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The highest ever football attendances

The biggest football attendances ever recorded

Manchester United. Borussia Dortmund. Barcelona. These are the top 3 supported football clubs in Europe at the moment, each averaging somewhere around 75,000-80,000. Impressive numbers.

However, today's ultra modern, ultra safe (and some would say, ultra expensive) stadiums have one major floor vs their olden day counterparts - capacity. The widespread introduction of seating in football stadiums led to a loss in the number of fans who could physically attend matches.

So, whilst an attendance of 80,000 (or sometimes up to 95,000 in Barcelona's case) are impressive, they're still a long way off football's biggest ever attendances. Here's some of the top attendances the footballing world has ever seen:

Michigan Stadium, USA

Michigan Stadium - Michigan, USA (official attendance: 109,318)

Manchester United v Real Madrid, International Champions Cup, 2014

By far the most recent large attendance was set on August 2nd 2014 when Man United played Real Madrid in an International Champions Cup match in America.

The game was played at Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan in front of a sell-out crowd of 109,318 with Man Utd emerging 3-1 victors.

This is a record attendance for football (soccer) in the USA, surpassing the previous record of 101,799. This was set at the 1984 Olympic Games Football Final played at the Rose Bowl in LA where France beat Brazil 2-0. Interestingly, the 3rd place play off match got (at the time) a record of 100,374 the day before, meaning the record was broken twice in 24 hours.

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Spain

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu - Madrid, Spain (official attendance: 129,690)

Real Madrid v AC Milan, European Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg, 1956

Whilst arch rivals Barcelona may have the bigger stadium at the moment, it's Real Madrid who come out on top in terms of highest attendance.

The Bernabeu's record was set back in 1956 when just shy of 130,000 saw Real take on Italian giants AC Milan in the European Cup Semi-Final. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Real won 4-2 on the night, 5-4 on aggregate. Madrid went on to beat French side Reims 4-3 in the final, claiming an unrivalled 5th consecutive European Cup.

Real are unlikely to better the attendance anytime soon - the modern day Bernabeu currently holds just 81,044. Whilst there are plans in place to modernise the stadium, it will not increase the capacity. A sensible decision perhaps as Real's average has only once exceeded 70,000 in the past 5 years. If you're looking to take a trip to Mardid, you should be able to get a ticket for a Real match.

Salt Lake Stadium, India

Salt Lake Stadium - Kolkata, India (official attendance: 134,000)

East Bengal v Mohun Bagan, Federation Cup Semi-Final, 1997

Perhaps the most random attendance on this list comes from India. Hardly a hotbed for football, but in 1997 an impressive 134,000 fans squeezed into Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata for the Federation Cup Semi-Final.

East Bengal beat Mohun Bagan 4-1 in what is India's largest ever sporting attendance - higher even than any cricket match. East Bengal went on to lose in the final a week later.

Estadio da Luz, Portugal

Estadio da Luz - Lisbon, Portugal (official attendance: 135,000)

Benfica v Porto, Portuguese Primeira Liga, 1987

The old Estadio da Luz was the venue for the largest ever sporting attendance in Portugal. It is also one of the most recent on our list, with the impressive attendance being set just over 30 years ago.

The 135,000 was set in an "O Classico" encounter between Benfica and Porto, with the hosts coming out on top in a 3-1 victory. It was a result which set them up to win the Primeira Liga that season - with Benfica pipping Porto to the title by 3 points.

It's a number that won't be achieved again anytime soon - the old Estadio da Luz is long gone now, knocked down and replaced by the new stadium opened in 2003, ready for Portugal hosting the 2004 UEFA European Championships. Whilst undoubtedly an impressive structure, the new stadium's capacity is just a fraction of the old one - a mere 65,000.

Hampden Park, Scotland

Hampden Park - Glasgow, Scotland (official attendance: 136,505)

Celtic v Leeds, European Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg, 1970

Hampden Park holds the record for the largest ever club attendance in Europe which was also the largest attendance ever recorded for a UEFA competition.

It was set in the 1970 European Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg between Celtic and Leeds. The game was originally due to be played at Celtic Park, but demand for tickets was way above the 60,000 capacity at the time.

As a result, the match was moved to the much larger Hampden Park. As the away side, Leeds were given an allocation of 10,000, around half of which were sold with the other half returned to Celtic.

The first leg at Elland Road finished 1-0 to Celtic, with the Scots winning the second leg 2-1 to book their place in the final. They lost 2-1 to Feyenoord at the San Siro.

Hampden Park - Glasgow, Scotland (official attendance: 149,547)

Scotland v England, Home International Championship, 1937

As impressive as the 1970 attendance was, it was almost 13,000 short of Hampden's all-time record. That was set way back in 1937 when almost 150,000 fans saw Scotland take on England in a Home International Championship match.

This game still stands as a British and European record attendance for football. A fact made even more impressive as the game was effectively worthless. Wales has already won that year's title meaning there was nothing at all riding on this match. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 England fans travelled north in vein as Scotland ran out 3-1 victors.

Tickets on the terraces sold for 2 shillings (around £5 in today's money). Interest was perhaps heightened because it wasn't broadcast on the radio due to a disagreement at the time between the Scottish FA and the BBC.

Local reports show that 46 people fainted - which is an unusually small number for the size of the crowd and facilities at the time.

Amazingly a full programme of English league fixtures was played on the same day, with little to no effect on their attendances.

If you're interested in reading more about that day, The Blizzard has a great in-depth article about the match.

Hampden Park - Glasgow, Scotland (official attendance: 147,365)

Celtic v Aberdeen, Scottish Cup Final, 1937

Just a week after the Scotland-England game, an incredible 147,365 packed into Hampden for the Scottish Cup Final where Celtic took on Aberdeen.

This match set 2 more records for Hampden Park - the largest ever attendances for both a European domestic game and a National Cup Final anywhere in the world.

An estimated 30,000 fans were also locked out of the stadium and missed the match. The game ended 2-1 to Celtic - the only team to be involved in two of these record attendances.

Celtic player Jimmy Delaney also played in Scotland's win over England a week earlier. In just 7 days, he'd been watched by almost 300,000 people.

So there we have 3 entries for Hampden Park. And the stats get even more impressive... the Scottish Cup final was a bit of a big deal back in the day. Between 1928 and 1973, 37 finals recorded attendances of over 100,000. A further 5 were 90,000+. In those 44 years, the average attendance was 109,324 with the games watched by more than 5.5 million people.

Maracana Stadium, Brazil

Maracana Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (official attendance: 199,854)

Brazil v Uruguay, World Cup Final, 1950

The largest ever "official" attendance... step forward the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where just shy of 200,000 people watched Uruguay lift the World Cup trophy back in 1950.

The hosts went into the match only needing a draw to win. Back then, the winners weren't decided through today's knock out tournament - instead the top 4 teams played each other in a mini league with the top team crowned champions.

Brazil went into the match 1 point ahead of Uruguay. Despite going 1 up, Uruguay turned the match around in the 2nd half, scoring the winner with 11 minutes left. Winning goal scorer Ghiggia was the last surviving player before he passed away on July 16, 2015 - 65 years to the day after he scored the winning goal.

Such was Brazil's confidence of victory, they'd already printed 22 gold medals inscribed with each player's name and practiced and recorded a winners' sing to be played at full-time. A local morning paper printed a picture of the Brazilian team with the caption "world champions". According to legend, the Uruguayan captain bought as many copies as he could and laid them out on the floor in the dressing room for the team to urinate on before the match.

The aftermath of Brazil's defeat saw calls for them to change their kit from white (at the time) to the now famous yellow shirts with blue shorts. The 22 gold medals were never seen again and the victory song has never been performed.

A couple of side notes about the 1950 World Cup... the final was one for 4 matches to break through 100,000, the other 3 all involved the hosts and were all at the Maracana:

That 1950 World Cup held the highest average attendance record right through until USA 94. This stat is heavily skewed by the Brazil though, as a handful of games didn't even reach 10,000:

So, despite inventing the beautiful game, none of the top 7 football attendances ever recorded were actually in England.

Biggest football attendance in England...

Wembley Stadium, England

Wembley Stadium - London, England (official attendance: 126,047)

Bolton Wanderers v West Ham United, FA Cup Final, 1923

Unsurprisingly, the biggest ever football attendance in England was at the old Wembley Stadium. In fact, it was the old Wembley's first ever game - the 1923 FA Cup final between Bolton and West Ham.

The official attendance was recorded as 126,047 but many more fans gained entry and unofficial reports claim the attendance may have been as high as 300,000. That's not a typo - three hundred thousand... imagine the queue for the Underground at full time!

The crowds were so big that fans spilled onto the pitch, causing the kick-off to be delayed by 45 minutes as police on horseback cleared spectators off of the playing surface. They famously did this with a white police horse called Billie - giving the game the nickname of The White Horse Final.

When the match did eventually start, the bumper crowd saw Bolton win 2-0 to lift the FA Cup for the first time.

Will the record ever be broken?

So, there you have it - a list of some of the largest football attendances of all time. Will we ever record 100,000+ attendance again? Yes, part of Barcelona's plans to expand the Nou Camp include adding around 6,000 extra seats to take the total capacity to over 105,000 - so 100,000+ attendances will be possible from the mid-2020s (although FC Barca do rarely sell out, at present).

Will the Maracana's record ever be beaten? Probably not in our lifetime - most stadium capacities have been cut drastically in the last 30-40 years. There's now only a handful which can accommodate more than 100,000 people, the largest of which is North Korea's Rungrado 1st of May Stadium with a capacity of 114,000. So even if North Korea ever got awarded the World Cup, we're still unlikely to get anywhere near the Maracana's record.

About the Author: Rob Clarkson

Rob is the owner of A Sheffield United fan and father of two, Rob loves nothing more than a good game of football whether that's watching the Blades or one his local non-League teams. He's somewhat of a traditionalist, preferring the older grounds to newer purpose-built ones.

Away from, Rob works as an Ecommerce Development Project Manager for one of the UK's largest clothing retailers. He also owns and runs, a system which allows junior and non-League clubs to create their own low cost website.

Sheffield United supporter • 107 grounds visited • 56/92

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