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Europe’s top football stadium bars

Football is more than just, well, football. It’s the match-night experience, the build-up, the buzz, the beers. And if the stadium happens to be in Europe, then match night will be an experience of a different kind – starting with the beers and the bars fans drink them in.

This week, thousands of Newcastle supporters follow their beloved Magpies to Lisbon, and Benfica’s iconic Stadium of Light for a crucial Europa League clash. As chance would have it, Benfica’s famous arena happens to contain one of the great stadium bars, the Catedral da Cerveja, the Cathedral of Beer, a shrine to Lisbon’s legendary Eagles, stylish, contemporary and centrepieced by a bloody big tap of local Sagres.

Every weekend, 600 Brits undertake the pilgrimage to Milan’s San Siro stadium, irrelevant of the fixture – even more will be in Barcelona or Madrid. They go for the experience, and find it in a ground tour, a quirky souvenir or, in its many guises, the stadium bar.

Across Europe, at and around each stadium are literally hundreds of bars, so many they would fill a book. Guide editor Peterjon Cresswell wrote that book, and has just updated and adapted it for a new football travel app, Libero.

After two years, 50 cities and far too many football grounds, here he chooses the top 10 stadium bars from his travels.

10. Viktoria Zizkov/Prague

No European beer guide of any kind would be complete without Prague – and Prague would be incomplete without Zizkov, a working-class district overshadowed by a Gorbachëv-era TV tower and unaffected by the commercialisation of the city centre two tram stops away.

Revived from obscurity by a local millionaire, ‘Viktorka’ continues to elude the statisticians but provides the curious football tourist with an authentic taste of pre-89 Prague in the shape of the club bar behind the home East End.

Sporting a Gambrinus beer sign and offering a range of daily specials (pangusius fish, pork chops) at equally laughable cheap prices, the family-run Zizkov club bar offers both a trip back in time and the chance to savour the refreshing, grass-roots aspect of present-day Czech football.

Inside, a league table of scores is faithfully felt-tipped in every week – serious anoraks can follow Banik Ostrava’s recent form – while pennants and posters record visits by fans from Kraków, Celtic and Mönchengladbach. Poignancy is provided by a portrait of a minor local rock star, a Viktorka fan now following his club from somewhere above the TV Tower.

9. Villa Piantelli/Genoa

Let’s face it, Italy doesn’t do stadium bars. Rome, Naples, Turin, they may have a couple of shiny cafés nearby, but un bar allo stadio: non c’è. For something at the stadium, historic and stylishly Italian to boot, you must find the very cradle of calcio: Genoa.

Formed in 1893, the Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club was Italy’s first football team – note the English nametag. The game has been played here, at the then Campo Marassi, since 1910 – 300 years after the adjoining Villa Piantelli was constructed in classical style.

Once occupied by aristocratic Genovese families, this now multi-purpose cultural centre, tucked away in a verdant hidden courtyard backed onto the stadium, is all faded grandeur. Complemented by a sun-catching terrace dotted with statuary, the first-floor bar is decorated with pre-war photographs of the city of Genoa – and its football culture.

Best beer choice is Moretti, Italy’s finest, from Udine, while food involves plenty of pesto sauce that you’ll find slathered all over the pizzas.

8. Panionios/Athens

Unlike the oft-franchised counterparts in the United States, football clubs in Europe can call on a century or more of history, faithfully depicted and proudly framed in club houses and stadium bars.

One particular club has a history like no other: Panionios, its legend illustrated by a triptych near the stadium bar entrance. On the left, a calm and pretty Smyrna, today Turkish Izmir, in 1920; then, 1922, Smyrna in flames; finally, on the far right, 20 years later Greek refugees gather in today’s Nea (‘New’) Smyrni, home of Panionios, in southern Athens.

The football club that rose from the post-1920 Greek-Turkish population exchange, Panionios has a stadium bar that beggars belief. First for its unique collection of photographs, team line-ups from 1890, another poignantly dated ‘Smyrna 1922’. Secondly, these photos are simply gathering dust in open cabinets, left for people to browse as if in a village jumble sale. A near-century of proud and often painful club history left to fate.

The bar itself is spacious, its counter dominated by a huge tap of DAB beer from Dortmund – it’s only fairly recently that Greek Mythos has made inroads around Athens. And you can take this beer to a bar table right on the halfway line, on the running track that surrounds the pitch – within touching distance of the action.

7. The Boot Room/Anfield

When so much surrounding hospitality in the English game seems corporate and exclusive – think of the Marco restaurant at Chelsea or the members-only Champagne & Seafood Bar at Wembley – then it’s so typical of a club like Liverpool to have introduced a sports café as imaginative, refreshing and inclusive as the Boot Room.

Lending the Liverpool legend a contemporary twist – the Boot Room was where generations of coaching staff would sit and talk tactics from the Beatles era onwards – this relatively recent opening is both a family-friendly introduction to the club, over a freshly sizzled steak or burger, and a pint to boot. With a new branch just opened at the Designer Outlet Centre in Cheshire Oaks, in terms of décor, the award-winning Boot Room sticks to its remit, providing both a visual record of LFC and a mural depicting the history of the football boot.

True, and almost inevitably, on match day itself this expansive bar space dotted with huge TVs is hired out for corporate hospitality, but the Boot Room comes into its own for screenings of Liverpool away games. Kids’ birthday parties here are also scheduled for 90 minutes.

6. Clubheim/St Pauli

FC Barcelona may claim to be ‘more than a club’, but St Pauli, a stagger from the red-light Reeperbahn in the naughty north German port of Hamburg, is a movement in itself.

Figurehead of the city’s anarchist counter culture since the squatting days of the 1980s, St Pauli still attracts its fair share of “spikyheads” to its two-room clubhouse – but gone are the days when entire platoons of punks would pull up to the door wheeling shopping trolleys groaning with clanking beer bottles.

While many patrons of this fine institution have (almost) gone straight, St Pauli’s heart is still on its sleeve – you’ll notice a poster for the fans’ latest campaign, providing clean water and/or pencils for somewhere in the developing world.

Décor otherwise focuses on a potted history of the club, much of it from a time when The Beatles were singing round the corner. Tragically, someone saw fit to remove the stellar jukebox, Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ and all, but the Astra remains, Hamburg’s own beer symbolised by a pumping red heart in the shape of an anchor, sold in little brown bottles. A daily menu brings custom through the week.

5. Marakana Lounge/Red Star Belgrade

Football has more than one Maracana. Red Star Belgrade’s own version of Rio’s famed arena is set between an ominous-looking mansion and a sweeping view of Serbia’s capital.

The mansion belonged to Red Star’s most notorious fan, paramilitary leader Arkan, who would entertain some of the most dangerous men in the Balkans in this very bar. Although assassinated in a hotel lobby in 2000, Arkan’s ghost still lingers: a notice at the main gate asks those carrying a weapon to show it to security.

For all that, the red-seated Marakana Lounge that stands alongside echoes another era, the Tito one during which the stadium was built, with key players of the time – Sekularec, Mitic, Dzaijic – bursting out from five-pointed stars in the windows. Black-and-white photos show the ground in construction, proud Yugoslavs building Socialism in stadium form.

The bar serves Jelen beer, ubiquitous throughout Serbia and sponsors of the premier league there. Note the European Cup motif on the menus – Red Star are, and doubtless will remain, the only club from the former Eastern bloc to win it.

A back door leads to the VIP area where Arkan… well, perhaps it’s best if we don’t know.

4. le 70 restaurant/Paris Saint-Germain

Recently boosted by the Beckham factor, the flagship club of the French capital was not formed in 1970, as much as invented. Paris lacked a leading team, so the city’s movers, shakers and football lovers clubbed together to graft their concept of a Ligue-winning outfit onto a modest operation from Saint-Germain-en-Laye that had just gained second-flight status.

Occupying the then de facto national stadium, the Parc des Princes, PSG struggled to win over a fickle French public in the world capital of fashion. Beckham having only bestowed hip status in 2013, much of PSG’s look – the Eiffel Tower badge, the boutique on the Champs-Elysées – reflects decades of marketing bluster.

Ergo, le 70 restaurant. Set on the first floor over the main door of the Parc, beside a large model of the stadium, le 70 is all retro chic, white plastic chairs with rounded edges and black-and-white imagery. Vintage PSG action is displayed in varying sizes, interspersed with blocks of colour, as if for the closing credits of ‘Kojak’ or opening ones of ‘Dallas’.

Accessible all week and by reservation on match days, le 70 offers foie gras, beef tartare and a comprehensive wine list. Kro drinkers can stick to the buvettes outside the ground.

3. Puerta 57/Real Madrid

Record Champions League winners Real Madrid bask in a palatial stadium that befits footballing royalty. Surrounded by bars, restaurant and outlets of every stripe, the 85,000-capacity Estadio Bernabéu is a hive of communal dining and drinking in the build-up to kick-off.

This, after all, is the flagship club of Spain’s nightlife nexus – and nowhere does the beer, naturalmente local Mahou, flow as freely in the Bernabéu as in the Puerta 57, a bar/restaurant that occupies the stadium gate of the same number, beside the club store.

Pre-match, anyone can stake a place at the substantial island bar counter, a traditional wooden affair practically begging to be propped up. This is Spain at its tapas-bar best – a complementary dish of green olives or salty crisps comes with your caña. As well as beer, you can order cider, or perhaps a decent house red, plus a range of heftier, pay-for tapas including octopus and Iberian ham. Cocido madrileño, a belly-filling meat-and-chickpea stew, is the speciality on the menu.

As kick-off approaches, well heeled Madrileños move to their reserved table in a separate side room overlooking the entire pitch, to smoke cigars like grandees while sipping finest vintage Gran Duque d’Alba Spanish Brandy.

2. Club House/Union Saint-Gilloise

Nowhere does football bars better than Belgium. Along with an enviable selection of Belgian beers, you can order Oxo or Bovril, beneath mounted vintage scarves, badges and a league ladder in equally bright colours, faithfully updated. Knowledgeable football talk ensues.

Such is the Club House, attached to the Stade Joseph Marien, opened in 1919 when the changing rooms were in the surrounding forest that gave its name to this still wooded area of south Brussels.

This is home of Union Saint-Gilloise, the definitive Brussels club, unbeaten between 1933 and 1935.

Its Club House, a wood-and-brick palace of football memorabilia, is worth the trip even on non-match days. As well as Union paraphernalia – the team of 1932-33, the plaque to Jef Valise, the ‘eternal Unioniste’ who used to carry his uncle Jacques’ kit bag to home games – there are decorative nods to the great Torino side who perished in 1949 and pennants of obscure Greek sides.

Plonked down in the Belgian way with a ‘s’il vous plaît’, in a logo’d glass and beermat, beer may be cherry-flavoured, classic Cantillon Gueuze brewed amid the damp air of Anderlecht, or a standard draught Maes.

The back door leads out to the main stand, the pitch, and a backdrop of medieval forest greenery.

1. Catedral da Cerveja

And pride of place goes to… the Cathedral of Beer itself, set by gates 10/11 at Benfica’s Stadium of Light.

The Stadium of Light alone should have football romantics salivating, its main entrance fronted by a statue of Eusébio in kicking action. Rebuilt for Euro 2004, it now features a handful of quality outlets, the Catedral included.

Is the Catedral the finest bar/restaurant of any stadium in Europe? It would certainly win by design. As you enter, a cathedral of natural light falls upon two vast, black-and-white montage murals of Benfica history. Upstairs, stark white juxtaposes with striking art on a sporting theme.

A Sagres beer tap (this is the Sagres end) wills you to the bar while the adjoining restaurant draws you to a panoramic view over the stadium, aka the ‘Catedral’. Quality fare at Iceland prices runs from a simple cream soup to grilled prawns, to daily-changing menus named “Penalty” and “Offside”.

Overlooking the whole scene is Cosme Damião, the Anglophile student who formed the club in 1904.

Don’t forget to head to the Libero app, for more on football bars throughout Europe.

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