Q. Is football allowed on Shabbat? May I go to a soccer match on Shabbat if I do not pay for or carry a ticket?
A. Though the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 301:2) says, “Young men who derive pleasure from jumping and running are permitted to do so on the Sabbath”, it takes a stricter view (Orach Chayyim 308:45) in relation to ball games: “It is forbidden to play with a ball on Sabbaths or festivals”. The R’ma (Moses Isserles) adds, “Others permit it, and it is customary to be lenient”.
Other authorities reject Isserles’ view, and even one of his close friends, the Rashal (Solomon Luria, quoted by the Magen David) calls Sabbath sport a bad custom which he would have abolished.
Even the R’ma himself qualifies his permission in another note (Orach Chayyim 338:5) and restricts ball games on Shabbat to a hard surface, so that one does not make holes in the ground, and to private property, in order to avoid carrying the ball or anything else from place to place. All this applies to recreational sport. Professional sport is not allowed on Shabbat at all.
Hermann Adler, British Chief Rabbi from 1891-1911, was once asked whether children were allowed to swim on Shabbat. His answer was, “I don’t mind if the children swim, so long as they have davened first!”
You ask about watching a match on Shabbat. The actual act of watching is technically speaking no problem, though there are more Sabbath-like things one could and should be doing. If the match involves one or more Jewish teams, one should definitely stay away and not appear to encourage them to transgress the Shabbat laws. Nor should one bet or gamble on Saturday games.