Football carves its own capitals
Once upon a time, it was a relatively simple task to name the de facto capital cities of European football. At the end of the 80s and early 90s they all began with the letter 'm': Milan, Madrid, Manchester, Munich and Marseille.
Measured in terms of trophy success, the fulcrum of the sport in
France shifted to Lyon quite some time ago, but the other four
cities remain well-established among the continent's
big-hitters. Nor does the status quo appear likely to change
dramatically in the foreseeable future. What comes as more of a
surprise is that only Madrid is a capital in both footballing and
In 2007, 12 European clubs based in the national capital won their domestic championship. Put another way, only one league in four was won by a team from the city which also provides the seat of government. In England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany, the continent's five biggest leagues, Real Madrid were once again the solitary representatives of the national capital to claim the domestic league trophy. London-based clubs have been there or thereabouts in England for a while, but teams from Paris and Berlin have consistently lagged behind the front-runners down the years.
By contrast, the likes of Moscow, Bucharest, Prague, Lisbon and Athens feature several clubs always tipped as realistic contenders for championship honours, some of whom frequently carry off the corresponding silverware to boot. In short, any survey of football in Europe's capitals will always struggle for a consistent theme. FIFA.com casts an eye over the pulsating, vibrant citadels of European football, and the capital cities where clubs struggle for a share of the limelight.
Yearning for silverware in Paris and Berlin
Crowds of celebrating football fans are certainly a rarity at the Arc du Triomphe and the Brandenburg Gate. Paris Saint-Germain have only won the French crown twice, most recently back in 1994, and currently lie two points and two places off the Ligue 1 drop zone. In the period since 1933, RC Paris (1935-6) are the only other club to parade the trophy through the famous boulevards of the French capital.
Hertha BSC Berlin also have two league titles to their name, in 1930 and 1931. At the present time, coach Lucien Favre's men are marooned in the no-man's land of 12th place in the Bundesliga. However, it should not be forgotten that Union 92 Berlin (1905) and Viktoria Berlin (1908 and 1911) also earned title glory for the city, while between 1979 and 1988, BFC Dynamo Berlin claimed the former GDR championship ten times in a row, an accolade also earned six times by Vorwarts Berlin.
Rome aims to end drought
Rome is another city where success has been at a premium down the years. AS Roma finished as runners-up twice in the last two seasons and are again Internazionale's chief pursuers this term, but the Eternal City has only ever witnessed five Italian title triumphs, two by Lazio and three by AS. Nevertheless, the capital cities in Italy, France and Germany do have one thing in common: they provided thrilling and stirring settings for the last three FIFA Wold Cup Finals on European soil.
Football is unquestionably the most global of sports, played in more countries than there are members of the UN. One would imagine that the likes of Paris, Berlin and Rome would possess more than enough potential to host clubs comfortably able to maintain a place among the continental elite. However, these are precisely the cities where sport must compete for attention with a vast cultural landscape, and the wide-ranging world of politics.
Cities where superlatives are commonplace only sit up and take
notice of unalloyed excellence in any given field. One must look
elsewhere for the cities where football has the characteristics of
a religion, and more often than not it is these cities that provide
a home to serial champions.
Unbounded passion in Athens
The Greek capital provides a prime example. Athens duo Panathinaikos (19 titles) and AEK (8) have claimed Greek championship honours 27 times, with another 35 titles going to Olympiakos in the neighbouring port city of Piraeus. Both on the Bosporus and in the shadow of Mt Olympus, unbridled passion accompanies the game. There can hardly be a single citizen who does not claim allegiance to one or other of the prestigious clubs.
The situation is not dissimilar in Russia, where only two league titles since 1992 have not been won by Moscow powerhouses Spartak, Locomotive or CSKA. The Czech metropolis of Prague has staged 58 national championship parties, with clubs from Bulgarian capital Sofia and Romanian capital Bucharest enjoying similar dominance. Throughout Eastern Europe, clubs from the capital tend to be fixtures in the title race.
Madrid, a citadel of football
However, the unchallenged number one as a citadel of football among Europe's national capitals remains Madrid. Real and Atlético have celebrated the Spanish title 39 times, with Real parading the European Cup/UEFA Champions League trophy a record nine times. London giants Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham boast a total of 18 national titles between them, Ajax have brought the Dutch championship trophy back to Amsterdam on 29 occasions, while Lisbon pair Benfica and Sporting have claimed domestic honours no fewer than 49 times.
However, a glance at the rolls of honour at Milan twosome AC and Inter, Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers, or Bayern Munich, Olympique Lyon and Juventus, provides more than ample evidence that teams from national capitals have no automatic right to success. Istanbul is another classic example. The big three of Fenerbahce (17 titles), Galatasaray (16) and Besiktas (12) have amassed a total of 45 national championship titles. Indeed, the trophy has not left Istanbul for Ankara - or anywhere else - for the last 24 years.
The aforementioned seven clubs have won their respective national titles 177 times in total, emphatically demonstrating that the simple game of football has the continuous and universal power to create capital cities of passion and commitment wherever it takes root.