Many nations can be tagged with the “sports-obsessed” label and the UK is certainly one of those. Sport is a huge part of our culture and plays a big role in our lives. For many in the UK, sport is something they watch – whether live at an event, on television or both, it’s something they play, it’s something that they read about in the papers, something they talk to friends, family and colleagues about and, of course, perhaps something they even have a bet on. Sport is traditionally reserved for the back pages but it is often front page news too; stars such as David Beckham, Freddie Flintoff and Frankie Dettori in many ways transcend their sports and are celebrities in their own right.
Significant sporting contests take place up and down the country almost every day in the UK. If you aren’t a sports fan, Christmas Day might just about be the one day of the year on which you can escape the action, although on the down side you may have to eat dry turkey and the trifle that is part of family folklore, even if nobody really likes it.
Hopefully you are a sports fan though, because here we take a look at all of the biggest and best events that take place in the UK. Whether you’re looking for something to have a punt on or planning your next big day out, we’ve got you covered!
Football is the world’s favourite sport and quite probably the UK’s too. The Premier League is the most watched, richest and arguably the best football league in the world. It is not all about the top flight though and the Championship is also one of the best leagues around. Throw in the FA Cup, the League Cup, the lower leagues and the European competitions in which the home sides compete and during the season there really is almost no end of football to get involved with.
The season typically runs from August to May but with internationals and qualification stages for European club competitions there is quite often football taking place for at least 10 months of the year, if not more. If international football is your thing then in leap years we have the Euros to enjoy. In 2020, the final (and various other games including both semi-finals) of the continental extravaganza will be held at Wembley, with further games also taking place in Scotland.
Horse Racing: Huge Meets Aplenty
Horse racing is hugely popular in many countries, including Ireland, USA, France, Australia and the UAE but nowhere can match the UK. In terms of history, these shores are unrivalled when it comes to horse racing, whilst they are also pretty hard to beat in terms of the diversity of the action, as well as the quantity of the high level, prestigious contests.
When it comes to flat racing, the five Classics are the obvious place to start. These are among the most prestigious, richest and high class races in the world, with, perhaps, the Derby, the pick of the bunch. Epsom hosts that race in June, as well as the Oaks, the fillies’ equivalent race. In April or May, we have the 1,000 Guineas and then the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, with Doncaster’s St Leger rounding things off in September.
Aside from those meetings and races perhaps the flat meeting fans most look forward to is Royal Ascot. Taking place each year in June, this is a five-day feast packed with pageantry and pomp but the racing itself is unbeatable. More than 100 years old, this extravaganza is home to almost a quarter of the season’s top-level Group One contests, with the Queen Anne Stakes, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Commonwealth Cup, the Coronation Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes just some of the highlights. With more than £8m in prize money up for grabs, this really is a meeting not to be missed.
There are lots of other huge flat meetings or festivals as well though. Glorious Goodwood (officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival) is a late-season spectacle that hosts the Sussex Stakes, the Goodwood Cup, the Nassau Stakes, the Richmond Stakes and many other superb races. Goodwood is renowned for its Panama hats and slightly laidback atmosphere and is a key event in the season for socialites. Taking place as July meets August, this five-day affair offers a wealth of high class races though, including three Group 1s.
The high class flat fun isn’t confined to the south of England though and as well as the Leger, Yorkshire also plays a key part in the season. York hosts a number of big days but its flagship meeting is the Ebor, which sees three Group 1 races and offers huge prize money on four glorious days of August racing. The International Stakes was won by Frankel in 2012, whilst the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks complete the trio of top level contests. The Dante is another York highlight and takes place earlier in the year as part of the Spring Festival, alongside races such as the Yorkshire Cup and the Middleton Stakes.
There are almost countless other races worthy of note, far too many to, well, note. Among the noteworthy we can’t fail to namecheck, however, are the following:
- King’s Stand Stakes – Part of Royal Ascot
- Ascot Gold Cup – Another Royal Ascot affair
- King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – Royal Ascot once again
- Champion Stakes – Ascot again but this time on Champions Day
- Vertem Futurity Trophy – Formerly the Racing Post Trophy, this is held at Doncaster
- Lockinge Stakes – Held at Newbury in May
- Sprint Cup – Haydock’s sole Group One race
- Dewhurst Stakes – Held at racing HQ, Newmarket, in October
- Eclipse Stakes – Won by Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Sea The Stars, this is run in July and is Sandown’s only top level contest
National Hunt Racing – Cheltenham Festival
Just as with flat racing, when it comes to the jumps game there are a plethora of huge races and several monster meetings. But one looms over them all and is, for many racing fans, like Christmas and their birthdays rolled into one.
The Cheltenham Festival takes place over four days in March and features a whopping 28 races, of which half are top-tier Grade 1 affairs. That means that the Festival hosts 35% of the entire season’s Grade 1 races and that translates into four action-packed days of truly world class racing. Each day has a Championship race that stands above even the other Grade 1s and these are:
- Champion Hurdle – Run on the opening day over two miles, half a furlong
- Queen Mother Champion Chase – Wednesday’s feature is contested over two miles
- Stayers’ Hurdle – Formerly the World Hurdle, the big one on Thursday is a three mile marathon
- Gold Cup – Cheltenham saves the best till last with arguably the best NH race in the world over a testing three miles and two and a half furlongs
Of the other races, the Ryanair Chase is almost an unofficial Championship contest, whilst the RSA, the Arkle, the Supreme Novices’, the Triumph Hurdle and the Spa Novices’ Hurdle (Albert Bartlett) perhaps stand a little above the rest.
Keen racing fans would always put Cheltenham ahead of the Grand National and, in terms of quality, there is no contest. However, it is the Grand National that has a big place in the hearts and minds and the nation’s wider public, while it also offers more prize money and attracts a bigger global audience.
The Grand National itself is a spectacle unlike any other, a monstrous challenge for horses and jockeys and a fiendish puzzle for punters to try and unravel. But the “undercard”, if we can call it that, is far from shabby and whilst the National itself is only a Grade 3, the three-day Aintree Festival meeting hosts an incredible 11 Grade 1 races, the biggest and best of which are:
- Betway Bowl – Previous winners of this chase include Desert Orchid, Wayward Lad and Cue Card
- Aintree Hurdle – This two and a half mile hurdle was won by Istabraq in 1999 and Buveur d’Air in 2017
- Melling Chase – Several greats, including Moscow Flyer, have won this twice, whilst Sprinter Sacre took glory in 2013
- Liverpool Hurdle – The superb Big Buck’s landed this in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012!
- Maghull Novices’ Chase – One to watch for future stars, this was won by Flagship Uberalles, Sprinter Sacre and, more recently, Douvan
Other Big Jumps Meetings & Races
Whilst the National meeting and Cheltenham Festival serve up a huge chunk of the jump games Grade 1 contests, there are lots and lots of other notable fixtures throughout the year, including many lower level contests as well.
A major highlight for many is the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the first Grade 1 of the season, run in November. December is packed with big races but the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day is just a little bit special. The perfect dessert to the main course of Christmas, this has been won by the likes of Desert Orchid and Kauto Star, that legendary duo crossing the Kempton line first nine times between them in this iconic race.
If you prefer the smaller obstacles, the Christmas Hurdle is run on the same day, forming the Triple Crown of Hurdling along with Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
January sees the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, with the Ascot Chase following a little later in the year, unsurprisingly at the same venue. After Cheltenham and the National meeting the season winds down but there is still time for Sandown to host the last big one of the season, the Celebration Chase. Taking place in April, this is the last of the Surrey venue’s five Grade 1 races and the recent roll of honour tells you all you need to know:
- 2015 – Special Tiara
- 2016 – Sprinter Sacre
- 2017 – Altior
- 2018 – Altior
- 2019 – Altior
Golf is very much a global sport nowadays and that means more tournaments all over the world and fewer here in the UK. That said, there are still some regular events taking place on these shores and, as well as the big men’s events, there are also tournaments from the women’s and senior tours, as well as the lower rungs of the golfing ladder. In terms of the biggest tournaments to take place in the UK, there is only really one place to start…
The Open Championship
The Open Championship is held every July and is one of the biggest four events in golf. Also known as the British Open, the tournament rotates between courses in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland (the latter technically being in the UK but not Britain). The 2020 Open will take place at Sandwich, Kent, with subsequent scheduled Opens shown below. By far the most prestigious annual tournament to take place in the UK, the Open offers more than $10m in prize money and has an unrivalled history dating back to 1860.
- 2021 – St Andrews
- 2022 – Royal Liverpool
The only event that (sometimes) takes place in the UK that can rival the Open in terms of public interest is the Ryder Cup. This bi-annual team contest sees Europe face the USA. The venue alternates between America and Europe, with the UK last hosting in 2014 (at Gleneagles in Scotland). At the time of writing, there is no United Kingdom Ryder Cup confirmed, although Adare in Ireland is confirmed as the venue for the 2026 event.
Other Notable Events
Aside from these two huge tournaments, the UK also hosts a number of other tournaments, as well. Note that whilst most of the following are regular, ongoing events, they are subject to change, with golf’s calendar relatively fluid from one year to the next.
- Scottish Open – Usually scheduled for the week before the Open; The host course rotates
- British Masters – Played after the Open in late July or early August, this tournament was founded in 1946 and again the venue changes from year to year
- BMW PGA Championship – The flagship event of the European Tour, held at official HQ, Wentworth in Surrey, this was founded in 1955; Moved from May to September in 2019
- Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – This unusual pro-am tournament is a test of links golf, held over three different Scottish links courses; The Old Course at St Andrews hosts the final round of this lucrative event, which is held in September
- TBC – The European Tour announced an additional UK event to take place after the British Masters; At the time of writing. no details have been released so we don’t know the name of the event, where it will be played or if it will become a regular fixture
F1: The British Grand Prix
The UK has a long history of motorsport and the British Grand Prix is, for many, a real highlight of the Formula 1 calendar. Whilst many would argue that the tracks used and available facilities have fallen below the required standard in the modern era, the race has a history that can’t be overlooked.
First held in 1926, the British Grand Prix has been part of the F1 World Championship every year since 1950 and was in fact the very first race of the very first Formula 1 season. Over the years, a range of tracks have hosted the race, including Brooklands, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and even Aintree (yes, that Aintree!).
The race, usually held in mid-July, appeared under threat recently, with doubts over the financial viability and facilities offered. However, thankfully, just before the 2019 race, it was announced that the British Grand Prix would be with us until at least 2024 and hopefully for many more years too!
Tennis: (Almost) All About the Grass
Tennis in the UK means just one thing for most fans and it is arguably the most famous post code in the world: Wimbledon and SW19. The hallowed grass courts of the All England Club host the world’s oldest tennis tournament, officially known as the The Championships, Wimbledon, and founded in 1877.
Wimbledon takes place over two weeks every year, starting in late June or early July. One of the sport’s four majors, it is a captivating spectacle, packed with history and tradition. As the only Grand Slam played on grass it is unique, but the UK’s other big summer tournament, which acts as a warm-up event, is also played on the natural surface.
The Queen’s Club Championships
The Queen’s Club Championships is a relative baby at just 130 years old and has been won by greats such as Roy Emerson, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and home favourite Andy Murray (who won in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016). It takes place in June each year in West Kensington and many players have completed the Queen’s/Wimbledon double over the years.
The last big tournament UK fans can enjoy, for now at least, is the season-ending ATP Finals. Over the years, this event has been played around the world but has called London home since 2009. Each November, the top eight players in the men’s game have headed to the O2 Arena on the Greenwich Peninsula in London to battle it out for huge prize money. Sadly for UK tennis fans, 2020 will be the last time, for now at least, the O2 hosts this event, with the Finals moving to Italy and Turin as of 2021.
The Home of Snooker
The UK and, in particular, England, is very much the home of snooker. The game is growing at a remarkable rate in China and other Asian countries but it remains dominated by the UK, both in terms of hosting the most prestigious events and also in terms of producing the best players.
The World Championship
At the time of writing, the biggest tournament of them all, the World Championship, has been won 81 times by a player from the UK. The only other nations to have claimed glory – Canada, Ireland and Australia – have a combined total of just four titles between them.
The World Snooker Championship is one of the three Triple Crown events of snooker, the biggest and best tournaments by which the greats of the game judge their careers. The UK Championship and Masters are the other two of snooker’s “Grand Slams” and all three of these tournaments are held in the UK.
- World Snooker Championship – Held in April, with the final always the first Monday in May, this was first played in 1927; There is more than £2m of prize money and the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield has hosted this showpiece event since 1977
- UK Championship – Snooker’s second biggest tournament, the UK Championship has been played since 1977 and for most of the millennium has been played at York’s Barbican; Ronnie O’Sullivan has a record seven titles and this tournament is played in November/December each year
- The Masters – Played at the start of the calendar year, this is a non-ranking invitational which sees the world’s best 16 players do battle; Inaugurated in 1975, the Masters was held at Wembley for most of its existence until a change of venue in 2012 when it was moved to Alexandra Palace
UK Snooker Tournaments
Snooker’s expanded calendar now means there are more tournaments than ever, with events all over the globe. Whilst there are many held in China, the UK remains a hub of the game and aside from the Triple Crown events the following are all regular UK snooker tournaments:
- World Grand Prix
- Players Championship
- Welsh Open
- Tour Championship
- Northern Ireland Open
- English Open
- Scottish Open
Some of these events are relatively new additions, with snooker’s expansion increasing the number of tournaments over the past five years or so. Whilst the events are above can be classed as regular fixtures we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more changes over the coming years.
Darts: UK the Home of Pub Sports
If there are many that doubt that snooker is a sport, you can double the number for those who question darts being considered as such. However, we don’t include ourselves among the haters and whilst Michael van Gerwen might not be the fittest athlete around, we consider him a sporting genius.
As with snooker, the UK is darts’ spiritual home and whilst MVG might be in the ascendency now, once again it is UK players that dominate the roll of honour at the game’s (sorry, sport’s) biggest events. Is it just a coincidence that you can play snooker and darts in the pub?
PDC World Darts Championship
Darts is blessed, or possibly cursed, with two world championships and for many fans these are the biggest two events in the game. There is certainly no doubting the status of the PDC World Darts Championship, which takes place at Alexandra Palace (since 2008, before which it took place in Purfleet, from 1994 to 2007).
The PDC takes place in December and January every year, the final coming to a head on New Year’s Day to blow away any hangovers. The atmosphere is always raucous but with £500,000 up for grabs for the winner (in 2020) the players need to keep a clear head.
British Darts Organisation
Just after the PDC, the rival organising body, the BDO, holds their showpiece in January. Starting a few days after the PDC ends, this provides a brilliant two and a bit weeks of action for fans of darts, but how much longer the BDO can continue is now in doubt.
First held in 1978, the British Darts Organisation has been the poor relation since the inception of the Professional Darts Corporation. However, it has had its supporters and has produced some great spectacles and some world class players. The iconic Lakeside venue was a big part of that but a 2020 switch to the Indigo at the O2 was a disaster.
Terrible ticket sales and a lack of sponsorship money saw prizes slashed on the eve of the tournament and 2020 winner Wayne Warren took home a “mere” £23,000. Not bad for a week or so of darts but less than Phil Taylor had won 30 years earlier! The BDO has a place in the hearts of many darts fans in the UK and beyond but can it survive?
UK Darts Tournaments
Aside from the two world championships, there are a number of other tournaments held in the UK. The biggest of these are all in the PDC and include the following, with venue and schedule based on the most recent and/or upcoming edition:
- UK Open – Minehead, March
- World Matchplay – Blackpool, July
- Grand Slam of Darts – Wolverhampton, November
- Players Championship Finals, – Minehead, November
- The Masters – Milton Keynes, January/February
- Premier League – Various locations in the UK and Europe, February to May
Rugby & Cricket
Rugby (both codes) and cricket vie to be the UK’s second sport behind football and there are lots of fixtures in rugby league, rugby union and cricket. With both codes of rugby and international fixtures as well as club (or county) games in both as well as cricket, there is action from these sports more or less year round.
Six Nations, Rugby World Cup, 50-Over & T20
With rugby union serving up the Six Nations annually as well, we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to rugby to watch, bet on or both. The Six Nations takes place every spring, whilst there are World Cups in rugby league and rugby union, as well as for the 50-over game and T20 in cricket. Are you not entertained? Obviously, the World Cups don’t always take place in the UK but all of the showpieces mentioned have been held here in the relatively recent past and/or will be again soon.
The UK boasts a number of world champions right now and has long been one of the better boxing nations in the world. At the time of writing, in February 2020, UK boxers are ranked first, third and fourth in Ring’s heavyweight rankings and there is a lot of excitement about the big heavyweight bouts that might take place in the UK this year.
There are fights of varying magnitude held almost every week in the UK though, so if boxing is your thing then watching some live action should be relatively easy to organise.