What only a sports fan will understand is that one of the most traumatic experiences of moving to university is figuring out how and where you’re going to watch sport. Even if you bring your own TV, none but the richest and luckiest students can afford Sky Sports or BT, and ‘rich student’ is an oxymoron on par with ‘multicultural UKIP supporter’. There are streams of course, but all sports lose some of their excitement when viewed on the tiny screens of old laptops desperately trying to fight back hordes of viruses from the dodgiest of streaming sites. I once missed all five goals in a 3-2 classic and since then have rarely put myself through that experience.
So the only option left to most of us is a pub or sports bar. In London this is easier than most, especially around UCL – the streets are littered with options. But all offer different viewing experiences, prices and atmosphere. Here are a few short reviews of those around the UCL campus:
The UCL Bars (Huntley, Mully’s, Phineas)
What most students will regard as their first port of call during freshers, the union buildings are, most likely, the most familiar establishments to new students and were certainly where I first looked for a place to watch sport. However, they throw up a number of fairly insurmountable problems and are mentioned here largely as a warning more than a recommendation.
The first issue is opening times. Most of the union buildings only open in the evenings and, as such, miss most main sporting events. They also do this without much warning. The first match I went to watch at university was Liverpool vs Manchester United – a big game, even for neutrals. Finding large TVs showing Sky Sports in the café above Mully’s, we sat down to watch, only to be thrown out literally seconds before kick-off. Admittedly this was a Sunday and so opening times were perhaps shorter than others, but the experience of having to listen to Jamie Redknapp for half an hour, before being deprived of the actual sport, was a traumatic experience from which I haven’t quite recovered.
The second issue is quality. After that first bruising experience, I haven’t tried to watch sport in any of the Union bars, but I’ve been around when games have been on and it isn’t great. The bars are designed as cheap places for students to drink, not as sports bars, and as such there is often no sound from the TVs. Combine this with their busyness and you’ll be left disappointed. On most occasions, the Union bars are crammed and trying to find a place to stand, let alone sit, within comfortable viewing distance of a screen is an ambitious task. For these reasons, leave the Union buildings for cheap nights out, not for sport.
Pictured above, the Rocket is situated on Euston Road, right by Euston Station. If you haven’t discovered it yet then 1) your social sec needs a word, and 2) you’re missing out on one of the prime student bars in the area. For a ‘quiet’ night that quickly escalates into something memorable, there’s nothing better, but for sport it leaves something to be desired.
The reason for this, again, is simply that it’s not a ‘sports bar’. It’s better than the Union buildings, certainly, and still reasonably priced – the cheapest pints are £2.50, which is not bad at all for central London – but it was clearly not designed for optimum sporting viewing. There are TVs around, and much more seating, but the two are not very well situated in relation to the other, and there are few places where you can sit comfortably to watch. Expect much head craning for the standard game, as well as that incredibly irritating experience of low TV sound coupled with continuous loud music.
However, for the big events the Rocket is fantastic. Football matches like the Champions League final, as well as other popular events, result in a huge projector screen being hung up on one wall. Seating is still an issue but is hard to find in most sports pubs at match time anyway, and the larger screen means you’re guaranteed a good view. The atmosphere is good and the drinks are cheap, which makes the Rocket a perfectly enjoyable, if far from perfect, place to watch sport.
Rounding off the traditional student bars around UCL – again, if you haven’t been here yet, you need to talk to your department’s social sec – is The Court, cunningly named due to its location at the top of Tottenham Court Road, a few minutes from UCL. A personal favourite, The Court holds an edge over the others when it comes to sport.
While there are still issues with seating availability (it gets ridiculously busy during matches, especially for evening games), there are far more chairs available than elsewhere, and nearly every single seat gives a good view of a TV. Screens are everywhere, and are well situated so that you are guaranteed a good view, even if you’re denied a seat. Plus being able to keep watch while nipping to the bar for a drink is very handy.
Even better, during the World Cup, The Court gave the option to book a table, a practice they will likely be carrying on throughout the year. To do this, you have to pay a £40 deposit, which sounds steep, but it is redeemable as a bar tab. Get four mates together and you’ll pay a tenner each and, for evening matches especially, paying £10 on drinks is an easily achievable task, especially as food is also included. The menu has changed in recent months, which is a disappointment as it was previously excellent, but it’s still good value and drinks are the same price as at the Rocket – unsurprising as they are part of the same chain.
Finally, this is all topped off by The Court’s ‘Super Saver’ card. If you like football, buy it as soon as possible. The card costs £1, and, once you’ve got it, selected drinks are available for £1.90 on match days. Keep an eye out for the time, though, as it’s quite restricted: evening games are not included and there’s a cut-off point on Saturdays in the late afternoon, after which the discount no longer applies. But for getting a drink with the game it’s a great bargain, and you can make your money back in a few drinks. Unfortunately the ‘selected drinks’ are also restricted and, if you want a pint, you’ll likely have to settle for Carling, but it still has the cheapest prices that I have found outside the Union bars.
Image credit: Wikimedia commons.