I’m back from my European soccer adventure. 6 games in 3 cities taking in 3 competitions. It was everything I hoped it would be and more; some of Europe's best stadia, big crowds, intense atmosphere, and Spurs in good form for the most part.
Game 1: Spurs v Inter @ Wembley
This was an important game, not just for Tottenham but for me, because if Spurs had lost then the forthcoming fixture against Barca – to which I also had tickets – would have been a dead rubber, and I was hoping for a big crowd at the Camp Nou. Disappointing crowd at Wembley, just 55,000 in, and Spurs supporters I spoke to said they’re sick of Wembley and waiting for the new stadium to open. Good game but with few real opportunities for either side, until Eriksen hit the winner fairly late on. Spurs 1-0 Inter.
Game 2: Arsenal v Spurs @ Emirates
One of the craziest sporting experiences of my life. The fun began outside the stadium pre-match, where large groups of Gooners and Yids, separated by large number of cops, hurled abuse at one another and taunted each other with disparaging chants. Funnily enough, many of Spurs most wicked chants are still directed at Sol Campbell, even though it’s been close to 20 years since his defection from the Lane to Highbury, with Spurs supporters singing that they’re going to throw a massive party when he dies! The stadium was full and I’ve never heard noise like it. All game, there was just this constant din, louder than the 90,000 crowds we had at this year’s finals, and it escalated as each side surged forward in what was an electrifying contest. Arsenal scored inside 10mins thanks to a penalty, and could have had another 2 or 3 goals in the minutes soon after, as Tottenham looked all at sea in defence, and it was only thanks to some ripper saves from Lloris that the game wasn’t all over by the 20-minute mark. Tottenham then got 2 in quick succession against the run of play to take a half-time lead, but the Gunners were on song after the break and netted another 3 for a 4-2 win. Watching the other mob celebrate those second half goals was incredible; it’s not like kicking goals here, where everyone goes up for a second, cheers, and then sits back down. There they jump up and down for 2 or 3 minutes, waving their hands wildly in the air, and it’s just bedlam, an incredible expression of joy the likes of which I haven’t seen before, with smoke bombs going off, fans getting arrested, and a number of mini-melees on the pitch. To cap it all off, I was sitting in the Spurs section, and when we scored and led, our section was riotous. It was just crazy! All game there was just a deafening wall of sound, and the media commentary afterwards was that it was a classic North London derby that did justice to what is a long and bitter rivalry between these two sides. Arsenal 4-2 Tottenham.
Here's Spurs fans in full voice after Eric Dier's first half goal to level the scores at 1-1
Wild scenes as the Gooners celebrate their second half comeback.
Game 3: Spurs v Southampton @ Wembley
After the intensity and energy of the Arsenal game, this midweek game with an 8pm kick-off was akin to playing Freo at 4.40 at Docklands on a Sunday arvo, and the struggling Saints had just sacked their coach that week. Spurs didn’t really have to get out of 2nd gear for this one, and the only blight on the game was our inability to keep a clean sheet, something which has been an issue all season. Stadium was less than half full, unfortunately. Tottenham 3-1 Southampton.
Game 4: Espanyol v Barcelona @ Espanyol Stadium.
This fixture was a late addition to my schedule, and one which I had high hopes for, as it’s the Catalan derby, and as the Espanyol stadium only holds 40,000, I expected it to be a sell-out. There’s no love lost between these two teams, as Barca are historically associated with the Catalan independence movement, while Espanyol are traditionally aligned with the Spanish state. But the Barca supporters section was completely empty! Part of the reason for this is that these sorts of games are beneath them – it’s one of the most lopsided derby records in European football – and also the supporters’ antipathy towards anything to do with the Spanish government carries over to their cross-town rivals. This sentiment was on show a few days later at the Camp Nou game against Spurs, where large numbers of supporters held up signs demanding independence and protesting the continued imprisonment of Catalan political leaders. Anyway, getting back to the match at hand, it was a night for Messi, who kicked two stunning free kick goals as Barca cantered to a 4-0 win. Espanyol 0-4 Barcelona
Game 5: Barcelona v Tottenham @ Camp Nou
A dream come true at football’s most famous cathedral, as Spurs scored an 85th minute equaliser to progress to the knockout stages of the CL. The official attendance was 70,000, but it felt and sounded like 85k+, mainly thanks to the thousands of Spurs supporters who made the trip over. The Barca fans were very much bemused by the antics of the opposition mob. Aside from a very noisy cheersquad-type section at one of the ground, the Spanish tend to be a lot more reserved in their support, whereas the English don’t stop chanting all game. Aside from conceding an early goal, Spurs dominated the match, as they should given that Barca was basically playing their second squad as they’d already sewn up top spot in the group. Messi started on the bench and didn’t have much of an impact when he came on, but the noise which greeted his arrival onto the pitch was incredible, and every time he gets the ball there’s just this immense anticipation that anything’s possible. You can almost feel the fear in the opposition defence as he runs towards goal. The noise of the Spurs fans in those final minutes after levelling the scores and then post-match was unbelievable. They were seated behind a wire fence at the very top of the outer stand, and the Barcelona police made them stay there for 30 minutes after the game while the local fans cleared the area. Even outside the ground and away from the arena, you could still hear them chanting non-stop in celebration inside the stadium.
Spurs fans chanting the Dele Alli song before kick-off.
Barca fans welcome the introduction of Messi in the second half.
Game 6: Real Madrid v Rayo Vallecano @ Santiago Bernabeu
I had no real interest in this game other than to visit the stadium. Real have obviously gone to poo since Ronaldo’s departure, and so it proved in this fixture, which I think they won 10-2 last year. Not so this time around, and after scoring easily in the first 15 minutes, they never really looked like doing it again despite dominating possession for most of the game. Rayo actually almost equalised with the last play of the day, and the local supporters jeered for much of the second half as they expressed their displeasure at what was a half-hearted effort at best. The Bernabeu is an incredible stadium, though, and the stands are so steep they actually advise people who suffer from vertigo not to sit in the top tiers! Despite the home team’s fall from grace, there was still a good crowd in and the atmosphere was great.
So all in all, it was another sensational few weeks on the road, and I don't regret forking out the money for premium seats at most of the games I attended. In fact the only thing I do regret is that I wasn't back at Emirates yesterday morning for Spurs 2-0 League Cup win over Arsenal, which had 2 classy goals from Son and Dele. Over the course of my two trips, I've seen 8 games for a total of 25 goals, so I've been blessed on that front too. Now comes the hardest part of the holiday - paying it off !!