David Coleman can still remember the goosebumps he felt during his first trip more than a decade ago to Old Trafford, the historic home of the Manchester United soccer squad. Coleman, who grew up in Ireland and now lives in Toronto, was so overwhelmed by the experience that he now attempts to return every year to watch his beloved team play in their world-famous stadium. “The experience of being there is larger than life,” he says. “It’s almost religious. There’s truly a special atmosphere in the stadium, regardless of where you sit.”
As sports lovers like Coleman will tell you, a few athletic venues truly are fields of dreams. Man U’s Old Trafford definitely makes the list of sport’s holiest grounds; so does baseball’s Fenway Park, football’s Lambeau Field, and the Augusta National Golf Club, host to the oh-so-exclusive Masters golf tournament. In a world dominated by corporately named stadiums and look-alike ballparks, these one-of-a-kind locations have the power to stir fans’ deepest emotions.
If you want to visit one of these sporting meccas, you can make all the arrangements yourself, of course. But enlisting a specialist in sports travel will give you better access to good seats. “With a service like ours,” says Duane Penner of Roadtrips, a sports-travel company based in Winnipeg, “you’re not going to have to roam around back alleys to buy tickets from someone who may not enhance your experience.” Here’s the lowdown on how you can achieve the ultimate fan experience.
Manchester United is the most recognized soccer club on earth, and Old Trafford ? called the Theatre of Dreams by supporters ? has been its home since 1910. The magnificent stadium has been altered many times over the years (including a Luftwaffe renovation in 1941) and now holds 68,000 fans ? all of whom start singing even before the game begins.
The best place to begin your visit is at the Megastore ( Shop.Manutd.com), an enormous shop selling all things Red. “You can never go to Old Trafford without visiting the Megastore,” says lifelong supporter Coleman. “I will usually get there early on the day of the match so I can spend at least two hours in the store.” Leave time to walk along Sir Matt Busby Way, named for the team’s greatest manager, and take in the street vendors and fish and chip shops. You can book a tour of Old Trafford (except on game days), including a visit to the United Museum, at Manutd.com.
Home games run from August to May and tickets are extraordinarily difficult to come by. A small number are available to active members of the Manchester United Supporters Club Canada ( Muscc.com), or you can visit Magical Journeys ( MagicalJourneys.com), a Mississauga, Ont.-based travel portal, for info on Old Trafford packages. If you already have a ticket, Zoom Airlines has inexpensive direct flights to Manchester from major Canadian cities ( FlyZoom.com).
Green Bay, Wisconsin
There was a time when you could buy season tickets to see the Green Bay Packers ? unfortunately, that was during the Kennedy administration. These days there are more than 68,000 people on the waiting list for seats in recently renovated Lambeau Field.
Lambeau, the oldest NFL stadium still in use, opened in 1957, just before Vince Lombardi became head coach and led the team to a decade of glory. The Packers won the NFL championship five times in the 1960s, the last victory coming at Lambeau in the Ice Bowl of 1967, when the windchill hit -43°C.
You won’t have to worry about wind chill if you visit in the summer or fall. Sign up for one of the hour-long tours of Lambeau ($8 U.S., no tours on game days) and you can pay homage to a statue of Lombardi, walk through the stadium’s hallowed tunnels and stroll onto the field’s Kentucky bluegrass. Call 920-569-7513.
Packer Fan Tours, the official travel partner of the team, offers a range of packages including not only tickets and hotels, but also opportunities to rub shoulder pads with some of the players, tour the massive Packers Hall of Fame, join a tailgate party and whoop it up at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse. Trips range from about $89 (U.S.) for a preseason game ticket (but no lodging) to more than $700 (U.S.) per day for the MVP treatment. The Packers play nine home games between Sept. 18 and Jan. 1. For more info, visit PackerFanTours.com, or call 1-800-851-7225.
Fenway Park, home of the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, oozes history. Opened in 1912, it’s the oldest and smallest ballpark in the major leagues. Fans sit close to the field and the field’s quirky dimensions give it a personality that a cavernous dome with plastic grass just can’t match. You know you’re in Fenway when you look up and see the Green Monster, the 11-m wall in left field, complete with hand-operated scoreboard.
Before the game ? assuming you’re not wearing a Yankees cap ? you’ll want to spend a couple of hours soaking up the rich atmosphere. Go for a few pints at the Cask ‘N Flagon, a famous pub behind the Green Monster, and then stagger past the statue of the great Ted Williams on Yawkey Way as you admire Fenway’s original brick exterior. Tours are available until three hours before game time. Call 617-226-6666 or e-mail email@example.com.
Sports-travel specialist Roadtrips can design a custom trip to Boston for any home game. For instance, packages range from $300 to $900 (U.S.) person to watch the Sox host the Blue Jays from Sept. 26 to 29. The price includes hotel and ticket to one game. Visit RoadTrips.com, or call 1-800-465-1765.
Augusta National Golf Club
Augusta National was founded in 1934 by Bobby Jones, the greatest golfer of his era, and Wall Street financier Clifford Roberts, who years later added a note of tragedy to the club’s mystique by committing suicide on the grounds. The club has been criticized for its membership criteria ? it didn’t admit its first black member until 1990, and it’s never admitted a woman ? but its Old South charm is precisely what makes the Masters Tournament unique. Even non-golfers ooh and ah at the manicured beauty of the course when it plays host to the Masters every April. Fairways weave around stately pines, flowering dogwoods, stunning backdrops of pink azaleas, and bunkers so powdery you’ll want to run barefoot through them. (This is frowned upon.)
Roadtrips organizes a full range of Masters packages, as does Toronto-based Valhalla Travel ( ValhallaTravel.com). Trips involving only the practice swings are about $800 (U.S.), while deluxe ones that get you into all four rounds approach $8,000 (U.S.). Green jacket not included.