The North East of England is often described as a ‘football hotbed’ — an area that is widely accepted to be rich in the culture, tradition and passion of the beautiful game. Three big clubs, hundreds of thousands of loyal supporters and a breeding ground for talent through the eras, there can’t be many parts of the world that top Tyneside, Wearside and the Tees on the hotbed thermometer ?
Well of course there are. Bobby Charlton, Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne apart, how many world class players has the ‘hotbed’ produced ? And how many trophies have their teams won on a national or international stage ?
I know it’s not all about glory and home grown talent, but I can make a case for ten diverse areas on this planet all being bigger hotbeds than the North East (population: 2,515,442):
1. Buenos Aires (pop: 13, 044,800) Clubs 24, Continental titles 10, Top 3 players — Maradona, di Stefano, Zanetti.
Buenes Aires boasts the highest concentration of professional football teams of any city in the world – 24 -which include winners of the Libertadores Cup winners on no fewer than 10 occasions. Boca Juniors (6), River Plate (2), Argentinos Juniors (1) and Velez Sarsfield (1) have brought unparalleled glory to the city which lives and breathes the game. Producing arguably the world’s most gifted footballer ever gives Buenos Aires a special place in the pantheon of the sport.
2. Milan (pop: 3,893,959) Clubs 2, Continental titles 9, Top 3 Players — Maldini, Meazza, Bergomi.
AC Milan and Internazionale produce the foremost European city derby in terms of tradition and quality. It’s not a city that exports many players – because they all want to stay and play for one of the giants.
3. Sao Paulo (pop: 22, 677,506) Clubs 6, Continental titles 4, Top 3 home grown talents — Kaka, Cafu, Rivelino.
Three huge clubs – Sao Paulo FC, Corinthians, Palmeiras and three smaller clubs in the city and probably the biggest exporter of football talent throughout Brazil, South America and the rest of the world. Whatever team you support – you’ve probably had a Sao Paulo-born player on the books at some stage!
4. Merseyside (pop: 1,365,900) Clubs 3, Continental Titles 5, Top 3 Players — Gerrard, Rooney, McManaman.
Two huge clubs that are among the oldest and most passionately followed in the game, plus a breeding ground for talent that has been exported elsewhere or stayed at home.
5. Amsterdam (1, 468,122) Clubs 1, Continental Titles 4, Top 3 Players — Cruyff, Gullit, Rijkaard.
Small city – big football tradition. Total Football and some of the world’s greats grew up here – with a helping hand from Surinam: Seedorf, Davids, Winter…
6. Glasgow (1, 750,000) Clubs 3, Continental Titles 1, Top 3 players — Dalglish, Ferguson, Auld.
Celtic, Rangers, Dalglish, Lisbon Lions, Barcelona Bears, Sir Alex Ferguson.
7. East London (1,500,000) Clubs 2, Continental titles 0, Top 3 Players — Moore, Beckham, Brooking.
West Ham catchment area has harvested the likes of Ferdinand x 2, Lampard, Defoe, Carrick, Cole, Johnson, four of which will play in the Champions League final. Before that and it was Moore, Hurst, Brooking. No trophies but clubs with traditional and passionate followings.
8. Cairo (7, 734, 334) Clubs 2, Continental titles 10, Top 3 Players —Mido, Hossam Hassan, Ramzy.
9. Marseille (1,605,000) Clubs 1, Continental titles 1 Top 3 Players – Zidane, Cantona, Flamini.
10. Johannesburg (3,888,180) Clubs 3, Continental titles 1, Top 3 Players Radebe, Khumalo, Zuma.