Spectator Sports and Etiquette

by Brittany Zaiser

Canadians are no strangers to spectator sports. Professional, semi-professional and university level teams are scattered across the country which means there is ample opportunity to watch your favourite teams play in person or on television/streaming services.

The UK is no different. Spectator sports are insanely popular events in the UK, with some of the most popular sports being football (aka soccer), rugby and cricket. It is quite easy to arrange viewing of one of these popular sports either in person or at the local pub, so I highly recommend seeking out some of the popular sports to attend during your stay in the UK.

Below you’ll find some information that might be useful to know if you’re planning on seeking out some very popular sports to attend and give you a little insight into how sporting events work in the UK, how they differ from similar events in Canada, and what you should know to ensure you have the best and safest time viewing.

  1. Team colours and histories are a little more important:

We’re familiar with sports rivalries in Canada, but if you’re living in an area that has a popular sports team in the UK, you should be aware of what the team’s colours are. You should also take note of opposition colours.

Believe it or not, spectator sports, such as football are incredibly popular in the UK and the supporters can get quite rowdy in public. A popular example from London is the rivalry between Chelsea Football Club (blue) and Arsenal Football club (red). If you live in London and find yourself in a Chelsea pub on an important match day, you may be asked to leave (for your own safety) if you are wearing the colour red (the colour of rival team Arsenal).

It might seem a bit extreme, but colours are not the only significant distinguishing factor between football clubs in the UK. Another example from Scotland can be seen with their two major football teams (Rangers and Celtics). These two teams (both located in Glasgow) have official “non-sectarian” policies but their fanbase still reflects the historic divide between Protestants and Catholics. Pubs and bars will often ban people from wearing team colours during matches to avoid incidents.

  • Spectator sports are not always one-day events:

If you’re a fan of going to sporting events in Canada, you’re probably used to taking a few hours out of your day (most likely in the evening) so see your favourite hockey, basketball or baseball team play. This isn’t the case for all sports, though! The extremely popular sport Cricket has several different types of matches that can range between a few hours (like what you would experience from watching a baseball game) to several days! If this is something that you’d be interested in experiencing, make sure you’re aware of the different types of Cricket games so that you know exactly what you’re in for:

  • Twenty20 (also known as T20) – This is the shortened version of Cricket but still takes place at the professional level.
  • Test Cricket – This is the version which has the longest match duration. Games at this level can take up to 5 days to complete!

** Are you in the UK to study law? Cricket, as a game, doesn’t technically have any rules! Instead, the rules and regulations are referred to as ‘Laws’. There are currently 42 Laws that outline how the game is to be played. **

Advisor Mackenzie sporting a fascinator fit for the Royal Ascot!
  • Some sporting events have a dress code:

Some higher-end sporting events are not always accessible to the general public, but it’s worth taking note of these events that require their spectators to conform to certain clothing restrictions. Certain sporting events are made to be lavish excuses to wear fancy attire and bring out the best fascinators (hats) to make a statement. Popular sports where this is a tradition include:

  • Cricket – Specifically, the Ashes which is a Test Cricket series played between England and Australia.  
  • Tennis – Specifically, the Wimbledon Championships. This tournament bans the wearing of items such as dirty athletic shoes or cut-off shorts. While there is no official dress code for spectators at this event, you will likely feel out of place if you don’t dress ‘smart’.

Believe it or not, it is possible to get tickets to this iconic tournament day-of! Though still difficult, if you think this is something you’d like to try and see, and happen to be studying in/around London, a quick trip to Wimbledon will give you the opportunity to stand in what is called ‘The Queue’. Information about this unique experience, (including downloadable PDF guides) can be found on the tournament’s official website.

  • Horse Racing – Specifically, the Royal Ascot which has an official dress code featuring restrictions on items like the base of your fascinator or headpiece. The official restrictions state that ‘fascinators and headpieces without a base of 4 inches (10cm) are not permitted’.
  • There are long-standing rivalries and traditions that go along with them:

You’re probably aware of the top 2 universities in the UK according to the Times Higher Ranking, commonly referred to as ‘Oxbridge’, but what you may not be aware of is that these two rival universities participate in an event called ‘The Boat Race’ each year drawing an estimated 250,000 spectators in London.  There are many areas where you can view this race for free along the Thames (typically in the Putney or Hammersmith area) and spectators will be met with a carnival-like environment including food and drink stalls! This is the perfect opportunity to grab a pitcher of Pimm’s with your friends and take in this exciting event! You will be outside to make sure you dress according to the weather.

  • Some sporting events are different- and that’s okay:

  • Gloucester Cheese Rolling

Not your typical spectator sport; the Gloucester Cheese Rolling is an event that takes place in Gloucester’s Cooper Hill. The event involves a big wheel of Gloucester cheese (yum) and its roller who anxiously chases the cheese down the steep hill to catch it.

Although it’s probably not possible to catch the wheel of cheese, the winner of this race is the first person to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill.

Believe it or not, this world-famous event has taken place in Gloucester since the 1800s!

This event is free to observe but, depending on where you’re located, will take some time to get to as many streets close around Cooper hill the day of the event. Best to plan ahead if this is something you’d be interested in seeing!