Football – The Beautiful Game
The opening matches of the new English Premier League season (10-12 August) mark the return of the most popular and exciting football division in the world. With star players such as Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, successful managers like Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Manchester United’s José Mourinho, and a proud heritage of thrilling football, the English Premier League is an addictive sporting soap opera. England’s top division is followed on TV in 212 territories worldwide, reaching 643 million homes and nearly five billion people. Another 14.5 million fans will grab their team scarves and attend live matches. With Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Tottenham and West Ham all based in London (plus Watford in Hertfordshire), the region hosts more elite teams than anywhere in the country. More than five million people are expected to go to games here.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Football has a long and colourful history in England. Bizarre versions of the game have been played since medieval times. At first, there were almost no rules and logic to the games: villages of people kicked an inflated pig’s bladder through streets and squares, and over streams, fields and hedges, in violent and chaotic contests with other villages. According to an ancient handbook from Workington in Cumbria, any means could be employed to get the ball to its target – with the exception of murder. In 1863, a set of rules was codified with the establishment of the Football Association in a meeting at the Freemasons Arms, a Covent Garden pub which is still open today. The first Football League was formed in 1888 and, following its glamorous upgrade to the Premier League in 1992, the game is now so popular that clubs amass combined revenues of £4.5 billion every year.
Football in the United Kingdom is not just a sport but a strand of national folklore. Fans follow their chosen teams – selected through regional, familial or personal ties – with extraordinary passion and loyalty. The raucous 90-minute matches are communal gatherings of like-minded supporters, who share tribal loyalties, sing songs and make pilgrimages to worship their terrace idols. With matches played once or twice a week, from August until the end of the season in May, nationwide conversations in pubs, offices, trains and living rooms light up with football gossip, controversy and heroics. This is a league famous for shock results and an abundance of goals: last season, an average of 2.68 goals were scored per match. Each Premier League stadium has its own unique personality. Crystal Palace’s 26,000-capacity Selhurst Park, its home since 1924, is an atmospheric ground with a proudly boisterous crowd, while Arsenal’s 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium is a futuristic, curved bowl, with glazed concourses and steel panels.
Visitors to London who attend a Premier League football match are guaranteed to get an authentic insight into England’s national pastime. Around 800,000 visiting fans travel to Britain to watch football matches each year, with supporters from Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the United States of America and the Netherlands leading the charge. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge attract nearly 200,000 tourists each year. Chelsea has recently launched new tours of its stadium, Stamford Bridge. You can now take a tour in 12 languages, and next month the museum will be available in a dozen languages, too. As nearly 70 per cent of Premier League players are foreign-born, in this global city visitors from every part of the world are bound to find a local Premier League hero to cheer on.
Can you kick it?
White Hart Lane
Football fans in London can watch Premier League matches at Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, West Ham and Watford. This year marks the opening of Tottenham Hotspur’s £400 million, state-of-the-art, 61,000-capacity White Hart Lane stadium. Visitors can also enjoy the clubs’ museums, shops and stadium tours on days when there aren’t any matches.
This Victorian pub on Long Acre in London’s Covent Garden is believed to be where the English Football Association first met in 1863 to establish the modern laws of the game. The walls are decorated with football memorabilia, as well as enough HD plasma TVs to allow fans to watch matches while soaking up the atmosphere.
With seats for 90,000 fans, Wembley Stadium in north London is the biggest football stadium in England. It is also the home of the England national football team and the host of the historic FA Cup Final. Throughout the year, visitors can join a stadium tour to explore the players’ changing rooms, experience pitch-side views and lift a replica of the FA Cup.