (well, apart from RVP of course).  For Brazil they can’t go anywhere – they have to live with the crushing disappointment for the rest of their careers.  But history has shown that this game tends to have some drama.  Hakan Suker’s 11 second goal in 2002 against South Korea, Sweden scoring four in the first half against Bulgaria in 1994 and five goals in South Africa four years ago.  Surely there was no drama left in this tournament?

1. Homer – 90 second in and you couldn’t have asked for a clearer professional foul as Thiago Silva brought Robben down, although of course he went down as if he had been shot. No doubt it was a foul yet there was still some hesitation from the referee.  That wasn’t in the plan, you could see him thinking.  Straight red for Silva?  Er no, a feeble yellow.  Good to see Brazil’s tournament will end as it started with dubious decisions given by referees about penalties.

photo (2)2. Side Show Bob – Nothing like being in the spotlight to really show your qualities.  I remember punching above my weight when I played for a number of sides in my youth.  You naturally raise your game.  But here is David Luiz, fresh from leading the Brazilian defence into the worst defeat in their history, perfectly setting up Blind for the second goal with the most ridiculous header.  The PSG owners must be trying ever trick in the book to get the €40 cheque stopped.

3. Big Phil – Why?  Why is he called that?  He is less than 6 feet tall.  Granted that is taller than your average man, but he is hardly a giant is he?  In terms of other Phil’s, he is smaller than Thompson, Windsor and Oakey.  Big head perhaps, or just a made up nickname by the media to give him some colour.

4. Premier League – Best Premier League player in the World Cup Finals?  My shout would be Tim Howard, who was outstanding for the US although when I asked Twitter, the hands-down answer was Ron Vlaar.  Can’t fault him for his solid defensive performance but can you give the award to someone who essentially has been an unmoveable object?

5. ITV v BBC – “Join us tomorrow night for the World Cup Final, with Andy Townsend”.  If there was ever five words to make you shudder in fear it is “World Cup Final” and “Andy Townsend”. Fortunately, BBC are also showing the game which means 75% of the watching British public will choose the advert-free, Chiles-free, “it’s going to be emotional”-free BBC.  I’d even welcome Robbie Savage on my screen over Townsend.  Sorry ITV but BBC have been the winners again in the footballing stakes.

 

Five things from….Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0


The quarter-finals haven’t yet set the competition alight after such a barn-storming group stage.  So far the games have gone to form and there was little chance that the final game would throw up a surprise.  Whilst our hearts may have wanted Costa Rica, the 66/1 outsiders, to progress, it would take a super human effort for them to outwit the Dutch.  They’ve been what has been good and bad in the tournament so far.  Good – the domination over world champions Spain and THAT goal by Van Persie and then the Bad – Robben falling over whenever someone coughs in Brazil.  Say it like it is – irrespective of how talented he may be, he is a cheat.  Cheats never prosper is the saying….try explaining that one to your kids when Robben takes home millions of pounds every year.

1. The Dutch Bench – Surely smartest bench of the World Cup?  Immaculately turned out in their blue jackets and orange ties.  Looking like secret service agents on a dress-down Friday. Two hours after they walked out onto the pitch they still looked as “smart as the Man from Burtons” as my Mum would say. There is no dignity in a pensioner wearing a tracksuit.

2. “Intriguing” – When any commentator says the game is intriguing then it is time to go and make a cup of tea.  Why don’t they simply say it is a shocker – it is what we are all saying and thinking.   And then when it is still goal less with 10 minutes to go it changes to a game with a “Grandstand finish”…what on earth does that mean?  To mean that just conjures up images of Frank Bough and his misdemeanours.  In fairness, he was spot on (Mowbray not Bough) – it was a Grandstand finish to the game in normal time.

image (2)3. World Cup of keepers – The stars of the tournament so far have been the keepers.  Howard, Neuer, Ospina and Costa Rica’s Navas have all been outstanding. In fact every keeper could probably say they have performed on the world’s stage.  Well, Iker Casillas excepted.  Navas once again put in a fantastic shift, although probably felt that he would have had a busier two hours.  In fact for the first hour he could have sat in his goal and caught up on 24 without many problems.

4. Extra-time – Hard to believe that the final 15 minutes were being played by the same two teams that had contested the previous 105.  Absolutely top stuff – end to end, with the Costa Ricans suddenly realising that they could still win this game without penalties.

5. Tactical master stroke or balmy old cack – Van Gaal’s decision to bring on Tim Krul for Cillessen just to face penalties – it’s not a pre-season friendly or a testimonial is it? Is the Newcastle keeper that good? He’s no Paul Cooper is he?  Alan Shearer reminds us that he has only saved 2 penalties from 20 for Newcastle.  Is Cillessen hoping for a win or defeat whilst he sits on the bench? The result? Tactical Genius.

The Beer World Cup

Still no luck in tracking down a Costa Rican number so we substituted in a Fuller’s Honey Dew to compete against a few Oranjebooms.

Netherland 1 Costa Rica 1 – Costa Rica win on penalties because Oranjeboom is actually brewed in Faversham and not Netherlands.

Five things from….Netherlands 2 Mexico 1


I could get very used to weekends like this.  The beauty of having games on at 5pm and 9pm is that you can do a day of family stuff, get home, watch game one, cook dinner/do chores and then settle down for game two. The heat was always going to be the deciding factor in this game as to whether we were going to see a match of all out attack like the Brazil v Chile one, or a more tactical one like Colombia v Uurguay.

1. Holland v Netherlands – Are ITV right in referring to the Netherlands as Holland?  Holland is actually a region and former province located on the western coast of the Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used as an informal term to refer to the whole of the country of the Netherlands. This usage is generally accepted, but some individuals, particularly from the other parts of the Netherlands, dislike the use of “Holland” as a substitute for “the Netherlands”. So it’s like New York being part of New York, right?

photo (2)2. “Let the ball do the work, the chance will come” – Exactly how will this happen?  Clarke Carlisle is suggesting that if the players simply play it to feet without any running then someone will get a chance?  Did he not see Germany v Austria in 1982 where this was exactly what happened?  Then 10 minutes later Carlisle bemoaned the Netherlands play as they did exactly what he said they should do, saying that it was “dull and defensive football”.  Wisdom of a former professional player.

3. Cooling Break – Preparation for Qatar 2022?  Imagine the temperature 10 degrees hotter and you will need breaks every 15 minutes.  Whilst I can see the medical sense in it, who benefits the most out of that five minute break in the first half?  The TV companies who can sell an additional TV advert break? Absolutely.  The coaches who have a chance to alter things? Correct.

4. Girl in the crowd – Surely a record for “most number of attractive girls given a close up on TV at a football match”?  There must be one cameraman whose job it is to troll the crowd looking for attractive girls to zoom in on.  Hard life.

5. “Van Gaal must be dreading this going to penalties” – Another great Carlisle line.  If you are trailing 2-1 in injury time do you think the Dutch manager will say..”tell you what, it is a bit hot out there.  I don’t want us to equalise and take this game to extra time.” So when Snejder’s 88th minute equaliser went in, he would have been absolutely fuming.  Almost as good as Glenn Hoddle’s comment that the final minute challenge on Robben was a “double penalty”.

The Beer World Cup

After a trip to the sunny Kent seaside it was a very pleasant beer match enjoying a cold Sol in the first half, with a twist of lime of course, against a chilled Amstel in the second.  Tough choice and one that eventually went to penalties with a bag of Totilla chips against a chocolate pancake….close but there could only be one winner.

Netherlands 2 Mexico 2…Netherlands won 3-1 on penalties