At the turn of the century, a Census in England and Wales found that Jedi was the fourth largest reported religion in the country. Yet, for many on these shores and further afield football holds a pious status.
If football is a religion, stadiums are cathedrals and the journey fans make to sites of significance bear the fitting description of a pilgrimage.
In a game loved around the world, here are the best places to visit across the globe if you have the pleasure of embarking upon such a footballing expedition.
It’s the international break, and we can finally travel again, so what better time to book a trip or head off to one of these sacred footballing locations?
As a figure so readily associated with his lofty appraisal of the importance of football, Bill Shankly has inspired a following whose support extends well beyond the four walls of Anfield.
Each year, Liverpool fans travel to Glenbuck, East Ayrshire, the spiritual home of their revered manager from the 1960s and ’70s.
Few can rival Pele’s legendary status in Brazil, but Manuel Francisco dos Santos – best known as Garrincha – whose anarchic dribbling steered the Selecao to two World Cups, comes close.
Garrincha, so fleet of foot that tackling him was likened to pinning a wave to sand, passed away aged just 49.
At the top of the hill in a large Catholic graveyard near Garrincha’s hometown, stands a tall memorial stone bearing the words: “Garrincha, Joy of Pau Grande, Joy of Mage, Joy of Brazil, Joy of the World.”
Duncan Edwards was one of 23 Manchester United players, staff and journalists that were killed in the Munich air disaster of 1958.
Manchester United fans have travelled to his birthplace, Dudley on what would have been his birthday to pay tribute to the man Walter Winterbottom, a former England manager, described as ‘the spirit of British football’.
In football’s century-and-a-half history, few locations can claim to be the site of so many historic moments.
Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, two World Cup finals and the ‘Game of the Century’ were all played out on the hallowed turf of Mexico’s Estadio Azteca.
Before the German football museum opened in 2015, the president of the German FA, Wolfgang Niersbach, admitted to DW that he hoped it could become ‘a pilgrimage site for fans’.
This modern and interactive monument to football in Dortmund is reasonably priced, easily accessible and caters to non-German speakers.
25 May 1967. Estadio Nacional, Lisbon. The date and setting of the greatest achievement in Scottish footballing history.
Led by the iconic figure of Jock Stein, Celtic defeated Helenio Herrera’s mighty Inter in the European Cup final to complete an unprecedented quintet of trophies that season alone.
To this day, Hoops fans still make the trip to Portugal to tread the same turf those local heroes did more than 50 years ago.
Amid dreadful weather conditions, the plane carrying Torino’s all-conquering side of the 1940s – Il Grande Torino – crashed into the 18th Century basilica standing atop the hill at Superga, just outside Turin.
All 31 people on the flight, including players, coaching staff and journalists died. At least half a million people attended their funerals two days later according to John Foot’s history of Italian football, Calcio, and people continue to pay tribute at the site’s memorial on the anniversary of the tragedy.
On one side of Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium lies a maternity hospital, on the other, a cemetery. Among the thousands of crypts lie the graves belonging to some of Barcelona’s greatest ever players.
Paulino Alcantara, Cesar Rodriguez and Josep Samitier all reside there and from Laszlo Kubala’s grave you can see the stadium poking above the cemetery’s walls.
Before the biggest games of the calendar, fans flock to the cemetery, as one of the employees explained to Sid Lowe in Fear and Loathing in La Liga: “It was packed with people visiting family and friends, visiting players’ graves too. Asking for help in the game, asking for a victory.”