We’ve got tickets to see Tottenham play Paris Saint-Germain in Orlando and Manchester City in Nashville. And instead of trying to see Tottenham is pay Roma in New Jersey in the middle of the week, we decided to skip it and swing through New Orleans instead (we’ve got some historywith ol’New Orleans).
So today, we’re in the car for approximately 8.5 hours heading to a quick overnight stop in Charleston to say “howdy” to the fine folks of “Southern Charm.” (Well, maybe not so much. Although, we are going to try to have drinks at the Gin Joint, which was featured on the show.)
While we’ve travelled quite a bit, we’ve never actually been on a road trip, per se. I mean, we’ve rented a car and slowly meander our way across northern Italy, but that was only 270 miles. SFE dodged Irish sheep for about 300 miles when we drove the Ring of Kerry and explored the Dingle Peninsula back in 2009. And we once got held up on a highway in Peru on our way from Lima to Paracas by a fishermen’s protest, turning a trip that was only supposed to be 3.5 hours into a multi-hour nailbiter. We’ve even traversednorthern Spain (twice!) to get our soccer (and kebab) fix.
But we’ve never done such a heavy driving trip. We’ll be covering approximately 2,853 miles in a total estimated time of 42 hours and 18 minutes. Which is a lot of beef jerky and “Despacito” on the radio. Here’s hoping we don’t kill each other.
In the meantime, here are some past posts explaining our love of the Hotspurs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’d love to tell you that this was an informative blog post full of tips on how to see and do London on a budget. Something along the lines of “have a practically-free-yet-utterly-fabulous time in London on less than $50 a day.”
But that would be a really short list because (1) London is ridiculously expensive and (2) not to sound bougie or whatever, but $50 a day is really not a lot of money.
Heck, I’m not even sure I exist on less than $50 a day here at home because (1) the greater D.C. area is ridiculously expensive and (2) if I do, for some reason, sally forth from my nice, comfortable home office, the cumulative expense of hours not worked (ah, self-employment) and money pissed away during an Old Town gallivant that probably includes stops at Anthropology, Bluemercury, Gap Outlet and a red velvet cupcake from Bittersweet certainly tallies up to way over $50.
It’s not that I don’t know how to do London on a budget. I lived in London for six months back in 1997. I was a poor college student/waitress and I rented a small, freezing one-room bedsit in Islington with a plug-in electric radiator that would put a scald on whichever side of your body happened to be closest to it, but did nothing to heat up the rest of the room. Also: No TV. No radio. No computer.
As you can imagine, I did not spend much time in my bedsit/prison-I-actually-paid-money-for. Instead, I spent a lot of time getting to know London, and since I didn’t have parents footing the bill and I was living on my meager waitressing salary, I spent a whole lot of time doing free/cheap stuff, ie: going to museums and churches, browsing in stores, seeing cheap West End shows during the day, nursing a single cider for hours on end and reading a book at a pub.
But thankfully, those poverty-ridden days are long behind me, and while I’m certainly not rich, our last trip to London confirmed two things for me: (1) I am, in fact, bougie, and (2) London is a lot more fun when you have a little bit of money.
So, here’s a roundup of some not-so-free things we did in London.
Black Cab Tour – This was my manpanion, XFE’s first time in London. Thankfully, all he really wanted to do was go to every possible soccer match (see below) so we didn’t have to do too much touristy stuff. Still, I felt it was my duty to give him at least a rudimentary amount of exposure to the glories of the British Empire. So, I arranged a private tour in a black cab. We did the Classic Grand Tour, a 3.5 hour whirlwind through about 1,000 years of history.
We got driver David Cannell and I’m pretty sure we were the easiest, most low-key clients he’s ever had. We hardly even stopped for photos (neither one of us are really big into selfies). I happily chatted with David about British history (I got especially excited hearing all about Tyburn Tree, because who doesn’t love a good public execution?) and XFE watched the scenery whizz by. (Cost: £175 GBP or around $250 US. I will say the cab could have held up to 5 people, which is quite affordable.)
Gin Tour—XFE’s other major interest is gin and—as one would expect in a place where the consumption of gin was causing so much strife and ruin it had to be banned—there were a lot of gin-based activities to choose from. But the Gin Journey’s Shake, Rattle and Stir tour worked best with our schedule. We started at a small, very dark underground, totally hipster bar called the Whistling Shop in Shoreditch where we were introduced to our very cool guide, Cocktail Kate.
After getting a brief history on the star of the evening—gin—and quaffing some Sipsmiths, we set off in a mini-bus for stops at five more gin parlors/distilleries/bars (dipping in and out of the City, Shoreditch and Hoxton, mostly) over the course of 4.5 hours, enjoying specially selected premium gins and fine gin cocktails made just for us. The tour was mostly made up of Londoners (with a couple of non-English speaking Italians in the mix) and was a really fun way to spend an evening. I can’t recommend it enough. (Cost: £60 GBP per person or around $85 US)
Tea at Sketch—I know I said I didn’t drag XFE to a bunch of touristy stuff, but that’s not entirely true. I did have one London bucket list item I insisted on crossing off the list.
Despite having lived in London for six months and downing copious amounts of the stuff, I’d never actually been to a proper English tea*. Like in a fancy tea room with mini-sandwiches and cakes. I decided to skip the traditional, stuffy hotel high teas (sorry, Dorchester) and go for something more modern and fun: Sketch.
This restaurant/tea room/coffee shop/lounge nestled in an 18th-century townhouse right on the border of Mayfair and Soho is kooky as hell. The vibe is very Alice in Wonderland with oversized doors, coat check closets hidden behind swing out bookshelves, toilets hidden in egg-pods and quirky staff uniforms (the waitresses in the tea rooms were wearing these sort of World War 1 nurse’s pinafores, for lack of a better description).
The tea room decor was a suffocating plush ballerina-pink cocoon that made me think: this is what it must be like to live inside a jewelry box. And it was packed to the gills with (mostly) female tourists, even on a weekday in March. XFE was pretty much the only guy in the place, unless you count the guy wearing a dramatic silk scarf, lip gloss and some heeled boots in the corner banquette (his tea companion was a gorgeous, exotic girl with a wrap shirt that kept gaping.)
The tea itself was pretty meh—we manned it up by splurging for the Champagne Afternoon Tea. Sandwiches included coronation chicken salad, egg salad, a posh grilled cheese, the usual suspects; sweets included assorted cakes, some lemony pudding thing and that most overhyped of all cookies, the macaron, of course. The people watching though: that’s worth the admission price. (Cost: £57 per person or $81 US)
*(I had, however, had a Devon cream tea with clotted cream and scones, and honestly, I liked that way better.)
Soccer matches—If I end up living in the poor house or becoming an indentured servant (or worse, working as a barista at Starbucks….again), it is because I gave all my money to the English Premier League in 2016. Specifically, the Tottenham Hotspurs.
We went to three games while we were there, one against Swansea at Tottenham’s grounds, White Hart Lane. The second against West Ham at their playing grounds, and the third against Arsenal back at White Hart Lane.
Buying tickets to overseas soccer games is usually a bit of a difficult enterprise involving months of research, repeatedly checking the team websites, Ticketmaster, StubHub and any other online resource you can think of. It usually requires the assistance of a hotel concierge, who can’t really provide any confirmations on successful acquisition of tickets until much, much closer to the match day, when the teams finally, reluctantly release tickets to the general public. It is not at all uncommon for us to get on an overseas flight without knowing for sure if we have tickets to a game or where our seats will be.
London and the EPL, however, are even more insular and stingy with their tickets, so the whole process requires the combined efforts of a hotel concierge, online ticket brokers, bicycle delivery personel, plus copious amounts of cash (in all three cases) and subterfuge (in at least one instance). It’s almost, ALMOST enough to make you think that splashing out $1,113 for (guaranteed) VIP tickets to a game is reasonable and sane. Almost.
These hoops and hurdles prove to be particularly true when you are dealing with major London rivalries like Tottenham and Arsenal, and most especially when it’s close to the end of the season and those two teams specifically are in a hot-and-heavy, three-way race for the top spot in the League. I’m not allowed to divulge any more information into how exactly we got our tickets, particularly to that last game, but I will say it probably would have been easier (and cheaper) to get “Hamilton” tickets (flights included). (Cost for three EPL games: I don’t want to talk about it)
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.
(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?
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.
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.
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.
Our third and final game of our trip to northern Spain would take us back to Bilbao and a La Liga game between Athletic Bilbao and Levante.
One would think a game scheduled for an early Sunday evening in the top league in Spain would not be expected to be heavily attended, especially as the opponents are one of the country’s smaller football clubs.
But, surprisingly, navigating the process of acquiring tickets proved to be harder than usual. In the end, the concierge at our hotel in San Sebastian was able to arrange for us to have VIP tickets in Bilboa, which as explained to us, “included a welcome reception, refreshments and free WI-FI.”
Neither Poe nor I were particularly excited by this description of the “VIP experience,” or the uptick in ticket prices, but in the end we consoled ourselves with the fact that we definitely had tickets and we were excited for the game. We did do a little additional Internet research to understand that the “VIP experience” was something that the club had added as part of the new stadium the team moved into in 2014.
As usual, football Sunday arrived and we headed out to the pintxos bars with the masses for snacks and cocktails in the streets before heading for the stadium. This process always requires a delicate balance as a few too many drinks during pregame may result in having to sit through a 90-minute match buzzed and without more drinks available, as most European stadiums do not serve alcohol inside during the game. So we did our best, with Poe testing the limits of her tolerance, and we eventually headed to the stadium well-lubricated to cheer on our adopted Spanish team.
After a trek to the Will Call window and VIP entrance, an elevator dropped us on the level of our “VIP” experience. Here we were met with a large room lined by a bar, soft comfortable seating and high top tables for mingling and snacking. We quickly approached the bar to find complimentary beer/wine and even gin and tonics, and made ourselves at home at a high top table. The room was enclosed by glass on one side and looked into the stadium over six rows of seats separated from the other sections of the stadium.
What we learned during our visit was that the team built a section/level of six rows of seats around the entire perimeter of the stadium–all backed with the VIP areas, including bars, restrooms and catering facilities. It was like a group private box where you could sit in the seats outside or stand behind the glass and enjoy the game from general warmth and comfort. The VIP tickets also entitled you to an assigned outdoor seat, and refreshments and drinks before, during and after the game.
As we sat enjoying our VIP beverages, it became clear that Poe was in need of a snack to soak up her wine from the pre-game pub crawl. A steady stream of servers carrying trays of food towards various areas of the VIP section kept walking by, but none of them were near us.
But when in a foreign country, the next embarrassing cultural incident is just around the corner, so we waited patiently for some snacks to be dropped off near us. As time passed, trips to the bathroom were made, a small bowl of mix nuts was discreetly devoured, and I started in on another cocktail.
After what seemed like ages, a server carrying a nice tray of meats, cheeses and other snacks appeared and was walking toward us. As she approached with a friendly smile, she raised the tray towards Poe–who delirious from hunger and too much wine–reached out her hands to take the entire tray of snacks from the server, only to be met with a disapproving head shake and a vanishing smile. Poe quickly changed course, swiping three or four of the snacks to a napkin as she turned away from the server and what she thought was her loot of snacks for the taking. After a few sheepish minutes of snacking, a new strategy was devised–move tables in hopes that a new server could be lured into the trap being laid by Poe.
While no entire trays were captured, a few more satisfying snacks were had and we moved outside to our seats for the first half. Despite several chances to score, neither team was able to convert in the first half and time expired with the score tied at zero.
During halftime, we again headed inside to warm up a little and grab another cocktail and snack. While neither Poe nor I were particularly excited about the VIP experience initially, it really turned out to be quite nice. Plenty of food and drink was available, no lines to the bathroom, and overall, it added a pleasant little way to pass the half.
I will acknowledge that, right now at least, it seems like only a few people have begun to embrace the idea of the VIP experience. I would suspect that at a sold out game or as popularity grows that the experience may become a little more hurried and not seem quite as exclusive.
Before long the second half kicked off and we returned to our seats. Athletic Bilbao started the second half strong and it was not long until the team scored their first goal and really looked to be cruising towards a victory. A second goal late in the second half sealed the deal and Athletic Club went on to win 2-to-0.
As we left our seats and headed back into the inside VIP area, racks of chocolate treats and small deserts had been set up and the bar was again open for patrons to sit and enjoy one last drink before leaving the stadium. While our ticket entitled us to stay for up to an hour, we decided to head back into the city center and grab one last cocktail among the fans.
Quite honestly, leaving San Mames stadium is a great experience as roughly 40,000 people all depart on foot into the streets of the city. Celebrating the win, the crowd is happy and boisterous, chants still emanating as families quickly stop to pose for pictures, and the diehard fans head back to the bars for more pintxos and vino.
Poe and I made our way to a local waterhole focused on gin, where we sat trying new gins among the local fans as they enjoyed the rest of their evening.
After our drinks, Poe and I made one more stop before the hotel for donner kebab. Yep, that’s right kebab–the trusted food of the partier everywhere. Greasy mystery meat, ranch dressing and spicy sauce all on a flat bread. Yes, there are better things to eat in Spain and most of the world, but sometimes a kebab is just what the doctor ordered. I would be lying if I claimed the doctor had prescribed me donner kebabs only once on this trip, but hey, I love them.
As I wiped sauce from my chin, I smiled and reflected on having just enjoyed another great night of the world’s sport in Spain. And just in case Poe somehow decided to keep the party going, I grabbed a couple of extra Radlers to take back with us on the walk back to the hotel.
In the end, three more European football games seen in person and a multitude of new experiences had. Poe and I had an amazing soccer experience the first time we saw a game in Bilbao. We were always worried that that experience could never be recreated, and while great experiences are hard to duplicate, our games in Spain this trip were all equally great and created a new set of memories that we will be talking about in the future. So next time you are on the road, pick a new experience, cheer yourself on with a “gumbate,” and enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Check back later this week for my final post on a La Liga game 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.