After going to more than 30 soccer matches during my stay in England I decided to try a different English sporting experience a week and a half ago when I went to see a rugby match to see how the two atmospheres compare with each another. I found that, very surprisingly, the two experiences could not have been more different.
The match I went to was between London Saracens (one of two London teams in the Rugby Premiership) and Exeter Chiefs. The match was very crucial to was very important in determining who would get the fourth and final playoff spot (Premiership Rugby has American style playoffs at the end of the season) as there were only two games left in the season and Saracens led Exeter by four points (which is equal to the number of points awarded for a victory in Rugby Union).
Saracens play in 10,000-seat stadium Allianz Park in the North London borough of Barnet. Allianz Park is located in the middle of a huge athletic complex, which contains many football pitches, swimming pools and is a community oriented complex. This was a far cry from all the football stadiums in London that I have been to (besides The Hive) that were wedged into tight residential neighborhoods with almost no opportunity to expand. The playing pitch was artificial turf and was surrounded by an athletics track (used by Shaftsbury Barnet Harriers during the weekdays), two things that would never even be considered to be allowed at an English soccer ground (hence the initial outrage at the proposed athletics track surrounding the pitch at the Olympic Park when West Ham United move in).
Saracens only started playing home matches at Allianz Park in 2013 and had previously played home matches at Vicarage Road, the home of Watford F.C. If this move had taken place in soccer, there would have been mass protests from the fans as teams are rooted in their identity of their local London neighborhood (see the protests when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes). Not so in rugby, as many live a nomadic lifestyle and are not tied to any locale. There are many teams in the top two divisions in Rugby that have the name “London” attached to them but actually play well outside of London. London Welsh play in Oxford, London Wasps play in Coventry and London Irish play in Reading. The moving of teams has a very “American” feel to it, and that would symbolize my whole visit to Allianz Park