REMEMBER what I said about this season being a balance of footie and family? I looked at the fixtures for the early part of the season and saw a lot of London aways. My wife likes London. I thought I might struggle to go a dozen times before Christmas without her. So I told her to pick one and we could go together for a weekend. And she picked this one. Her birthday weekend. Spurs.
This meant rather than a rainy bus stop on the morning of a game, this away day started on Friday afternoon on a first-class train to London thanks to Virgin’s summer sale. They have films on trains now you know! There is an app you can download for on-board entertainment. So we spent a lovely afternoon drinking gin and tonic and watching Jurassic Park as the English countryside rolled by. I couldn’t help but feel that Jeremy Corbyn is doing train travel wrong.
I try to stay in different places when I stop in London. This time we are on Brick Lane. London is great, don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure, the housing situation is ridiculous and commuter travel is no fun at all, but as a weekend visitor it’s magic. We dump our bags and get out, sidestepping the mobile restaurant salesmen and into a bar that claims to have been established in 1666. I’m tempted to make a “and the toilets don’t look they’ve changed since” comment but they were perfectly nice, so I won’t do them the disservice.
I’ve got less ambitious with what I try to do and who I try to see in London from experience. It’s massive, isn’t it? Friends who live there used to despair of texts that read “I’m going to be in London, England in half an hour, let’s all meet for a pint somewhere in the middle!”. Travel companions used to despair of me for my insistence on travelling up to an hour to meet someone for one pint, before realising I was then late to meet someone else on the other side of the river.
No, Friday night was just a curry round the corner for whoever wanted to join in. We managed to get a few together though. Steve and Kate Graves, Phil Blundell, some work colleagues of Kate’s and, after he had been to watch Liverpool Under-23s play at The Emirates (amazing commitment to The Central League show, that), Glenn Price.
We met first in a pub in Whitechapel that, against all appearances to the contrary, appeared to have a techno club in full flow downstairs. This was about 8:30pm, which is surely too early for techno for anyone, but apparently not. It was funny sharing a bathroom with middle-aged men in work suits as out pants shook from the vibrations downstairs.
The restaurant was fantastic. We ate wonderful food, drank wine from the off licence next door and talked about Ben Woodburn. On the way home I was tempted by the Techno Pub but opted for an ice cream from Tesco instead.
It’s nice waking up in the city you are playing in. My WhatsApp group is full of complaints of alarms “not going off” (yeah, right) and rushes for trains. Mick Clarke, late, is trying to negotiate someone getting him a full English from Wetherspoons and carrying it on to the train for him. Thoughts of his breakfast turn to mine. As I’m on Brick Lane I decide to go out for bagels while my wife does whatever women do in the mornings.
Getting to White Hart Lane from where we are is easy enough. Just a short walk to Liverpool Street Station and an overground train. Liverpool Street Station is full of sports fans of all types going in different directions. I see shirts I don’t even know. The rugby is on too, with Hull playing Warrington in the Challenge Cup Final, an annual celebration of rugby league and northerners pretending to be incredulous at beer prices.
No other city I know says hope as much as London. Where Dick Whittington came to seek his fame and fortune 600 years ago, and people from all over the world have been following him ever since. Other countries spread wealth and importance around, but not England, where a greedy London swallows it all, and this is reflected in its constantly changing nature. I sometimes feel like everyone and no-one is a Londoner. Extreme wealth and poverty live on top of each other as the city ruthlessly creates winners and losers.
We stand in Liverpool Street Station, all representing our own clubs, hoping we’ll be the winners and others the losers. A game as ruthless as life in the city. He might want it, but I want it more, so fuck him. We can’t all win, so I really hope it’s me. I buy lager from the M&S Food because you have to have a drink before kick off, no matter what time the game. It’s like a challenge they set you. My wife buys a water. She’s not got the hang of this quite yet.
Soon enough we are at the ground and we meet mates for the weekly ticket exchange that always seems to need to happen, no matter how prepared you are. They are helpfully situated “by that bookies, you know, on the corner”.
My friends have a five-shot penalty system that is nothing to do with golf and everything to do with alcohol. Some of the rules are predictable, a birthday or getting married mean you are greeted with five shots of whatever is decided at the time, or cheap at the bar. Others are random and very arbitrary. Kev Walsh and Ben Mac act as judge, jury and executioner and you can quickly end up with five shots in front of you for a not at all clear new rule that has seemingly been invented on the spot. You are best advised to get on with it though. Answering back is “a five”.
They’ve quickly decided Laura has “a five” for having a birthday and I have one for “bringing your bird the match”. Fortunately the bar at White Hart Lane doesn’t do Sambuca, so they will wait for another day.
We get to our seats in the corner and are greeted by the other corner being missing. Spurs are building a new ground around their old ground so have a reduced capacity. Ben says it reminds him of the early Premier League years when none of the new grounds were quite finished and season review videos were littered with empty spaces and fellas with hard hats on celebrating goals. On this occasion two fellas are in high viz watching the footie from the rubble. Hope they were on time and a half.
After some early jitters The Reds dominate but can’t find a way through. At the opposite end to us we all wait for the net to bulge when the ball falls to Philippe Coutinho but are met instead by cheers from the Spurs fans. The game seems to be a combination of footie sped up and a clock slowed down. I can’t believe when there are only 15 minutes on the clock. I’m exhausted. Just when you think we’ll be going in at half time moaning about not taking our chances Roberto Firmino wins a pen. I’m nervous but James Milner isn’t. 1-0.
At half time I ask Laura if she is enjoying her first away. She says she is but her ears hurt from the volume and she’d quite like a sit down. I send her the bar for two ciders instead. I see Mike Nev, toiling from the early start. Other faces come and go. The mood much brighter now we are ahead.
Second half is much more even. We need a goal and we think we have got one. Sadio Mane finishes and the end goes bananas. It feels like a winner. Arms are flailing and rows are morphed and my wife is getting stray limbs from everywhere. But suddenly, we realise… How can it have been offside? Surely not Mane. Lallana? A text comes through that maybe it was. But it is very very close. Didn’t like that lino already.
Still, they haven’t created much. Until they do. Who was on Rose then? He’s in acres. Like Coutinho’s in the first half you are just hoping for the best. This time hoping that net doesn’t go. The cheers from the rest of the ground let us know. As the game closes out both teams are willing but maybe don’t have the legs. Divock Origi doesn’t work and Daniel Sturridge hasn’t time. 1-1. Not bad, I suppose. But could have been much more.
The team come over and get a good send off from the crowd. As they disperse the unused subs come for a run and Lucas Leiva gets his name sung. It was a nice touch, given his seeming paranoia of how the fans view him expressed on Twitter. He clearly appreciates it.
In to town we go. First Borough Market where they are closing up but we manage to buy calamari, cookies and ridiculous strength cider. Then to an area on the waterfront which they have called ‘The London Riviera’ where I buy a cocktail in a watermelon that is bigger than Kate’s head. And then on to The Bodyguard at the West End.
I sit in there thinking I’m probably the only fella in there that has been to White Hart Lane and The Dominion Theatre that day. Then, right on cue, a fella walks in with a Liverpool shirt on with Henderson on the back. Showing you are never as unique as you think.
Up The Whitney Houston Reds.