The initial agreement was to meet at the entrance to the away turnstile at 1:30. There was a lot riding on this. My wife Kara had been a rock star in planning the majority of our wedding and her just reward was the choice to stay the hell out of coordinating the honeymoon. She obligingly took this option. Total honeymoon organization fell to my shoulders.
Europe was the chosen destination and while a trip across the Atlantic isn’t a novel concept for newlyweds, it also isn’t as straight forward as flying to Caribbean Island X. Decisions would have to be made, timetables booked, and a toe-the-line approach to justifying the first two days of the honeymoon to my wife would need to be implemented.
June 15th, the release of the 2016-17 Premier League calendar, provided suboptimal news. To ensure some sort of financial responsibility I had to book tickets to London, for our August trip, well before this date. Everton away was a tough fixture. Sure Goodison Park isn’t as daunting of a trek as traveling to the Stadium of Light, but Liverpool is a damn difficult sell to, well, humanity, as a summer holiday honeymoon destination.
To compound variables, I didn’t even have tickets. Unable to procure them from Spurs official or any secondary markets, I was on an orphaned iceberg drifting out to sea.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about how I contacted a stranger over the internet who claimed he had Spurs opening day tickets, but after some positive communication, I YOLOED. A two hour and twenty minute train ride to Liverpool and an economy (shitty) hotel to house my booze filled bones were booked.
After a fine first day in London, with proper cask ales and Indian food galore, Kara and I woke up early and caught the 8:00am train to Liverpool. Johnny Flynn, that enigmatic singer / songwriter / stage actor / burgeoning film star, flooded my eardrums as we coasted north.
We departed the train as Spurs shirts dotted the bustling Saturday morning crowd. Songs sounded off in front of me. A behemoth of a man; fat, bald, and bug-eyed, steadily drank a tall-boy pounder can of Carlsberg in a bleach white Everton kit. His sip was slow, but effective; it was clear he was well on the way to drinking his fill.
This was real, it was all happening.
Scouring Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook, I was recommended “The Arkles” pub as the place to be for a pre-match pint in lilywhite. We headed off in a taxi, after we took a long stroll through the Albert Dock of course, at half past twelve. My contact and I had amended plans via Facebook messaging. We would now just meet directly at Arkles.
Obsession over an English Premier League side for an American is a weird thing. That I call soccer football so effortlessly is a phenomenon within itself. I always kind of understood the kid of Spanish or Italian descent who bled for Milan, Napoli, or Madrid. At least they had some ties to the country. I, like many of us, have nothing in common with Tottenham Hotspur or North London. Yet I really do live for the club, just in stark contrast to the supporters whom I was about to meet.
The American Spurs fan experience is inherently solitary. Unless you live in an urban environment where a Tottenham bar is easily accessible, the majority of matches one watches will be at home, alone, with maybe a pup or groggy significant other acting as a passerby. We are men (and women) alone on an island. We plug into social media, retweet cheeky memes, attempt to make sly comments on message boards, and refresh sites like this ad nauseam.
We vaguely hear chants in the stands from the television and look up the lesser known melodies online. What we lack in our support is the true, unadulterated energy of a rabid crowd. We can bring our voice and maybe a Guinness or three to the table in the early morning in America, but we can never compete with a 3pm Saturday kickoff in England.
I had two beers before the cabbie dropped us off at Arkles and my adrenaline was electric, yet I was still unprepared for the scene I was about to encounter. Kara hesitantly whispered “Oh, boy” as we exited the car.
This wasn’t a street lined with pubs, but a singular pub lined with the entirety of the Tottenham away support. An L shaped crowd massed around the outer walls of the building. As we walked in, my right arm extended behind my body to hold Kara’s hand, a stout twenty something raised his arms and bellowed “Yid Army” not further than six inches from my nose. A shit-eating grin held court on his vacant face between the yells.
Oh and Anfield was looming just two hundred yards to our left.
Patience paid off and procured me two rounds of pints (2 for me, 1 for the lady) at the five deep frenzied bar, but in between the incessant (legendary) rolls of Dele Alli chants, I couldn’t help but wonder where Steve was. It was approaching 2pm and there was still no sign of the man who would make or wondrously break our day.
I sent out a Facebook message and within minutes my phone rang. I had already eaten the $10 unlimited international calls, texts, and data from Verizon and, to my delight, glorious Steve, SWEET, SWEET Steve was on the line and told me not to worry. He was stuck in traffic, driving all the way up from Norwich, and would be arriving quite close to kickoff. Be outside the away turnstile by 2:45pm I was told. If this was a ruse, I thought, at least it would be a trolling of epic proportions.
There is no neighborhood that houses Liverpool and Everton fans specifically. They live amongst themselves, street to street, and house to house. So do their respective stadiums. A short 10 minute walk across Stanley Park takes one from Arkles and Anfield to Goodison. I arrived outside the stadium at 2:30. A glossy-eyed supporter began another “Yid Army” chant. No one answered the first two times. I answered on the third. We kept it up for three to four rounds as the lines into the stadium grew. My American accent sounded silly, not the first time I felt like an outsider that day.
Not to mention Steve, he still wasn’t here. I also really had to pee.
A sprint to and from Stanley Park for the relief that only nature could provide and Kara was still standing alone upon my return. Five minutes before kickoff and the traffic had slowed down considerably. Those who had tickets were already in their seats. However naive and fool-hearted this decision to travel to Liverpool and put my hopes in an internet stranger may have been, I never actually thought that it wasn’t going to work. I played out negative scenarios in my head, but they just didn’t seem real.
A pang of angst arose in my gut, for the first time I felt like this was going to go terribly wrong. Kickoff had came and went and still no Steve. Being stuck in Liverpool without tickets would make me a colossal idiot — an idiot for the ages really. And the gnawing notion ringing inside my head was that my alternative wasn’t so bad; indeed it was actually kind of awesome. Posting up at a pub in North London outside White Hart Lane would be an unbelievable experience in itself. London was a significantly more attractive stay for my wife too. F**k me.
The crowd erupted as my eyes were fixated to the street. That can’t be good. The roar wasn’t as loud as expected, but its sustained volume could only mean one thing. At least it wasn’t a red, I thought. The Arkles would have to be the play to salvage anything. It’d be dead by now, maybe a few drunks would remain as a background to the match, and it’d be friendly at least. At what time do I make that call to head back?
All hope wasn’t lost, it wasn’t as dramatic as that, but when the image of Steve, hurried and flustered, appeared in my sightline everything slowed down and the beginning of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” rang in my head. I was on Team Zizzou and I was about to win an award. It took a lot to not aggressively hug the man when he approached.
Steve carried two FACE VALUE tickets with him for £31.50 each. I tried to give him £80 pounds, but he refused and insisted on their proper price. What a guy!
We rushed in the stadium to grab our seats…TENTH ROW by the corner flag!!! The man standing next to me asked a few times where Steve was. It occurred to me right then and there that not only had Steve secured me the tickets — which were nearly impossible to come by as every twitter account, Facebook group, and reddit inquiry had many asking, with nobody selling — but he had given to me what had to be of been, by a country mile, the better seats of the sets of tickets he possessed. I was overcome with gratitude in that moment.
The first half was tough, but the introduction of Janssen opened the game up for Tottenham and they attacked at the goal I was closest too. Pretty darn cool. Halftime saw a reprise of the Dele Alli chant that lasted for, no exaggeration, the entirety of the break and ended with lager being thrown in the air. Lamela’s goal was amazing and not more than fifty yards from where I was sitting. Overwhelmed with elation, it was the happiest I’ve ever been at a football match.
So what are the takeaways? Well, I have a set of fantastic new memories to draw from. Like most snapshots, the experience has grown even stronger with time. Yet I can’t escape the fact that I felt like an alien for much of the match. Not uncomfortable, not unwelcome, but maybe like I didn’t totally belong. Trading war stories, or quite frankly, just listening to them from the few people I spoke with at Arkles, created a greater displacement from the gravitas of my fandom. Yes, I remember Bale’s last minute strike in our thrilling and glorious 3-2 victory over West Ham, but I wasn’t at the match. I didn’t find joy and ecstasy from the devastation in the faces of West Ham fans like my new drinking buddy did, not only because I wasn’t there, but because I’ve never been to East London. I don’t have faces, names, or moments to breed authentic hatred for them. I do hate certain teams and despise certain players, but the difference is that these moments are on the pitch and moments on the pitch are all I really have.
My experience at Goodison was everything else. It was the pub, the song, the marauding mob. It was a familiarity to the day that those I rubbed elbows with oozed. It felt, like they felt, they were back home. My home is a black couch with a big screen TV, coffee and cover in tow, with a deployment of Twitter, a CFC match-thread, and an iMessage app to text my buddies.
Was my experience at Goodison better than this setup? Yes, of course it was! That said, there was still a small part of me that longed for the routine that I have created for myself. For however this obsession came about, and however varied our experiences might be, we’ve all made Tottenham Hotspur central to our lives. And in the end, it matters less which medium facilitates the support of the club, but the commitment and dedication one makes to share in its history, its future — and all the glory that comes with.