For many sports fans, live games are the ultimate experience. Often in the United States, the tailgating, food and social interaction are at least as, if not more important than the game itself. When many Americans travel domestically, live sporting events are taken into consideration and some even plan entire trips around where and when ball games can be seen. So why, when we travel to Europe, do we only visit museums, take walking tours and generally avoid the every-day aspects of local life?
If watching a live sporting event is of interest, there is no better place to ease into the local scene than soccer matches in Scotland. Why Scotland? The easiest answers lie in the fact that English is spoken and the level of play is usually quite a bit lower than in England, so tickets are easier to come by.
Scottish soccer clubs are just as old as their more famous English counterparts and are roughly the same age as the oldest American baseball clubs. From the 1870s and 1880s, Scots have flocked to their local pitch to cheer on their teams. Historically, the two most famous and important Scottish clubs have been the Rangers and Celtic, both based in the west coast city of Glasgow. Traditionally, their fan base has been split along the Protestant-Catholic divide and the rivalry, known as the Old Firm, is one of the most famous in all of Europe.
Yet Glasgow is not the most realistic place to get into Scottish soccer in terms of attending live games. Ibrox and Celtic Park, the stadiums for Rangers and Celtic respectively, are always sold out and one cannot even begin to hope for a ticket for a match between the two clubs. So start in a less competitive market like Edinburgh.
Edinburghhas two clubs in the top division, Hearts of Midlothian (named after Sir Walter Scott’s novel of the same name) and Hibernian. Hearts play at Tynecastle on the west side of the city on Gorgie Road while Hibs play at Easter Road in the Leith section of town on the east side. Both clubs have strong histories but neither is likely to challenge the two Glasgow clubs any time soon. As a result, tickets are easy to come by, especially if a lesser-known opponent is on the schedule.
At Tynecastle, one can simply walk up to the box office on the day of the match and purchase a ticket. Once inside the stadium there is an element of time-travel as Tynecastle, as well as countless other Scottish stadiums, is filled with a chanting and singing crowd in a small, enclosed arena. Many older grounds have stands dating back nearly a century adding to the mystique and fun of the event.
As the match begins the atmosphere is intoxicating with the home crowd bellowing in support of their boys. And when a goal is scored it is pure euphoria, the stadium rocking for several minutes.
Edinburgh is not the only city outside of Glasgow where soccer can be seen easily and relatively cheaply. Dundee (two clubs, Dundee and Dundee United), Aberdeen, Falkirk, Inverness and many other slightly smaller towns all have their own clubs and interesting stadiums that are well worth exploring. So if you can take a break from whiskey tasting, golfingand searching for the Loch Ness Monster, plan on taking in a soccer match in Scotland and enjoy an important part of local life.
Written by Michael Orr for EuropeUpClose.com