Football Friday: That 10 Minutes When Spurs Were Top of the League

Editor’s note: We’ve been doing something a little different on ThePoeLog this past month. You could say it was in honor of the Euro Cup. Or the Copa Cup. Or the Poe Cup (not a real thing. YET.) But today is the last of our “Football Friday” posts. The first one can be found here, the second one here, and the third here. We hope you’ve enjoyed the series and have become lifelong Tottenham fans. 

Three days later, our next football experience came in the form of the biggest game on our agenda, the North London Derby between the Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal at White Hart Lane.

It is at this point that we should probably digress from football briefly, to tell Sheryll we love her. I am not sure why this year for her birthday trip she decided to let me take her to London, and then let me convince her to spend three days pregaming in pubs and standing outside watching football, but she did, and it was bloody awesome.

Granted, I did trade a few hours at afternoon tea (more to come on that) and museums, but she definitely deferred to my football obsession during this trip and it was appreciated.

So on Saturday March 5th, the eve of Sheryll’s birthday we got up early for tea, a quick review of the papers before boarding the Tube for White Hart Lane for our second time that week.

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Hello again, our old friend.

Now that we were old pros, we had a plan. Dress warmly, take the bus from the Tube station to the stadium, and save room to eat grilled meats at the pub. In fact, I think we arrived at White Hart Lane almost a full three hours before kickoff, more than enough time to visit the team store for a new track jacket before settling in at the Pub No. 8 Tottenham for beer, food and revelry with the growing crowd.

As game time approached, the pub was packed and filled with chants, toasts and an excitement not regularly experienced.

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And hello to you again, our old friends.

A short walk across the street, and we entered White Hart Land and headed towards our designated section. Our seats were located on the lower level sideline, just off of midfield and we were in the second to the last row and sharing an aisle with one of the more boisterous fan sections.

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As the game got set to kick off, the anticipation was unbelievable. The cheers were loud and the crowd was riding high. The game started and the crowd was not disappointed as Tottenham kicked off aggressively, really attacking the ball and generating a couple of early scoring chances.

We were on our feet the whole time, living each pass, tackle and shot as if we were on the field. Unfortunately, the joy was shattered late in the half when Arsenal scored the opening goal six minutes before half time. The goal was like a fatal blow to the crowd, which quickly shrank at the shock of now trailing. The half time whistle blew with Tottenham trailing 1-0.

As the second half started, Tottenham again was aggressive, and the crowd, although not as loud as earlier, was back in the game and supporting their team. Ten minutes into the half, Arsenal player Francis Coquelin, was given his second yellow card and a red card for a tackle on Harry Kane. With the red card meaning he had to leave the game and could not be replaced, Tottenham had a man advantage and the crowd saw a way out from trailing 1-0.

Sure enough, five minutes later, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld scored the equalizer during a Tottenham corner kick. The crowd responded and belief in a win was restored as White Hart Lane went nuts, except for the wankers in the away section of the stadium.

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Obviously, not our picture. It’s from The Mirror. 

Not to be outdone, a mere two minutes later, Harry Kane scored again for Tottenham and in a truly indescribable scene, 33,000 fans erupted! This was not a home run or grand slam kind of cheer. This was a true explosion. High fives, hugs, scarves, fist pumps, shouts all erupting in a celebration that even as I write this, gives me chills. It truly was magical.

Remember how 2 or 3 blog posts ago I mentioned Sheryll might have even felt true joy during all this soccer? This was that moment. I didn’t have a mirror on me, but if the smile and pure jubilation on Sheryll’s face was any reflection of mine, we were happy, very happy, and swept up in an experience like none other.

Tottenham continued to press and had a couple of more chances to score, but were unsuccessful and then in a brief lapse 11 minutes before the final whistle, Arsenal somehow scored again. It wasn’t brilliant; it was just a shot that somehow found its way into the back of the net. Quite honestly the goal out of nowhere crushed the crowd. The rest of the game saw a few more chances for both sides, before ending in a 2-2 draw. Normally, a tie would be fine, but giving up the lead while our team was up a man clearly felt like defeat.

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Happy Poe and your’s truly at an earlier game at White Hart Lane. 

Sheryll and I, along with those around us made our way towards the exit and ultimately towards the Tube. Along the way we stopped into a known supporters pub to see if we could watch some of the other games scheduled that afternoon, but after waiting forever to get a drink and the building scent of BO from the growing crowd in the packed pub, we moved on waving goodbye to North London and jumping on the Tube towards home.

In all, it was a day of truly tremendous highs and some lows, a true rollercoaster of emotion and fun that ended our live football experiences in London.

The following morning we awoke to a beautiful London day. We did a little packing, went downstairs for tea and the morning papers, and to relive the excitement and disappointment. Then, finally, as we got cleaned up to head to Sunday Roast at noon, I remembered the main reason behind our three days of football and wished Sheryll a Happy Birthday. Oops.

Writing and reflecting on our experience now, even a couple of months later, I still can feel and hear the sounds of our time as London football hooligans. I loved it all, and can’t wait to do it again. Until then, we have started flying the Tottenham flag over the front porch at home, and I am back to watching games on the couch with Pinot.

Football Friday: It’s Official, We are Soccer Hooligans!

Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London. The first one can be found here and the second one here.  You can read more about the chaotic atmosphere around this particular match–West Ham v. Tottenham– here and here and here

After three days of food, gin tours, museums and more starchy British food, it was time for game two.

This time we would be really showing our metal as we traveled with the Tottenham away fans to see Tottenham play at East London rivals West Ham United.

We knew we were in for an experience as Tottenham and West Ham are bitter rivals and recent history has seen their rivalry turn into hooliganism. Most recently, during the first game between these two teams during the season, West Hams fans were hit with bottles and bloodied on their visit to Tottenham’s White Hart Lane.

Additionally, West Ham is playing their last season in their current stadium, Upton Park, before moving to a new stadium, which just drove the hometown pride on the part of West Ham fans even higher.

As a result of all this, local leaders had taken precautions to board up player statues for protection from the oncoming visiting fans and police presence was expected to be high.

West Ham v Tottenham

We left the hotel wearing our recently purchased foot warmers layered between two pairs of socks and our scarves tucked into our coats to hide our Tottenham allegiance for the Tube right to East London.

Tube delays prevented us from arriving in time for a pint at a neutral pub and instead we arrived to a packed station where the platform was covered with fans all trying to get up a single staircase. With game time just around the corner, we patiently tried to work our way through a very dense crowd heading for the Tube station exit. Finally, we emerged up the stairs and exited the station into dimly lit streets, rain spitting down, police on horseback and the incessant barking of police dogs. It was clear that we were in for a different London football experience.

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As we moved away from the Tube station and headed for the stadium with other fans, both home and away, the police presence continued as streets were lined with fans and others for the game scheduled to kick off in minutes. Hurrying along, Poe paw in hand, I recalled my earlier glance at Google maps and where the visitors are supposed to enter the stadium and broke left to cut down a street that I believed would take us to the away fans entrance.

As we turned the corner we were greeted by mounted police, and were asked to show our tickets to police. The police confirmed that this was indeed the right entry point for away fans as others (home fans) were turned away.

We continued down the street to another police checkpoint where again our tickets were checked before allowing us to move another few blocks forward. As our tickets were being checked, an away fan approached hollering about someone having been hit up the street and around the corner. As the horse mounted police turned and galloped down the street to investigate, we were ushered through to a pedestrian walkway that led towards the stadium. Two twists and turns later, we emerged in front of a tour bus storage facility at the dead end of a street running alongside the stadium, and to the away fans entrance.

We were within sight of the stadium, and despite another column of police and barking dogs, we entered the stadium just as the last of the bubbles floated across the field and the game kicked off.

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For those not aware, West Ham United has an affinity for bubbles and before each game, bubble machines blow bubbles across the pitch and into the stands. I am sure there is a proper historical reason for the bubbles. Probably not intimidation, but who knows.

Inside the stadium we found our seats in the last row of the lower away fans section tucked in the northwest corner of the stadium. Typically, away fans are segregated from home fans to help avoid issues, and one of the best ways to do that is to put them in a corner. Conveniently, this also means some less-than-desirable viewing options for the away fans. So it was on that brisk, March Wednesday evening in the East London, as Poe and I found ourselves surrounded by 1,998 of our hard-core, Tottenham-loving peers.

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We cheered, we sang, we complained about referees and we moved to keep warm. We watched those closer to the action hurl insults to West Ham fans seated in the adjacent stand and we loved every minute of it. Well, at least I did. I am pretty sure that if Sheryll were pressed, this would be one of those things she did because she loves me or as pay back because I finally let her have a second cat after her 10 years of trying.

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Either way, I think she had some fun along the way, and we did it together. We tackled a Premier League away game sitting in the away section—a true test of bravery and fan loyalty.

In the end, the game was tough and not super memorable. It rained most of the time and after an early West Ham score, it was tough going for Tottenham to try and find a way to get level or win. In the end the game ended 1-0. A valiant effort, but it was not to be our evening.

Game over, we now knew we needed to safely navigate our path back to the Tube station and head for home. As the game ended, we tried to make a break for the exits to beat the rush only to be stopped mid-dash. In fact, it was not just us, but the entire section of Tottenham fans were not going anywhere.

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We did not know it at the time, but apparently the plan was for the West Ham fans to be released and disperse into East London before the Tottenham fans would be allowed to depart. So we waited, standing in the stands as the rest of the stadium slowly emptied.

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Finally, as lawnmowers started on the pitch and ushers began collecting trash, we were allowed to funnel out of the stadium to a proper British drizzle. Here, in front of the same dead-end tour bus company, we ran into full-on riot police, accompanied by what had to be 15 barking police dogs and mounted units.

Yet again, the Tottenham fans were delayed further. For what, I’m not sure, but here we were in a large mass, pressing to move forward we were stuck, and waiting for something to set us free to find our way to the Tube and a warm train home.

After what seemed like an hour, we were released, only to find that 2,000 fans, mostly men, now had to file through a pedestrian walkway about 10 feet wide. So as the mass of fans pushed, shoved and shuffled, we all slowly worked forward through the same twists and turns we had navigated on our way to the game.

We emerged onto residential streets only to find the police directing the Tottenham fans down a single road, different from the one we had used for our arrival. With more space available, we walked towards the Tube only to be directed back to yet another small, narrow pedestrian walkway where the pushing shoving and jostling again became the standard for moving forward.

Once we made it through the last pedestrian walkway, the street opened up and we approached the main road between the Tube and the stadium. Here the center of the street had been divided by steel control fences, police, police vans, horses and the now all-too-familiar barking of police dogs. Reaching the main street we turned right for the Tube station where the temporary barricades were now holding back straggling West Ham fans to allow the away fans to directly funnel into the station and waiting trains.

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The police keeping Tottenham and West Ham fans segregated as we approached the Tube station. 

Throughout our journey from Upton Park to the Tube station, the crowd, rowdy and defeated, attempted to show team spirit with chants and songs, but the reality was it had been a long evening with a disappointing result. So most of the cheers disintegrated into insults and jeers about West Ham United, their fans, and in particular, the socio-economic background of the local neighborhood we were routed through. Not anyone’s finest moment but a clear sort of indication of how soccer fans and a “pack” mentality can take a relatively calm evening, and escalate it quickly.

We did not witness any real issues, and I am sure the cold evening and delayed exit, dampened the crowds ambitions, but it was clear that this mass of fans could have easily erupted to cause trouble and damage a player statue or two. Where Sheryll and my level of participation in such activities would have rated will have to wait for now.

In the end a quick Tube ride cross town and a stop for a kabob and chips got us back to the hotel to warm up and live to fight another day.

Check back next week to read about our final English Premier soccer match, and by far the biggest game on our agenda–the North London Darby against Arsenal.

 

Football Friday: Jetlag and Soccer

Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London. The first one can be found here

Now on to the games.

Sunday, February 28th. We arrived at Heathrow at a bright and early 6 a.m. and quickly grabbed an UberX to the W London which was our home for the week. When we arrived,  our room was not quite ready yet, but the hotel allowed us to use the spa facilities to get a quick refresh before storing our bags.

After raiding the front desk for our mail (we had ordered game day gear from the Tottenham Team store), we donned our new Tottenham hats and scarves before heading out for brunch and then the Tube ride to White Hart Lane (Seven Sisters Tube stop). Now mind you, this is London in February, the sun is out but the wind is also howling and it is already shaping up to be a cold and long day outside. Even though we were layered up, it was difficult to stay warm.

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Riding the Tube, we sat across from other riders clearly heading towards the stadium, which only added to our anticipation, and it was not long before we made the long walk from the Seven Sisters Tube station to the stadium where we were able to find the ticket will-call window and the pub No. 8 Tottenham across the street.

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We had to show the doorman our  Tottneham tickets in order to be allowed into this home supporters bar, but once inside, we found a packed British pub that opened up to a courtyard complete with grilled meats, fried chips, dance beats, beer, fans and more beer. Instant regret for the brunch we had just consumed was quickly replaced by beer and a midday G&T. A wooden bench and some intermittent sun became our home for the next couple of hours as we fought jetlag and rallied for the game.

Finally, it was time and we made our way to the stadium, our assigned entrance gate and seats. We entered the stadium excited and ready to see “our” team live in person. Sorry Pinot, but this game will not be watched from the sofa in Alexandria. This game will be watched from the stands in London.

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Today, you will have to celebrate the GGGGGOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!! on your own.

Now, Sheryll may not have been feeling quite the same sense of awe, but I was excited. I mean really excited–almost to the level of disbelief–that after three plus years of being a fan of a certain North London football club, I was in the stands ready for kickoff. Sheryll, I think was already getting cold as we sat waiting for kickoff against the Welsh football club Swansea City.

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From our seats on the upper level of the stadium, we joined the crowd around us cheering and watching until a Swansea goal in the 19th minute took the wind out of the crowd’s sails. Tottenham, ever resolute, pushed on with several great attempts but ended the half trailing 1-0.

On the agenda for half time: Bathroom breaks and a little standing to try and get blood flowing to the toes that were growing colder by the minute. Sitting in a concrete stadium in February in London is cold!

As the second half kicked off, Tottenham was aggressive on the goal just below our seats and their continued onslaught of great chances kept us overly engaged in the match. While attempt after attempt went wide or hit the post, the crowd was clearly becoming worried, downright concerned. Finally,  in the 70th minute Nacer Chadli scored the equalizer. The crowd surged with a renewed sense of belief and rose to its feet and erupted in support of their team. The wait was short as only seven minutes later Danny Rose buried the winner in the back of the net after a Tottenham corner kick. All was not lost and we were all convinced the win was eminent.

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Danny Rose and team celebrating his goal just below our seats.

Thirteen minutes later the game ended with a Tottenham victory in hand. We moved with the masses to the exits and started our long cold walk back to the Tube. We stopped midway for a pint and a quick warm up, but having flown in that morning, getting back to the hotel for a room was high on the priority list. However, as we exited the Leicester Square Tube station full bladders led to a pub bathroom and what I think ended up being Poe’s favorite fish, chips and minty peas of the trip. Back at the hotel, we warmed up and went to bed riding the high of a Tottenham win.

The real highlight of being a Premier League fan in England is the media. Every television channel has dedicated, goal-to-goal coverage, and the morning and evening newspapers are filled with 10 or 12 pages on the latest and greatest. So our Monday morning started with a proper tea and a complete recap of the prior day’s Premier League action. Just like a real EPL fan.

Check back next week to read all about our first experience as away fans at an English Premier League soccer match, including navigating hostile East London streets, dodging riot police and dogs, and, of course, trying to stay warm on a rainy, cold London day.

Football Friday: Navigating EPL Tickets

Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring the next couple of Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London. 

That’s right our recent trip to London was fabulous, filled with tea, tea sandwiches and most importantly football (soccer). Lots and lots of football. Poe survived. She liked some of it, hated some of it, was a little scared at times, and I am pretty sure she experienced pure joy as well.

In a recent post I shared how we would not be enjoying the game, but this is all about what we did do.

As we’ve mentioned before, we are avid Tottenham Hotspurs fans and follow them religiously. So our focus this trip was on seeing our team in action, and fortunate for us, they were scheduled to play two games the week we were in London for Poe’s birthday trip.

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That would be Chirpy, the Tottenham mascot. Looking a bit stuffed there, boy.

After we decided to take a pass on the prohibitively expensive VIP experience, we set about working with our hotel concierge to get tickets to the two Tottenham games that would be played while we were in town.

Despite being two months before our trip (usually, tickets are only released to the public much closer to match day), the concierge worked with a London-based ticket broker and we were presented with options and prices. We quickly confirmed our desired tickets and arranged payment. In the end, we had two tickets in the away fans section for the Tuesday game at West Ham United and two tickets for the Saturday North London Derby (pronounced Darby) against Arsenal at White Hart Lane.

So tickets reserved, we went about the rest of our lives feeling confident that we had tickets and that our trip was coming together nicely.

One thing to note about soccer leagues and individual team schedules: they are fluid during the season, meaning they can and do change. A game time of 4 pm may change to 2 pm or 7 pm as the television networks adjust their own schedules to show the “most popular” game in the best window of time for viewers.

Also, because English Premier League soccer teams are playing in multiple competitions simultaneously, a game may be cancelled and rescheduled for a future date because the team is in another competition or the scheduled opponent is in another competition. These risks exist and are real, so a little caution is always warranted when buying or reserving game tickets too far in advance.

EPL so hard

For this particular trip, one of our original two games was similarly impacted. The West Ham game was moved by a day from a Tuesday to a Wednesday to accommodate another game (Swansea) that needed to be played on the preceding Sunday. That meant that Tottenham would now be playing on a Sunday, a Wednesday and a Saturday—all within the same week.

When we first became aware of this schedule change, we were bummed out because we were traveling on that Sunday and would just miss the opportunity to try to see three games in one week.

But about a week before our trip, I noticed that tickets were available on Stubhub for the new Sunday game against Swansea, and that they were reasonably priced (relative to the other matches we were attending).

After a little airline and hotel searching, I found that we could make some adjustments and change our travel day from Sunday to Saturday. So after convincing Poe, I bought the soccer tickets, changed our flights and added a hotel night. We were now going to get to see Tottenham play three times during our visit.

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Oh hey Britney, I didn’t know you were a fan. Britney Spurs, folks.

Check back next week to read all about our first big English Premier League soccer match, including how we fought jetlag, tried to stay warm on a blustery London day, and how our full bladders led to the best fish and chips of the trip.

London Experiences We’re Skipping

Editor’s note: Seems XFE has really taken to this whole blogging business and has come up with another post to fill the void while we’re in London this week. Enjoy!

You recently may have gotten your football related fill here on ThePoeLog, but we are currently in London to celebrate Poe’s birthday week, and we have football on the agenda three times here in London. Once we return I will have a full break down on the games we attended, but in the meantime I figured I would share part of our experience getting tickets and more importantly the “Matchday Experience” we considered but ultimately decided to skip.

Once we settled on London as the destination for this year’s birthday trip, I immediately turned to the current schedule for the Barclay’s English Premier League soccer and most importantly our beloved Tottenham Hotspurs. Thrilled beyond belief it looked like Tottenham was playing an away match at East London West Ham on Wednesday and a home game against rivals Arsenal in the North London Derby (pronounced darby) on the following Saturday. Two Tottenham games, all in London, the week we are planning to be in town. The mere coincidence of these games aligning with Poe’s birthday brought tears of joy to my eyes.

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It is his tight bikini underwear that make him so sensitive.

(Editor: please note that after XFE wrote this little post, he convinced me to move up our trip up by a day in order to attend a THIRD Tottenham game — this one against Swansea this past Sunday.)

Sure, the schedule included a random weeknight game in Stoke-on-Trent that I briefly was going to try and work into the program, but two games in London for our team was the minimum and I was excited.

What started to happen next can only be viewed as a blessing and a curse. First, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United started the season in less than the outstanding form expected by most and the League took on a bizarre life of its own where Leicester City was leading the standings and others were struggling to keep pace.

Second, our Spurs started winning and, even more importantly, not losing. Meaning that by Christmas, they were real contenders for cracking into the top four and even pushing higher in the table. (Note: At the time of writing, Tottenham sits in second place, tied with Arsenal, but a game between writing and publication of this post may change the live standings. If you want live standings, go elsewhere, I am not Rebecca Lowe, for heaven’s sake.)

So, as the New Year launched and Tottneham climbed in the table, my worries about getting tickets increased to a level of pure concern and angst. No tickets for sale were showing up on the usual suspect reseller websites and there was no way we were getting tickets through the club being the lowly American foreigners that we are. A £89 British Pound fee can get you a membership to the supporters club, but that does not guarantee you tickets, just the right to buy tickets from the club towards the back of the line. So rather than waste £89, we started exploring other options.

Fresh off our recent VIP experience in Bilbao, we discovered the Tottenham VIP experiences on their website and sent off an email to inquire. The next morning I awoke to find a very nice email informing me that VIP tickets were still available for the Arsenal home match in something called the “Bill Nicholson Suite.” Wow, this might be easier than I expected. This would get us guaranteed access to the game, meaning that I (we) were guaranteed to see at least one of the two matches for our Hotspurs.

In addition to having availability, the email included the following in response to me mentioning why we’re attending the game:

“On top of the listed details, to make it extra special for your Girlfriend’s birthday, I’d happily get her name included in our Matchday programme and arrange for her to have a photo with a first team player after the game!”

Well, just send the Best Boyfriend in the World trophy over right now, because this competition is locked up. Sorry, Ronaldo! So what else does this experience include?

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“Four Course Buffet?” must be a British thing, but ok fine.

Seems like a nice way to spend a day enjoying our team, and “buffet” means I can avoid another international soccer VIP experience incident with Poe like the one we had in Bilboa. And free bar “throughout” the day, what can be wrong with that? Digging a little further, we can find some nice pictures of the room and it looks perfectly acceptable. There is a dress code, but I am sure we can work with that little requirement.

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So now, the only question I had was: What is this little experience going to cost me?

If you have felt the anticipation building, you were right to feel that way and here you go. This wonderful British soccer experience can be yours for the low, low price of £649 British Pounds plus VAT per person. Well, that sounds….expensive? Not expensive? I don’t know.

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The typical reaction to math at ThePoeLog.

For those without calculators handy, let me help. Currently ,the VAT tax is 20% and in mid-January when I received the email, £1 was equal to $1.43. So, adding the VAT, which was £130, and the currency conversion meant that each ticket would cost $1,113.68 per person! Yep, that’s right, for a mere $2,227 Poe and I could have a great birthday experience at the home of our favorite EPL team.

As the shock settled in, I actually considered spending the money. I didn’t want to, but I did want to go to the game.

My head was working overtime trying to justify the expenses and rationalize that I had used points and miles for the flights and hotels, so this was going to be my big expense, etc.–all the usual tricks to say “yes, this is worth it.”

I think I had even manage to convince Poe that we should just bite the bullet, but in the end, we said “NO.” My Boyfriend of the Year trophy would just have to be earned another way, because the Tottenham VIP experience was not going to be my ticket to glory.

So this week while we are in London, we will be skipping the Tottenham Bill Nicholas Suite Experience. But fear not, we will still be going to the game. In fact we will be going to both of the games we identified for our trip. (ED note: Plus one more).

Yes, it will be expensive. No, there will not be a buffet or bar available to us during the game. But in the end, I am perfectly happy eating Pukka Pies and getting buzzed at the local pub before sneaking my road flares into the game.

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GGGOOOAAALLL!!! Football in Spain Part II: Copa del Rey in San Sebastian

Editor’s note: We’re going to do something a little different on ThePoeLog and declare this “Soccer Week.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in Spain. Part 1: UEFA in Bilbao is here.  

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The next game on our agenda was in San Sebastian, and was a contest scheduled as part of the Copa del Rey. The Copa is a tournament that allows teams from across Spain to compete for a title. The teams not only include those in the top tier of the league (La Liga), but other teams from lower divisions who are selected based on both competition and a lottery. The tournament starts in September with 83 teams and will work down to a single winner by the following May.

The game we attended was one in the round of 32 where teams play a home/away format to determine the winner. This means that each pair of teams plays twice to determine who will move on to the next round. Each team plays one game at home and one game away and the aggregate score of the two matches determines the winner.

The match we attended was the second leg between the home team Real Sociedad and Las Palmas, which is the team from the city with the same name that is the capital of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off northwestern Africa. Real Sociedad had lost the previous match 2-to-1 so they needed to score at least two goals in order to win the aggregate and move on to the next round.

Unlike our previous experience in Bilbao, we did not run into any traveling fans from Las Palmas, at least that we know of, and since the stadium is removed from the central city, it was tougher to identify fans that were out for pintxos before heading to the game.

Poe and I absolutely love the old part of San Sebastian and were perfectly happy grabbing vino and pintxos in the city center before grabbing a taxi for the 10 minute ride to the stadium.

Once on the stadium grounds, we saw fans streaming in from the neighborhood as well as what seemed like 50 different public buses that were convening near the front entrance. As is our custom, we quickly purchased a scarf with the colors of the home team and headed to our seats.

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The Anoeta Stadium opened in 1993, but appears to have used a 1970s design and left much to be desired aesthetically, especially after Bilbao’s shiny new San Mames stadium. But it was holding a good crowd that night as we took our seats in the second level at about midfield. The tickets, which our hotel concierge had helped us get, were really good and among some of the best in the stadium. It was clear that we were seated among several of the city’s diehard season ticket holders.

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As kickoff time neared, we did seem to notice some angst amongst the small group of locals next to us. They were particularly bothered by the heavy cigar smoke wafting up from a few rows in front of us. Poe and I also found the smoke to be annoying and on some level nauseating, but the woman next to us was frantically waiving her program to disperse the smoke, all while glaring at the group of smokers two rows ahead.

So as glaring continued and smoke rose through the stands, the game finally kicked off. It was clear almost immediately that these two Spanish teams were not quite on par with some of the other popular Spanish clubs or even the teams we had just watched five nights prior. The game took on a ragged sense and the fans sense of disappointment was clearly evident as each missed pass or bad shot was met with loud groans or halfhearted sighs of disappointment. The crowd became further disappointed when midway through the first half, Las Palmas scored meaning that on an aggregate basis, the home team was now trailing 2-0.

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Halftime was Poe’s favorite part because immediately every single person around us broke out their own bocadillos – sandwiches – to eat during the break.

Halftime became welcome relief for the fans as their hope for making it to the next round of tournament play seemed all but lost in the current score. So as the second half started and a fresh round of cigars were lit, Poe and I moved to some open seats at the end of our row for fresh air and the second half.

Things were underway and it was not long before Real Sociedad had their first goal of the match, which instantly injected the fans with a fresh dose of hope for a victory. The goal was almost a cruel treat for the fans surrounding us as it did not represent hope for a team struggling to come back against a perceived weaker opponent.

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One of the offending cigar smokers.

As the half continued, the cheers grew louder, the jeering at mistakes grew more vile, and the hand talking became more dangerous to those sitting nearby. Somewhere in this stretch of fans, Poe and I were able to pick out most of the foul Spanish language we learned as kids growing up in El Paso and southern California, respectively. It was around this time when the woman down the row from us pointed out that one of the player’s mothers was a woman of questionable morals, perhaps even accepting money in return for affection. Several more chances for the tying goal were missed until the crowd threw in the towel as the final whistle blew.

In the end, Real Sociedad was not able to overcome the deficit and the fans quickly filed out of the stadium to return and fight (ok cheer) another day.

Copa

Check back later this week for my final post on a La Liga game in Bilboa.

GGGOOOAAALLL!!! Football in Spain: UEFA in Bilboa

Editor’s note: We’re going to do something a little different on ThePoeLog and declare this “Soccer Week.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in Spain, and we’ll be posting them throughout the week.  

While this installment of ThePoeLog may not be geared to the usual audience searching for cat stories or reality TV updates, it may let you in on a little secret about maximizing experiences during travel.

The key here is to understand that ThePoeLog coach-for-life XFE, loves a little soccer or “football” as it is known to the rest of the world. This does not just mean the occasional game, but a true following of our adopted team–the Tottenham Hotspurs in the English Premier League (EPL)–and a general desire to witness soccer festivities around the world. To date, we have seen games in Ireland, Italy (3 games), Sweden and Spain (4 games). An upcoming trip to London will take us to two EPL games, both for our beloved Spurs.

tottenham hotspur logo

What is great about a football match–or any sporting event truly loved by the home country–is the people and the passion. There is no single more fundamental and direct way to appreciate the people, passion and culture of a city or country than sport.

Take for example, our trip to see sumo wrestling in Japan. Seven very out-of-place Americans had box seats for the second day of the Winter Sumo tournament in Osaka. We arrived early to the festivities, learned that we should have brought our own food and drink, and relied heavily on a printout from Wikipedia to understand the spectacle we were witnessing.

However, despite clearly being out of place, the small Japanese grandfather in the box next to us was quick to lean over and offer us his sake as an introduction to his culture and the sport of sumo. As the afternoon wore on, we smiled, drank sake and yelled “gambate,” the traditional sumo cheer, which roughly translates to “try your best.” An experience and memory that resonates with me today despite having been almost eight years ago.

So as our trip to the Basque region in northern Spain developed, the opportunity to search out football games began. While it originally looked like our schedule had us just missing games in our planned destination cities, the stars aligned and it turned out that not only would we be able to get to one game, but three, all in different “competitions” or “tournaments” over the course of our 10 day trip.

First up was the UEFA Europa League match between the home team Athletic Bilbao and AZ Alkmaar from the Netherlands. Scheduled for a 9:00 pm start on our day of arrival in Bilbao, we both knew it would be a great way to stay up and fight the jet lag to get set on the new time zone.

While accurate thinking in theory, the execution is always a little more challenging and Poe may have grabbed a quick cat nap sometime during the first half, but our first game of the trip was an experience not to be missed. Soccer in Bilbao is special. We have been before and having the opportunity to go again was amazing.

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Poe took the pictures, which might account for their blurriness.

We headed out from our hotel after a quick siesta in search of some of the same great bars and tapas places we had visited almost three years prior. We walked through the park towards downtown streets which became more familiar as the red and white striped colors of the home team hung from doorways and on scarves around the necks of our fellow fans. We visited a couple of familiar spots and found a few new ones, sipping on glasses of wine and enjoying fresh pintxos as we went.

Bilbao bar scene on soccer night

One great thing about a Europa League match, which we had not experienced previously, is that fans from the away teams actually travel to see their team play. What better excuse for a group of friends to take a 90-minute flight to a far off city for a couple of days then a soccer match. New country, new experience, and an excuse for a quick vacation.

So it was at one bar where we ended up seated across from a Spanish-speaking barman next to a group of non-Spanish speaking soccer fans from the Netherlands. What ensued was why I love going to soccer in Europe.

Our new friends from the Netherlands were enjoying Spanish culture by the plate–but more importantly wine bottle full–and it was clear that the significant others that may be waiting back at home were not high on the priority list during this “boys” trip. So when the buys decided to try to ask the bartender where the local “strip” club was for after the game, it was Poe and her broken Spanish that were called into action. Translating poor English from the Netherlands into broken Spanish required not only words, but sign language, whereby Poe pretended to be lifting her shirt and dancing for the barman all to the howl of our friends form the Netherlands.

And guess what? It worked! The bartender knew exactly what the guys were looking for and drew them a map for after the game. While not exactly an international peace treaty, at the time, this was the most important issue being addressed by the representatives of these three countries.

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Bilboa’s new stadium, San Mames.

Major international issue completed, the crowd continued growing in the streets as locals prepared for the game. Glass after glass of wine was ordered and passed to revelers as they filled the streets in front of bars on the way to the stadium. Then, finally, about 20 minutes before kickoff, the crowd seemed to move as a single unit towards the gates and seats of the stadium. As we took our seats in the stadium we were surrounded by fellow fans and enjoyed 90 minutes of sport while cheering and chanting for today’s home team, who went on to tie 2-2 after conceding a late own goal.

ab score

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A far less jet-lagged group of supporters, no doubt.

After traveling overnight the evening before, partying into the night was not on the agenda and we quickly returned to our room for some well-deserved sleep.

Check back later this week for my post on the Copa del Rey cup in San Sebastian.