London football trail: Seven hours, seven stadiums and a history of the world capital of football
Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea Football Club. (Image: Jamie Alter)

LONDON: If you’re a football fan, there probably is no better place to take in an array of football stadiums than the city of London. Now I wouldn’t even term myself a casual football fan, but I can appreciate that London is the football capital of the world.

And finding myself with a rare off day from covering the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, I decided to attempt the London football trail.

The greater London area hosts 13 football clubs, ranging from multiple Premier League title-winners to perennial hopefuls. Seven hours, 17 tube stations, one 14-stop bus ride, over 25,000 steps (high five, FitBit tracker), one flat white, one iced latte, two bottles of water, one bacon-spinach-cheese sandwich and countless songs on my iPhone later, I had ticked off seven of them. #ambitious

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Now keep in mind, the average cost to enter most of these stadiums is 25 pounds, so with seven stadiums … well, do the math and figure out how it much it would have cost me to take in each one. So instead, I admired the stadiums from outside.

Here’s how my London football trip panned out.

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My first stop was Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal Football Club. Located in north London, Emirates Stadium is one kilometre from the hotel I’m staying at in Finsbury Park, so I walked it. The stadium is grand. Crossing the Ken Friar Bridge, named after the managing director and secretary of Arsenal FC, one descends onto the esplanade outside the Emirates Stadium and can take in the club’s history via the images and text on the walls of the stadium and the surrounding perimeter.

Emirates Stadium Arsenal
Emirates Stadium is home to Arsenal Football Club. (Image: Jamie Alter)

A roster of Arsenal legends and star players down the year can be taken in, from Tony Adams and David O’Leary to David Seaman, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Steve Bould.

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While exiting the merchandise shop, I over hear an Australian and his American friend discussing cricket. The Aussie man is trying to compare cricket with baseball, and the lady throws in the odd recognition of what he’s saying. Strikes, balls, wides, no-balls and foul tips are discussed. The man tells the lady about Shane Warne, two last-wicket Test match wins, Perth Stadium and the IPL. I have a chuckle. Me, a cricket reporter, at a famous football stadium, overhearing an Aussie and an American discussing cricket.

I wonder what Arsene Wenger would thinks.

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Next stop: Wembley Stadium, one of the most famous in the world and very popular as a concert host. What stands out from afar is Wembley Stadium’s 133m high arch, letting you know that you are in the Wembley area. Owned by The Football Association, this gigantic area is home to the England football team and where tournament such as the FA Cup final, Football League Cup final, FA Community Shield and the Rugby League Challenge are held.

While Tottenham Hotspurs new world-class stadium was being built, the team played matches at Wembley Stadium during the 2017-19 and 2018-19 football seasons.

Statue of Bobby Moore, Wembley
A bronze sculpture of the former West Ham and England footballer Bobby Moore welcomes you to Wembley Stadium. (Image: Jamie Alter)

Wembley Stadium also played host during the 2012 London Olympics, and it also hosts NFL matches. During the summer, many rock concerts and pop shows take place here. Over the past week, acts such as Billy Joel, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Jon Bon Jovi performed at Wembley Stadium. This coming weekend, American pop star Pink is due to perform.

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One of the most iconic football stadiums in England, Stamford Bridge, is where Chelsea FC play their home games.

The Bridge, as it’s commonly known, is something to behold. With a capacity of nearly 42,000, this stadium is home to the most successful football team of this century and it it reminds you as soon as you enter. The perimeter has life-size and larger cutouts of an array of Chelsea football stars, and inside the museum is a history of the club and its various titles.

Chelsea Museum Stamford Bridge
The Chelsea Museum inside Stamford Bridge. (Image: Jamie Alter)

I arrive at Stamford Bridge less than a month since Chelsea won the UEFA Europa League, and there are many fans in blue and white t-shirts taking photos inside the stadium.

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Fourteen bus stops and a nice stroll through scenic Bishops Park, I am at Craven Cottage. It is home to Fulham FC, who in the last Premier League season were relegated.

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Intrigued by the name, I investigate its origins and learn that it draws its heritage to 1870 and a cottage built in the nearby woods, alongside a vast expanse of land where various sports were played. When the cottage burned down in 1888, Fulham FC’s owners acquired a piece of land on the banks of the river Thames and in 1896 the club played its first football match there. In 1906, a proper stand was constructed and this is pretty much how the existing ground looks like, with help from some remodelling in the 1970s.

johnny haynes statue craven cottage
Johnny Haynes played for Fulham FC for 18 years. (Image: Jamie Alter)

A statue of Johnny Haynes welcomes you to Craven Cottage. Known as the David Beckam of his era – among his various endorsement deals was being ‘the Brylcreem Boy’ with his face all over London billboards, buses, newspapers and on TV – Haynes was Fulham FC captain for several years and also represented England in 56 games.

The ground is small – this summer, work began to convert Craven Cottage into a near 30,000-seater stadium – and the front gate does not reveal much. On Tuesday, many Fulham FC fans were divided in their opinions as the club launched their new home and away kits for the 2019-20 season.

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If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you may walk right past Loftus Road Stadium. A nondescript structure with two small parks on either side, with its main entrance right off the sidewalk of an unobtrusive side street, it is home to Queen’s Park Rangers.

The stadium can host a little over 18,000, and this year was renamed the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium in conjunction with a local charity which works to educate children and teenagers about knife crime.

QPR's Loftus Road stadium
Queens Park Rangers’ home ground is Loftus Road Stadium. (Image: Jamie Alter)

Inside the reception area is a small section dedicated to QPR’s history, and holding pride of place is the one major title the club won – the League Cup in 1967.

QPR have an Indian connection, as 11% of it is owned by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and its chairman is British-Indian businessman Amit Bhatia.

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London Stadium. Like Wembley Stadium, it is a multi-purpose facility, and in football the home ground of West Ham United.

A massive structure than can seat 66,000, London Stadium is in the news because later next week it will host the London Series, an exhibition baseball game between the two biggest rivals in MLB history – the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

London Stadium West Ham United
London Stadium hosts West Ham United and this summer, the MLB London Series. (Image: Jamie Alter)

West Ham United’s home venue has been given a makeover for this marquee baseball clash on June 29-30, which is the first MLB game in Europe ever. As I near the ticket booth, I can see and hear plenty of work going on, as well as some American accents. There are British and American contractors and construction workers in groups of two and three.

The London Series will be the first time in their 2,200-match history that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will play on a synthetic turf.

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The last stop on my tour – which like Emirates Stadium happens to be close to where I am staying in London – is White Hart Lane, the former home ground for Tottenham Hotspurs, now rechristened as Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It is here that many English football stars – Robbie Keane, Gus Poyet, Jamie Redknapp, Darren Anderton, to name a few – played over the years.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Image: Jamie Alter)

Established in 1899, White Hart Lane was home to Spurs for 118 years until the end of the 2016-17 football season when the Northumberland Development Project was put in motion. While Spurs’ fans await the construction a few venue, their team has played at Wembley Stadium.

Spurs officially moved into Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in April of this year, beating Cystal Palace 2-0 in the Premier League game.