Photo credit: Arne Müseler/www.arne-museler.de
The changing of the tide for several European football clubs in recent years has made travel a little more interesting to cities they call home. Here’s a look at five, which may give the likes of Liverpool and Manchester a run for their money as tourist magnets.
Paris (Paris Saint-Germain), France
What happens when the owners of a perennially underperforming football club get in touch with wealthy investors from the Middle East? Many football observers already know the answer to that by now: newfound success on the pitch and, of course, a big leap up in reputation. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is one of the hottest clubs in Europe at the moment, with world stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Beckham on their books just a year after its takeover by the Qatar Investment Corporation. The club reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League 2013 and only narrowly lost — on the away goals rule — to the mighty FC Barcelona after earning a 3-3 aggregate, are top of the France Ligue 1 with a clear lead and look set to profit from the sales of jerseys and memorabilia worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, the city of Paris has much to benefit from football tourism. Although not as famous or glamorous as other attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Lourve, or as massive as the iconic Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris, PSG’s stadium has certainly become a new tourist attraction in the heart of the city. An hour-long guided tour (10€) here is possible and generally takes place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (up to six tours), offering visitors the chance to take a peek into the day-to-day operations of the club and lots of photo opportunities. If visitors are prepared to go the extra mile, they can snap up football tickets for PSG games just so that they can rub shoulders with the likes of Messrs Beckham and Ibrahimovic.
Cardiff (Cardiff City FC) and Swansea (Swansea City AFC), United Kingdom
For football fans, the 2013-14 English Premier League season could see two of Wales’ biggest football clubs compete with 18 other English teams. Cardiff City sealed their English Championship win on 20th April, earning them the right to compete in the top division of English football for the first time in 53 years, together with fellow Welsh high flyers Swansea City FC, winners of the English League Cup for the first time in the club’s 101-year history. The 2013-2014 season is set to unveil the first South Wales derby in the top flight in the history of both clubs; Welsh fans are no doubt anticipating attractive attacking football from the red shirts of Cardiff, backed by Malaysian investors, and the lilywhites from Swansea in their EPL encounters.
As both football clubs continue to climb to greater heights, both cities are likely to welcome an increase in the number of visitors intent on catching the South Wales clashes or games pitched against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. The uptrend in sport tourism would certainly help boost visitor arrivals to some of the cities’ top sights. In Cardiff, the Cardiff Castle and the Millennium Centres are attractive sights that have been at the forefront of the city’s regeneration campaign. Over in Swansea, the magnificent Oystermouth Castle and the city’s attractive Guildhall would certainly keep visitors here busy throughout match days.
Donetsk (FC Shahktar Donetsk), Ukraine
Once upon a time, Dynamo Kyiv was the main representative for Ukraine in the Soviet Football League and the most successful of all the clubs in the Soviet League with 13 USSR championships, while smaller Ukrainian clubs such as Shahktar were expected to roll over and surrender to the mighty club from Kiev. Undoubtedly, Kyiv was the centre of everything in Ukraine S.S.R, as compared to the less attractive industrial city of Shahktar. Fast forward to the 21st century and two decades after Ukraine’s independence, Shahktar Donetsk are rising rapidly and providing Dynamo Kyiv a run for their money. Funded by wealthy local businessman Rinat Akhmetov, the football club has won seven out of the last 11 Ukrainian championships, the 2008-2009 UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) and also reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in March 2013. The club has been based in the ultra-modern Donbass Arena since 2009.
Like its ever-rising football club, the city of Donetsk is also growing in stature. The city has rebuilt its cherished gem in the Cathedral Transfiguration of Jesus, while the city’s Artema Street provides an interesting mix of new and old architecture for visitors to explore. Anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of how deeply industry and mining runs in the blood of its inhabitants can head down to the Soledar Salt Mine to learn more about mining activities in the city as well as the Mertsalov’s Palm, which is constructed out of a rail by a Donetsk craftsman. The reconstructed 5-star Donbass Palace Hotel should provide comfortable stays for those seeking a little bit of indulgence in this rapidly developing city.
Salzburg (FC Red Bull Salzburg), Austria
Mention Salzburg and most people would instantly associate the city with Mozart, the Sound of Music and, of course, the beautiful Salzburger Dom. These days, the city is playing along a new tune — that of Red Bull Salzburg, a club rising in stature in European football circles thanks to a takeover of the city team by the Red Bull Group in 2005. After intensive investment and rebranding, the club won its first championship in 2007, and followed up with another three wins. While the club has not achieved much success on the European scene, continued investment by the Red Bull group should secure the club’s status in Austrian football and, from time to time, present a credible challenge in regional competitions.
The historical city of Salzburg has many attractions that have stood the test of time, such as the Salzburger Dom, the Hohensalzburg, the Mirabel Palace, and of course, Mozart’s cherished birthplace. Very much like how Red Bull has managed to increase the city’s appeal in terms of football, the energy drink brand has also expanded its appeal in the city with the ultra-modern Hangar-7 located next to Salzburg Airport. Here, the brand’s collection of historical airplanes, helicopters and Formula One racing cars are exhibited, exciting events are held, and the 1-star Michelin restaurant Ikarus oozes gourmet charm. The only thing missing here is a European trophy, which may eventually materialise given the Red Bull brand’s continued investment in Salzburg and its football club.