If you rattle off some of the biggest football clubs on Earth, say – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United – it is immediately obvious that they are all based in cities, and typically rather large ones.
This is of course very little surprise, but it is a little surprising just how few non-city based clubs enjoy genuine success. As always, I want to make it absolutely clear that this seven is based solely on the team’s current ability.
Here are the 7 best football clubs not based in cities right now:
Ten-time Danish champions Brondby, who play at the Brondby Stadion, are based in the Brondby Municipality in the east of Denmark. To be more specific, they are based in the town of Brondbyvester within the Brondby Municipality, which – crucially – being a town and all, means it is not a city. A suburb of Copenhagen, Brondbyvester has a population of just 20,000 people, which is fewer than the Brondby Stadion’s capacity.
Brondby are the second most successful club in Denmark behind their rivals FC Copenhagen, but they haven’t won a league title since 2005. They did win their seventh Danish Cup in 2018, which was the clubs first silverware of any kind for a decade. Fifteen games into the current 2019-20 Danish Superliga season, Brondby sit third in the table, trailing Midtjylland and FC Copenhagen. Among Brondby’s star men are prolific Polish international Kamil Wilczek and pacy Swedish wide man Simon Hedlund, and the Danish outfit get us started in this seven.
A little closer to home, for our UK viewers at least, obviously not our Danish and Scandinavian ones, at sixth it is Watford. FA Cup finalists in 2018-19 but currently propping up the Premier League table, Watford are yet to win in eleven Premier League outings so far this season, having suffered an 8-0 defeat at the hands of Man City in September.
That’s why they’re only sixth, and some could make a case for a few of the Championship sides who will feature in the honourable mentions – including the side that tops the Championship at the time of this recording, could be ahead of them, but I don’t think that would be fair. Watford finished 11th in the Premier League last season, a whopping 16 points clear of the relegation zone. Clearly they’re in real danger this season, but they’re only actually a couple of wins and a draw off Everton, and they have some real talent with the likes of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Roberto Perrerya and Gerard Deulofeu.
Watford is routinely confused as being in London, when it is in fact a borough and town in Hertfordshire, just a little north-west of London. Almost 100,000 people live in Watford, and the town was the birthplace of actor Matt King, who plays Super Hans from Peep Show. He’s not the most famous person from Watford, but he’s the one I’ve chosen to include here.
5. SC Heerenveen
Given that SC Heerenveen have been in the top flight of Dutch football since 1993 and have formed the platform of many Netherlands greats over the years, those who are not experts in the city-status of settlements within the Netherlands could be forgiven for thinking Heerenveen falls into that category. Experts, however, will know that it is not. Heerenveen is a town and municipality in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands.
The municipality has a population of just over 50,000, whilst the town proper is home to just under 33,000 people. It may seem surprising that Heerenveen are a club that have played Champions League football, have won the KNVB Cup and have a stadium with a capacity of 27,000, almost the same as the towns population. In some respects, that is surprising, but Heerenveen is a town which prides itself on sporting greatness.
Known worldwide for having the fastest lowland speed skating rink on Earth, Heerenveen has given birth to some of the world’s greatest speed skaters. The town also has a hugely successful ice hockey team, and the football team isn’t bad either. Heerenveen’s stadium is named after club legend and Heerenveen-native Abe Lenstra, who scored 523 goals in 500 games for the club and 33 goals from 47 caps for the Netherlands. Lenstra isn’t the only former Heerenveen great though, the club has also provided a platform in the development of the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Heerenveen are seventh in the Eredivisie table at the time of this recording.
From the Netherlands to Italy, fourth places brings us to Sassuolo, a town in northern Italy. Renowned for its production of ceramic tiles, 80% of all ceramic tiles in Italy are produced in Sassuolo, with the 300 ceramic tile factories located there forming the backbone of the towns economy. Despite a population of just 40,000, the town has produced no fewer than three outstanding racing drivers over the years, namely Andrea Bertolini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Andrea Montermini.
Sassuolo is also currently the only non-city to have a team in the top flight of Italian football, Serie A. The nearest city to Sassuolo is Modena, just 11 miles away, and Sassuolo’s rise has largely coincide with their larger neighbours demise. Whilst Sassuolo compete in Serie A, Modena and fellow locals Carpi are currently playing in Serie C.
And when I say Sassuolo compete, they’ve really competed in recent times. Their rise was largely inspired by the management of Eusebio Di Francesco and the performances of the club’s all time record goal scorer Domenico Berardi, who is still with the club and is still only 25. Sassuolo finished sixth in Serie A in 2015-16, which saw them compete in the Europa League the following season, and they take fourth place in this seven.
Third place brings us to the second of three English clubs in this seven, and it could have been more. The second of the three are Burnley, who are based – remarkably – in the town of Burnley in Lancashire. Burnley are historical overachievers within the English game, and they remain so today. With a population of just 73,000 and an average attendance in excess of 20,000, Burnley supposedly hold the record for the highest ratio in terms of town population to match attendance in England.
Founded in 1882, Burnley were one of the twelve founding members of the Football League back in 1888, and they have played at Turf Moor since 1883. Burnley have spent more seasons in the top flight than in any other league, even having won two top flight titles, which is the same number as Tottenham Hotspur. FA Cup winners in 1914, Burnley finished 7th in the 2017-18 Premier League season, but went out in the play-offs of last seasons Europa League. Burnley continue to be overachievers in 2019, currently 14th in the Premier League, despite having one of the lowest wage budgets in the division.
The third and final Premier League team in this seven, Bournemouth are even greater overachievers than Burnley right now, in terms of the historical size of the club at least. AFC Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, which is by far the smallest stadium in the Premier League, isn’t actually located in Bournemouth at all, it is in Kings Park in Boscombe. Boscombe is a suburb of Bournemouth and most assuredly is not a city, but neither is Bournemouth itself, which is a coastal town. So whichever way you look at it, Bournemouth FC are not based in a city.
Unlike Burnley, Bournemouth have not historically been big hitters within English football. Their promotion under Eddie Howe in 2015 was the first time Bournemouth had reached the top flight since being founded in 1899. Boscombe, where Dean Court is based, has a population of around 10,000. The town of Bournemouth itself has a population of over 187,000. This figure is sometimes inflated to 465,000 by bringing in a larger catchment area, which would make Bournemouth the largest settlement in England without city-status.
Bournemouth are, by almost all measurable criteria, the smallest club in the Premier League, and yet they are routinely one of the best teams to watch. Eddie Howe has done a spectacular job not just keeping the Cherries in the Premier League, but looking to push on and always playing with a real style and purpose. The club finished 9th in 2016-17, and are 7th in the Premier League table at the time of this recording. With the likes of Nathan Ake, David Brooks and Callum Wilson at their disposal, Bournemouth are a really tidy outfit, and well worth their spot in second place.
0. Honourable Mentions
I’ll keep it brief with the honourable mentions, but please do let me know if there are any glaring omissions you feel I have made in the comments. Who am I kidding, this is YouTube, as if you wouldn’t. Staying in England, Championship table toppers West Brom are the most obvious honourable mentions, although the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town, Reading, Wigan, Luton and Middlesbrough shouldn’t be entirely overlooked either.
In France, Ligue 2 promotion hopefuls Lens and Guingamp came close to featuring, and both would have had even better shouts had they been top flight sides at the time of recording. Mid-table Portuguese side Rio Ave are a top flight side, based in the town of Vila do Conde, but they still didn’t quite squeak through. Back in Italy, Empoli can consider themselves a tad unfortunate not to feature as well, having only narrowly been relegated from Serie A last season.
Top of the tree as not just the best football team not based in a city, but also the only team in this seven based in a village rather than a town, 1899 Hoffenheim are a real footballing anomaly. The village of Hoffenheim has a population of just 3,272, yet Hoffenheim’s stadium has a capacity of 30,150, almost ten times the villages population. It ought to be added, however, that Hoffenheim’s Rhein-Neckar Arena is located in a nearby village called Steinsfurt, although Steinsfurt also has a population of around 3,000.
Hoffenheim moved stadiums in 2009, with the club having won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2008. In the more than a decade since then, the club has never been relegated, recording a record high third placed finish in 2017-18. That saw them achieve Champions League qualification for the second consecutive season, which is a remarkable achievement for a village team.
It’s not all fairy tale stuff though, in fact, in Germany itself there is a fair bit ire aimed in Hoffenheim’s direction. There was nothing organic about Hoffenheim’s rise from fifth tier amateurs in 1999 to Champions League football in 2017, it came about as a direct consequence of vast sums of money being pumped into the club by local billionaire Dietmar Hopp. As with RB Leipzig, certain sections of supporters and the media in Germany haven’t taken too kindly to Hoffenheim’s success, with their lack of traditional fanbase and historic success often pointed out by their rivals. Hoffenheim are currently adjusting to the loss of manager Julian Nagelsmann to fellow bankrolled former minnows RB Leipzig, and they sit 9th in the Bundesliga table at the time of recording.