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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Welcome to the 7th most expensive city on earth


In February 2009 the consultancy firm Mercer produced their annual list of the 50 most expensive cities in the world to live in.  The report, available here, showed that Tokyo had become the most expensive city in the world to live in, knocking down Moscow from their top spot in 2008.  Despite the rip off of London Transport, London had slipped down to 16th.  Sitting 7th for the second year in a row was the capital of cool, Copenhagen.  Home to Carlsberg, bacon and lovely little bundles of blonde fun it had also become my official second home as a decent promotion at work (Business Manager, Nordic Regions if you would believe) meant that I would be spending alot more time in Denmark.  Part of my package was a very nice waterfront flat, which I gratefully accepted.  All I had to do was furnish it, clean it and buy all those essentials a man needs to make it through the working week.

CMF came over to give the place a once over last week, and drew up a list of essentials for the flat.  So, ladies and gentlemen, find below ten examples why Copenhagen is in the top ten again.  At the time of going to press there was 8.6 Danish Kroner to the £.

1. A bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo – Boots @ Bluewater £2.29.  Facta supermarket in Copenhagen 62 Danish Kroner (£7.16).

2. Marmite.  An absolute essential in the Fuller household – Sainsburys @ Chislehurst £1.79.  Copenhagen 52 DKR (£6)* I did try to smuggle some in – see Marmitegate below.

3. Lloyd Grossman Tomato & Chili sauce – Tesco @ Borough £1.98.  Copenhagen 55 DKR (£6.34).

4. Findus Crispy Pancakes – Iceland @ Scumville £1.09.  Copenhagen 67DKR (£7.74).

5. Andrex soft arse toilet roll – Co-Op @ New Eltham £1.99.  Copenhagen 48DKR (£5.54).

6. A pair (why are they always called a pair when there is only 1?) of scissors – Ikea @ Lakeside – £0.79.  Ikea @ Copenhagen 37DKR (£4.28)

7. Duracell AA batteries 4 pack (for my remote controls) – Dixons @ Stansted Airport – £2.29.  Copenhagen 50DKR (£5.78).

8. FHM Magazine – WH Smiths @ Stansted Airport – £3.95.  Copenhagen Airport 85 DKR (£9.82).

9. Disposable Razors – Superdrug @ London Bridge – £3.99 for 6.  Copenhagen 80DKR (£9.24).

10. 6 Cans of Carlsberg Special – Borough Market – £6.99.  Copenhagen Beer Markt 49DKR (£5.78)

*Marmitegate – I cannot live without Marmite and it is true that you either love it or hate it.  In the Fuller family we are all in the former’s camp and so we often have a spare couple of jars and so I took one with me on this trip.  As I went through security at the airport I was told it was bigger than the 100ml allowable bottles.  All the jar said was 250g, no capacity limit.  So I questioned the decision and was told “they” have sizing charts to show common bottles, and 250g of Marmite is over the allowable limit.  I asked to see said chart, but was denied.  So I had to hand over my precious, brand new jar but not before opening it in front of the security guard, and taking a fingerful just so that he couldn’t snaffle it away for his breakfast later.  I have since written to Unilever to get clarification on the Marmite sizing issue and will hopefully be able to prove my case on a future trip.

I had been given an allowance of £25 a week for my groceries.  So fed up after week one in being ripped off I decided on week two to go for the grown up approach – a ticket for FC Copenhagen v APOEL in the Champions League and a six pack of Carlsberg Special beer – total price £24.87..perfect.  Man cannot live on Marmite, Crispy Pancakes and FHM alone.  And as I managed to convince my Mum to make me some food parcels every week (I am only 39 after all!), and with CMF doing all of my ironing, and even an offer of the cleaning duties by the wonderful Tina in the office I was sorted.  So what else was I supposed to spend my money on apart from beer and football ?(I should add at this stage that the flat came with super XL cable TV with free unrestricted access to all, and I mean ALL, channels).

Due to the changes put in place by Monsieur Platini, the Champion League this year seemed to have been going on for ever.  The final hurdle before the Group Stages is the Playoff round…This is where the worst placed teams in each of the domestic league qualifiers come in in a special group of their own.  FCK had been in the competition since mid July, beating Mogran the Montenegrin champions, then beating my new favourites StabaekIF from Norway.  So they were now 180 minutes away from the Group Stages, and assuming Arsenal overcame Celtic then would have a one in two chance of drawing an English club and thus a massive pay day from the home game.  In November 2006 they beat Manchester United 1-0 in the Champions League in front of a sell out crowd with an average ticket price over 350DKR (£40).  For the game against APOEL, winners against Partizan Belgrade in the previous round, tickets were half the price.

So, a short walk and a 10 minute train trip saw me outside the Parken, the national stadium, now fully renovated after a multi-million Kroner redevelopment over the past two years.  The old stadium, the Osterbro had also had a facelift of its own and I sneaked in prior to the game for a quick look.  This was the original Parken, home to B1903 who were one of the clubs merged to form FCK as well as BK Skjold who play in the Danish 2nd division.

The crowd was sparse to say the least so I had no problems getting a seat on the touchline so I could observe the antics of the few hundred travelling fans, which being Greek, would mean a passionate, if unreasoned display, and I was not wrong.  APOEL are the most successful team in Cypriot football having won the championship on twenty occasions, and have reached this stage of the Champions League back in 2002.  They were hoping to emulate the fantastic achievements of Anorthosis last season in reaching the Group Stages.  They can also claim to have had such players as Chris Bart-Williams, Dean Gordon and Terry McDermott at the club at various stages in the past twenty years.

FC Copenhagen 1 APOEL FC 0 – Parken – Tuesday 18th August 2009

They really dont like the linesman

They really dont like the linesman

So with no more than 15,000 in the stadium the atmosphere was muted.  As the teams walked out to the Champions League anthem you would be confused to think this was FCK v Brondby based on the kits…Ah the Kits…FCK love a kit or four.  I went to the club shop before the game to see what wears they had.  For once it was hard to find any tack (apart from a blow up sun lounger in the shape of a FCK shirt) but what I did find was shirts galore.  FCK have obviously been to the English football club school of ripping fans off as they had not one, two, three or four but FIVE kits.  Brace yourself for this:-

Kit one – All white with blue trim used as their Superliga home kit
Kit two – An all black number which is their Superliga away/change kit
Kit three – A change shirt just in case Newcastle or Notts County are moved to the Danish leagues of pink (not salmon pink or fuscia more like highlighter pen pink) and black shorts.  I did ask one of the guys from the office who goes regularly how many times he has seen them wear that kit and he couldn’t ever remember one occasion.
Kit four – An all white with blue AND red trim used for their European home games.  It is exactly the same as the home kit but one half has red piping on sleeves and edge of shorts.
Kit five – An all navy kit used as their European away/change kit

As they are sponsored by Carlsberg they also have to produce a non sponsored top for children or when they play in alcohol paranoid countries such as France.  Add to these the three goalkeepers shirts and you can understand how confusing it is for the fans as to which shirt to buy and still look cool (remember this is Copenhagen, the capital of cool where everything has to be just right).

The away fans tried to raise their teams efforts, but for the first half an hour they simply got the run around from a much more inventive FCK team who still had the tricky Jesper Gronkjaer on the left wing.  Some of the FCK passing across the field was excellent, but they simply could not find the final ball.  The Canadian Atiba Hutchinson did much of the running for the Danes, but APOEL, but on a nucleus of aging non-Greek players held firm.  In the first half alone there was just 2 shots on goal, both coming from the home team.

The second half improved slowly but seemed to come to life after APOEL’s Haxhi was cautioned for a silly foul on Hutchinson.  In the fifty third minute the deadlock was broken as FCK’s attacking full back Pospech appeared unmarked at the far post to head home.  The goal did spur APOEL into action and they came the closest to a goal all evening when Alexandrou went close.  The away fans had been getting more and more upset with the linesman in our corner as they deemed some of his flagging a little excessive.  Tempers reached boiling point when an arguement broke out over who should keep the ball that had ended up in the crowd and stewards had to intervene between two bear chested posturing Cypriots, full of testosterone and frustration.  It was all in vain though as FCK came the closest to a second when a shot from the impressive Almeida hit the post and then in the dying seconds Haxhi committed another stupid foul and realised he was to get a second yellow.  So he could just take it like a man, walking off without a second glance but he decided to take the Stephen Taylor (Newcastle United Centre Back v Aston Villa two years ago) approach and roll around on the floor as if he had been the injured party hoping the referee who have a change of heart.  No such luck and he was off, much to the away fans anger.

So 1-0 was not the best result for the home team.  The temperatures both on and off the pitch next week in Cyprus will be boiling, and with a high probability of a decent draw in the Group Stages it will certainly be one not to miss.