5 things on my sporting travel bucket list

A Brazil fan awaits kick off at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

A Brazil fan awaits kick off at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

We’d been deciding where to go to get some winter sun this year, as both me and my girlfriend had enough holiday days remaining to take a two-week pre-Christmas break this year. We’d wrestled with several ideas – she loves the Philippines after travelling there last year, while I’d suggested Cape Verde or perhaps a Caribbean cruise.

But, ultimately, it would be something we hadn’t even considered that we ended up booking.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Norwegian AIr, but they’re an airline living on the edge. Earlier this year they acquired a cash injection to “keep them flying” and left some questioning just how long into 2019 they’d last.

They’re one of the first to throw their hats into the long-haul budget airline ring, connecting Europe with the world for less money than a lot of their counterparts. It’s a brave move into uncharted territory, but has come off the back of roaring success in Europe for the likes of easyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air and, to some extent, Norwegian themselves.

Norwegian started their long haul operation in 2013 but last year started low-cost flights from London to their new hub in Argentine capital Buenos Aires, followed by flights to and from seven other airports across Argentina and one in Brazil – Rio de Janeiro.

So, you can see where this is going…

To be honest, I didn’t know these flights existed until a couple of days before making our booking. I don’t even know how I came across them. But what I do know is that when I saw the prices – one-way for under £250 – it was a deal that was too good to refuse. A simple flight search suddenly turned into a booked trip, flying from London Gatwick to Buenos Aires, travelling on to Rio de Janeiro and back to the UK.

We’ll be seeing a few sunsets in Buenos Aires this December.

We’ll be seeing a few sunsets in Buenos Aires this December.

As soon as I knew we were heading to Buenos Aires, I knew there were two things I wanted to do: gat the ferry across to Montevideo in Uruguay, and watch Boca Juniors. However, when we sorted the flights, Superliga Argentina were yet to release their fixtures for the upcoming season.

Roughly speaking, football teams play at home every other week during the season, so there was a one in two chance Boca would be playing at their home – the world-famous La Bombonera stadium – on the weekend we’ll be in Buenos Aires. The alternative would have been to go and watch their cross-city rivals and current Copa Libertadores (South America’s answer to the Champions League) holders, River Plate, While that would still have been epic, Boca are the team I really wanted to see.

A couple of weeks later the fixtures were out and, fortunately, our trip aligned with a Boca Juniors home game against Argentinos Juniors – the club that gave Diego Maradona his start in professional football. After conducting some research, I came across LandingPadBA, a website which offers tours and excursions for visitors to Buenos Aires. One of the services they offer is ticket packages to watch the city’s football teams because they are popular and, due to high demand, a match ticket can be hard to come by.

It was expensive, but as soon as LandingPadBA released their ticket packages, I secured two for me and my girlfriend, and in December we’ll be off to watch South America’s most famous team ply their trade.

After securing our seats, I started to get excited, as going to watch Boca Juniors is something I have on my bucket list. But it isn’t the only sporting thing I want to do on my travels – so, here’s a rundown of what else I want to see.

1. Watch the Superclásico at La Bombonera

La Bombonera - the world-famous home of Club Atlético Boca Juniors.

La Bombonera - the world-famous home of Club Atlético Boca Juniors.

Doesn’t our 2019 trip count? Well, I’ll be going to see the famous Boca Juniors play, but it won’t quite be the Superclásico. That’s the pinnacle of football in South America – the flares, the fireworks, the toilet paper, the intense hatred. It sounds like a weird combination, but they come together to help form the atmosphere in one of the finest derbies in world football.

I remember reading an article years ago about 50 sporting things to do before you die and watching the Superclásico at La Bombonera was ranked number one. From watching the videos and seeing the photos, I can see why.

2. Go to a Summer Olympic Games

London hosted the Summer Olympics in 2012, but for some reason I didn’t attend.

London hosted the Summer Olympics in 2012, but for some reason I didn’t attend.

In 2012, the Olympic Games were held in London – about three hours by train from where I live. In fact, the football was held at various venues around the country including Glasgow, Manchester and Coventry, yet for whatever reason I didn’t end up going to a single event. It was probably one of the best opportunities in terms of cost and time I’ll ever have to go to the Olympics, yet I didn’t take it.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll never go. Tokyo is up next in 2020, but in 2024 they’ll be held in Paris, which is only an hour away by plane, giving me the chance to see them live and in person. For me, the Olympics transcends sport, and the impact it can have on communities and the legacy it can leave behind can be incredible – so to be a part of it is something I definitely want to do.

3. A game at the World Cup

France fans celebrating the teams victory in the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

France fans celebrating the teams victory in the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

One of my favourite things about sport and travel is when I’m holidaying during a World Cup or European Championships, huddling around a screen with fellow fans and watching a game with a beer. Last year we watched the World Cup thriller between France and Argentina in Paris, while in 2016 I was in Nice for the Euro semi-final between France and Germany and in Dubrovnik to see Daniel Sturridge’s last-minute winner for England against Wales.

I don’t know why, but watching international football abroad makes it more of an experience, and while it’s great to watch it on a big television, actually attending one of these tournaments would be even better. I’ve only ever been to one international football game before, and that was Liechtenstein against Israel – a 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier – not quite on par with the tournament proper. But to be able to experience the build up and the carnival atmosphere in a host country would, I’m sure, be amazing.

4. Experience Monaco Grand Prix weekend

Monaco getting ready for Grand Prix weekend.

Monaco getting ready for Grand Prix weekend.

There’s probably no other event in world sport as glamorous as the Monaco Grand Prix, and despite it only taking place over a single weekend in May, it has a massive impact on the world’s second smallest country. Not only does it pretty much shut down for the event (the streets of Monaco double up as a race track), but it dominates souvenir stands throughout the year and there’s even a museum and a club dedicated to motorsport.

But to be a part of the pageantry of it all, getting to see the yachts, mixing with the high-class crowd and seeing the action up-close would, I imagine, be breathtaking. While I’d probably have to stay in one of the surrounding towns in France due to the ridiculous cost of accommodation in Monaco, general entrance race tickets aren’t as expensive as you’d think.

5. Watch the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden

New York Knicks cheerleaders on the court at Madison Square Garden. Image credit:    sottolestelle   /   Creative Commons

New York Knicks cheerleaders on the court at Madison Square Garden. Image credit: sottolestelle/Creative Commons

I’ve seen the New York Yankees play at Yankee Stadium, the New York Jets play at MetLife and the New York Rangers play at the Barclays Center (which I know isn’t the team’s home arena, but it’s still in NYC) but the only one of the ‘Big Four’ American sports teams that I support that I haven’t seen play live is the New York Knicks.

That they play at one of the most iconic entertainment venues in the world – Madison Square Garden – only adds to the allure. I grew up being a huge wrestling fan, and it’s probably the most revered venue in the sport. It’s held three WrestleManias, a countless number of concerts by the world’s most recognisable names and even big boxing events. To go there would be one thing. To go there and watch a team that I support would be another.

What sporting events or activities are on your bucket list? I’d love to know! Leave yours in the comments section below.