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Discovering London sports culture as an international student

With London being a city that acknowledges sporting events like no other, international students get to experience a whole new culture.

Having hosted the Olympics in 1908, 1948 and 2012, London is the only city to have welcomed Olympians on three separate occasions. Venues such as Wimbledon, Wembley Stadium, or Lord’s are all so iconic that even people who call football “soccer” will have heard of them. This year the sporting heritage is ever more resounding, as England finally became the only country ever to have won the Football World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup: truly, sport is paramount here.

Though I have always been an Arsenal fan and a big sports aficionado, I had never attended a major sports event. I come from an island where you cannot do sports for a living. Literally. There simply (and legally) are no such things as professional athletes there, never mind football players with the £200k-per-week wages that you can find in England. Athletes can only compete at amateur level and even continental gold medallists can be found delivering letters, fixing taps and bottling water. In Great Britain though, a 29-year old tennis player (Andy Murray) was knighted in 2017. Such is the disparity. I thought that I knew what to expect when arriving in London; I did not.

The most interesting facet about sports in London is that whether you care about it or not, you will encounter it in some form. Strolling around the city on a Saturday afternoon, you will meet people in red, white, blue, yellow jerseys, wrapped in scarves and flags, eagerly waiting to reach their stadium. I was once messaged by friends asking, “Why is Trafalgar Square packed with people in yellow shirts?”. Those were Watford fans casually taking over The Strand. Pubs will have giant blackboards warning you that football or cricket will be aired live on TV two days beforehand, and PLEASE, for your own wellbeing, do not use the Central line if Tottenham are playing within the next two hours – if you do not wish to be crushed between two kids, a teenager and an old lady.

Now, viewing top level sports isn’t cheap here. But just like with general life in London, it’s all about finding good value for money. Do not spend £120 on a good seat at Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea just because the ads on the tube escalator said so, when a ticket to an England match at Wembley Stadium costs around £20 if you’re quick – and believe me, the thundering chants bellowed by the passionate 85 000 fans is more than worth the money. Always take into account that £10 will be spent on drinks and food – no stadium day is possible if you haven’t had your mandatory beer beforehand. The experience is memorable and the stadium atmosphere is addictive. And if you want to be smarter, second tier football is available for twice as cheap with double the passion.

However, the social aspect is perhaps what really intrigued and attracted me to sports in London. Sharing views and opinions here about the sports I followed led me to meet most of my closest friends. I like to think that one of the best ways to gauge a person’s personality is to see how that person reacts when going through deep emotions; and where would you find a better emotional rollercoaster than in the midst of a stressful and tense game? If you are a sports fan in London, you will probably find people that have the same taste as you do. And if you come from abroad, then British students who want you to join their fan base will definitely adopt you. This is how I started out at the classy Emirates Stadium, watching my dear Arsenal, and ended up at Twickenham to watch the Premiership Rugby Final, despite the fact that I can’t name a single rugby player…



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