London Spectator Sports – More than Just the Summer Olympics

John absolutely loves sport and we really need to get out and see more games and events when we travel. Canadian expat Michelle Brideau highlights some excellent opportunities for this in London, where she’s lived for the last five years, in today’s guest post.

Sport provides great opportunities to get involved and learn about a culture, and the best way to get involved is to get out watch a game in person. Even if it is a sport you don’t understand, whether baseball or bullfighting, it’s a lot of fun soaking up the atmosphere, crowd watching, sampling the food on offer, and mixing with the locals.

Finding Free Sporting Events

Here in London the sporting options are endless, and since moving to London from Canada I‘ve made the most of getting out and experiencing many of the different sports on offer. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re in a city like London; when a marathon is being run, cheering on the runners at various points on the route around the city makes for a great day out. No matter if the runners are friends, experienced runners, first timers, or those in fancy dress, I’m always in complete awe of anyone willing to run 26 miles through a city.

Another great sporting event in London, which doesn’t cost anything to watch, is the historic Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race along the Thames River in April. The race goes back to 1829 when the two universities first raced due to a challenge between friends. The boat race now sees a quarter of a millions spectators line the banks of the Thames along with millions more watching on TV. For those watching in person the boats speed by on the river in about three to four minutes, after which the rest of the race can be watched on large screens set up along the river in parks and open spaces. There have been some very exciting finishes in years gone by. The Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race can be the perfect day out if the weather is cooperating. Pack a picnic, get out early and find a great spot by the river.

Show Your Patriotism

If you happen to be somewhere a fellow countryman or national team is playing, it’s a great chance to get out and show your patriotism. The Oxford vs. Cambridge race previously mentioned has rowing crews with members from many other countries, which may help you decide who to cheer on.

Canada Day 2011 London

Canada Day 2011

Darts is a big sport here in the UK. I had reservations about calling it a sport until I heard there was a Canadian, John Part, who had previously won the World Darts Championships. So after hearing this I decided to go see Part (aka Dart Maple) play and cheer on my fellow Canadian. Before I knew it I had become a darts fan. The PDP World Darts Championships are played late December through early January at Alexandra Palace, which sits atop a hill in North London. This has now become a Christmas tradition for me here in England.

Watching darts live is so much fun because there is a huge element of spectator participation. Many dress up in fancy dress, you’re provided with signs to write messages on (and try to get on camera), you can join the crowds cheering on the darts players as they “walk on,” there is a song to sing (there are no actual words so it’s easy to learn) and there’s even a dance! Add to that pints of beer and you have a night unlike any other sporting event you have likely experienced before.

darts London

Hooligans and Gentlemen

There is a well known saying, “Football is a gentleman’s game playedby hooligans and rugbyis a hooligan’s game playedby gentlemen.” The best way to see if this is true is to get out and see for yourself.

Football, aka Soccer (just don’t call it that when in the UK), is the most popular spectator sport in the country and in London you will find many of the big teams. Tickets at these matches can cost a lot and be hard to get, but watching a football match can be done more reasonably if you check for tickets to a game in the league below the top league (the Premier League) called the Championship. Fans at these clubs are no less passionate so the atmosphere won’t be lacking, and there is still all the singing and chanting, all mostly in good humour.

Football spectators are divided into home and away sections, occasionally with a neutral end as well. This helps keeps things under control, especially if a derby, which is a match between two local rivals, is being played. Drinks cannot be brought into the stands during a football match so you will find many fans gathering for drinks in pubs in the area near the stadium before the match. Be sure to get out a bit early and grab a pint yourself – it’s all part of the experience.

football in London
If you want to see a rugby match check out what’s happening at Twickenham Stadium, the 82,000 seat stadium located in West London. It’s home to England rugby and has been a rugby ground for over 100 years. You will find many international matches played here along with the finals for Premier League Rugby and the Heineken Cup. Going to a rugby match is different than going to a football match: drinks are allowed in the stands, the crowd is mixed with opposing fans sitting side by side and the singing and cheering is more friendly as well.

Something Is Familiar…

There are opportunities in London to join other Canadians to watch those sports I grew up with such as hockey and American Football. There are bars around town that play them on their TV’s and when big games like the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics or the Stanley Cup are on there are some bars and venues which stay open late for the expats and those from out of town that want to see the action live. I try and take a friend along who isn’t Canadian so they can experience the excitement of hockey. It’s a fun night out, especially if you don’t have to get up early the next day.

When I last travelled back to Canada I made sure to take my English boyfriend to a hockey game, which I am happy to say he enjoyed tremendously. He liked the pace of the match, the atmosphere and the half-time entertainment. In Halifax the hockey games are very much a family friendly atmosphere and the tickets are only about $15. It’s worth noting that watching a hockey game in an arena is warmer than watching most football matches during the winter months.

Even if you don’t think you are a sports fan, get out and give it a try. You might be surprised – I know I have been many times. After experiencing so many new and different sports I still have lots to get out and see live, including horse racing (the biggie being Royal Ascot), Cricket and Wimbledon Tennis, as well as getting involved in the Summer Olympics taking place in London this summer.

Bio: Michelle Brideau is an expat Canadian living in London exploring what makes London such an amazing city. She blogs about travelling, living life abroad in London, with the occasional rave about coffee, gadgets and great fashion finds at Bluenose Girl. Follow Michelle on Twitter @yhzgirl.

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