It is the taking part that counts. So said numerous rugby coaches and physical education drill sergeants who were in charge of my ultimately doomed sporting career. The initial thrust of their argument remains valid, however. The best way to get involved in participating in sport in St Andrews is signing up to one of the sports clubs at the University and the ideal opportunity to do so is the Sports Fayre being held on Saturday 14 September at the Sports Centre.
Your life in a sports club will take to you to the heady peaks of athletic endeavour and sporting success and will lower you to the depths of tequila coated shame in the aftermath of a Wednesday night social that got as wild as England’s post-Ashes victory party. Some of us, while we enjoy the social aspect of sport, are more passive than active participants in the pursuit of sporting endeavour itself and that is why I have composed this guide for St Andrews’ sporting spectators.
Rolling up to the Sports Centre and the University Park located just behind it on a Wednesday afternoon is probably the best way for you to admire the skill and overall prowess of the University’s athletes in a number of disciplines: rugby, football, hockey and shinty to name but a few. All of it is free though if you’re watching a match outside I’d suggest that you are practical and bring a tartan flask, rug and layers of padded clothing as it can get mightily chilly. Sports such as basketball take place inside the Sports Centre if you fancy basking in the glory of central heating. To find out when fixtures are on, the Athletic Union’s website and individual clubs are your best sources of information.
The Annual Rugby Sevens Tournament hosted by the Rugby Club, which takes place on the Sports Centre pitches, is one of the highlights of the calendar. Rugby with readily available food and drink from a number of outlets makes for an excellent event that attracts male and – since the most recent instalment – female teams from across the University and rugby club world. Normally held in April it concludes with an after party which is very good. I was there, apparently. Just don’t expect to remember it in any great detail.
Normally held on the last weekend in April, the Charity Polo Tournament hosted by the University Polo Club showcases teams from all ability levels. This year’s varsity match, the highlight of the tournament, was contested between St Andrews and Oxford with the home side triumphing after a pulsating series of chukkas.
Beyond the boundaries of St Andrews but a quintessential St Andrews event nonetheless is the St Andrews Challenge, hosted by the Clay Pigeon Shooting Club at a nearby shooting range every November. A number of universities and agricultural colleges send teams for an event which concludes with the notorious Welly Ball. You’ll notice that sport and copious consumption of alcohol, although not compulsory, go hand in hand in St Andrews.
I’ll start with the fairly obvious: golf. Joining the University Golf Club is probably the best way to get onto some of the nearby courses. Alternatively you could try The Himalayas, the putting green owned by the St Andrews Ladies Putting Club near the Old Course Hotel, which is more difficult than it looks. If you fancy the quality and glamour of professional golfers and stars of stage and screen coming together then the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is for you: a glamorous week that has in the past seen Bill Murray serenade one of our many restaurants and Hugh Grant come and steal our women. Tickets are only available for the final day of the Championship but are free for students. I hasten to add that The Saint, as ever, will be bringing the best reaction and analysis from the clubhouse, with the tournament taking place on the 26-29 September.
The local football club, St Andrews United, play in the competitive atmosphere of the East Region Super League, in the bowels of the cut and thrust and occasionally bloody Junior leagues of Scottish football. Matches are played at Recreation Park on Langlands Road, a short walk from the centre of town with admission costing £3 for students.
The professional reaches of Scottish football are not too far away if you seek something slightly more highbrow, not a term you would associate with the city across the Tay. I jest; despite my occasional suggestion that Dundee is like the Elephants’ Graveyard (imagine me as Mufasa to your Simba) it does have its uses in that two professional teams from Scotland’s top two divisions are based there. Conveniently enough, their home grounds are located on the same street in a bizarre quirk and are the closest professional football stadia in the world. In the tangerine and black corner are Dundee United of the Scottish Premier League based at Tannadice. Students in possession of a matriculation card are allowed in for £10. Matches rarely if ever sell out so you can buy tickets on the day from the Dundee United club shop opposite the stadium. United, one-time European Cup semi-finalists and European Cup Winners’ Cup finalists and champions of Scotland in 1983 have a long history of playing good football (from time to time, as my Celtic-supporting father argues from the other side of the sofa) and producing exciting young talent, so a trip to Tannadice can often be exciting.
At the other end of the street in the dark blue corner are Dundee. Currently in the First Division, the league below United, their glory days were in the 1960s when they won the league and reached the semi finals of the European Cup. They were also briefly exciting when they spent like no tomorrow in the early 2000s on a number of excellent and indifferent South Americans, which helped contribute to them slipping into administration twice, causing their excellent fans to rise to the occasion and bail them out. When in need of a football fix I go to their Dens Park stadium, which is old school in the extreme; the South Enclosure is the home of the hardcore supporters and is an excellent example of classic British stadium architecture. As a result the facilities are somewhat rustic compared to more modern venues. Tickets are available for all areas of the stadium and cost £10 for students. As with their neighbours, matches rarely sell out so you can easily buy on the day from the Dundee club shop at Dens. Around the grounds there are a number of bars including the tremendously named Troll Inn, however both clubs have lounges open to the general public should you fancy a tipple. Given the often murky quality of Scottish football, I would advise one. To get there take a bus from St Andrews to Dundee then change for one of the local buses from Dundee High Street as I would not advise walking from the centre. Or from St Andrews to Dundee for that matter.
For the rugger buggers amongst you you’ll have to travel slightly further afield. The Scottish Rugby team normally play their home matches at the majestic Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh although they occasionally go touring to places such as Aberdeen and Perth. Primarily, matches are played in Edinburgh, including the Autumn Test matches and the Six Nations. Tickets for the Autumn Test are normally easier to come by than for Six Nations’ matches and are invariably cheaper. They are normally available online from the Scottish Rugby Union website. To get to Murrayfield, hitch a train from Leuchars to Edinburgh’s Haymarket station, which is a brief walk from the stadium. The atmosphere at Murrayfield, despite the team’s more often than not successful attempt to define mediocrity, is often raucous and worth sampling.
While not an all-encompassing guide to spectator sports in and around St Andrews, I do hope that I have shown you that there is hope for watching live action in our four streets and beyond that strays beyond a dodgy online stream pilfered from the Library’s internet connection.