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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
If only Bermuda were located 1,200 miles (1,931 km) or so to the southwest, cricket would probably look a lot different here. Instead of being isolated in the middle of the Atlantic, our hypothetical geography would place Bermuda smack in the middle of the Caribbean. It would put Bermuda inside the home turf of the multi-national, international West Indies Cricket Board. And, in our imaginary world, Bermudian cricket would be on the world cricket radar. But it's not to be. So, instead of being one of the small islands permitted to join forces to compete as a single national team, tiny Bermuda must compete alone in international cricket. And Bermuda's tiny population means that it just can't muster the manpower to take on an India or an Australia. Bermuda is doomed to be a minnow in international cricket.
For two days every summer, though, it doesn't matter. With Bermuda relegated to the sidelines of international cricket, it looks inward and nurtures a thriving domestic scene. Every summer, the island's two biggest clubs, St. George's and Somerset, face off for Cup Match, a two-day event that is a legal holiday with its own holiday greeting: "Happy Cup Match!" For these two days, the island shuts down for a celebration of all things cricket and all things Bermuda. We attended the 2015 event and came away extremely impressed with St. George's biannual hosting effort.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Many Bermudian friends and families rent out space for "camps" at Cup Match. These are box seats in the truest sense: fans rent out a box and do with it what they like--including self-catering. Bermudian fans know the drill, and it wouldn't be unheard of for visitors to the island to score an invite into a camp, but most outsiders will hit the concession stands.
Food choices are nearly unlimited, as many families self-cater their own camps. Concession stands are temporary pop-ups along the lines of what you might find at a carnival. Fish dishes are by far the most popular here in the middle of the North Atlantic. As in any one-off annual event, vendors and quality can change from year to year, but overall quality is high. Prices are similar to what one would find at major events on the US mainland.
Just as food options are limited only by what people bring in, so are the drinks. Given that Cup Match is just as much of a celebration of Bermuda as it is a sporting event, Bermuda's trademark cocktails, the Dark and Stormy and the Rum Swizzle are popular beverage choices. Of course, plenty of soft drinks are also available.
Fans visiting from off the island should keep their eyes peeled for the Visitors Camp run by the Bermuda Tourism Authority. Although not as large as in previous years, the BTA treated visiting fans to free drinks of their choice.
Cup Match is simply one of the most unique events a fan will come across on his or her stadium journey.
While Bermuda is a rich territory by all definitions, the stadium at St. George doesn't hint at this. In fact, the ramshackle semi-temporary structure has a distinct developing-world feel. But that's part of the fun. Bermuda is a small island with a small population, and a stadium like this is only needed two days per year. So that's what the stadium is built for. Don't come here looking for luxury; come here for a chance to experience cricket's Burning Man. It's here until it disappears, only to reappear again. And take the opportunity to wander around, because everything about the place changes from one area to the next.
The fans brings their own excitement here. The main draw is socializing and simply experiencing Cup Match. Cricket plays second fiddle to many, and perhaps most Cup Match attendees. Mascots, music, and promotions are not even on the radar here. Fans looking for something a bit different can head to one of the Crown and Anchor tents, where Bermuda's national dice game is played legally and for real money during the only days when it's legal.
St. George's Cricket Club sits in a quiet residential neighborhood a little over a kilometer (or a little under a mile) southwest of downtown St. George, Bermuda's second city. Cup Match is a national holiday, and it is no exaggeration to say that the island virtually shuts down for the event. In fact, tourism authorities and even hotels actively discourage visits to the island during Cup Match for those not planning to make cricket a centerpiece of their trip. There is simply nothing else going on. Generally, St. George's is a high point on the tourist route. But during Cup Match, the neighborhood dies down as everyone and everything moves into the stadium.
Cup Match is filled with Bermudians, Brits, Americans, and a handful of other nationalities all at the cricket ground to have a good time. Sports diehards might bristle at the fact that cricket is clearly an afterthought to a significant portion of the crowd here, but this can be a selling point to those who are always up for a party before a game.
Cup Match is the sporting and social event of the year in Bermuda. Expect a big crowd and difficulty finding a seat if arriving late in the day. But don't expect to be turned away. On our 2015 visit, fans were still patiently lining up to enter the venue even after the event ended! Hey, some care more about the party than the game. And frankly, considering that this is a significant step below international cricket in quality, the five-figure attendance numbers are even more impressive.
Sold on Cup Match? Good, you should be! Sadly, getting here is a hurdle. Even once you make it to this small, expensive, and isolated island, getting to the ground will be a challenge.
Cup Match attendees may be best served by a taxi, since public transportation to St. George's Cricket Club is limited to city bus service. Sadly and frustratingly, buses run on a Sunday schedule, due to Cup Match's status as a holiday. Even worse, passengers can be left stranded if the bus fills up (and the buses do fill up.) If you are relying on the bus, consider going to the downtown Hamilton bus station to be among the first on as the bus starts its journey to St. George. After the match, physically fit fans might want to consider making the 25-minute walk to the downtown St. George bus stop to get on the bus before the stadium crowd boards a few stops later.
For many Bermudians, a parking ticket is simply the price of parking at Cup Match. A small parking lot is available, but it fills up early in the day. Since non-residents of Bermuda are legally prohibited from driving a car on Bermuda, this isn't a concern for tourists. Many tourists do choose to rent Vespa-style scooters. Parking these can also be a headache during Cup Match, but most riders will eventually find a spot.
Made it to the stadium? Congratulations! Things get easier now. Not easy, but easier. Tickets are simply paper wrist bands that are purchased in cash (US or Bermudian dollars) at the entrance on the day of the event. Fans line up to buy a ticket, then proceed immediately to a security check. The line can be long and slow, but it does move--especially early in the day.
Cricket is a game that requires patience, and relatively few fans want to get up early and endure the marathon of an eight-hour long session. But once lunchtime rolls around the crowd gets thicker and moving through a few choke points can get tricky for even the most physically-abled fan.
Fans with limited mobility will struggle throughout the day. The concourse area is largely unpaved. Many surfaces are uneven. A complete lap of the ground requires moving through some narrow passageways, and entrance to the upper-level camps requires climbing steps that are somewhere between ordinary stairs and a construction ladder. For some, this is part of the charm. For others, these quirks make Cup Match an impossibility.
And finally, remember that St. George's Cricket Club only hosts Cup Match in odd-numbered years. If it's an even-numbered year, you will have to head to Somerset and learn the unique quirks of that venue.
There is no getting around the fact that Bermuda is an expensive destination. In fact, its tourism industry has suffered from declining crowds, as more and more tourists opt for similar vacation experiences in lower-cost locales like Mexico and the Caribbean. But by Bermudian standards, or even by US or European standards, Cup Match isn't a particularly expensive event.
A full day at the cricket ground for Cup Match will cost an amount roughly equivalent to an afternoon at a high-level match in the US or Europe. Admittedly, Cup Match is not the pinnacle of cricket skill. But the quality is good, and this is the best that this territory has to offer.
Cup Match in Bermuda is one of the most unique events in sports. Getting to Bermuda, getting to the ground, and getting around the stadium pose significant challenges to significant numbers of people. Many sports travel enthusiasts will find that the reward is absolutely worth the effort. Others will not. But attending Cup Match absolutely warrants consideration.
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