Earlier in the season, I wrote about my experience supporting Tottenham Hotspur away at Stamford Bridge. This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to watch Tottenham play from the away end in Florence and wow the experiences could not have been any different.
Drawn by the attractiveness of the city and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, I decided to take the short flight over from London and make a full weekend in Italy out of it. I figured it would not be difficult to get tickets in the Spurs end with a One Hotspur membership as Tottenham did not sell out their allocation against Benfica in last year’s round of 16. I booked my flights, applied for a ticket waited until the application period close and then got rejected. Apparently a lot of other fellow Tottenham supporters had the same mindset as I did. I was nowhere near the 150 loyalty points (approximately 40-50 games over the last 4 years) required to get one of the 2,218 tickets in the Tottenham end. So I had flights booked to attend a match that I had no ticket for. Fortunately, someone on twitter had a spare and sold it to me for face value (27 Euros, quite cheap by British and American standards!) and delivered it to me at the home leg last Thursday. I was all set and ready to go.
The experience for me really started back in London at London City Airport where I was leaving from to get to Florence. At the gate, I saw many other passengers with Tottenham gear on all ready for what was hopefully going to be a memorable away day in Europe. After the short two-hour flight to Florence, we were stuck waiting at passport control for about an hour by the Italian border control, which had only two people handling two full flights. To make matters worse, they were asking each and every passenger if they were there to watch soccer and if the passenger responded “yes” they cross-referenced a list provided by Tottenham to see if that person had purchased a ticket from Spurs. Since I was staying in Italy until Monday and flying back from Venice, I told the agent I was there to sight see and I didn’t have an issue getting by but I had lost a lot of time that I had planned to use to acquaint myself with Florence before going to the match.
At 5:50pm I got to the place where Tottenham had said free shuttle buses were being provided to the stadium for Spurs supporters. I squeezed my way onto a full bus that stunk of alcohol (despite there being an alcohol ban in place in Florence after Feyenoord hooligans had vandalized Rome last week). After waiting 20 minutes for the Italian police to make sure there was no possible way that local Italians could get to us (including hitting an Italian kid who was just hanging out 20 yards from our bus and staring at it), we finally made our way over to the stadium. The bus was a lot of fun, all the classic Spurs songs were sung, including one I’d never heard before about a former Italian player by the name of Nicola Berti (Hey Gorgous, what’s your name! My name is Nicola Berti, I’m aged about 30, I come from a team in Milan, Inter!). A parody of the Park Lane/Shelf Side back and forth that is often heard at Tottenham home matches which went “We’re the front of the bus, We are the front of the bus!” with the hope that the back of the bus would join in but unfortunately they were too busy singing their own song about Wembley. Wembley and Chelsea did seem to be the focus of most of the songs heard on the bus and at the match which to be honest gives a pretty accurate representation of where everyone associated with Tottenham’s minds were at the moment.
After about a 20-minute bus ride we arrived at the stadium completely segregated from the home fans. Unlike the stadiums in London which are squeezed into residential neighborhoods, the Stadio Aretmio Franchi is located in the middle of what appeared to be a big public park just below one of the beautiful mountains of Tuscany. We were ushered to a gate where a steward checked our tickets and passports (fortunately there was no name on the ticket as I might have been in trouble!) and sent us through to the next checkpoint, which was a full body search by more stewards. Many people with lighters were told to throw them in the garbage but they were allowed to keep their packs of cigarettes (some people were still able to smoke cigarettes around me during the match). The next checkpoint was another full body search by the police and finally we were free to enter the stadium! Well, there was another checkpoint where our tickets got scanned so four checkpoints to get into the stadium in total.
The away fans were located in the corner about 30 yards behind the goal with glass fences penning us into our section. It was quite different seeing a significant amount of grass behind the goal and being so far away from the pitch. White Hart Lane the seats are all within five yards of the pitch so being so far behind the goal was quite a new experience. At the front of the seats was a very roomy concourse area where many fans stood for the entire match, milling freely without any interference from stewards and jumping around and dancing in tandem with the songs that hailed from the Tottenham end. In the home sections, the areas behind both goals were at capacity and you could not see an empty seat, just a sea of purple. In contrast, there were many empty seats in the areas on the side of the pitch (the sections immediately on either side of the away supporters were left empty for security purposes). That’s quite different from the UK where the seats on the side are usually more full than the area behind the goal. Before the match, Tottenham’s support continued to sing their usual medley of songs, but they also poked fun at Arsenal’s 3-1 home defeat at the hands of AS Monaco in the Champions League the night before by singing “Dimitar Berbatov”. For those relatively new to English Premier League soccer, Berbatov used to play for Spurs and scored the second goal against Arsenal in that match. As the starting lineups were announced, all the Fiorentina players were booed gently, except for on loan Chelsea striker Mohamed Salah, who was roundly booed by all 2,218 Tottenham supporters present. The League Cup final really was on everyone’s minds. The only thing of note from the home ends during the build up to the match was someone held up a red Arsenal scarf amidst the sea of purple, but I think I was the only person who noticed that.
Right before kickoff, a very bright purple flare was let out in the Fiorentina section on the opposite side of the field and the whole stadium smelled of gunpowder. The person next to me commented, “we have to go through all those security check points and they can just do that?” Once the match started, the contrast between British and Italian fans was very stark. There was no animosity between the two sets of supporters, a welcome relief from the previous Sunday’s derby against West Ham United. Both sets of supporters just really wanted their respective teams to win and secure a spot in the next day’s round of 16 draw. The Tottenham fans, like most away sections from the UK do, sang at a pretty uniform rate throughout the first half. “Spurs are on their way to Wembley,” “Come on you Spurs,” “When the Spurs go Marching in” and also “Chelsea Rent Boys we’re coming for you” (classy as always) were rotated in addition to songs for individual players “Super, Super Jan!” and “Soldado, he came from sunny Spain, to play at White Hart Lane!” and “Erik-sen-sen-sen.” The Italian fans on the other hand were more selective with their noise. They did not make noise often, but when they did, it was deafening. The opposite side of the stadium, which was full of the famed “ultras”, who let out loud roars at what seemed like the most innocuous times. They held up their purple scarves constantly and waved large purple flags. Despite being situated 30 yards behind the opposite goal, they were still able to make their presence felt. At times I even had to cover my ears the noise was so loud.
The first half passed without much incident. Roberto Soldado, after beautifully breaking an offside trap, missed a two versus one with the goalkeeper when he failed to either shoot the ball into the net or pass the ball with any conviction to Nacer Chadli. Many Tottenham supporters were extremely mad with Soldado, with one man nearby going on for almost the entire match about how he was the worst value for money player Tottenham has ever had. Tottenham enjoyed the majority of possession but were unable to break through against a well organized Fiorentina defense. With the score 0-0 going into halftime, the nerves ratcheted up a notch as Spurs needed to score to have any chance of advancing and Soldado’s chance was probably the best they were going to get.
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