Football Stadium Crowd Vector

Record Football Attendances: The Biggest Domestic, European Cup, and International Crowds

Everyone loves going to see a football game, especially one where the outcome is vital. Historically, hundreds of thousands of people were able to see some of the biggest games on the planet, with standing in stadiums allowing people to pack the stands and watch their idols. Yet a lack of sufficient regulations led to disastrous crushes, as occurred at Hillsborough in 1989 where 96 people tragically died due to police mismanagement.

The official enquiry into Hillsborough after the disaster recommended that standing in football stands be banned and this happened in 1990. As a result, it is rare that football stadiums in the UK have anything near as high crowds as there were in the 20th Century.

Campaigning all across the UK has been led to reintroduce safe standing in football stadiums with people feeling it creates a much better atmosphere at games and allows an increased capacity as stadiums. Teams wish to replicate the outstanding experiences one would get from visiting a ground like Celtic Park, where safe standing was introduced in 2015 to create an unbeatable atmosphere.

Whether this will happen in the English Premier League remains to be seen. But let’s look at some of the biggest attendances, both within the UK and across the world, to see how all-seater stadiums create a completely different environment to those of the past.

Highest Premier League/First Division Attendances

England Flag on Brick Wall

Here we’ll take a look at the highest attendances in England’s top flight.

Attendance Fixture Stadium Date
83,260 Manchester United v Arsenal Maine Road 17th Jan 1948
83,222 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal Wembley Stadium 10th Feb 2018
82,905 Chelsea v Arsenal Stamford Bridge 12th Oct 1935
79,491 Manchester City v Arsenal Maine Road 23rd Feb 1935
78,299 Everton v Liverpool Goodison Park 18th Sept 1948

Manchester United v Arsenal (1948) – Attendance: 83,260

In the 1947-48 season, Manchester United and Arsenal were both vying for the league title, with their game on the 17th of January being seen as crucial for the league title. The Red Devils were playing at Maine Road, the home ground of their rivals Manchester City, as Old Trafford underwent repairs following damage in the second World War. The exciting build-up to the game saw enormous ticket sales, with a record 83,260 people officially attending the crunch match.

Yet the game did not quite live up to expectations, with the sides playing out a 1-1 stalemate. It is unlikely that Manchester United could ever quite get near this record attendance nowadays though, with the capacity of Old Trafford adding up to 76,000. This is the biggest capacity stadium for a club team in the UK, with Tottenham’s new stadium housing up to 62,062 and Arsenal’s stadium having a capacity of 60,260. These are still not nearly enough to get near the historic figures reported when standing in stadiums was allowed.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal (2018) – Attendance: 83,222

The Premier League has reached the heights of over 80,000 fans in attendance before though. Whilst Tottenham’s new stadium was being constructed, Spurs reached an agreement to play at Wembley Stadium for well over a season. One of the games under this temporary arrangement was a vital north London Derby against Arsenal.

Spurs, who were then in fourth place in the table, managed to extend their lead over the Gunners to seven points thanks to a Harry Kane header securing a 1-0 victory. A mammoth crowd of 83,222 people paid for the pleasure of watching the dramatic game, with the rapturous home crowd helping Spurs virtually guarantee their place in the top four with the victory. This enormous crowd didn’t even fill Wembley and is unlikely to be topped by Tottenham in the future, with their new stadium only holding around 62,000 people.

Chelsea v Arsenal (1935) – Attendance: 82,905

The third highest crowd in the English top division was achieved before either of the top two mentioned above. A sizeable crowd of 82,905 people made it into Stamford Bridge to watch the 1935-36 season tie between Chelsea and Arsenal. A historic derby between two successful London-based teams, fans were reported to have climbed onto advertising hoardings just to get a view of the game.

Defending champions Arsenal bought a substantial crowd to boost their chances of a win, but goals from both teams in the second half saw it finish in a 1-1 draw. This attendance is roughly double the capacity that Stamford Bridge currently holds – just under 42,000 – showing just how much the capacity can be boosted when fans are standing up.

Record FA Cup Attendance

Bolton v West Ham (1923) – Attendance 126,047

Despite these impressive attendances in the top division, the largest attendance in English domestic football was at the 1923 FA Cup final. This was the first final held at Wembley, thanks to its construction being finished four days before the game and widespread marketing by the FA led to swathes of people turning up for the “White Horse Final” – named so after the white horse that held back crowds from getting onto the pitch.

The official attendance statistic is that 126,047 people turned up to the match. However, fans flooded the turnstiles and spilt onto the pitch, with estimates actually suggesting that between 240,000 and 300,000 people were at the game. The match ended 2-0 in Bolton’s favour but the real miracle of the game was that no one was seriously injured in the hugely overcrowded stadium.

Record European Cup Attendances

Football Stadium Floodlights Against Night Sky

Here we look to the continent to assess the largest attendances recorded in the European Cup (which was replaced by the Champions League in 1992).

Attendance Fixture Stadium Date
136,505 Celtic v Leeds United Hampden Park 15th Apr 1970
130,000 Real Madrid v Juventus Bernabeu 26th Feb 1962
129,690 Real Madrid v AC Milan Bernabeu 19th Apr 1956
127,621 Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt Hampden Park 18th May 1960
127,000 Benfica v Marseille Estadio da Luz 18th Apr 1990

Celtic v Leeds United (1970) – Attendance: 136,505

The largest European football attendance was the “Battle of Britain” match between Celtic and Leeds United in the Semi-finals of the European Cup in the 1969-70 season. The match was played at Hampden Park, as the overwhelming requests for tickets meant that Celtic had to move from Parkhead for the match to accommodate the fans. This was the first time an English team had played a Scottish team in the European Cup, and both Celtic and Leeds were at the top of their games – and national standings – at the time. Infamous manager Jock Stein led the hoops to an astounding 2-1 victory against Don Revie’s men, which meant that the aggregate semi final score was 3-1.

With this, Celtic secured their place as the best team in the UK but they were defeated in the final by Feyenoord. The incredible 136,505 fans that made it to the game set a record that is unlikely to ever be beaten, and less than 4,000 of those fans were Leeds supporters. This gives a clear argument for the positive atmosphere that standing in stadiums can provide, with Celtic causing a major upset with the victory, which might well have been helped by the enhanced home support.

Real Madrid v Juventus (1962) – Attendance: 130,000

Real Madrid hosted Juventus at the Bernabeu in the home leg of the quarter finals in the European Cup in the 1961-62 season. Madrid had won the first leg, in Italy, 1-0 thanks to an Alfredo Di Stéfano goal, and just needed to win to make it to the semis. The crowds came out to cheer Los Blancos on, with an astounding 130,000 people making it into the stadium. Despite the home crowd turnout, the day was not Madrid’s, with Juventus winning 1-0 to send the tie to a third match. Madrid managed to win this 3-1, sending them through to the semi-finals. Although Juve managed to get the victory on the day, the overall triumph was Madrid’s, and the game will go down in history for the 130,000-strong turnout more than the match itself.

Real Madrid v AC Milan (1956) – Attendance: 129,690

A very similar attendance was seen six years before, again at the Bernabeu, as Madrid faced another Italian side, AC Milan, in the semi-finals of the inaugural European Cup. Real Madrid fans were given perhaps their first chance to see the giants of Milan playing on Spanish soil and they turned out in force with 129,690 getting into the Bernabeu for the match.

The game certainly didn’t disappoint, with Madrid putting in a commanding display to win 4-2, and eventually winning the competition as a whole. The Bernabeu’s capacity nowadays is 81,044, so both the 1956 and 1962 games saw the arena filled to more than 50% more than its current seat allowance. It must have been difficult to move anywhere in the stadium on the day, an uncomfortable feeling, but there will have an electric atmosphere when the home side were winning 4-2.

Record International Attendances

Maracana Stadium

When we expand the search to international football, there are some truly humongous attendances, mainly due to a very famous stadium in Rio De Janeiro.

Attendance Fixture Stadium Date
173,850 Uruguay v Brazil Maracanã 16th July 1950
170,000 Brazil v Paraguay Maracanã 21st Mar 1954
162,764 Brazil v Colombia Maracanã 9th Mar 1977
152,772 Brazil v Spain Maracanã 13th July 1950
149,415 Scotland v England Hampden Park 17th Apr 1937

Brazil v Uruguay (1950) – Attendance: 173,850

By far the largest attendance at any football event came in the decisive match of the 1950 World Cup, between Uruguay and Brazil. The world-famous Maracanã stadium had been purpose-built for this World Cup, and fans made the most of it, with official numbers stating that 173,850 were at the Uruguay v Brazil game – although unofficial figures suggest this was actually 199,854 or even well over 200,000.

The 1950 tournament was formatted rather unusually, compared to how the World Cup operates nowadays, with it working as a system of two round robin group stages. But fate aligned and Brazil were scheduled to face Uruguay in the final. The Brazilians needed to avoid defeat to win the tournament and Uruguay needed to win to have enough points to take home gold. One of the biggest upsets in football history was witnessed by this enormous crowd, with Uruguay coming from a goal behind to win 2-1 in a result that upsets Brazil fans to this day.

Brazil v Paraguay (1954) – Attendance: 170,000

Brazil hosted another record-breaking event in terms of attendance, hosting Paraguay in a qualifying game for the 1954 World Cup. Dismantling Paraguay with ease, Brazil romped home to a 4-1 victory after an imperious displaying of footballing power. It is important to note that the Maracanã’s current capacity is just 78,838, so the standing capacity for the stadium meant that almost 100,000 extra fans were in the Maracanã at the Brazil versus Paraguay match.

One of the most visually striking and recognisable stadiums anywhere in the world, the Maracanã’s huge size makes it responsible for four of the top five attended games in international football. Obviously aided by Brazil’s historic quality as a footballing nation and the dedication of their supporters, Brazil games are always well attended. It is likely that if over 100,000 people could be in the stadium nowadays, it would certainly be filled to the rafters.

Scotland v England (1937) – Attendance: 149,415

Despite being fifth out of the top five record attendances in international football, when Scotland hosted England in 1937 it was a very noteworthy event. Hampden Park was the largest stadium in the world when it opened in 1903 and it certainly got some significant matches to pay it due respect.

The tie between Scotland and England in 1937 still holds the record for the largest attendance at a European international match. England dominated the first half going 1-0 up, but a fantastic Scottish recovery saw them win the match 3-1 overall. 149,415 people had the pleasure of watching this historic tie, a number which will surely never be beaten in the UK.

Hampden Park is a shadow of its former self nowadays, with a total capacity of 51,866, a third of the record attendance. The historic atmosphere that simply being in Hampden provides shows how much the stadium wants to be full of fans again and perhaps offering safe standing tickets is one way to achieve this.