Almost every time I visit London during football season, I go to other matches outside of just Arsenal. This almost always means visiting clubs from lower tier leagues, and I could not recommend this more. Some of the best atmospheres, bar scenes, and grounds are in the Championship, League One, and League Two, and frankly outside of Arsenal I prefer EFL football to the Premier League.
First, a quick primer on the English football pyramid: At the top of the pyramid is the Premier League. Below that, you have the English Football League (EFL), which consists of the Championship, then League One, then League Two. Below that you have non-League, which consists of the National League, then the National League North and National League South in parallel, and then the pyramid widens after that.
This post concerns EFL grounds in London in detail, of which there are many. I don’t cover other Premier League grounds (although I’d by all means recommend going as an away supporter when Arsenal plays them) or non-League, since there are simply too many non-League teams and grounds to cover. If you do want to go to a non-League match, I’d recommend Boreham Wood, which is a National League club that has a close relationship with Arsenal, and also share a ground with the Arsenal Women.
London has a wealth of EFL clubs, which change due to promotion and relegation but currently (as of spring 2020) consist of: Fulham, Millwall, QPR, Charlton, Brentford, Wimbledon, and Leyton Orient. There are numerous other clubs that are just a short train ride from London as well in those three leagues, but they make a good starting point for exploring other grounds directly in London.
Although they are moving soon, AFC Wimbledon currently plays at the Kingsmeadow Stadium, which is a tiny ground of around 4,000 supporters. This is a truly awesome experience to visit, you’ll be packed into stands (which, true to the name, are standing room only). Now that Charlton was promoted from League One, Wimbledon is the only League One side in London. Make sure to get to the ground early and visit the clubhouse, which has a bar that will be filled with old timers who helped this phoenix club rise from the ashes through non-league after their previous club was ripped away by ownership to become the MK Dons.
Queens Park Rangers, who have frequently been a Premier League side and a frequent annoyance to Arsenal, are currently mired in the mid-table of the Championship. While I’m hesitant to recommend visiting a ground of a club who was at one point a direct rival to Arsenal, I have to recommend Loftus Road Stadium. It’s an old school English stadium in the best possible way, and its corrugated metal walls reflect noise into the ground. The best match to attend here is a West London Derby versus Brentford. I’ve been to two of them, one of which was in a driving rain, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric at both of them.
The most recently promoted out of non-league club in London, Leyton Orient is the closest to Arsenal’s part of north London of the East London clubs. Similar to Wimbledon in League One, Orient are currently the only League Two side in London, so they represent an opportunity to see clubs you might not otherwise be able to see at the many Championship grounds in London. As with many smaller stadiums, I’d recommend getting their early and having a pie and a pint in the concourse with the other supporters.
Another club that has sometimes been in the top flight and a rival of Arsenal, I’d still recommend visiting Charlton for several reasons. The Valley is a beautiful ground, especially if you’re lucky enough to visit on a sunny day like I was. Second, Charlton is fairly close to the original home of Arsenal in Woolwich, and it makes a great day to go to a match at Charlton and either before or after the match to visit all of the historic Arsenal sites in the area.
The supporters of Millwall are legendary for being some of the most violent, obnoxious hooligans in English football. While the new version of their ground, The Den, is not as imposing as the old one, it is still a cool experience to visit and hear the entire stadium belt out their anthem “No One Likes Us, and We Don’t Care” at the opposition. Millwall is extremely easy to get to in central London, and is actually in close proximity to popular places like Borough Market (which is probably what has somewhat tamed the Den from what it used to be).
Craven Cottage is another really cool, old school London stadium. It’s situated on the bank of the Thames, which makes for a beautiful setting (and also a cold wind that can whip in off the river in the winter). The Cottage is a fun ground to visit when Fulham is in the Championship, and a bucket list away ticket to try and get your hands on when they are in the Premier League and play Arsenal.
As the above article makes clear, I’d highly recommend immersing yourself in all levels of English football if you have the chance. Start with some of the above grounds, and then branch out from there! England is remarkable easy to traverse via train, and every time I visit now I make sure to visit at lease one new ground. On my last trip, I took a train to Nottingham and went to Forest v Millwall at the City Ground, which was an awesome experience. I look forward to gradually seeing more and more of the stadiums and supporters throughout England that make English football the best sport on Earth.