Crashball Rugby's author Alistair Stokes writes about his most memorable Twickenham visits, how to have the ultimate match-day experience and tips and tricks for newbies.
Whether attending Twickenham for university rugby play-offs or England matches and European finals, each and every time you will be in for a unique and memorable trip.
Game day ritual
Each and every time I visit HQ, I take a walk around the entire stadium as part of my own match day warm-up. I cast my eye up to the golden lions above the gates and down to the Walk of Legends where some of England’s greatest names are preserved in stone. I pause at the iconic giant bronze statue extolling the games core values - ‘ teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship’. Along with the throngs of fans walking from the train station to the stadium, I cast my eye over the streets paved with merchandise on the short stroll to our final destination, picking up a commemorative scarf or t-shirt when feeling frivolous. Finally I indulge in the obligatory stop at the England Rugby shop on the south side of the stadium, perusing the shelves for my traditional souvenir to mark the occasion, a ritual that I have no apology for.
If you're around during the internationals, be sure to make the most of the Six Nations Hospitality and book a tour around the official World Rugby Museum. It's something I seriously recommend, simply contact www.englandrugbyhospitality.com
My favourite Twickenham experience has to be one of the classics, England vs Wales. The perfect blend of tribalism with good natured debate and competitive talk with the opposition sitting around me produced one of the most memorable match days of my life so far. Our ‘Sweet chariots’ were met by their ‘Delilah’ for what turned out to be a heady cocktail. There is something about Twickenham, the feeling that you know you’re at the home of English rugby and one of most prolific stadiums in the game.
This does, however, draw in close competition with a match in which I enjoyed the neutral’s view point. In 2016 I went to the Champions Cup final between Toulon and Clermont, ready to soak up some of the famed French atmosphere we see so often on television. The wall of yellow Clermont drums was pounding and the Toulon Pilou Pilou was a spectacle not to be missed. Speaking with my fellow English, Welsh, Irish, French, Australian and New Zealanders, all were welcoming and buoyant in anticipation for a record breaking three consecutive trophies for Toulon. I’ll never forget Drew Mitchell’s break and try down the left wing. It was one of those moments when you’re expecting to be able to take another sip of Heineken before anything significant happens, but the Australian caught my eye enough to focus my attention on a 50 metre try that saw his side begin to chip away Clermont hopes, not that the drums seemed to notice.
How to have the ultimate experience
Advice on how to have the ultimate match-day experience when visiting Twickenham.
Be sure to engage with the opposing fans.
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the opposition or even the neutrals, you’ll meet some of the most interesting people at some of these events and will be surprised by just how many good friends you can make from a game day visit. Who knows, you may end up with a place to stay during one of England’s or the Lions’ trips abroad some day!
Where to sit
So often we want to be as close to the action as possible, looking to see how much the seats right by the sidelines will cost. However, be sure to get your seats about halfway up the stadium and slightly off centre. The halfway line may seem the best spot to see the action, but a slight angle on proceedings gives for a better view of every line-break, kick and crunching tackle. If you are a real rugby geek like me, get yourself behind the sticks and remember your glasses! Here, you can see every play transpire with an eagle eye viewpoint. You can begin to spot formations, mis-matches and gaps that lead to the games biggest line-break moments, or that should have been, depending on your team…
Stock up early
Don’t be that person that constantly gets up and down during the match to get refills, you’ll miss parts of the game and will likely annoy your neighbours. Buy the drinks and food in bulk before kick-off and enjoy being comfortably seated for the duration of each half.
Get yourself a ref link.
The biggest problem with watching a game live and not on tv is not enjoying the commentary and ability to hear the referee. The ref link lets you hear exactly what the referee is penalising the players for and gives you a better understanding of the game playing out in front of you. If anything, it’s yet another souvenir to take away from the match day and you can bring them back to the same stadium time and time again.
Tips and tricks for newbies
My advice is to make the most of the experience, don’t just arrive with the masses crammed into the Twickenham station, get there a few hours before kick-off and visit some of the most iconic places near to the stadium. The Cabbage Patch pub is usually filled to tipping point, but if you’re into the pub scene, it’s somewhere you simply can’t miss visiting, even just to say you were there tapping into the Twickenham vibe.
Don’t miss the top attractions
As I’ve mentioned before, around the outside of the Stadium you will want to see the famous bronze statue by the south stand. Rugby players of this generation usually tower above the best of us, but this giant metal statue has become an almost compulsory photo opportunity for both away and home visitors alike. Then you have the bricks with the players names surrounding the stadium and the golden lions standing atop the gates, through which you can see the teams arrive and walk through to the inner bowels before preparing for battle.
Use the facilities!
This is fairly generic advice for most sporting stadiums, but make sure you use the facilities before kick-off, it can be a real rush at half-time to get there and the last thing you want to do is miss any of the second half. You can catch up with match defining action on TV but you can’t re-live the atmosphere of that momentous crucial live try.
Be careful not to overspend on stalls on the walk to the Stadium
While you can find some of the best memorabilia to take away with you, like scarves and t-shirts of the exact game, be careful not to spend all your cash before you have a chance to visit the England Rugby shop. You can find some official merchandise that could last you a lifetime, so save yourself a bit of money to splash out and treat yourself to that beanie that could see you through the next five winters - as mine has.
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