Soccer Road Trippin’ Through the South

It’s hotter than Hades here in D.C. so it seems like the perfect time to hop in the car and drive many, many hours to even hotter locations, primarily in the South.

Sally and Burt
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I inhibiting your driving? It’s just that this is a couples road trip and what could be more magical and romantic than that?”

But we do it for the love of soccer.

That’s right, my travel-partner-for-life XFE and I are going on a road trip to see our favorite English Premier League team, the Tottenham Hotspurs, play two games in the United States as part of the International Champions Cup. Eight European teams, including the Hotspurs, who you may remember came in second in the Premier League this past May, will be playing at stadiums across the U.S. July 19-30th.

Tottenham Traveling Squad

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 history with 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.)

Gin Joint on Southern Charm
Cameran = matchmaking fail.

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 traversed northern Spain (twice!) to get our soccer (and kebab) fix.

Poe at soccer

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.

Couples road trip

In the meantime, here are some past posts explaining our love of the Hotspurs.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Kane Poe
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.

Bubbles

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.

West Ham police
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.

TottenCat
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.

Britney Spurs
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.