Richmond gets into Rugby World Cup spirit at Old Deer Park ‘fan zone’

Want to experience the atmosphere of the Rugby World Cup but missed out on tickets and don’t want to be crammed into a pub?

Richmond Fan Zone is the place for you.

As the tournament was kicking off at Twickenham Stadium on Friday evening, across the River Thames thousands of fans were gathered around giant screens at Old Deer Park.

While spectators chose between an outdoor screen and a big top tent, bars and catering vans did a roaring trade, the Ferris wheel turned and a rugby exhibition pitch drew a crowd.

Fan parks have been built at the Olympic Park, Wembley Stadium and Trafalgar Square, but Richmond can lay claim to being the epicentre of World Cup action.

With Twickenham hosting England’s first three games and ten matches altogether, Old Deer Park’s proximity gives it a unique feeling of excitement.

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Richmond Council cabinet member for arts, culture and sport, Councillor Meena Bond is thrilled by the opportunity to showcase the borough.

She said: “For those who are unable to attend the matches, an impressive Fan zone provides a great space for people to soak up the atmosphere and feel part of a truly international event.”

Fan parks have become increasingly popular over the last few years with rugby following positive precedents set by the football World Cup and the Tour de France.

As ever, the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics also bring inspiration and a benchmark to aim for.

The attraction is undoubtedly the atmosphere, which offers an exciting recreation of the sporting occasion, as well as the accessibility and free entrance.

The hope is that fan parks can be a key part in engaging people who might otherwise be passed by.

Judging by the diverse mix of people enjoying England vs Fiji on Friday, the idea appears set for further success.

Stephen Mundy, 44, from Richmond was pleased he could keep the children happy and watch the rugby in one place.

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He said: “It is free and I live nearby so that’s the main attraction, but also I can bring the family along and not have to stand in a crowded pub.”

Schools in the Twickenham area had allowed children the day off and with giant fibreglass rugby balls installed Richmond public spaces exposure wasn’t a problem.

Paddy Garrick, 31, from Richmond was impressed by the set-up.

He said: “I wanted atmosphere, big screens and to watch outside in plenty of space. The added entertainment also makes it feel like more of an event.”

Paddy Garrick
PADDY GARRICK: Impressed by the atmosphere ahead of the game

Paddy thinks that fan parks are an excellent alternative and the idea is only likely to grow over time.

“It is a lot bigger than I thought – they put on a good show, but it is not too busy and it is family-orientated. I think the idea will take off,” he added.

Margaret Baker, 48, and her daughter Jenny, 16, from St Margarets were one of many groups who had come along to an event like this for the first time.

She said: “I’m not usually particularly interested in rugby, but this seemed like a big event which offered more than just sport.”

England’s 35-11 win over Fiji – and the absence of rain from the looming clouds – sent the fans home happy.

With a well-received opening day behind them the fan zone looks set to be a highlight of the World Cup for South-West Londoners.

The Richmond Fan Zone is showing every game of the Rugby World Cup as well as ticketed events on non-rugby days.

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