James Day examines London's sporting heritage and what various teams and venues have to offer for groups
London has always been a great city for sport. From the plethora of football league teams based within the city, to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the capital has something for everyone. Many of these locations offer behind the scenes tours. These are fantastic for fans, but may also be of interest to those interested in the history of the sport. Larger Premier League teams tend to have museums built into their stadiums and London’s cricket grounds have an enormous amount of sporting heritage to display. More active groups can head to the Olympic Park, where they can participate in many of the sports which were played on site during London 2012.
Many of the venues offer flexible opening hours and since they were created with a sporting legacy in mind, provide absolute top-quality facilities which are suitable for use by people of all skill levels. You may notice rugby stadiums such as Twickenham are missing from this feature. There certainly are some fantastic rugby venues in the city, and GTW plans to examine these further along with venues elsewhere in the UK in a dedicated feature closer to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which is being held in England.
Football is by far the biggest sport in the UK and a city the size of London has more than its fair share of top flight teams. The amount of sporting heritage to found across these various stadiums is enormous, with many of the clubs offering tours of their grounds. There is of course Wembley Stadium, the home of English football, and fans may even be interested in The Oval, which had a role to play in the development of the sport.
Anyone entering the city from the East Coast Mainline is greeted with a close-up view of Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, as they close in on Kings Cross Station. It is the third largest football stadium in the UK, beaten only by Wembley and Old Trafford.
Opened on July 22 2006, the stadium cost £390m to build and features four tiers inside – a large, shallow lower tier, an eight-row second ‘club tier’ nicknamed the Prawn Circle because of its proximity to restaurants and lounges inside, a third tier comprised entirely of 150 executive boxes and an upper tier.
Arsenal is quite flexible with stadium tours, offering them seven days a week from 1000hrs, providing it is not a match day, or after 1300hrs the day before a European fixture. There are two separate tours on offer, each of which includes admission to the football club’s museum. The self-guided audio tour has a host of famous Arsenal players sharing their match-day experiences with visitors, as they explore behind-the-scenes at the Emirates.
Attendees can hear from Manager Arsene Wenger as they take their place in the changing room and hear the crowd roar as they walk down the tunnel to the pitch. The tours are available in Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Mandarin and Japanese, as well as English. A more premium alternative is the Legends Tour, where visitors are shown around by one of Arsenal’s past heroes. The tour leader will share thoughts on the current team, his playing days and any news from the ‘inner sanctum’ of the club.
Visitors will also receive a personalised signed photo. Tours are currently led by 1971 FA Cup hero Charlie George, double winner John Radford, 1987 League Cup winning captain Kenny Sansom, 1989 League winner Perry Groves and famous right back and pundit Lee Dixon.
Currently in the Championship, Charlton Athletic is offering school parties, and junior football clubs the opportunity to witness professional football at the valley stadium. Each season, the club welcomes thousands of youngsters in groups from across Kent, Essex, Surrey, Sussex and further afield. The club usually provides coach travel, as well as match tickets to help take the pressure away from organisers. Fans and corporate clients can also hire The Valley’s pitch, with four slots available each day during the hire season. The hire includes full use of the pitch, changing rooms and dug outs, use of lower west stand for spectators, complimentary function room hire, private bars and food facilities, three footballs to kick around and keep and use of The Valley’s designated parking facilities.
Chelsea has seen a great deal of success since the club was taken over by Roman Abramavich. It is a club which is amongst the Premiership title contenders and English Champions League representation year in, year out. Located in Fulham, Stamford Bridge offers a fully guided one-hour tour of the stadium with access to areas usually reserved for players and officials. The club says its tours are suitable for all ages and nationalities. Visitors can imagine meeting the press when sitting behind the desk in the press room or soak up the atmosphere in the Chelsea dressing room.
All tours include entry to Chelsea’s museum, showing how the club has evolved over the years. Private tours are available for groups of 20 or more, though parties smaller than this will need to book online through the usual stadium tours page. Rates are £17 for adults, £11 for children and £12 concessions. For every 10 children/concessions, an adult will be welcomed free of charge. Groups of 30+ gain a 15% discount, while groups of 50+ can save 20%. Tours run 30 minutes past the hour starting from 0930hrs except on match days or the day before Champions League matches. Free pickup and drop off for coaches and minibuses is provided.
Palace has enjoyed a very successful Premier League season following its promotion, which currently sees the team comfortably sitting mid-table and certain of more top-flight football next season. Crystal Palace has a lot to offer school groups, as Selhurst Park has a study centre at the heart, providing a varied programme of activities and learning experiences in its designated learning and teaching zone. The centre has a wide range of packages available and places emphasis on personal learning. The study centre also handles the behind-the-scenes guided stadium tours for Selhurst Park, suitable for all age groups. It includes access to restricted areas and the opportunity to meet with the club historian. Tours can be included in a day at the study centre for children’s parties. Tours can be booked from 1030 to 1530hrs, though not on match days.
There’s a good chance Craven Cottage won’t be enjoying Premier League football next season, although they do have a history of miraculous escapes from relegation in the top flight. However, London’s oldest professional football club, established in 1879, will have plenty to offer regardless of its league placement. The club offers a range of Craven Cottage tours which are farely priced, very fairly indeed. Groups of 15 can enjoy a private guided tour for £150 (£10 per person) with any additional visitors charged £8 each. For a team which has been established in the top flight of English football, this is quite an exceptional price, although the ground is somewhat smaller than a number of other Premier League teams. Groups can finish their tour with a light lunch, afternoon tea or refreshments, with options starting from £5.50 per person. Tours can be accommodated seven days a week, are subject to availability.
Visiting The Den can be a bit of an intimidating prospect, although the reputation of Millwall’s supporters has improved over recent years. The ground and surrounding area still require a significant police presence on match day, but it is at least an experience away fans can enjoy. The Den is perhaps considered a threatening venue for away fans and it is not recommended for visitors wearing colours of the away team around the stadium. For groups, the club offers a number of options and is open to suggestions which will enhance a group experience. An example of this is a ‘guard of honour’ extra, where groups of up to 26 under 16s can join the teams pitch-side, forming a tunnel for the players before the game. This costs £5 per child taking part. Group discounts are also available for variable prices depending on where the group is seated.
Safely in the Championship play-off, Queens Park Rangers (QPR) could be enjoying Premier League football next season if all goes well at the end of its campaign. The team, based in White City, offers self- guided tours of its Loftus Road stadium. Guiding visitors with an audio-visual handset, the tour is narrated by former player and manager Ray Wilkins and covers many areas of the ground, including hospitality areas, interview rooms, dressing rooms, the tunnel and pitch-side. Current Manager Harry Redknapp’s provides a voiceover in the dressing room as visitors proceed to their seat. Tours run on non matchday Tuesdays and Saturdays at 1000, 1115 and 1230hrs.
Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs, is a real Premier League mainstay with a wealth of interesting history. To accommodate this, the club offers a catalogue of tours around its White Hart Lane stadium – a venue which might not be around for much longer with a new development in the works. The venue offers group tours of the stadium, which follow the same path as the club’s classic tours. Included are the pitch-side and technical area, the tunnel including the hall of fame, dressing rooms, the press auditorium, the directors box, trophy cabinets and memorabilia and a walk through the lounges, including the Bill Nicholson Suite. Some of the trophies on display should be of interest to all football fans. Spurs were the first English team to win the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, and the trophy can be seen from close enough to see your own reflection in it. A replica of the 1972 UEFA cup is also on display, along with a replica of the FA Cup which Spurs won for a record seventh time in 1982 and a replica of the League Cup; presented to Spurs in 1999 after their third win. The trophy has since been won again in 2008.
The new Wembley may have opened almost two years late and well over-budget, at a cost of £737m, but most football fans would agree that the extra time and money has been well spent. The 90,000 capacity venue is only beaten by Barcelona’s Camp Nou in Europe. The stadium has seen plenty of use since its completion, hosting two Champions League football finals and the only NFL American football games played in Europe. There’s also an enormous amount of heritage to be found from the archaic years of the old stadium. Tours of the stadium include the changing rooms, the press room, photo opportunities from some of the best seats in the stadium, the players tunnel, a climb up the 107 trophy winner’s steps and a visit to the royal box, where there is a chance to get your hands on the FA Cup (or rather, a replica of it). The tour also shows the 1966 World Cup crossbar, the Jules Rimet Trophy commemorating the England World Cup win, the original flag from the London 1948 Olympic Games and more. A VIP ‘access all areas’ tour is also available, showing even more of the stadium tour with a private guide. Groups of 25+ receive a 15% discount.
Although they haven’t enjoyed quite the same consistency as some other regular top-flight sides, West Ham is still very much a household name with a colourful history. Like Millwall, its fiercest rival, the club has a reputation for hooliganism, though it has not been subject to quite the same media disapproval. The clubs fans are often labelled as ‘passionate’ rather than violent as a result. The club offers some limited stadium tours on selected days. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to arrange a visit well in advance to ensure availability. Tours are provided by club historian and regular programme contributor John Helliar. They include access to the dressing room and tunnel. Of course, Upton Park will not be the home of West Ham United for much longer. The club’s home ground will change to the Olympic Stadium from 2016.
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is now open to the public, providing an enormous amount of sporting heritage following the phenomenally successful London 2012 games. As is to be expected, the park holds some of the best facilities in the country for a large number of sports. Whether your groups interest is in participating in or spectating sport, the park will offer plenty of options for many years to come. A full suite of park tours are available, with both walking and coach tour options. Blue Badge tourist guides are running a series of walks through the park, every Thursday and Saturday at 1100hrs. City and Village Tours are available for groups of 25 or more, with many tours and itineries to choose from.
The most recognisable venue, the stadium, is closed while it is redeveloped a new home for West Ham United, who will take over the stadium in 2016. However it will host some Rugby World Cup fixtures The Aquatic Centre at the Olympic park has excellent facilities in 2015 if you cannot wait until then to experience it. Once the redevelopment is complete, the venue will host more than just top-flight football, as it will become the national centre for UK athletics. Athletics events will receive priority from the last Friday in June to the end of July, ensuring it will always be possible to watch and compete in the same events which took place in the stadium during London 2012.
The velodrome has been a reliable source of British gold medals for quite some time now, and in London 2012 it was no different. The Lee Valley Velopark saw Team GB win seven out of a possible 10 gold medals from its 6,000 capacity velodrome, really cementing the country’s reputation for producing high-calibre racing cyclists. The velodrome has limited spaces per session, but school groups can still be accommodated from as little as £4.33 per person for a one hour, fully coached sessions. As well as being the fastest velodrome in the world, the Velopark includes a brand new one-mile floodlit road cycle circuit, the remodelled and floodlit Olympic BMX track and 8km of mountain bike trails. All of these are available for use by cyclists of all abilities. The Velopark is open from 0900 to 2200hrs seven days a week.
The home of London 2012’s swimming events offers a programme of activities suitable for all abilities. The programme includes fun and family sessions, lane swimming, diving, swimming lessons, diving lessons, community swim sessions and other aquatic disciplines. The venue has a seating capacity of 2,500, with the option to expand to 3,500 with temporary seating, and will continue to host world class events. The centre is open from 0600 to 2130hrs Monday to Friday, and from 0900 to 1700hrs on weekends.
The Copper Box Arena was host to a variety of sports at London 2012, including handball, boxing, volleyball, modern pentathlon, fencing, basketball, badminton and gymnastics. The venue remains the home of a variety of sports and activities. It includes an 80+ station gym, group exercise classes including yoga, pilates and box fit, 10 badminton courts, a basketball court which is also home to the London Lions team and a boxing ring hosting world class boxing every Saturday night.
Opening in June, the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre provides two hockey pitches, four indoor tennis courts and six outdoor courts, each of which will be available to the public throughout the day and evening all year round. The complex also features a state of the art clubhouse, complete with a bar and social areas. The primary hockey pitch seats 3,000 people, a capacity which can be extended to 15,000 for larger events. A number of large hockey tournaments will appear at the venue from 2016, including the Women’s Champions Event, the Men’s World League Round 3 and the Women’s Hockey World Cup in 2018. Programmes at the centre will be aimed at all abilities.
London boasts two of the country’s most famous cricket grounds, both of which have a great deal of history and frequently host large international matches as well as county cricket. Both offer a catalogue of tours and can provide match day tours ahead of specific matches.
Located in Lambeth, South London and the home of Surrey County Cricket Club, the Oval was built in 1845 and was the first ground to host international test cricket. What is less well known is that The Oval has played its part in football heritage too, hosting the first FA Cup Final in 1872. The Oval’s ground tours provide visitors with the history behind the iconic international stadium. It includes full access to the member’s pavilion, players’ dressing rooms and backstage access to the Ken Barrington Indoor Cricket Centre and Gym where the players train. Visitors can also see the stadium from a media perspective, with access to the Brian Johnston Broadcasting Centre and the Sydney Pardon Press Box.
Naturally, the tour also includes access to the outfield. Areas of the tour are subject to availability and weather dependant. Tours can be taken on Saturdays at 1100hrs on non match days, with additional mid week tour dates available around key international fixtures. A ‘Ticket & Tour’ option is also available, providing a whistle stop tour of the ground prior to a day of county cricket. This one hour tour begins at 1000hrs but does not allow access to players areas or the pitch. Adult group rates are £10 each for a minimum of 20 people, while child and school groups are half this price. Bookings should be made at least three weeks in advance. The maximum size of a group is 25, with larger groups split up to accommodate numbers.
Since it is the base of the England and Wales Cricket Board, the European Cricket Council and until 2005 the International Cricket Council, Lords is widely referred to as the ‘Home of Cricket.’ The ground also includes the world’s oldest sporting museum and is currently the home of Middlesex County Cricket Club. Lord’s is celebrating its 200th The OCS stand at the Oval. The historical Oval Pavillion, completed in 1898 anniversary this year, making it a great year to visit. Led by expert guides, the 1 hour 45 minute tours take in the dressing rooms, the pavilion and the J.P. Morgan Media Centre. The tours also pass the Ashes Urn and Honours Boards, where visitors get a chance to sit in the seats usually occupied by the England team. The Lord’s Tavern, which serves traditional pub food, offers a 10% discount for tour visitors. Lord’s also offers specialist tours. Options include tours for educational group, architectural tours for groups with a particular interest in the buildings and art tours.
The most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon Championships, is held at the All-England club. This year, the tournament runs from June 23 – July 6, probably a bit too close to make group plans for now, but the venue does include a museum and offers guided tours. Guided tours last for an hour and a half and are directed by blue badge tourist guides, who take visitors through the most recognisable and exclusive places in the grounds. The route includes Centre Court, No. 1 Court, the picnic terraces and water gardens and the Millennium Building and press interview room. Admission to the museum is included. Group bookings of 15 or more can be made in advance and are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and other languages when pre-arranged.