America's national pastime may be baseball, but for the rest of the world it's all about football. We're not talking about the pigskin game though. We're talking about the one with the black and white checkered ball. Back in 2007, FIFA estimated more than 265 million people played the sport around the globe, both professionally and for fun, while millions more cheered them on to victory. For the rest of the world, soccer reigns king and boasts a fanbase that makes American sports look like child's play. If you want to get in on the action, here are six cities with the most epic soccer fandoms in the world:
Besiktas: Istanbul, Turkey
In 1903, 22 athletes formed a modest neighborhood sports club called Besiktas in Istanbul, which over the years, has morphed into a world-renown soccer powerhouse. Based solely on the loyalty and energy of its Turkish fanbase, you would never know that Besiktas hasn’t won a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) championship — ever. It has, however, won the Turkish Cup a whopping nine times, most recently in 2011. Win or lose, Besiktas' black-and-white fanbase is a rowdy bunch and thousands of steadfast supporters show up at Vodafone Arena for each game with thousands more pouring into the streets for a victory celebration. If you feel like checking out the action first hand, buy tickets well in advance -- they sell out quickly.
Liverpool F.C.: Liverpool, England
It would be pretty hard to find a group of fans more fiercely loyal than those in Liverpool. Founded in 1852 in England, this soccer club is considered one of the greatest sports teams of all time. With players like Mario Balotelli and Jordan Henderson, three UEFA Cups, 18 League Titles, and a record eight League Cups under their belt, it’s easy to see why fans keep coming back. The team really is just that good. Nearly all the home games at Anfield Stadium are sold out as thousands wildly wave their red Liverpool gear. Don't miss the after parties because they're half the fun and feel like a never ending block party.
F.C. Barcelona: Barcelona, Spain
The year 1899 birthed one of the most successful soccer franchises of all time: F.C. Barcelona. The club's home base is Camp Nou, the largest stadium in the country and in Europe by capacity. Incredibly, Barcelona fans fill every seat at every game as people just can’t get enough of this dynamic team. Led by Lionel Messi, Neymar da Silva Santos and countless other soccer legends, F.C. Barcelona has won a staggering 24 La Liga Championships, 11 Spanish Supercups, five UEFA Championships, and continue to smash records left and right. Their excitement is palpable and even if you aren’t a supporter, you have to admire the fiery and passionate Spanish fanbase.
Celtic F.C.: Glasgow, Scotland
If you ask anyone in Scotland, soccer paradise resides in Glasgow with the Celtic Football Club. Located at Celtic Park, Celtic F.C. is a lesser known UK favorite with a relatively smaller fanbase, but it still manages to pack a powerful punch. Boasting 47 Scottish League Championships, it was the first British team to win the European Cup, making it all the way to the UEFA Finals back in 2003. The Celtics have a longstanding rivalry with the Rangers, another successful Scottish soccer club in Glasgow, that has come to be known as the “Old Firm.” The term stands for a comment made during the Celtic and the Rangers first match when a commentator said that the two teams regarded each other “like two old, firm friends."
Red Star Belgrade: Belgrade, Serbia
Soccer might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture Serbia, but it should be. Originating in 1945, the Red Star Belgrade is a young club with a bright future. They have quickly risen in popularity with just under half the country cheering them to victory. Although the team hasn't qualified for the UEFA Championship since 1992, the Red Star holds numerous other titles within Eastern Europe and is the only Serbian team to ever win the European Cup. At any given match in Rajko Mitic Stadium, you can expect the beer to be flowing, the cheers to be deafening, and a sea of fans decked out in red and white.
F.C. Bayern Munich: Munich, Germany
Talk about an underdog story. When it comes to championships, people are quick to count out F.C. Bayern Munich, but this tiny Bavarian outfit has been raking in the accolades for a little over a decade now. Founded in 1900 by famous German photographer, Franz John, the team has gone on to become the most successful soccer team in the history of Germany, making it to 10 European Cup and UEFA Championship League finals and winning one UEFA cup, one UEFA Super Cup, and one FIFA Club World Cup. If you ever find yourself in Munich, be sure to swing by Allianz Arena to catch a game and surround yourself with some of the most diehard and steadfast fans on the continent.