Almost everytime I’ve hit a major – or indeed sometimes minor – sporting event at my travel destination, it’s only improved the experience.
Admittedly, the very biggest events will result in higher hotel rates and air fares, but by and large, I’ve been able to see a range of top level sports within reason, and taking in some wonderful parts of the world.
Here’s my top 10. So far….
10. An important national soccer match, local pub
I’m starting small and local, but experiencing the world’s favourite sport with passionate fans fuelled by alcohol is simply a blast. I remain of the view that my home country of Ireland has the loudest set of pub-based fans, but a Central American Cup match between Belize and Honduras, witnessed from a beachside shack in Ambergris Caye, was wild and noisy.
9. Rugby World Cup, Australia
This was a trip not to coincide with the RWC, but as it happened to be on, why not take in a match or two! A group match between New Zealand and Wales in Sydney was tipped to be a one-sided All-Black dominated affair, but turned out to be one of the best matches in years.
8. Championship Play-Off Final, Wembley, London
It’s reputed to be the richest match in football. The winners reach the money-drenched Premier League, and benefit to the tune of STG£85 million in commercial revenue, mainly TV rights. The losers get nothing. For many years, this high stakes 90 minutes (or 120 when there’s extra time) has produced pulsating finals, with Ipswich Town’s 4-2 win over Barnsley in 2000 – the last to be played at the old Wembley – the one I was lucky enough to see.
7. Grand Slam Tennis
Few sporting events are exactly as you’d imagine them to be as the French Open and Wimbledon. With two of the world’s great cities as backdrops, entering those ticket lotteries year after year for Chatrier or Centre Court tickets is well worth it. Just be sure to avoid the ear-shattering first Wednesday of the French Open, where thousands of schoolkids will dominate proceedings.
6. All-Ireland Hurling Final, Dublin
Ireland has Gaelic Football too, but the real spectacle has to be hurling. Quick, high-scoring, skilful, physical and – to the uninitiated – seemingly violent, it is the fastest field game in the world. In the summer, the Championship particularly in Munster is the highlight, culminating in the All-Ireland Final traditionally on the first Sunday in September.
5. A top division soccer match, almost anywhere
Make it a local rivalry, and sit back and immerse yourself in the passion and pandemonium.
4. Cricket in the Caribbean
West Indies cricket may not be at a peak, but it remains a special occasion in islands such as Jamaica, Barbados and St Lucia. The rum flows, the music plays, there’s party stands and swimming pools in some places, and somewhere in the background a lightly paced sporting fixture unfolds.
3. World Championship Boxing in Las Vegas
Fight Night in Vegas! The excess of Sin City goes up another level. The celebrities pack ringside (true A-listers). The hype. The trash talk. And that’s just in the stands.
Oh, and this:
2. Ryder Cup
Every two years, the richest golfers in Europe and the USA play each other for no money. The result is the single biggest riposte to those who thing golf is dull. Three days of tension and cacophonous noise, and – almost every time – a nailbiting finale guaranteed. It’s such a good TV event, some doubt that going it is worth it. Oh but it is. It’s in Scotland in 2014, and ticket sale registration has just opened…..
1. Olympic Games
It’s not just the biggest sporting event in the world, it’s one of the greatest festivals on earth. Our next door neighbours in London hosted the best ever, and I managed to get over to see a week. Best. Week. Ever.