The rise of sports tourism

    21 February 2019

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s incredible start as manager of Manchester United (11 wins in 13 games) has meant that Reinier Linthorst Homan is booking plenty of flights from Norway to Manchester. Homan’s company Voetbal Travel (you’ll know, being intelligent Speccie readers, that this is Dutch for ‘Football Travel’) specialises in flying European fans to England for mini-breaks centred around a match. ‘When someone is doing well we see an increased demand from their home country,’ Homan tells me. ‘At the moment it’s Norwegian fans wanting to visit Manchester because of Solskjaer. A few years ago it was Dutch fans wanting to go there because of Robin van Persie. He’d moved to Man U from Arsenal – so of course our Arsenal sales took a corresponding dip.’

    Football is a huge draw when it comes to London, Manchester and Liverpool pulling in the tourists. The Premier League’s oceans of cash have attracted the best players from around the world, who in turn have attracted fans from around the world. Margit Brusgaard and her husband Jens travelled from Holland to watch Arsenal play at home. ‘Jens first got into English football in the 1970s,’ she says, ‘when Danish TV [the couple are originally from Denmark] started broadcasting matches. Many years ago Jens had been to Arsenal’s old stadium [Highbury], and we wanted to see what the new Emirates stadium is like. It was a great experience – the fans and the atmosphere were wonderful. We were fascinated by the ground being in the middle of a residential area – that makes many of the English stadiums unique.’

    To add to the experience, Arsenal won. Though in keeping with their form of recent seasons Margit had to wait until four minutes from the end for the only goal, and even then it was an own goal (from lowly Leicester). The next day Margit and Jens flew home on an EasyJet flight full of English people heading to Amsterdam to celebrate King’s Day. ‘They were all dressed in orange – we were the only two people dressed normally.’

    60 per cent of Homan’s business is fathers travelling with their sons. ‘And sometimes we see three generations travelling together, often all male.’ For obvious reasons the big clubs are the ones in demand, but equally this means tickets are hard to come by for foreign fans who aren’t members of ‘priority sale’ supporters’ schemes. This is where Voetbal Travel’s contacts come in. But basing your trip around seeing the team you support does add a certain tension to a trip. ‘We don’t yet offer a “home win guarantee”,’ says Homan. ‘I only wish we could!’

    Sometimes clients can be overly-demanding even before the match has taken place. ‘We had a German customer last year who had booked for “El Classico”,’ says Homan, referring to Barcelona against Real Madrid (the company offers matches all over Europe). ‘But then Lionel Messi got injured and couldn’t play. The customer asked to cancel – he was quite surprised when we told him this wasn’t a valid reason.’

    Other sporting breaks

    Learn tennis in Portugal

    Training in southern Europe made Andy Murray a Wimbledon champion – could it do the same for your young tennis star? The Pine Cliffs resort on the Algarve coast has five courts managed by the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy. Coaching is available for all skill levels, both adults and children.

    Follow the England cricket team around the world

    Watch England’s batsmen collapse on a grey day in Headingley and it’s depressing. Watch them do it in the Caribbean and, as International Cricket Tour’s clientele have discovered in the last couple of weeks, it’s somehow not so bad. The company’s founder Sara Malin checks out every hotel and resort individually (tough gig), meaning that in the opinion of pundit and ex-Middlesex bowler Simon Hughes, ICT are ‘the best of all the companies offering this sort of trip’.

    Watch an NFL game in America

    Never mind that Americans can’t get the shape of a football right, and indeed that they abandoned the usual Roman numerals for Superbowl 50 because they thought people would associate ‘L’ with ‘loser’ – the NFL has attracted more British fans in recent years, partly because it now plays one match in London each year. Spectate Sports Travel organise trips to all the big US cities, from the 49ers in San Francisco to the Giants in New York.

    And for more information on Voetball Travel visit