Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sports Tours in London

I usually like to mention a few lesser-known attractions when I visit a city as there is more than just sports. In London though, where there's hundreds of things to do, I'll focus on the sports tours that are available.

Lord's Museum

Within the Lord's Cricket Ground is a small museum dedicated to the game. It contains the original Ashes urn as well as plenty of bats, balls, and other assorted equipment that sports museums should have. There was also an exhibit comparing baseball to cricket which I would have loved to have seen, but it wasn't quite ready. At only £3, it's definitely worth a look, even if you don't really know the game.

The ground also offers tours at £14. I didn't take it as I was watching the match, but it was interesting that they still offered the tour while the match was taking place. In that case, you can't see the dressing rooms, so if you are interested in the tour, check to make sure there is no match that day. And if there is a match, see that instead and tour the ground yourself.

Stamford Bridge Tour and Museum

Chelsea have just completed the double with the Premiership title as well as the FA Cup. Interestingly the team hasn't always been that strong, only entering the elite of Europe after being purchased by Russian bazillionaire Roman Abramovich. Now though, they have turned their home ground at Stamford Bridge (above) into a nice little revenue stream, charging £15 for an hour's tour and a museum.

I decided to do this tour and was amazed at how many people joined me. There were tourists from nearly every country in Europe, India, and of course one guy from Canada via Japan. They give 5 tours a day, hourly from 11 am. You get to see the press box, interview room, both dressing rooms (that's Chelsea's room below), and then get to walk out onto the pitch as if you were a player. You even have to line up in two lines, one for Chelsea supporters and one for "losers", and they play music as you walk up the stairs to the pitch. Kind of neat. But you can't actually walk on the field itself, for obvious reasons.

It's a bit expensive for what you get, but still I enjoyed it. The guy giving the tour was amusing (it's easy to be funny when you're the best team in English football) and the museum is worth a look. Chelsea were an average team for a long time and it's cool to see that history. I don't like how European football has changed so that a rich owner leads to silverware and the museum presents a time when championships were earned and not bought.

What's interesting is that only these top clubs can run these tours. Nobody is traveling out to Craven Cottage for a behind-the-scenes look. So the rich get richer, as usual.

Getty Images Gallery

One other sports-related attraction that I stumbled onto is the Getty Images Gallery near Oxford Circus. They had an exhibition entitled Life Between the Sticks, which displayed several photographs of football goalies, from professionals like David James to little kids. There were also five portraits of goalkeeping icons such as Peter Shilton. Unfortunately, the exhibit ends on May 22nd, so you've probably missed your chance to see it in London, but click the link above for the images - it's really quite enjoyable.

Other Tours

There are two other iconic sporting venues in London: Wimbledon and Twickenham, the home of English rugby. I did not go to either of these places as they are a bit out of the way and one stadium tour is enough. But if you are interested in all four, there is a £45 option that allows you to see each them. Any hotel should have the brochure with all the details.

There are obviously many other things to do in London that have nothing to do with sport. My favourite was the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where you can stand over the Prime Meridian, with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western. If you've never been to London, you should try to go while the pound is so weak. They've done a great job at maintaining their history and most of the museums are free.



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