Time to lay back and think of England as Trizia Fiorellino takes you on a trip to North London. This time it’s White Hart Lane.
It’s not been a good start to the day – I have forgotten the tickets, so have to go all the way from Ealing to Kingston to pick them up. Tickets safely in my hand, Gatey and I walk up to the station. It’s one of those days, where despite it being sunny and relatively warm, there is definitely rain in the air. We chat to the coffee man at the station; he’s a Newcastle fan and really unimpressed with their up and down form this season. He always has nice things to say about Chelsea though and wishes us luck against Tottenham, although, he adds that we won’t need it, as nothing is more guaranteed than Chelsea beating Spurs. I hope he’s right.
I decide to ring my sister, but then I realise I’ve forgotten my mobile – what is wrong with me today??? I use Gatey’s phone – she is still at home!! I should explain that my sister is a Tottenham fan (don’t ask – freak of nature – family don’t like to talk about it). They’re not leaving home until midday and so they say they will only have time for one or two drinks and they usually drink at a place which is for season ticket holders only. She must think I don’t know what she is like – she is as superstitious as me – she doesn’t want to see us before the game. The only other game that we didn’t meet up was the 5-1 – so she is hoping to somehow replicate the luck.
We reach Liverpool Street at around 11.30am – straight out into the sunshine and head towards the pub, stopping only briefly to do the lottery as experience has proven that we may not be in any fit state to do it later. Fivers and Pete are already outside the pub, beer in hand when we get there – rather predictably, Fivers is eating.
The pub is fairly busy already, but what is unusual is that there is a mix of Chelsea, Tottenham and even some Gooners in there. We’ve been coming here before the Tottenham game for about 4 years now and it’s the first time I have seen anyone but Chelsea in here. There are a few stares going around but no real aggro looks probable. Gatey goes up to the bar to get a round in and Trig walks through the door, just as he’s about to order. Very unusual that Middleton isn’t here – he’s usually the one banging on the door before opening time. The pub is too hot, so I go and position myself by the door – the blasts of cool air are welcome as more and more people pile into the pub. The Arsenal/Manchester United FA Cup semi-final is on live in the pub – I settle myself to watch it in the corner – I even have a seat – unfortunately it’s next to a couple of Gooners – father and son. There is at least one other in the centre of the pub, wearing an Arsenal shirt, seemingly unaware that the pub was full of Chelsea and Tottenham. He’s a gobby git as well and is soon surrounded with people giving him verbal – he goes rather quiet. The game gets underway and it’s pretty evident that everyone else in the pub is supporting United. Fivers comes to join me watch the game and soon we are joined by someone that can only be described as Dr Who! (Circa. Tom Baker). This guy strides into the pub wearing tan sand-boots, coral trousers, blue shirt, grey woollen waistcoat, long red scarf, corduroy jacket and had a mop of mad curly hair. He grins inanely at us, Fivers and I look quizzically at each other, telepathically asking “do you know him?” – we both shake our heads. He goes and gets a drink and then comes to stand with us and starts chatting – he’s obviously cheering for United too.
When I am not conversing with Dr Who and Fivers, I listen in to the two Gooners next to me. They really do have an “everyone is against us” attitude; it’s all I can do not to laugh out loud. They are discussing the “fact” that the reason the referees are biased against them is that the FA have instructed them to be so. Oh yes – and the reason for not allowing them to postpone some of their games is that the FA want United to win something and don’t want Arsenal to dominate English football. Oh and their final gem, was that Abramovich had probably paid off the FA (and possibly UEFA) and that is why Chelsea were 2nd and still in the Champions League.
I see Tom come into the pub and attempt to push his way through the crowds. “Bacardi please Tom” – he looks around, spots me and gives me the thumbs up. Simon arrives and I point to Tom at the bar and tell him that if he’s quick, he’ll get a drink on Tom’s round.
United score and the pub goes mad – cheering and whooping. The red shirt in the middle of the pub has his head in his hands and the two next to me are sucking lemons. I smile smugly.
I look through the window and I see the local constabulary having a chat with Gatey and the others – it looks good-natured enough, but can’t imagine they have much in common. The police also come through the pub – they are police photographers – the pub noise hushes up somewhat as they make their way through the door on the corner across the pub and out the door at the side. They have that copper grin – you know the one – the one where they’re trying to look friendly, like they are just one of the boys – they even throw in the odd nod at “those they know better”. It doesn’t fool anyone and we all know that the video camera will be trained on the pub from a vantage point when we all leave.
Despite having had 5 or 6 Bacardis and no breakfast, the alcohol hasn’t kicked in at all. I feel stone cold sober – maybe it’s the nerves, which are beginning to kick in a bit. I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t been worried about this game – how I feel it’s just a forgone conclusion that we will win. It’s not even entered my head that we might lose. This is in no way arrogance – it’s purely to do with our away form, which has been unreal, unprecedented – and Tottenham are poor – very poor this season.
Ten minutes into the second half of the game we decide it’s time to leave for the ground – there is plenty of time, but it seems the boys have learnt something from our experience in Stuttgart and have factored in some contingency time. There is a fair group of us now and as we move from the pub across the road and into the station, our every move is being watched by the police – they are outside the pub, on the corner outside the station and more inside the station. We go down to the platform just as the train pulls in. We’re all on and we are all feeling confident – even Fivers, whose usual mantra is “We’re going to lose today” is exceptionally buoyant about the game.
Middleton, Trigger and Pete start singing “running round Tottenham” – “normal” travellers look puzzled, Tottenham fans look annoyed, but perhaps put off by our numbers, simply glare. In no time at all we’re there and the lads pile off the train quickly as they want another drink in the Northumberland Park pub next to the station. The pub is rammed – there are people spilling out of both entrances – just then a huge cheer goes up – it’s the end of the United Arsenal game – United have won by that single goal – so the treble is no more. Gatey and Simon are well into their horse racing and so make a quick trip across the road to put on yet more bets for today’s National. The Tottenham fans are jubilant and most are spilling out the pub and making their way towards Three Point Lane. So we go in – Trigger goes straight up to the bar and returns with lots of beer – Middleton never one to miss an opportunity decides to get another round in at the same time.
Trigger says that the landlord was not very happy at all when he spotted his Chelsea pin badge, but thought better of making an issue of it in case his usual customers heard him. We’ve got a spare ticket so myself, Gatey and Simon drink up early to go to the ground to try and get rid of it. The walk up is grim – the place is a toilet. There is rubbish everywhere – not just football rubbish – but trash that is obviously some weeks old littering the streets, outside shops and in people’s gardens.
The houses are in a sad state of disrepair and the smell of the dog sh*t mingles with the smell of horse sh*t to compliment the environment perfectly It’s busy round the ground – there are programme sellers, food vans pumping out greasy clouds and police in full riot gear all over the place. Even the mounted police are done up as robo-cops, and their horses are wearing shin-pads – seriously! We wait by the away turnstiles to try and sell the spare – but there are loads of people selling – why? This used to be one of the hottest tickets of the season! A tout approaches us and offers us twenty quid for it – Simon and Gatey give him the look of disdain he deserves – Simon adding that he would rather take the hit for the ticket that sell it to him. We all agree.
Gatey and Simon take a wander up the road while I wait and look around at our hosts walking past us, knuckles dragging, their sovereign rings creating sparks on the concrete. Tottenham fans are very easy to identify – they fall into two main categories. Firstly there’s the trackie Tottenham – they, as you would expect, wear track suit bottoms, usually the three quarter length variety, extra tight Tottenham stretchy top, usually the three quarter length variety, white trainers, loads of “gold” jewellery (chains, sovereign rings, earrings, bracelets), the hair is too long and really badly high-lighted. Then there is hoolie Tottenham – FAKE Stone Island, FAKE Burberry, jeans which are slightly too tight, boy-band hair and also lots of naff “gold” jewellery. Both types speak in that slow slack-jawed manner in words of no more than one syllable (why else do you think that they call Tottenham “Spurs”? They bring intellectual dwarfism to a new low. They are all trying to look confident, but it’s a thin mask, they are all resigned to their fate – they know they are going to get beat.
Two little firms come face to face at the corner of Park Lane – there is a lot of verbal with they usual “come on” hand gestures – Tottenham take a step forward, Chelsea take a step forward – then there is an “off”. Well, as far as I could see, only two actual punches were thrown – it was mainly pushing and grabbing of lapels. It’s over as soon as the mounted police turn and face them. A small group of really brave Tottenham storm into the small Chelsea queue which consists of a couple of blokes, two dads with their kids, a couple of women and a pensioner – well brave! One of the dads decks a north London scumbag – good for him. They’ll be boasting how they “did the Chelsea” later no doubt.
In the turnstiles, and up the stairs and out to our seats. We’re on the corner – pretty high up, the views not bad. They are playing their laughable medley of Spurs songs while the Tottenham historical highlights are played on the “jumbotron” – obviously most of this is in black and white. I look up at the gold cock on the roof of the opposite stand and then look over to the Tottenham supporters and think how appropriate their emblem is. Gatey, Middleton and Fivers come out just as the teams are running out as is their way, having no doubt have fitted in an extra pint or three in the concourse.
It is a rather tepid start to the game – Chelsea looking far more comfortable on the ball and the Chelsea choir in full voice. “We hate Tottenham, We hate Tottenham, WE HATE TOTTENHAM” – the Spurs drummer bangs away rather pathetically, but is quickly drowned out by a rather superb rendition of “One Man Went To Mow….” And then, the now almost compulsory “Ranieri’s blue and white army”.
Tottenham try to hit back with “We are Tottenham, we are Tottenham etc etc” but they are drowned out with “We one 6-1, we won 6-1, we won 6-1 at the Lane” which Gatey adapts to “We won, 6-1, we won, 2-1, we won 2-3 at the Lane, we won 2-0, we won 4-0 we won 4-0 at the Lane”.
Tottenham have an early half chance which leads to Ledley King heading wide; he should have done better and within a couple of minutes, Jimmy does what he does best – scores against Spurs. Duff, illustrating why we had missed him so badly when injured, puts in a blinding cross, which Jimmy, improvising, flicks it into the back of the net, to send me and the other blue boys and girls wild. Spurs give it a good go for the rest of the half, but never look very likely to score.
Gatey wants them to show the Grand National on the big screen and is just getting annoyed and shouting at no-one in particular to put it on, when they do. The start is delayed with one horse deciding that he doesn’t want to carry some gaudily dressed midget with a whip around past a load of p*ssed Scousers, while having to jump over fences that are taller than him. After about five minutes, the horse finally gives in and the race gets under way. My interest in the race isn’t very long lived as one falls at the 5th and the others aren’t even mentioned. Gatey is chanting “Hedge, Hedge Hedge hunter” and his horse does seem to be going well. Just as the race is getting exciting, they switch it off. Gatey is enraged – screaming and shouting. The game kicks off for the second half, but all Gatey is interested in is the result of the National, that is until the guy with the radio in front of him says “Hedge hunter has just fallen at the last” – Gatey is not happy.
On fifty-two minutes, Spurs have a good appeal for a penalty turned down but hey, sh*t happens. Not long after, Jimmy breaks through, just to be bought down cynically from behind by Tarrico – who is already lucky to still be on the pitch after clouting Duff in the face. He gets a yellow.
Tottenham have had a few sick-notes in their time and it seems that Redknapp’s name can be added to that long list – it’s his first start since a prolonged absence and what happens? His cousin Frankie accidentally belts him in the gob – claret everywhere, off injured again.
We have a penalty shout of our own turned down – but hey, sh*t happens. There are only a few minutes left, and some of the Chelsea supporters behind me start singing “you’ll never beat the Chelsea” – a bit premature in my mind. “Shut up” I am thinking, “shut up” – wait til the final whistle. The 4th official holds up the board – 4 minutes!
For the first time I feel nervous – I have no watch on, I have no phone and the clock on the board has stopped at 90, so I count down the four minutes in my head – as usual reaching the whistle time far before the referee. I am not watching the game now – I am watching the ref – he raises, the whistle to his lips and there it is.
“Seventeen years and thirty three points, seventeen years and thirty three points” “You’ll never beat the Chelsea, you’ll never beat the Chelsea, YOU’LL NEVER BEAT THE CHELSEA”. Tottenham fans must be sick of hearing that.
We all leave the ground with grins on our faces – it will be interesting to see what will be waiting for us outside. Traditionally there is trouble at this game, and my sister has said there has been a lot of trouble at White Hart Lane this season, the worst being their cup game with West Ham and the league game with Boro – pubs being trashed, running battles up the Seven Sisters Road, arrests etc.
As we come out of the ground there is Chelsea’s “younger firm” waiting and looking around. There are thousands of people about, one very unattractive Tottenham fan passes us as we go the other way – he points to Gatey and says “I’ll have you on the train”
“It might help if you follow us to the station first this way” replies Gatey, but he’s gone. We all head back for Northumberland Park station, trying to wipe the smiles of our faces. A fellow Chelsea fans phone goes off across the street – the familiar tune of Blue is the Colour rings out loud and clear in the quiet that inevitably follows a home loss. The guy struggles to find and stop the ringing quickly. I’ve just realised that the win has guaranteed us at least 4th, so Champions League in some form is guaranteed already for next season – no last game nerves needed….or maybe a bigger prize will be at stake by then. Well, I can dream can’t I?
We decide against chancing our luck in the Northumberland Park again and go straight into the station, over the footbridge and on the first train back to Liverpool Street and we’re back in the White Hart by ten to six – very efficient. Round follows round, follows round – the only topic of conversation is Tuesday night. What time we meeting, where, what time we getting to Highbury, who do you think we’ll play up front, what if we do it, what if we don’t?
I ring my sister to see if she fancies a drink, she’s already home. I ask her about the game – she says defiantly that she thought Tottenham deserved a draw. “Did you?” I say as incredulously as I am able. I can feel her seething on the other end of the phone. She brings the conversation to a close very quickly.
One by one people make their way home, saving their money (and their livers) for the Arsenal game, until Gatey and I are the only ones left. One more drink and we too hit the road. Another satisfying day, another three points, and another win over Tottenham – lovely.
Next, the BIG ONE. Arsenal. Champions League for a place in the semi-finals against Real Madrid, lordy lordy.