Nou Camp

Get your passport out: 6 trips to take in 2012

Holidays are what we long for 11 months of the year so why not incorporate a getaway with a top sporting event? Here are our suggestions for 2012.

SPORTS FANS MIGHT already be dreaming of a summer holiday in Poland but there are plenty of other worthwhile trips to be made and here are some of the excursions that top our list for 2012.

Leave your own suggestions in the comments section below, and in no particular order…

El Clasico, Barcelona or Madrid

If a certain beer company put together your first El Clasico derby experience, it would surely be along the lines of August’s Spanish Super Cup clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The game saw the debut of Cesc Fabregas, five goals, a late winner for Lionel Messi, handbags on the sidelines and that’s before you consider the atmosphere in the stadium and the football. My brother was at it. Jammy bleeeeep.

The thing is that virtually every El Clasico has flash points, spectacular goals and a heated atmosphere. These two clubs are amongst the biggest in the world, both have always had top players wearing their colours and when you consider that names like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldo, Kaka and Casillas are all involved at the moment, there has rarely been a better time to get to a La Liga match.

YouTube credit: 101goals

Costs/Concerns: Expect to pay in excess of €100 per ticket for a game, more if it’s a critical fixture. The good news is that tickets are your biggest cost given that Barcelona and Madrid are very accessible from Ireland (Dublin to Barcelona with Aer Lingus in April was just under €100 return when we checked in mid Dec) and both have hotels that start from €30 a night.

European Championships (8 June – 1 July)

All roads are pointing east this summer and as the days go by, more and more options are becoming available to supporters.

For anyone wondering ‘Why bother? It’s on the telly’, getting to an away game (in any sport) is an absolute must. The feeling of being somewhere overseas, pulling on your jersey and it’s you and your mates against the rest of the world is perhaps the closest most of us will getting to play for your team. You’re on duty essentially, a vital part of the machine that is there to get a result and it leads to moments like this….

YouTube credit: Ozoisking

The added bonus of something like the European Championships is that there are thousands of supporters from other countries in the exact same position. The banter is mighty, the recession is forgotten – it’s all about the football and (still) getting one over on England.

Costs/Concerns: The biggest mission for most is getting their hands on match tickets. Uefa has put some tickets on sale already, the FAI will obviously get their share and while all-inclusive match packages will ease game access fears, that particular option is proving costly. Ryanair has decided to run some same-day return flights around the Irish games, while Abbey Travel has also confirmed it’s one-day trip costs. There are certain events that are worth paying for, and seeing Ireland face World Champions Spain or the Italians at the European Championships is surely one of them.

Summer Olympics, London (27 July – 12 August)

Overshadowed by ticket controversies and security fears, it would be easy to forget that the Olympics Games are a massive sporting occasion. Whether it’s football, tennis, athletics, gymnastics, diving or the beach volleyball that rocks your boat, there’s something for everyone when the Games roll around every four years and because they are right on our doorstep, how can we resist? The Olympic flame will visit Dublin next June as well to get us in the humour!

Costs/Concerns: Most Irish people have some relative or friend living in the greater London area and when you consider that there are several events being held outside of London itself, there are plenty of options for accommodation. Flights to the city leave all Irish airports, there’s also the ferry-train option and London is public transport-friendly.

Most of the action will centre around the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London but the boxing will be held in the ExCel arena in London’s Docklands, not far from Greenwich Park which will be transformed for the equestrian competitions. Keep an eye on for ticket information – and the key to a successful trip will be deciding what you want to see and where you need to go as early as possible.

US Open, New York (27 August – 9 September)

Tennis fans will have an extra Major this year – 2012 being an Olympic year – but the excitement of  a Grand Slam is rarely more evident than at Flushing Meadows. It’s New York, it’s noisy, its the start of the end to another season and the Arthur Ashe Stadium is an arena worthy of any sport.

The tournament has produced some outstanding action over the years and its hard courts have brought the best out of the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, world number Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Who can forget the 2009 final when a 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro played out of his skin to prevent Federer claiming a sixth consecutive title?

YouTube credit: Fmaina24

Costs/Concerns: Tickets are available if you organise yourself early. Return flights will cost between €600 and €700 from Dublin and hotels are a little pricey. But, hey, it’s New York!!

Twickenham 2012, Heineken Cup final (May 19th)

A group of us did this several years ago. The final was in Cardiff and Munster were looking good so we booked tickets and a ferry on the off chance the Reds would make the final. They duly did and won their first European title with half of the province (it seemed) and some Leinster fans as witnesses. Having watched a fantastic season of Heineken Cup rugby though, we would have travelled to Cardiff either way – that’s the risk you take.

Costs/concerns: Tickets for the 2012 Heineken Cup final are on sale now through and start from £60.00, and wouldn’t it be nice not to have to fret over tickets over an Irish side do make the final showpiece. Travelling to London (pre-Olympics) should be straight forward from anywhere in Ireland; likewise with finding somewhere to stay.

Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps (2 September)

Never make a final judgement about any sport until you see it live, and Formula 1 is a prime example.

Camera angles cover every little incident on TV making the spectacle of watching a Grand Prix more like playing a video game rather then following a motor race. In the flesh, it’s all about the noise, the smells, seeing how drivers handle their machines up close and, most interestingly, how fellahs are inching closer to their rivals lap by lap.

I’ve been to a couple of GPs myself and no circuit compares to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Within a handy drive of Brussels, the track is buried deep in the forest of the Ardennes – though the stunning backdrop is championed by the most talked about corner in motorsport, Eau Rouge.

Despite all the technological advances, TV still doesn’t quite convey the dips and rises of a racing track. Eau Rouge has always separated the men from the boys and it’s a steep incline that will literally leave you puffing by the top if you get a chance to walk it afterwards. Drivers, across all series, rave about it.

Check out Michael Schumacher taking the corner flat out in 1993 and then overtaking Jean Alesi because of the momentum he manages to build up. Incredible stuff from the German.

YouTube credit: Rillenreifen

Costs/concerns: As with most sports trips, you can organise this yourself (fly and stay in Brussels, get your tickets online and drive to the circuit and back) or you can avail of the many packages still organised by a variety of tour operators in Ireland (€669 in 2011). Two pieces of advice: bring warm rain gear and pay the extra to secure a seat in a good vantage area.