Ranking the World's 15 Most Passionate Football Cities
World football, like most sports, is constantly in flux. Players change, managers change and though some clubs do better than others, all clubs have their good spells and bad spells.
One that thing has remained constant in world football's history is fan support. Though football may now be more Euro-centric, you'll find that the supporters who were renowned for their exuberant support in the 40s, 50s and 60s are very much still there today, even if their club is no longer among the best in the world.
With that in mind, we're going to attempt to rank the top 15 most passionate football cities in the world today.
Knowing that such a task involves a great deal of subjectivity, we're not going to try to assign ranks of 1-15, because often it is literally impossible to say that one city is more passionate than the other.
Rather, we're gonna organize this list by groups, with the idea that the cities higher up on the list are more passionate than the ones lower on the list. As such, keep in mind that when two cities are within 1-2 spots of each other, they could very possibly be rated roughly as passionate as each other.
If they're separated by more than 3-4 spots though, then you can be sure that one city has definitely been ranked as more passionate than another.
Got it? Good. Let's begin.
Sao Paolo. Photo Credit: Red Bull
Obviously, we couldn't pack all the world's passionate football cities into a list of 15. Here are the cities that barely missed out.
Germany doesn't get much love on this list, because of how competitive space on this list is, but both TSV Munich 1860 and Bayern Munich enjoy incredible fan support in this city. The German national team also boasts a very healthy record in its games played in Munich.
Dortmund is the home of Borussia Dortmund, who would fill their 80,000+ seat stadium week-in week-out even before they were good enough to challenge for and win the Bundesliga title.
Sao Paulo (Brazil)
Brazil is one of the most football-crazed countries in the world, and Sao Paolo is one of the most football-crazed cities within the country. Sao Paolo and Corinthians are both based in this wonderful city, and enjoy a healthy amount of support from the locals.
Two of Portugal's three biggest teams, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon, are based in Lisbon, and while Sporting has fallen behind Benfica in recent years, the local derby remains a tight affair that greatly excites the fans.
Neither Everton nor Liverpool have been very successful as of late, but both clubs still boast a healthy amount of supporters from Merseyside. Plus, few grounds in the world can compete with the atmosphere at Anfield.
No one really thinks much of Ligue 1 or French domestic football, but Marseille fans are crazy about their football. Just ask Arsene Wenger, who played against Marseille on several occasions as manager of Monaco.
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Normally, I'd be inclined to put Glasgow much higher on this list, but considering the fact that we won't be seeing a domestic league Old Firm derby for a very, very long time, I'd say I'm possibly being generous even including Glasgow on this list.
Even without the Old Firm derby though, Rangers and Celtic fans are some of the most rowdy, dedicated fans in the world.
Rangers may be struggling with personnel issues and finally getting themselves situated for the new season, but at least they can rest assured that they will be able to still call upon the significant majority of their supporters, no matter what level of football they may drop to.
Celtic fans, on the other hand, now know that, at least for the next three years, they'll be able to cheer their team on knowing that their push for the domestic title in the Scottish Premier League will be virtually uncontested.
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Manchester hasn't always been a great city for football.
United fans are notorious for being quieter than fans from elsewhere in England, and until the club was purchased by a group from Abu Dhabi, City were a modest second team from Manchester.
Nowadays though, things are different. City's fanbase continues to grow, while United fans are already all over the globe and travel to Manchester all the time to watch their favorite team play.
Most of all though, the excitement of the Manchester derby is at an all-time high. Presently, the derby is one of the most exciting and important in world football, second only, arguably, to El Clasico.
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Greek football has suffered greatly in quality since the triumph of Euro 2004, but the support and love for the game has taken no such drop.
Athens is home to several Greek teams, the most notable of which is Olympiakos, who are the most successful team in Greek football, amassing 39 league titles.
However, the two remaining teams of Greece's big three also play in Athens. Panathanaikos and AEK Athens have won 31 league titles between them, and share the massive Olympic Stadium, which can house up to 70,000 fans.
The derby between Panathanaikos and Olympiakos is one of the fiercest in the world, ranked by the Daily Mail as the ninth greatest rivalry in the world.
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Russian football isn't often spoken of too fondly, but it's been on the rise ever since the Russian Premier League was founded in 2001.
Moscow boasts five football clubs, four of which play in the first division. Dynamo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow and CSKA Moscow all boast high quality players, and have all challenged for the RPL title at various points in the last five seasons.
Luzhniki Stadium is Russia's most famous stadium, capable of holding roughly 90,000 people. It's the fourth biggest stadium in Europe, and where the 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea was held.
Here is a top quality article on the passion on display in Russian football.
Photo Credit: BBC
Yes, I'm aware that most other writers would not include Cairo, Egypt on this list. But then again, most other writers haven't been to an Egyptian national team game at Cairo Stadium, or watched any of the Egyptian Premier League's domestic matches.
Simply put, football is a key part of life for many Egyptians. They live it, breathe it and can always talk about it. Clearly, I've inherited these same genes.
There's a reason why pundits and experts all over the world rank Al Ahly vs. Zamalek as one of the world's best rivalries. It's existed for decades, and only the world's top derbies can rival the atmosphere produced.
Check out the video clip here of a recent Cairo derby.
Mexico City (Mexico)
Mexico City is the heart of Mexican football, which itself is the No. 1 sport in Mexico and a religion for many Mexicans.
Despite the massive sizes of Mexico City's stadiums, they're all filled on a regular basis. UNAM Pumas and Cruz Azul regularly fill their 35,000 and 63,000 capacity stadiums (respectively), but both of those pale in comparison to Club America's massive Estadio Azteca, which seats 105,000 fans.
That capacity makes the stadium the world's fifth largest stadium, in any sport.
Now I'm not saying that that stadium is regularly packed, but America still boasts a highly impressive average of around 60,000 fans for its club matches, and whenever Mexico plays in the stadium, especially against the USA, the total number of fans gets fairly close to the maximum.
You can see how packed and loud the stadium gets for international matches here.
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Though they may not be as successful as Juventus, Milan and Inter Milan are both rich in history and have 36 Serie A titles between them. In the last few seasons, they've often been the two contenders for the Serie A title, making the rivalry between the two teams even greater.
Believe it or not, the Derby della Madonnina is actually not considered Italy's most prominent derby (more on that in a bit).
Nevertheless, the level of excitement and build up ahead of this game is always intense, and only intensified by the fact that the pair share their stadium, the San Siro, which seats more than 80,000 fans.
The most recent edition of the derby was particularly interesting, as it ended AC Milan's chase of the Serie A title and secured Andrea Stramaccioni the head coaching job at Inter Milan after he was initially hired on an interim basis.
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Having been to London, I can definitely vouch for its reputation as a crazy and passionate football city.
Tottenham and Arsenal are the two clubs with the longest-standing and most historic rivalry in the city, but the city is loaded with 12 other football clubs, four of which now play in the Premier League: Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers, West Ham United and Fulham.
Matches between these other London clubs don't get as intense, but Arsenal vs. Chelsea matches have been known to be great spectacles, especially in the mid-2000s when both Arsenal and Chelsea regularly competed for the title.
In fact, last season's first Arsenal-Chelsea derby produced eight goals, in a display of beautiful attacking football and terrible defense by both sides.
The fans in London come in all shapes and sizes. They can be loud and obscene, but the majority are very friendly and will support their club to no end. Furthermore, every club in London (and England in general) has its own set of chants, which have been handed down from generation to generation.
Rome is another city home to one of the world's best derbies—the Rome derby—disputed between Lazio and Roma. The derby has mellowed just a bit over the last few seasons as neither Lazio nor Roma have fared too well in Serie A, but the fans still get very charged up for the derby.
The Derby della Capitale, as it is known in Italy, has a bit of dark history, as its elevation to the status of Italy's premier derby took place partly after a Lazio fan was hit and killed by a flare fired by a Roma fan. Since then, the rivalry has bordered on hatred, though it has calmed down in recent years.
Both Lazio and Roma now share the Stadio Olimpico, itself a magnificent stadium which can seat more than 70,000 people.
Rome has also hosted the finals of the 1934 and 1990 World Cups, and been home to many of the Italian national team's games.
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It's always great to visit a city passionate about football, but there are a few cities where passion sometimes crosses over into craziness. Belgrade, Serbia, is one such city.
The city is home to Eastern Europe's biggest derby, the Eternal Derby, contested between Partizan and Red Star. As you can probably tell from the picture above, the derby has a history of violence, plenty of fireworks and very loud fans.
The derby draws its roots from post-WWII politics, with Red Star being the team for the anti-fascists and communists, and Partizan being the team for the military. Nowadays, as with the Celtic vs. Rangers derby, these roots aren't too heavily discussed, but they remain important for hardcore fans and supporters.
In addition, the Serbian national team plays several of its games in Belgrade, usually at Red Star Stadium. Even when the Serbian national team is traveling, Serbian fans have become known for their "passion," especially after a recent incident in Italy.
Rio De Janeiro (Brazil)
Rio De Janeiro may be Brazil's second largest city, but it is easily the football capital of Brazil. It is home to five Brazilian football clubs: Vasco da Gama, Botafogo, Fluminense, Flamengo and América Football Club.
The first four of those are clubs who are rich with history, having produced or signed famous Brazilian legends like Romario, Ronaldo, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto Torres, Roberto Carlos and more recent stars like Deco and Thiago Silva.
Flamengo is the best supported club, but Vasco De Gama, Botafogo and Fluminese have all won a good amount of silverware, and enjoy a healthy amount of fan support.
Moreover, the city is home to Maracana Stadium, which when opened reportedly had a capacity of 160,000. There have been several times when this capacity has been reached or surpassed, according to Flamengo official records:
Flamengo played against Santos in the Maracanã stadium watched by 155,523 supporters in the Brazilian League final of 1984, however some say that the official numbers are wrong and that there were more than 160,000 people in Maracanã.
Flamengo's match with the greatest number of attendants was Flamengo versus Fluminense in Carioca Championship of 1963, with 194,603 spectators. There are 13 times in which Flamengo has took more than 150,000 people in the stadium in official matches.
And whenever the Brazilian national team would come to play at Maracana, the numbers would also reach such insane heights. According to Flamengo, the largest official audience at Maracana was 183,341, registered on August 31st, 1969, in a World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Paraguay.
Get a taste of the atmosphere by following this link.
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Real Madrid is one of the world's most famous teams, and as a result, its city, Madrid, is one of the biggest centers of world football.
Though Real Madrid's biggest rivalry is with Barcelona, it still enjoys a healthy, less hostile rivalry with fellow Madrid side Atletico Madrid. This season, the derby fell only a few games before El Clasico, and was crucial in deciding which team won the La Liga title.
In addition to Atletico and Real, Madrid is also home to Rayo Vallecano and Getafe, who both also play in La Liga. The Vicente Calderon and Santiago Bernabeu, home to Atletico and Real, make Madrid one of only four cities with two UEFA five-star stadiums (Barcelona, Glasgow and Lisbon are the other three).
Internationally, Spain plays at the Bernabeu, and the 1982 FIFA World Cup was hosted at the stadium as well.
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Of course, if Madrid is going to be on this list, you know that their eternal rivals FC Barcelona will also have a place on the list.
Barcelona, the city, is famous for its main club, FCB, but it is also home to RCD Espanyol, who have a respected history in La Liga. The Camp Nou, Barca's home stadium, can hold 100,000 people, making it Europe's largest capacity stadium, and the fifth largest football stadium in the world.
The spirit of Barca fans goes without saying; who can forget the famous pig incident, when a Barca fan threw a pig's head at Figo in spite for his decision to leave Barcelona for Real Madrid.
These are fans that connect with their players, and do not take disloyalty very well.
Of course, if that doesn't do it for you, there's always the numbers: Barcelona was the best supported club, in terms of average attendance, by some distance last year, with roughly 85,000 fans per game.
Here's what the Daily Mail had to say about the Istanbul derby between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, which it ranks as the world's second greatest rivalry:
Sparks are bound to fly when football clubs are added to a city separated by a mass of water, especially when the city straddles Europe and Asia. Istanbul’s dominant sides were founded two years apart and a social rift soon added spice to the rift already created by geography. Gala were seen by many as a club for the aristocracy with Fener the ‘people’s club’.
That, in a nutshell, is the Istanbul derby, though the derby has intensified recently in the wake of the Turkish match-fixing scandal, which has seen Aziz Yildirim, Fener's chairman, sentenced to six years in prison.
Istanbul is also home to Besiktas JK, the country's oldest club, though the club's recent struggles have led it to command a much smaller fanbase than Gala or Fener.
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
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This is it, the mother of all football cities. Again, we'll let the Daily Mail break down the world's greatest rivalry, Boca Juniors vs River Plate:
Spain has ‘El Clasico’, Argentina has ‘il Superclasico’. And what an occasion it is. Like many other fiercely contested same-city fixtures, social resentment is as much the catalyst as proximity.
From humble beginnings in the La Boca neighbourhood, River detracted to the aristocratic suburb of Nunez, earning the nickname ‘Los Millonarios’. Juniors, meanwhile, remained in the poor suburb.
The entire country is gripped for days in the lead up to match day and the game kicks-off so too do 90 minutes of ear-bursting and nerve-jangling atmosphere. The fixture was recently listed as one of the 50 sporting events to attend before you die.
Recently, the rivalry was interrupted by River Plate's drop to the Primera B Nacional, but thanks to some heroics and a return to form for David Trezeguet, they're back in the big time, and ready to make up for lost time.
With two massive stadiums, La Bombonera and El Monumental, and fanbases that reach all over the world, but especially throughout Argentina, the world eagerly awaits the next edition of the Superclasico.