Selected to host the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020, home of five Premier League clubs and a national stadium, London is a soccer mecca second-to-none.
The stadium in question, Wembley, has been the stage for one World Cup, seven Champions League finals, one Euro and now another to follow.
Every weekend, thousands come from Scandinavia, Russia and beyond to catch the world’s top stars in action at North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, and at 2017 Premier League champions Chelsea. West London also contains Championship teams Fulham, QPR and Brentford. Across the city in Stratford, West Ham are based at the London Stadium that staged the Olympic Games in 2012.
While Chelsea have put their stadium rebuilding plans on hold, Tottenham moved into their new one in 2019 after nearly two whole seasons at Wembley.
South of the river you’ll find Crystal Palace, plus local rivals Charlton and Millwall. Joining the Football League in 2016, AFC Wimbledon are the club formed by loyal local fans after Wimbledon FC, FA Cup winners in 1988, moved to Milton Keynes in 2004 to become the MK Dons. The revived Wombles play out of town at Kingstonian’s ground, Kingsmeadow, aka Cherry Red Records Stadium, near Norbiton station 25 minutes from Waterloo.
Another side to have emerged from the non-league pyramid, Barnet, regained promotion to the Football League in 2015 only to fall out of it again in 2018. Dropping out in 2016 were Dagenham & Redbridge, who can link their ancestry back to leading amateur clubs from around East London and outskirts. A 3-2 defeat by fellow East Londoners Leyton Orient sent The Daggers into the fifth flight. Orient followed them a year later but climbed back up after winning the National League in 2019. Buoyant Sutton United, who enjoyed a memorable cup run in 2016-17, missed out in the play-offs in 2018 after a late thriller against Boreham Wood while currently resurgent Bromley are based at Hayes Lane, aka Westminster Waste, which sports a new stand added before the 2019-20 campaign. The ground lies a 15-minute walk from Bromley South station, 15 minutes by frequent train from Victoria.
The capital is also the seat of the Football Association, the stuffy body who ran the game from its foundation at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street in 1863 to the inaugural Football League in 1888. Drafting the rules of the game, the FA then introduced a challenge cup, first won in 1872 by Wanderers, a team of Old Harrovians originally based in Snaresbrook, near Epping Forest.
Ever since, London teams traditionally performed well in the glamorous cup competitions but poorly in the long, gruelling league championship. All this changed with the arrival of Arsène Wenger as coach of Arsenal and Roman Abramovich as owner of Chelsea.
Eight titles have come to the capital since 1998. During that time, Wembley, opened in 1923, was completely rebuilt and reopened, making it the showcase once again for the national game.
Five main airports serve London. Heathrow is 27km (17 miles) west of town, connected by Tube (Piccadilly line, 45mins, £6 single, £3.10-£5.10 with an Oyster Card, £5) and Heathrow Express fast train to Paddington (15mins, £22-£25 single, £37 return, £5 supplement on board, cheapest advance single £5.50). Gatwick is 47km (30 miles) south of town, connected by Gatwick Express fast train to Victoria Station (30mins, £19.90 single, £17.80 online). Regular trains to Victoria are cheaper and just as quick.
Luton is 56km (35 miles) north of town, connected by rail to St Pancras (45mins, £16.40 single), which includes the shuttle bus (otherwise £2.10/£3.40 return) to Luton Airport Parkway station. Buses such as Green Line to Victoria are cheaper but slower. Stansted Airport is 48km (30 miles) north-east of town, connected by Stansted Express to Liverpool Street (45mins, £16.60 single, £28 return). A black cab from any of these airports to town should cost £60-£100, cheaper with a minicab.
Alongside Docklands, London City Airport is the closest to town, 11km (seven miles) from the capital’s financial centre. It now serves cities as far as Rome, Prague and Berlin. It has its own stop on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) line, 17min from Stratford International and the London Stadium.
London Transport consists of the Tube, buses, local and light rail, the network divided into zones. A central zones 1-2 day pass (Travelcard) is £12.30, capped at £6.60 for Oyster users. There are no more cash fares on buses, only payment by Oyster. Heathrow and London City airports are within the Oyster zone.
Visit London and information desks at major stations can help with booking. Staying cheaply in London is close to impossible, though there are affordable guesthouses of varying standards around Victoria, Euston and King’s Cross Stations.
If you’re arriving or departing by Eurostar, the Great Northern Hotel has recently reopened as a luxury boutique option that served St Pancras Station in the great steam era. For something more wallet-friendly, a row of cheap(ish) lodgings between Euston Station and the British Museum lines Gower Street, including the Arosfa and the Gower House Hotels.
For a little football history, then the Cumberland by Marble Arch is where the Magic Magyar team stayed in 1953, though this contemporary lodging looked far different then.
Around Wembley, the nearest and classiest option is the Hilton, with a pool, sauna and the panoramic Sky Bar 9 backdropped by the stadium itself. Also close, rising up alongside each other, are an ibis and a Holiday Inn. Around the other side of the stadium, halfway between Wembley Park tube station and beside Wembley Way, is a Novotel. Right by the tube station, is a large, gleaming Premier Inn. Also close are the Wembley International Hotel, with 165 value-conscious rooms and a sports bar, and, over the road, the business-friendly St George.
Near Wembley Stadium rail, The Arch is a 14-room hotel with a sports bar and Indian restaurant.
You can also try the en-suite rooms above the Green Man pub, up a steep little climb from the stadium.
While Stamford Bridge remains in operation, so do the Millennium & Copthorne Hotels at Chelsea Football Club, two adjoining four-stars offering dining and drinking at the 55 Restaurant and Frankie’s Sports Bar. Almost as close is the smart, 43-room La Reserve, a three-star with its own restaurant. It is not yet clear what will happen to these properties once work starts on the whole stadium site in 2019 – relocation is likely. The business-friendly DoubleTree by Hilton Chelsea is also convenient for Stamford Bridge, steps away from Imperial Wharf station.
With the dearth of hotels around the Emirates, some international visitors enjoy the boutique comfort, traditional pub atmosphere and roof terrace of the chic Rose & Crown, near Clissold Park, a 20-minute walk away.
Literally hundreds of pubs show TV football – and scores around Soho and the West End. Replacing the Sports Café on Haymarket near Piccadilly Circus, Rileys is one of the largest of this nationwide chain, with 34 screens, four giant ones and 70 channels. Right on Leicester Square, surrounded by gambling action, the Carlsberg Sports Bar occupies a huge basement area of the Casino at the Empire, with large screens and Danish beer on offer to non-players too.
In the heart of Soho, calcio-centric Bar Italia is a perennial classic while convivial traditional pub the Freemasons Arms may not be the exact place where the FA convened in 1863 but displays documentation to that effect. Another classic Soho spot is De Hems, steeped in Dutch history, with Benelux beers and an orange glow when major tournaments are on.
By the media quarter north of Soho, Jetlag is a tastefully conceived, two-floor sports bar, with its own cinema screen, nine other smaller screens, craft beers and cocktails.
Also heartily recommended are table-football bars the Café Kick in Exmouth Market and Bar Kick in Shoreditch, both outstanding, with retro, continental designer touches, decent food and a great atmosphere.
Elsewhere, the Famous 3 Kings by West Kensington Tube has a huge choice of screens while the chain of Sportsbar&grill have key sites at Marylebone (note Pelé’s signed shirt from ‘Escape to Victory’), Victoria, Farringdon, Victoria and Waterloo Stations.
For Bundesliga games and lashings of quality German beers, Zeitgeist between Vauxhall and Lambeth was once Charlie Chaplin’s local.
Shopping mecca London doesn’t lack for soccer boutiques. Traditional Lillywhites, in a prime location right on Piccadilly, has scores of kits on the second floor. On Carnaby Street there’s a large outlet for PUMA. The main branches for adidas are on nearby Foubert’s Place and at 415 Oxford Street, along which you’ll find a number of generic sportswear shops and stalls selling replica shirts.
For something a little more original, Present London is an independent boutique on Shoreditch High Street with a natty line in with-it men’s sportswear.