When I first began planning my trip to the United Kingdom last summer, I had no idea how to buy Premier League or Champions League tickets, especially from the US.
I’m used to the typical ticket-buying channels seen across North American sports. The teams sell tickets to their home games, yes, but a buyer’s first instinct often is to check Ticketmaster or some other independent outlet. And then there’s the secondary market — StubHub, SeatGeek and the like — where bargains can sometimes be found and last-minute tickets are nearly always available.
It’s understandable that the market for soccer tickets in England is not like that, but before attempting to secure tickets myself, I didn’t understand how different it would be.
Now, though, I feel I have a good grasp on how to get into some of the UK’s most popular football grounds, which I’ll outline below. And I’ll have to follow these methods again, because the COVID-19 pandemic derailed my original plans and caused the cancellation of the games I was supposed to attend.
The good news is, I was refunded for the tickets I did purchase, as the matches eventually progressed without fans starting in June. The bad news is, I’ll have to go through this process all over again and hope for the best. So any tips below come with the caveat that things will not be “normal” at least through the 2020-21 season. I’ll be sure to update this post if I discover new methods for acquiring tickets.
Step 1: Choosing your dates
If you’re like me (or most people, I’d imagine), you choose the dates in which you want to travel based on your schedule with work, school or other obligations, and then once that timeframe is set, then you set about seeing what events might be happening at your destination during that time.
First off, you have to make sure your dates fall within the normal soccer season in England. The Premier League season typically runs from the second weekend in August to the middle of May, while Champions League matches throughout Europe coincide with this timeframe and typically culminate in the final in late May or early June.
Summertime is typically reserved for international competitions (the World Cup or European Championships, for example).
Step 2: Finding your fixture opportunities
It stands to reason that if you’re in the US, finding a game for which to buy tickets is as simple as looking at a schedule for the Premier League, or the Champions League bracket, but it’s not that simple.
When the Premier League releases its fixtures for the upcoming season (usually in June), matches are divided into “matchweeks” and scheduled for the Saturday of that week at 3 p.m. British time.
However, only some matches will wind up being played at that time; others — mainly ones involving popular clubs that visitors would often like to see — will get moved up to Friday, or back to Sunday or Monday, and kickoff times usually change as well. This is done to accommodate TV (not unlike the NFL “flexing” a game into the coveted Sunday night time slot), and also to allow clubs to participate in matches for other competitions.
It makes things tricky, though, for the traveler from the USA or elsewhere who wants to buy tickets for matches a few months ahead. In the Premier League, fixtures are set in stages, and for a couple months at a time. In my case, I had to wait until late January to find out exactly when my target matches during my trip in mid-March would take place.
The Premier League usually sets a schedule for when fixture times will be announced, so it’s worth following them on Twitter or another social media platform to stay abreast of announcements. Similarly, it’s worth keeping an eye on dates for Champions League draws, but at least match dates for every stage known before each year’s tournament begins.
Step 3: Should you buy a membership?
So how, exactly, do you buy tickets for the Premier League and Champions League from the US? Well, it all begins with the individual clubs. Once you’ve identified a match that you want to attend, you should then check out the ticket-buying procedures put in place by the home club in question.
You’ll quickly discover, though, that for some Premier League clubs — at least, the ones you routinely see near the top of the table — buying a club membership is required to even get into the team’s ticket portal. For a yearly fee, a membership gets you perks including gifts, team store discounts and exclusive access to club-produced content (that’s how I got the Spurs scarf pictured above while paying nothing more than the shipping fee), but it also gives you the opportunity to buy tickets when they go on sale.
Each club controls its supply for matches regardless of what competition they’re for, be it a “regular” league match or for the Champions League, Europa League FA Cup, and so on. My original plans included one Premier League match (Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium) and one Champions League game (Manchester City vs. Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium), so I bought memberships for both Spurs and Man City.
Note that some teams structure their member ticket-buying rules differently. Some, like Manchester City, allow members to purchase multiple tickets under a single membership. But many, such as Tottenham, require each ticketholder to hold an individual membership. When I bought tickets for my original trip from the USA, I needed one Man City membership for the scheduled Champions League match but two for Tottenham so that I could buy a pair of tickets for the league fixture.
So yeah, it can get a little convoluted. But if you’re a fan of a specific club and want to follow them around, then it gets much simpler. Buy the one membership and then you’ll have access to tickets for that team’s road matches, as well — as you may know, European soccer stadiums all have designated visiting supporter sections.
Also, know that for the most popular clubs in England — in my experience, this includes Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea — you will most likely not be able to buy single-match tickets this way, as the demand is just too high and seniority (as in, how long you’ve held a membership and how many matches you’ve attended) is a primary factor in how clubs allow access to tickets. If you really want to see a home match for one of these clubs, feel free to skip ahead to Step 5.
Step 4: Online sales
Once you have your memberships, then there’s nothing left but to buy the tickets. There’s a unique challenge to this, though, as online ticket sales in Britain are conducted similarly to in the USA, but the time difference can make for some early wake-up calls.
To buy tickets for both matches mentioned above, I woke up at 2 a.m. Pacific time (I live in Southern California) in order to secure seats. I was successful on both counts, so it was worth it. Know, though, that match tickets can sell out quickly depending on the demand.
Also, pay attention to each club’s policy on how they distribute tickets. In the case of Spurs, you have to download their official app and access your mobile ticket from there (if you really want a paper ticket, you’ll have to visit the stadium box office on the day of the match). Manchester City mailed their tickets to me, and so even though I didn’t get to use it, I got a nice little souvenir.
Step 5: Should you buy a package?
OK, you bought the membership and struck out during the ticket on-sale, or you’ve decided last-minute to try and see a high-demand match, or you really, REALLY want to see a match at Anfield or Stamford Bridge. What to do?
There is one fool-proof alternative: the hospitality package. They don’t come cheap (think somewhere between £300 and £500 per person depending on the club and the match), but they don’t come with any restrictions, and they come with perks such as a catered meal, a stadium tour or merchandise discounts.
Every club offers them, and if you really are that set on seeing the match you want and money is no object, well, buying a hospitality package will certainly help you achieve that goal.
One thing I would NOT advise is going through the secondary market. The English clubs tend to offer some stern warnings about not accepting tickets bought second-hand, going so far as to claim popular portals like StubHub are blacklisted.
I’m sure people do get in with second-hand tickets, or tickets bought on the street, all the time. But if you’re visiting from outside the UK, would you want to spend that kind of money, come all that way and then find out at the gate that your tickets are no good?
Step 6: Enjoy the match!
Congratulations! You made it! Taking in an international sporting event is a favorite pastime for me, and one I plan on taking advantage of whenever I’m able to get to England.