Steve at Torquay vs. Dagenham & Redbridge

Cultural immersion: Colorful sights and sounds of English football

Sitting in the second row of the stadium, my father and I were surrounded by 2,000 passionate football fans, engrossed in a nil-nil match and exposed to a colorful array of East London language.

It was Torquay United F.C. vs. Dagenham & Redbridge F.C. in the Dagenham district of East London. On my recent trip to London over New Year’s, I accompanied my dad to the match to watch Torquay, a lower-level club he’s supported since he was a young boy.

Now, this is not Liverpool, Manchester United or my beloved Arsenal; this is not the Premier League. This is not even the second or third level of English football. This is the fifth tier of the pyramid—known as the National League. I spent my formative years in London, my parents still live there and I visit London a few times a year, but I had never experienced a fifth-tier football match before.

It’s the sort of cultural immersion experience you don’t get by visiting only the usual tourist spots or by driving by in a sightseeing bus. It’s the sort of experience you have to see—and hear—to appreciate.

We began to see some local color beginning on our Tube ride to East London, which we shared with other Torquay supporters—all decked out in yellow—making their way from southwest England to London. 

When we arrived in Dagenham, we enjoyed an obligatory pint at the local pub (right) with both Dagenham and Torquay supporters. Then we strolled over to the Chigwell Construction Stadium, home of the Daggers, as the Dag & Red are known. The football ground has a capacity of just 6,000 — about a 10th of the size of the largest Premier League stadiums — and is set right in the heart of Dagenham. For local families, it’s an easy stroll from their homes. On this day, there were about 2,000 supporters, people of all ages, and it felt like a family affair before kickoff. The kids were eating chips (French fries), while the grown-ups were chatting.

Once the whistle was blown, though, the entire atmosphere changed from pleasant neighborhood get-together to a fevered pitch of passion. These fifth-tier football fans aren’t just casual observers; they are ardent, dyed-in-the-wool supporters. And they aren’t quiet or necessarily polite. The East London cockney accent is a distinct enjoyment to hear, especially with such colorful language. The local fans were constantly peppering the linesman and opposing players with words I couldn’t begin to repeat.

In the end, the game played to a scoreless draw, 0-0. No goals, but it was an endlessly entertaining couple of hours.

Overall, the entire experience was a wonderful slice of life in London — the kind that visitors rarely get the opportunity to enjoy. Simply being in a different district of the city, being able to rub shoulders with local London workers, was eye-opening and quite a thrill.

It’s the kind of cultural immersion experience that we enjoy providing our faculty-led groups — whether it’s a local football match, or countless other unique activities. Traveling is more than seeing the sights from a bus; it’s also about delving into local communities and seeing how local residents live.

And it does not need to be expensive. A local soccer match like this one is very affordable, and incredibly enjoyable and memorable whether you are a sports fan or not. If you were to attend a Torquay-Dagenham match, maybe you and your group would become a Gulls or a Daggers fan for life. 

No matter what course you are teaching, unique cultural immersion activities like this bring wonderful context to your travel experiences and to your curriculum.

Call or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. today to start planning your next faculty-led trip, and please ask me how Hart Travel Partners could help immerse your students in the local culture.


Steve Hart
Hart Travel Partners