My Tottenham Trip

Each week, I’m offered a different perspective as an American supporter of Tottenham Hotspur compared to those that actually support from England’s capital. As I step through the door of Piper’s Pub, I immediately feel home amid a sporting culture that treats soccer as an afterthought, and even sometimes, with open hostility. I can gather with like-minded individuals at Piper’s and experience the magnitude of a North London Derby or a massive six-pointer to an almost authentic degree. Celebrating these moments with a small community is what makes me feel connected to my club while so far away.

However, that doesn’t stop there being at least one brief moment each match where I feel there’s a part missing. The distance starts to echo as I look on through television monitors. There is quite clearly an awesome atmosphere beyond the screen that becomes subdued as it transmits over the Atlantic. For the past two years, the desire grew stronger within me after each match. “I have to get over there,” especially pressed as the hallowed grounds of White Hart Lane are to be torn down after this season.

I couldn’t fight the feeling any longer. I saved up and cashed in my vacation days. I welcomed in 2017 on a flight to London to see my first Premier League match, and one of great quality. Spurs were to host Chelsea, heavy favorites to win the league entering the new year after notching 13 wins in a row. I couldn’t pick a better fixture to experience that atmosphere I craved.

The journey to my footballing mecca began with a tour of the grounds. I prepared myself inside the tunnel for that burst into light. I emerged and was surrounded by the perfect green of the pitch. Off to my left, Tottenham crested cranes skied towards the clouds, working on the new stadium just behind the North Stand. My eyes swept across the roof of the opposite East Stand, spotting the bronze cockerel perched on top. The panoramic view offered a brief snapshot into the club’s past, present, and future.

Throughout the halls were other reminders of the great history that accompanies Tottenham Hotspur. The bust of the late Bill Nicholson didn’t do the well-decorated club legend as much justice as the beautiful speech of appreciation that our tour guide gave. On the other side of the room rested the ball used in Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Leicester City to win the 1961 FA Cup, thus becoming the first club in the 20th century to complete the league and cup double. It was the greatest year in the course of Tottenham Hotspur, and I got to relive a small part of it a half-century later.

Trophies ranged back all the way to 1901. Framed was the sponsor-free lilywhite shirt that Ricky Villa danced in to lift the 1981 FA Cup. These relics of past glory helped me realized another reason why I love this club so much. As modern football gives way to sheikhs and oil magnates, we refuse to sell our history. The players of today honor those before them with the same “To Dare Is to Do” spirit. I exited the grounds, reflecting on a quote printed on the hoardings that encircle the pitch. “This is my club, my one and only club.” I felt proud and ready for matchday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The floodlights switched on for the primetime fixture. I arrived at the grounds early to witness the atmosphere build. The night began with an egg sandwich and coffee in the corner of a cozy Ethiopian and Eritrean café on Park Lane. After collecting my tickets, I trekked up Church Road for a couple drinks at the Antwerp Arms.

The pre-match pub vibe surprised me. There were no songs or banter shouted loud enough for the crowd to hear in the hopes of being crowned jester. It was quiet and everyone seemed reserved, as if they were storing all energy for the match to come. I picked up an adequate buzz and fell back to White Hart Lane.

People outside the grounds had tripled while I was away. Polices horses now pranced around to keep the traveling Chelsea supporters in check. The winter air felt sharper as the clock ticked down to kick-off. I found a spot and watched people shuffle up and down Park Lane. A man then approached asking if he could interview me. I knew this was a thing that happened at English football grounds, as I often watch ArsenalFanTV after a bad Gooner result to see Claude and Ty implode for my sick pleasure. This, however, was clearly a smaller scale production. The man nudged next to me with a low-budget microphone, his friend recording from a handheld camera. I thought why the hell not.

The man began by asking me who I support, as I looked back at him with my Tottenham beanie and scarf. He then attempted to wind me up, hyping Antonio Conte’s managerial skills and the quality of his players. I politely agreed, but retorted with the magic of Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham boys.

“What will be the score?” he asked.

“2-0.”

“Chelsea?” he said with a wry smile, hoping I would boil over and he would get an interview that was YouTube worthy.

“No, Tottenham,” I shot back calmly.

I shook off the weird encounter and entered the stadium. I found my seat in the last row of the Southeast corner. My sight line went directly down the corner flag and end line. The pre-match warmups sped by and all of the sudden the two teams exited the tunnels. The adrenaline began to course through me while the hosts welcomed their heated rivals to the Lane with handshakes.

That reserved energy at the Antwerp Arms exploded once Dele Alli passed back to Eric Dier to get the match underway. There wasn’t a single moment in the next 90 minutes when the stands were silent. Even seemingly insignificant parts of the match carried a weight with them. Whether it was Jan Vertonghen intercepting a pass and galloping into the midfield or Victor Wanyama shrugging a Chelsea attacker off the ball, the crowd roared.

Spurs pushed closer to Thibaut Courtois’ goal as the first half progressed. The supporters developed their full voice, working through their catalog of chants. I had yet to join in, feeling undeserving. I worried about being labeled a fraud if I fumbled a line.

That shyness disappeared around when the fourth official displayed the amount of first half stoppage time and a few fans made the poor decision to leave for the restrooms early. All in the stands seemed to accept a 0-0 stalemate at halftime when Christian Eriksen orchestrated one last attack. He played Kyle Walker down the right hand side, where Walker flicked back for Eriksen to float a cross towards Alli at the far post. The young star seemed suspended in air. As the ball arrived at Alli’s head, you could tell what was about to unfold. I was about to experience the moment I traveled all this way for. Alli knocked the ball across goal and past a flying Courtois. 1-0.

The next 30 seconds were spent in unconscious bliss. I regained myself to find Alli in our corner, surrounded by delirious Spurs supporters in the front row of the South Stand. The people around me pulled out their phones for a perfect photo opportunity, while I picked mine off the ground after it must’ve fell out my pocket during the post-goal scenes.

Not shortly after was the halftime whistle. The players were serenaded off the pitch to the tune of the super-catchy Dele Alli chant. This one I couldn’t help but sing.

“We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli. I just don’t think you understand. He only cost five mil. He’s better than Ozil. We’ve got Dele Alli.”

Everyone joined in at different points during the first refrain. The Lane grew in volume during the second refrain and crescendoed in the third go round. I unabashedly belted out every word. It left me with goosebumps.

The second half began by Chelsea delivering me down from my state of elation and putting me on edge. The visitors started to pick at the cracks in Tottenham’s defensive wall and tested Hugo Lloris with a handful of threatening chances. My chest hardened and my foot tapped the concrete below with the pace of a hummingbird. Visions of Eden Hazard dashing our title hopes last year appeared in my mind.

Spurs weathered the storm and dealt the counterpunch that proved the knockout. The second goal mirrored the first: a Walker pass back, a perfectly placed Eriksen cross to the far post, and an Alli header across goal. The stands erupted with a similar burst of noise and chaos, but was followed by a sense of relief. Tottenham could switch on the cruise control for the remaining 35 minutes.

Pochettino and his back three controlled the match until the final whistle. Vertonghen destroyed all of Chelsea’s play that came down the right-hand side. Dier tormented a mopey and ineffective Diego Costa all night.

Supporters continued to sacrifice their vocal chords for the brilliant display their club gifted them. The Lane thundered with the collective stomps that accompanied “Yid Army.” The Chelsea supporters were sent back to West London with the mocking, “na na na na, you’re shite.” The climax came in stoppage time with “The Spurs Go Marching In.” The pause in between each line allowed me to survey the crowd. Everyone had the hands raised in the air. 25,000 were united in love of their club. We had synced with the players to make a statement to the Premier League, and now we celebrated our accomplishment. I gave everything I had left to the chant, a happy goodbye to this special place that had only existed to me within a 36-inch frame just days ago.

The final whistle blew and one last roar came from the crowd. The score flashed “2-0” on the big screen. I hoped that man with the microphone felt like an idiot now.

The team showed their thanks to us while “Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur” played over the sound system. Pochettino and his boys disappeared into the tunnel, and like that it was over. All that energy faded until White Hart Lane returned to its peaceful sea of royal blue seats, the way it was first presented to me on the tour. The night disintegrated fast after that. No amount of beer could rescue that high I just experienced.

The match was so fast-paced that it was hard to process what it all meant to me right away. The amount of emotion within the stadium pushed me back onto my heels, sending my brain into overdrive.

The 7-hour flight back to the States gave me time to decompress and put the trip into context. I sometimes think that “football is a religion” is an overused metaphor, but I would truly describe the four days I spent in London as a spiritual journey. My time in White Hart Lane among the Tottenham supporters gave me a deeper understanding of my faith in this club. I learned of the responsibility that each supporter has to give their passionate voice, in order to tip the scales in their club’s favor. I added a new layer to the communal spirit I feel around with other supporters. I knew how it felt to be one of ten awake at 7:30 in the morning on the Saturday, trying to summon some gas from the bottom of the tank. Now I also know how it feels to be anonymous within the masses. I left my identity outside the grounds and melded with others into one entity, a fellowship solely dedicated to Tottenham Hotspur. I no longer had the feeling that some part of me was missing. Singing Dele Alli’s name under the lights of White Hart Lane filled that last piece. I was now complete.

 

Advertisements

Published by

CJ Cunningham

21, Senior at University of Pittsburgh, Tottenham til I Die @cj_cunningham22

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s