Being at a live sporting event is one of the most exhilarating yet exciting things you can experience. There’s nothing like seeing your heroes before your eyes. However, sporting crowds vary a lot from sport to sport and can make or break your experience, so here is my guide: Sports Crowds 101.
Having only attended a few football matches at a young age I don’t have much experience of what is known as one of rowdiest crowds in sports. Having some of the most devoted and avid fans really benefits the spectacle. Unfortunately, due to its large following there is always going to be a minority of people who give a bad reputation to all fans of the sport. Football definitely has one of the biggest problems with rival fans clashing, leading to increased security and separating fans to avoid conflicts. It is a shame, as having rivalries can make sport so great, but when a rivalry goes beyond friendly competition, it can leave a bitter aftertaste.
Unlike in football, the opposing fans are rarely separated into different stands, everyone just generally mixes in. This may seem like a good way for fights to start when a game is close or tensions are rising on the pitch. But apart from once having a full pint upended onto me as the crowd celebrated Leinster’s 2011 European Cup win I have never experienced any real aggression at games (the happy Irishman did offer to buy me a pint afterwards but being only 14 at the time I thought it best to decline and leave him to drink to victory with his fellow countrymen). That’s not to say there aren’t incidents, but having fans reflect the mutual respect shown between the players is great to see.
Tennis definitely draws quieter crowds, partially due to the tradition of tennis being more of an upper class sport, but it’s certainly not the only reason and it doesn’t make the experience any less than that of a rowdy football or rugby crowd. I was lucky enough to be able to attend Wimbledon a few years ago and was able to see what sets a tennis crowd apart. On TV it seems like every few points there is a respectful smattering of applause. But live, you really experience the intensity of two athletes pushing themselves to their physical extremes. The crowd is far more often than not quiet due to being captivated by the match, rather than being bored.
Cycling is a slightly odd one for crowd structure, due to the way velodromes are constructed, as well as there only being dim lighting (except for the track itself which is brightly illuminated). This focuses everything on the athletes. That said, if the crowd can get behind a cyclist or team, such as Team GB during London 2012, the noise can be deafening and bring the atmosphere to a whole new level.
Strangely enough, for a sport where men with big grizzly beards slam into each other while skating on ice, the crowd is one of the most family friendly and diverse there is. It is common to see entire families attend, and there’s always a big emphasis on clean language. That’s not to say it’s tame; it’s not in the least. In fact, the atmosphere at an ice hockey game is the most intense and tribal thing I have experienced. With the closeness of the action and an involved crowd (which it usually is) the ensuing drumming and chanting can make the entire occasion thrilling, even if you may be left a little bit hard of hearing afterwards.