(Author’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series highlighting the major football stadiums in London, as well as their surrounding environs. Today’s feature is on grounds in West London, with pieces on North, South, and East London still to come in the run-up to the Olympics).
Even though the 2011-12 Premier League season has ended, there is still an exciting summer ahead in the soccer world. Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine starts June 8, and the tournaments in the Summer Olympics in England kick off July 25 (women) and 26 (men).
Record numbers of tourists are expected to converge upon London for the Games, and though the football tournaments do not draw as much focus as some of the other events, they will still be a huge deal. On the men’s side, Argentina has won gold at the last two Olympiads, with such names as Tevez, Aguero, Mascherano, and Messi featuring for the victors. In 2008, Giuseppe Rossi led the tournament in goalscoring with 4, with Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé right behind him with 3. Rest assured that even though this is an under-23 tournament, you’ll see some of today’s (as well as tomorrow’s) stars in this event, probably including David Beckham leading out the England side as captain.
London, to me, is the best city in the world. There is so much to do that even a lifetime spent there wouldn’t be enough to see all it has to offer. For those of you who plan on visiting London, though, either for the Olympics or just for pleasure at another time, I’d like to give you a quick primer on what to see while you’re there, at least relating to soccer.
A couple notes to keep in mind: All “Directions” are based on the London Underground system, the “Tube”. Bus routes are available online, as are car directions, but the Tube is the best way to get around in London, by far. As a general rule, the further away from Central London you go, the more expensive it will be, but fares are very affordable. I would recommend, if you’re going to be there for at least a week, buy an Oyster Card, valid on all public transportation.
Stadium: Stamford Bridge (capacity: 41,837)
Directions: Take the District Line (green on the Tube map) to the Fulham Broadway tube station. 0.4 mile walk from there to the stadium. Can’t miss it. As convenient as it gets.
Local Area: Stamford Bridge is located in the swanky Hammersmith and Fulham Borough, not in the also-posh Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, as the club’s name might suggest. The stadium itself is fine, containing a museum that’s open for a tour that I highly recommend, having taken it myself (prices and opening times).
However, the highlight of the area is the area itself. A short tube ride in the other direction, towards Gloucester Road, South Kensington, and High Street Kensington, puts you in the heart of what is, for me, the fanciest part of London. Within walking distance is, including other must-see stops, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Royal Albert Hall. The Fulham Broadway tube station has a movie theater, several restaurants, and a bookstore, and right outside the station is Fulham Road. Shopping is expensive, but browsing doesn’t cost a thing. A short walk away, as well, is Putney Bridge, crossing the picturesque River Thames, the setting for our next stadium.
Recommendation: If you’re in London, definitely worth visiting, if not for the stadium, for its setting.
Stadium: Craven Cottage (capacity: 25,700)
Directions: Two choices. Take the District Line to Fulham Broadway and walk 1.5 miles on Bishop’s Road through the small, beautiful residential area, or take the District Line two stops further to the Putney Bridge station and walk about a mile through Fulham Palace Gardens and Bishop’s Park, both overlooking the Thames.
Local Area: Having attended four matches at Craven Cottage, I’m admittedly biased, but I much prefer it to Stamford Bridge in terms of the actual matchday experience. As small as the stadium is in terms of size, and as cozy as it feels, it generates a great atmosphere for Premier League (and Europa League, in the past few seasons) games.
However, there is very little to do around the ground except walk around and enjoy the scenery. It’s beautiful, but nestled right up against the Thames and the surrounding neighborhood, there are no shops or ways to occupy any considerable length of time. Still, this is as nice of an area around a football ground in London as there is. In addition, just a couple stops further down on the District Line is Wimbledon, the home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and Museum and the famous Wimbledon Championships, this year held in late June-early July, as well as the Olympic tennis tournament.
Recommendation: Not very impressive to look at architecturally, but full of tradition and in a picturesque location next to the river. Worth visiting, along with Stamford Bridge and/or Wimbledon on the same day.
Queens Park Rangers
Stadium: Loftus Road (capacity: 18,360)
Directions: Again, two choices. Take the Central Line (red on the Tube map) to the White City tube station and walk half a mile, or take the Hammersmith and City Line (pink) or Circle Line (yellow) to the Wood Lane tube station and walk an extra two minutes.
Local Area: Loftus Road is located in Shepherd’s Bush, also in the Hammersmith and Fulham Borough. The stadium itself, built in 1904, is nothing special, and unless you’re a QPR fan, it’s not an absolute must-see.
It is in a good location for tourists, though, for several reasons. Upon walking, you’ll notice an interesting array of street names, including South Africa Road, Australia Road, and Batman Close, right on the edge of Hammersmith Park. Next to the Wood Lane and White City tube stops is the BBC Television Centre, open for two-hour tours (more information). Shepherd’s Bush Market, an outdoor street market where you can find food, clothes, etc., is one stop away from Wood Lane on the tube.
If that doesn’t strike your fancy, perhaps the Westfield shopping center, the largest urban shopping center in Europe (its size is equivalent to 30 football pitches), would, with its high-end retail stores, movie theater, and more moderately priced stores. Westfield is also served by the Wood Lane and White City tube stops.
Recommendation: Loftus Road is in a more urban, busier area than Stamford Bridge and Craven Cottage, and is nowhere near as nice of a stadium. However, the local attractions make the area more appealing and there is plenty to do around here to occupy a few hours.