THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

If you’re feeling fleeced by UK ticket prices and fancy a change of scenery, there are plenty of top continental clubs eager to attract your support and speaking your language, Ian Plenderleith finds

For many home football fans, British connoisseurs of the continental game have always been regarded as a pretentious breed who tend to look down their noses at the hoof and hump of island football. But with the help of budget air fares and many of the major European clubs still offering tickets at accessible prices (in contrast to the hype- and hyper-inflated Premier League), it can almost be cheaper to indulge in a trip to La Liga or Serie A than it is to spend an afternoon at St James’ Park. Or even Blundell Park.

The temptation to dump the mud and rain of an English winter can be brought closer through the English language portals to mainland Europe’s Champions League perennials. Need tickets? Need team news? Want analysis and standings and the history of the forthcoming fixture? It’s all there, delivered in fairly impeccable English and you don’t need to register or hand over your credit card details for a “free” trial just to have a look at the website.

The AC Milan site, for example, includes online ticketing with prices, a stadium plan, and even the numbers of tickets still available in a section. At Juventus , where tickets start at €10 (£6.80, less than half what it costs to see Leyton Orient), they even tell you how to get to the ground and where to pick up your tickets. Pale-faced Johnny England can memorise “Due birre” and leave his phrase book at home.

Both sites are fully up to date on the previous weekend’s action and on a recent Monday morning the Milan site had news of exactly where Wednesday’s cup opponents, Palermo, were training in preparation, as well as a recap of both sides’ progress in the competition so far. Before that weekend’s Siena game, Carlo Ancelotti had told the media: “Gilardino has a calf problem but trained well today. Pirlo picked up a knock but trained and we’ll see tomorrow. Amoroso will probably start on the bench.” No need for message-board rumour when it’s all there and translated.

Although editorial comment is unlikely to wax independent, the site’s observation on Kaka’s pre-Siena inability to score away from home at least carries an air of philosophical musing when it states: “To border on footballing perfection you have to make the difference, that’s not just at home but away too.” It’s not perfect, but I’ve read much worse from native English writers.

Juve’s translations also throw an unwittingly refreshing poetic perspective upon the game, billing their quarter-final cup tie against Roma as “a match that promises show and sparkles”. Of Roma, it says that coach Luciano Spalletti “seems to have found the right alchemy to win at home and away”. And the match “will then be surely spectacular, and it will see both teams getting on the pitch with the objective of mortgaging the semi-finals”.

Barcelona’s starting prices are higher, at €29 for non-members (though still cheaper than most Championship sides), and you’ll have to work out how and where to pick them up from the Spanish, but it still doesn’t seem a fantastic amount of money to watch Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi in the Nou Camp. The site, also available in Catalan, Chinese and Japanese, seems to be professionally translated, judging by the cliche that Henrik Larsson showed his “poacher’s instincts” in the game against Alavés. That’s not to criticise the match reports, which are well written and very detailed, but I prefer the adventurousness of Juve’s unexpected metaphors.

“Do you imagine to be able to go all over the Bernabéu at your own will?” asks the Real Madrid site. It looks like a rhetorical question taunting David Beckham, posted by the “stylish” team-mates he’s constantly covering back for, but in fact it’s the link to a virtual stadium tour that should be titillating to ground geeks. However, although the translations are competent and the match reports up to speed, the content’s depth doesn’t match that of their rivals. And to buy tickets you have to access a members’ area, with prices again starting as low as €10 for cup games, €25 for La Liga.

Bayern Munich are one of the pricier clubs in the traditionally low-priced Bundesliga, but getting into the tasty new 69,000-capacity Allianz-Arena will be tough for the rest of the season as only the odd batch of returned tickets will be available. Bayern’s English language section doesn’t even have a tickets link, except to give you the above information in German, but again the site is easily navigable and fat on both written and visual content.

And you could always go and watch second division 1860 Munich instead. Same fine city, same astonishing stadium and, even though their website doesn’t have an English section, tickets start at €10 and you’ll be able to get in on the day anyway. Click on the “sound” icon at the top to get a snatch of the cheesy club song, and you’ll swear you can already smell the sausage. Or head north instead and get a ticket online for €11 at Borussia Dortmund , where the team’s plummeting form and huge capacity have freed up some extra space. It’ll still be like an English winter, but at least you can watch top-flight football among moaning locals, while standing, and all without your credit card weeping into your back pocket.

From WSC 229 March 2006. What was happening this month

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