Tag Archives: Rugby World Cup

How Transport for London keeps the capital’s sports fans moving

When it comes to sport, London is a special city. Indeed, each year it hosts hundreds of football, cricket and rugby matches, as well as Wimbledon, athletics events and the odd Rugby World Cup or Olympics.

With each of these events attracting thousands of fans from all over the country and the world, Transport for London (TfL) is primarily responsible for transferring the masses to and from numerous sporting locations.

But, with the potential for chaos and disruption, how does the travel authority prepare to make sure everything always runs smoothly?

TfL’s tactical plans

“There are an awful lot of sporting events in London,” says Stuart Reid, programme director for travel demand management at TfL. “We have 12 league football teams in the capital and they bring their own challenges. You also have cricket matches and the once a year events like Wimbledon and the London Marathon.

“What’s good about stadium events compared to ones on the road like marathons is that we know roughly how many fans will be attending. And then we primarily work with the promoters and police to try to establish where most people will be arriving from. It’s a multi-agency approach.

“We find the more we accommodate an event, the more successful travel becomes and the more the sporting traveller knows what to expect. That makes things a whole lot easier.”

“There are operational plans that we can enact,” says Nick Owen, head of control centre operations at TfL.

“But it does take a lot of thinking. London Underground and bus services are extended if they need to be. And roads will be closed. All, of course, depending on how many people are expected to be travelling and the event.

“For example, with an event like Wimbledon we start planning for the following year’s tournament the day after it finishes. We would have a debrief on what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, and then we would plan how to improve our approach and services the next time.

“The key for us is to have as much notice and prior knowledge of the event so we can tailor the works on the network, whether that be above or below the ground.”

Twickenham scrum

With most fixtures scheduled in the summer and the season starting in August, preparing for football games is a rather simple and repetitive task with the help of clubs and police.

However, it’s the one-off events like the Olympics in 2012, which really stretch TfL’s resources.

These require the highest amount of planning and cooperation. As Reid and Owen point out, hosting the recent Rugby World Cup in 2015, demanded years of preparation.

“The opening ceremony at Twickenham was the first full capacity event there in the evening,” says Owen. “Fans were flocking to the stadium, but there was the added pressure of the normal Friday rush hour and people trying to come out of London, so that all had to be navigated.

“It’s quite a contrast. With football, for example, the fixtures are released in June and we can cope with that relatively easily. But the Rugby World Cup takes many months, if not, years of planning.”

“The Rugby World Cup used existing stadiums, but matches were played in locations they wouldn’t normally be, all at different times, so we had an overlay on our networks, “says Reid.

“At Twickenham the stadium operation was revved up. Parking around the stadium was reduced so we had to lay on shuttle buses to the station. That meant the A road next to Twickenham had to be shut, which wouldn’t happen for normal rugby matches. That’s where all the different planning comes in.”

Bigger stadia

With football clubs in the capital all gradually expanding their stadium capacities, the pressure on underground, overground and bus services continues to increase.

Indeed, just in the last 12 years, Arsenal and West Ham have moved to bigger grounds, withTottenham Hotspur and Chelsea planning to follow. So are TfL worried as thousands more fans descend on their services?

“It’s not as big a problem as you would think,” says Reid. “It may seem like a cliché at this point but ultimately it comes down to preparation.

“The clubs help out with stewarding. When Arsenal are playing, we have more staff on the ground at Highbury & Islington station. And at Wembley Park the same when England are playing.

“With White Hart Lane’s expansion, undoubtedly there will be significant rise in demand for services in that location, and it’s something we are working with the club and other agencies on how best to deal with it. It’s taking time but we’re planning for it.”

Benefits to London

Even though hosting sporting events takes meticulous planning and puts a strain on resources, it would be easy to forget that sports fans using transport services only make up a tiny percentage of the total number of users each year.

Hence, as TfL is keen to point out, the priority is always to keep the rest of the city moving and protect the everyday traveller from any inconvenience events can cause.

“Thirty million journeys are made on a typical day in London,” says Reid. “Therefore, it’s important to remember that the number of people you have to manage going about their normal day outstrips the number of people going to a sporting event.

“We’re constantly thinking about how we can keep traffic moving. How we can keep buses running amid a road event. You’ve got to make sure, the rest of the public are least affected as possible and can go wherever they need to go.”

Speaking to Reid and Owen their modesty is commendable. However, it’s clear that sporting occasions couldn’t run as efficiently as they do in the capital, if it wasn’t for the work TfL puts in behind the scenes.

Every year, London’s booming population is making it harder and harder to maintain a good service, but, admirably, those at TfL still recognise the advantages of London hosting sports events and are committed to helping them run smoothly.

“There’s a challenge we face every day,” concludes Owen. “Increased travel demand due to the growing population. That’s why TfL is  investing heavily so we can deal with these pressures. But I don’t think it’s getting harder to accommodate sporting events.

“We absolutely understand the benefits of those events to the economy, to the local councils. The World Athletics Championship, for example, contributed £107 million to the London economy. That just shows how important they are to this city.

“That’s why me and Stuart and the rest of the team spend so much time trying to accommodate these events. They are a part of what makes London a global city.”

Images courtesy of TfL

Review – The Battle by Paul O’Connell

To rugby union fans, the name Paul O’Connell is synonymous with the northern hemisphere game; he is one of the modern greats of the game, but has an incredibly humble background story.

He won over 100 caps for Ireland, won a Grand Slam in the Six Nations, been on three British and Irish Lions tours, and played in numerous World Cups, not to forget Heineken Cup wins as well.

Had it not been for Brian O’Driscoll’s brilliant career at the same time as his, he would have arguably been the best Irish player of his generation.

He was a die-hard second row forward, putting his heart into every tackle and getting stuck in at most of the breakdowns. He finally retired at the age of 35 in 2015, after an illustrious 14-year career with Munster, his home province.

Having played rugby for 10 years myself, I was keen to learn about his experiences playing the game at the top level, and this frank and honest memoir explains just how brutal rugby can be – not only physically, but mentally as well.

Calling it quits

O’Connell was a player who strived for excellence throughout his career, be it playing for Munster, Ireland or the Lions. He wanted to be the best, and he wanted to be in peak physical condition whenever he played.

“O’Connell is an honest man, and he knew he had run out of steam, which is fair enough for a player who had given his life to the sport for the best part of 20 years”

He recalls how, after years of doing it, he took the big decision to quit whilst swimming, a passage which resonated with me about my own childhood experience of playing sport.

He recounts having to tell his father of his choice, and how hard it was to get the words out, because, having put so much effort in to help him, he was worried his dad wouldn’t be happy with his decision. His reply? “It’s your decision and I’ll back it” – a similar reaction to the one I encountered.

Towards the end of my rugby career at youth level, I was finding the sheer physicality was taking its toll on me mentally, and even though we are completely different people, O’Connell was in a similar state of mind towards the end of his career.

Aftermath

O’Connell talks about getting injured in Ireland’s final game of the 2015 World Cup, saying: “It came into my head that I’d be stronger in the second half. And then, on 39.42, I got pulled out of the ring.”

This resonated with me after looking back at my career, playing one of the best games of my life, only to break my collarbone in a tackle.

The mental battle during the months of recuperation ahead is the toughest part of injuries – a key topic O’Connell which dwells on throughout the book.

He recalls how as entered the final phase of his career, the aftermath of matches began taking an increasingly tough toll. “When I got into my thirties, the same aches and pains were telling me it was time to retire.”

O’Connell is an honest man, and he knew he had run out of steam, which is fair enough for a player who had given his life to the sport for the best part of 20 years.

Choking

Nor was was it just on the field of play where the stresses and strains of an increasingly professionalised sport manifested themselves.

“He was a brutal player too, and reminisces about the dark side of rugby”

O’Connell recalls one training session where “we collapsed the maul and the digs were flying… I rained five or six punches down on the back of Quinny’s head… In the dressing room afterwards, he was laughing about it. He couldn’t believe I’d belted him.”

Contrast that with another episode in 2007 when, during Ireland training, he got into a scuffle with Ulster player Ryan Caldwell. O’Connell punched him, fracturing his jaw and knocking him out, and was terrified he was swallowing and choking on blood.

This was a turning point for O’Connell. “What happened to Ryan Caldwell changed me,” he reveals. “It was the worst moment of my career. I never threw a punch in training again.”

Brutal

I got great enjoyment out of reading this book simply due to the fact that I could relate to a lot of the issues that O’Connell discusses.

Of course, he’s a legend in his sport and captained his country, but having skippered my youth team for the last five years of my playing career, I could buy into where he was coming from.

O’Connell wasn’t your everyday modern rugby player. He flitted between sports, trying to find his niche throughout his teenage years, and didn’t begin to excel at rugby union until he was 16 years old.

He was a brutal player too, and reminisces about the dark side of rugby. “The first thing you do after kick-off, find your opposing player, and give him a shoeing without getting caught.”

As bad as it sounds that was kind of the enjoyment of rugby – there were never any hard feelings after the game, a shake of the hands and you just crack on with it. This is something that O’Connell emphasises throughout his story.

 Mental strain

The mental battle O’Connell went through was the most interesting topic of all, though. He’d beat himself up if a performance wasn’t up to standard, and even went through stages of depression when he knew he wasn’t good enough.Paul O'Connell in action for Ireland. (Credit: Irish Daily Star)

O’Connell was always in a battle with his mind about his fitness, for the last 10 years of his career, he doubted whether he was good enough.

He was so passionate about the sport he didn’t want to let himself or his team-mates down.

He was a player who took this kind of thing to heart. Perhaps it was the thing that spurred him on to achieve greatness.

This is something that many people can relate to, whether they play sport or not, I know I took some comfort in knowing that I can relate to someone who was as good at rugby as O’Connell was.

What I enjoyed the most is the connection you can have when reading an autobiography; you look for the similarities and whether you have been in similar situations. In this case there were many similarities and that’s what made it such a good memoir for me.

The Battle by Paul O’Connell is published by Penguin Ireland.