Watching sport in London
The big game is on, it's ten minutes before kick off and you can't find a single pub with a television. What do you do?
Some of the most enjoyable nights are spent with complete strangers, hollering at a tv screen relaying events from halfway across the globe (or, for that matter, from a rainy midlands town) and, after the proceedings have finished, jointly congratulating and commiserating one another with beery hugs. Watching sports in a big venue with a lively crowd and flowing drinks is simply great fun, and there are plenty of places you can do it in London. From cosy home-team pubs to massive multi-screen complexes, there’s a perfect place for a pint and a punt, regardless of your chosen sport - it’s just a matter of finding it.
Football fans can normally rely on most pubs to show any premiership games, but there’s a major difference between a postage-stamp sized screen in a characterless high-street bar and a lively local chockablock with excited fans. If you’re a fan of one of the bigger London clubs then there are loads of options for a great game day atmosphere. Arsenal aficionados should head to The Gunners Pub (204 Blackstock Rd, London N5 1EN) for a pint and a look at the memorabilia from the club’s early days before settling in and watching the game. For other matches, including European league footy, head over to Café Kick (43 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL) in Clerkenwell for a game of table-football and a chat with the friendly, sports-mad regulars before kick off. If there’s football on anywhere in the world, they’ll be showing it.
Rugby fans also have a great choice of central London pubs to watch the Gentleman’s sport*. The Faltering Fullback is a particular favourite, although, it being an Irish pub, do be ready to face up to any light-hearted taunting about the Shamrocks’ recent dominance in the sport. But to get a true experience of the British love for the Greatest sport ever played (my opinion, but a correct opinion all the same), standing shoulder to shoulder and living out the wins and woes of the players, head down to the home of rugby in Twickenham, south west London. Just outside the England team’s stadium is a famous old venue called The Cabbage Patch (67 London Rd, Twickenham TW1 3SZ). You can expect every premiership and European game to be shown there, not to mention any major international fixture, and it’s a total joy to learn about the game in the shadow of the most famous rugby stadium in the world.
For fans of north American sports, particularly ice hockey, there’s a characteristically friendly Canadian bar in Covent Garden called The Maple Leaf (41 Maiden Ln, London WC2E 7LJ) which provides a home away from home for the many expats in London who haven’t given up on their ardour for men who just happen to be wearing ice-skates beating one another up. It’s a noisy, joyous old bar and a great place to chat with people who actually understand the rules of what to most British audiences seems like a very graceful kind of frozen boxing.
If slightly less mainstream sports are more to your taste (think boxing, snooker, American football, cricket and the like) then the place to go is Riley’s Sports Bar (80 Haymarket, SW1Y). Not only will you be able to watch events that would be tough to find on show anywhere else in London, but you can play pool, snooker, table tennis, table football and all manner of other bar games while you watch (out of the corner of your eye as you hustle your mates at pool) your chosen sport on one of the 30 screens dotted around. A similar if slightly more mannered affair can be found in Victoria: Greenwood (170 Victoria Street, SW1E) serves up posh food and even has an on-site hairdressers so you can get a quick trim before tucking into some bbq ribs and watching whichever non-league Belgian team that happens to be playing at 9am on a Tuesday.
Whether you’re in London for three days or three weeks, joining the locals for a drink and a game is an absolute must. You’ll see so much and almost certainly make a few friends by the end of the night. And whether your passion is for darts, the Winter Olympics or even (and yes, they’re sometimes on the television in pubs) dog shows, you’ll find a place to suit you. But remember: just get on with it and watch the rugby.
*Rugby, you must remember, is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. Football is a gentleman’s game