Away days; a tradition cherished amongst sports fans in Europe but almost unheard of in the United States. To be put quite simply, there is no experience for a sports fan that can compare to an away day in the Premier League. Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to experience an away day when I witnessed my beloved Tottenham Hotspur take on unbeaten Chelsea from the away end at Stamford Bridge.
Born and raised a Red Sox fan in New York City and having attended many Red Sox-Yankees games in the South Bronx, I am very familiar with the experience of watching my favorite team play in enemy territory. This often brings out the worst in fans, who hurl mindless expletives at players and fellow fans. This problem is exacerbated by the occasional fights that break out between fans of teams as a result of a lack of fan segregation. However, most of these skirmishes are minor and often involve a very small number of people and are infrequent.
On paper, the match between Chelsea and Tottenham evoked a lot of comparisons to a Yankees-Red Sox game from the early 2000’s, before the Red Sox broke the curse. Tottenham have not won at Stamford Bridge since February 1990, managing just eight draws in 24 matches, while the Red Sox have often suffered heartbreak at Yankee Stadium (1949 and 2003 come to mind). Chelsea resemble a juggernaut at home, having lost only once at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho, and have yet to lose in any competition this season. Tottenham, on the other hand, often show promise and glimpses of potential but more often than not perform below the level that is expected of their supporters.
However, the match atmosphere was very different from that of a Red Sox-Yankees game, mainly due to the crowd segregation that has become engrained in European sporting culture since the 1970’s. The area surrounding the entrance to the Tottenham section was flooded with police, as there were many checks from stewards to ensure that I was entering the correct section of the stadium. Security for the visitor’s end was much tighter than any match where I have sat in the home end, and also tighter than that in the United States. Sniffer dogs inspected all entrants into the visitor’s end, and some supporters were temporarily turned away due to the dog smelling cigarette smoke. Once safely past the turnstile, the concourse was set up to make it feel like it was a Tottenham home match, with banners thanking us for our support and video screens playing highlights from Tottenham matches of past seasons. Just before the players walked out onto the pitch, the lights at Stamford Bridge were turned out, and an eerily deep chant of “We Hate Tottenham” rang out from the home ends of the stadium.
Tottenham, in line with their club motto of “Audere est Facere” (to dare is to do), tried taking the game to Chelsea, and dominated many of the early exchanges. The away support was in full voice, and used a slight interruption in play after Jan Vertonghen and Gary Cahill collided heads going to engage in a full rendition of “When the Spurs go marching in.” Harry Kane hit the crossbar and also missed another chance in the opening 15 minutes and there was belief that Tottenham might be able to get something from the match, but also the sense that they would be punished for not capitalizing on their early supremacy.
Unfortunately, the latter proved to be the case and Chelsea’s technical superiority took over, and Eden Hazard fired Chelsea to a 19th minute lead. A rare howler from Hugo Lloris three minutes later led to Didier Drogba doubling Chelsea’s lead, effectively ending the match as a contest. As a result, Tottenham supporters added to the arsenal of their chants, instead targeting the Chelsea support’s much publicised lack of passion at matches, which was brought to a head by Jose Mourinho’s comments after a victory over Queen’s Park Rangers last month. The chant that seemed to be repeated over and over for the rest of the match was “Mourinho’s right, your fans are sh*te”, but was occasionally replaced by “Just like the library” in addition to their more traditional chants. Harry Kane seemed to get the most praise out of anyone in the Tottenham team, as “Harry Kane, he’s one of our own” was sung multiple times. Of the Chelsea players, John Terry bore the brunt of most of Spurs’ supporters frustration, as chants making references to his mothers’ arrest for shoplifting in 2009 were sung, as well as a song honoring former Tottenham defender Ledley King which went “he’s only got one knee, he’s still better than John Terry.” However, most of this was in vain, as Chelsea controlled the remainder of the first half, never getting out of first gear.
Spurs started the second half well, enjoying the lion’s share of possession as Chelsea were content to play counter-attacking football that has become almost synonymous with Mourinho’s teams when they have a lead. Despite this, Tottenham were unable to create any chances of note. A double switch which brought on Paulinho and Nacer Chadli did little to alter the script besides allowing Tottenham supporters to introduce the comical chant of “Who needs Mourinho, we’ve got Paulinho.” Substitute Loic Remy secured the three points with a 73rd minute strike, skilfully holding off Vertonghen. With the third goal, supporters of both teams started to make their way towards the exits, but those who did remain until the full time whistle remained passionate, singing until the last, with quite a few renditions of “We love you Tottenham we do, oh Tottenham we love you,” something which I might say is a breath of fresh air from the boos that would be expected from the fans of an American sports team who had been beaten so soundly.
To be honest, I was a little terrified leaving the stadium and being reintegrated with the Chelsea supporters, but once again the area was flooded with policemen. Things got very loud at the Fulham Broadway tube station post-match as some Tottenham supporters decided to get very loud in support of their recently defeated team, but they were soon surrounded by police and fortunately unable to create any trouble as Chelsea fans responded with chants of “We’re top of the league.” Soon supporters boarded the frequent District Line trains and were on their way home.
Away matches bring out the most passionate supporters, especially due to many of the top clubs’ policies of allocating tickets to those who have attended the most matches over the years. While this does create a great atmosphere at matches, it must also be noted that there are some who try to revive the glory days of football hooliganism, detracting from the overall match experience. A few supporters sitting in front of me were smoking electronic cigarettes despite a pre-match warning on the video boards reminding us that it was illegal. Those supporters also were making inappropriate gestures towards the Chelsea end. Fortunately, they went either unnoticed or ignored and there was no further trouble. A couple of the chants, most notably a chant about kicking an Arsenal fan’s head in and a chant heard at the tube station post-match about Sol Campbell went too far.
With that being said, the experience of supporting Tottenham away from White Hart Lane for the first time was definitely a memorable one, despite the final scoreline. It was further enhanced by the fact that the opposition was another London team, creating an extra dynamic that is so rarely seen in American sports. Being able to visit another stadium in your own city with a completely different set of fans and feeling vastly outnumbered but still freely able to voice your support for your team was really cool. Supporting your favorite team is definitely something I would recommend for all who consider themselves serious soccer fans as long as they are fully aware of potential risks of doing so beforehand and know how to behave themselves in a manner which contributes positively to the atmosphere.
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