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The Experience Of Attending Away Matches In London: The Heart Of English Football

After witnessing Everton lose 1-0 to Tottenham in their recent Premier League outing in undeserved fashion, I decided to hold off on penning this piece.

Not because the team had lost — I’ve fronted up previously, before you accuse me of that!—but with another trip to London to face Chelsea on the horizon, I harbored admittedly slim hopes for a better result second time round. Perhaps I’d be able to centre the article on some classic football writing cliché like “every week is different” or “you never know what might happen in football”?

Fat chance. As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, the Toffees lost 1-0 again last weekend against Jose Mourinho’s men. Somewhat undeservedly. In an early kick-off. In London. To a set-piece. Marvelous for an Evertonian, as you can imagine.

The thing is, though, when it comes to the London away trips, the match is only a small part of the whole weekend. The actual 90 minutes of football can make things even better if you win, but if the team loses you can sometimes brush it off as a minor blemish on what’s otherwise an enjoyable but admittedly costly couple of days.

I’m quite lucky to have a few Everton-supporting friends that reside in the “Big Smoke” (aka London) and as such, extortionate hotel prices are one expense I can swerve. But given the cost of the match ticket, travel and even the price of food and drink  “down South,”  I’m of the view that if you’re there, you may as well make the most of it.

The last month has been a bit of a momentum sapper for Evertonians. After that derby defeat, another two away losses have followed. The squad is still recovering after it was ravaged by injuries over the New Year period, and Roberto Martinez’s team have paid the price in their two most recent away games.

A “proper” pub on Tottenham High Road

The first of that duo was Tottenham. It was actually the first time I’ve been to Spurs, and White Hart Lane is a ground that reminds me a lot of Goodison Park. Walking along the Tottenham High Road you’d have no idea a football stadium was even there. Like Everton’s home, it’s almost as though a stadium has been plonked in the middle of a build-up area, tucked away behind terraced buildings and classic English pubs.

View from my seat at White Hart Lane

It’s a throwback, a little outdated and it could certainly do with a lick of paint, but I love grounds like that. White Hart Lane emanates a character and sense of tradition that’s become scarce in a host of these newly-built stadiums.

The atmosphere is raw and the din created when the chanting echoes off those old corrugated roof sheets is a magnificent assault on the senses. Whilst Tottenham’s ambitions to move away from White Hart Lane are understandable, it’ll be a shame to see another stadium bristling with footballing culture rendered obsolete as the modern game motors on.

The second London away trip of this month was to Stamford Bridge, another ground etched into the fabric of English football. But it’s markedly different from White Hart Lane. Walking up towards the “Shed End”—where the away supporters sit—is like being in a busy, high-end shopping centre. There are posh hotels, suave bars and high-class restaurants either attached to or a stones throw away.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it at a football stadium. It certainly doesn’t cater for my own pre-match preferences—a decent and not overly pricey boozer—but located just off the Kings Road in one of London’s most affluent and wealthy areas, the club have clearly made big effort to cater for a wide scope of match goers.

View from my seat at Stamford Bridge

I could give you a match-report for both games, but they’d be almost identical. In both contests, the lack of a striker cost Everton dear.

The Toffees passed the ball well, defended superbly from open play and nullified the opposition’s attacking threats to great effect. But they couldn’t score when they were on top, with all three recognized strikers—Arouna Kone, Lacina Traore and Romelu Lukaku—missing through injury. In both games, the team switched off on one occasion and were punished.

Sandwiched in between those two games was an FA Cup tie against Swansea City. A 3-1 win for the Toffees put them into the quarterfinals of the cup, and their reward? Yep, a third trip to London in the space of five weekends; this time Arsenal and The Emirates.

A sunny Goodison Park ahead of the FA Cup tie against Swansea City

We’ve sorted our tickets and travel already, but there’s been a bit of a stir on Merseyside about the allocation Everton have received for this fixture.

One of the best things about the FA Cup has always been that away supporters will typically receive 15% of the total capacity; at the Emirates this equates to 9,000 tickets.

But despite allowing League One club Coventry City the full allocation, Arsenal have refused to give the 9,000 tickets to Spurs, Liverpool and now Everton in the following rounds—these teams were allocated circa 5,000 tickets instead—citing safety concerns on each occasion.

Naturally, the significant reduction of allocation for the top teams and not for the lesser outfit has been viewed with some skepticism. And whilst it won’t directly affect myself, it seems ludicrous that a modern, purpose-built stadium like the Emirates can’t cater safely for 9,000 fans of an opposition Premier League club. An opinion shared by the Mayor of Liverpool and Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burham (both Everton Season Ticket Holders):

Yes, every set of supporters has a minority of idiots, but dealing with them comes part and parcel of the security operation for any club. By sanctioning this decision, The FA have essentially undermined one of the most appealing facets of a competition that’s pulling power for supporters is steadily on the wane.

Let’s hope from an Everton point of view, that reduction in allocation won’t make too much of difference come Saturday 8 March. Come through that one and Wembley beckons…

Keep an eye on World Soccer Talk for my recap of that game and Everton’s Premier League game against West Ham this weekend.

If there’s anything you’d like to know about the English football match day experience please let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball and I’ll do my very best to provide a thorough insight.

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