Tales From The Third World

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 17 April 2010.

And so the season continues on a knife edge.

I collected His Lordship from Parky Towers and we were full of chat on the drive up the M4. There was not a single cloud in the sky throughout the drive. Once we parked-up at the usual place, the sun’s warmth shocked us.

We hoped that it would turn out to be a lovely day. To quote a line from a famous film –

“Tottenham Away. Love It.”

We had arranged to meet “Folsom Blue” Steve Azar at Earl’s Court at 1pm, but we were a bit late in arriving. We bounced into “O’Neils” on the corner of Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road at about 1.25pm, with the Manchester derby on the TV screens. Also present were Ashley, from San Jose, and her mate Jason, from even further away. Jason is from the Far East and was at college in Newcastle, but has since been living and working in London for over a year. The reason he decided to stay on and reside in England?

Chelsea Football Club.

Excellent stuff. Shades of Burger, even. This would be Ashley and Jason’s first ever away game.

Anyway, we got the beers in, chatted away and stood at the bar throughout the second-half of the City vs. United game. It didn’t appear to be a particularly exciting game. A few half-chances for both teams. I was happy when Rooney was taken off…even happier when his replacement Berbatov headed meekly wide. City didn’t appear to be playing well, Tevez was quiet. As we supped our pints, we continued chatting. We had sorted out our plans for the rest of the trip up to N17 and were thinking about our game against our hated rivals. We contemplated the gap being narrowed to just three points. Three minutes of extra time…

When Scholes headed in, our spirits dive-bombed. The previously quiet pub erupted with noise, while I walked away in disgust. I had the feeling that there were more than a few Spurs fans in the pub watching. This was a terrible result and we knew it.

The five of us hopped on a tube and then got a cab from Finsbury Park to White Hart Lane. We wanted to get there early in order for Parky to collect his match ticket from Lovejoy. The cabbir dropped us off opposite The Corner Pin pub – no windows, just shutters. My phone was already buzzing away with a few Chelsea-related texts, from near and far. One text came in from Pete all of the way over in San Francisco. It contained an amazing photograph of a football pitch – or rather a goal – with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. An image of football which made me smile. I have often toyed with the idea of getting a photographic project up-and-running containing football pitches from wherever my travels take me. The sort of images that often pop up in “When Saturday Comes.” Anyway, by means of a contrast, I took a photo of a boarded-up shop, right on the High Road, right outside White Hart Lane.

I entitled it “Greetings From Tottenham.”

For anyone who is yet to visit, the area around White Hart Lane is pretty rough. The difference between Spurs’ HQ and our HQ is immense. Boarded-up shops, empty premises, council flats, chip shops…I’d hate to have to visit it every fortnight.

Lovejoy was running late and so we just circumnavigated White Hart Lane.

It was a painful operation.

Still, no skin off my nose.

The surroundings are truly gruesome and there were copious amounts of horse5hit – from the police horses – everywhere. Just about summed the place up really. There was the usual selection of T-Shirt stalls. One T-shirt design was poking fun at Arsenal’s title aspirations and I thought this was a bit rich coming from a club who last won the championship in 1961.

We walked around to the heavily-policed away turnstiles and spotted a few familiar faces arrive. There was quite a subdued air about the place though…not the noisy hub-bub you get walking along the Fulham Road. At long last, Lovejoy arrived with Woody and Andy and Parky got his sweaty mitts on the ticket. He would be up in the top tier, not far from me.

We got in with ten minutes to spare, just as Alan and Gary arrived. And there we were – the assembled masses of the Chelsea away support, all 3,000 strong, and us in the middle of the block of 511 away season-ticket holders.

The plasterers, the office managers, the painters and decorators, the laboratory technicians, the estate agents, the sales managers, the French polishers, the project managers, the export co-ordinators, the account clerks, the millionaires, the directors, the shop owners and the students.

All of us Chelsea – all of us up for it.

Spurs began strongly and had us reeling as they found space in and around our box. Gareth Bale was running at Paolo and we were worried. Our play struggled to get going. A Pavlochenko effort from way out was tipped over by Petr Cech and I gasped. It was a superb save. The first of the three or four “Oh When The Spurs Go Marching In” dirges – painfully slow – were sung and the whole place joined in.

Apart from us of course – we rallied with our usual supply of passionate songs and it was a good atmosphere.

Then – no! – a handball and Dowd pointed to the spot after a moment of thought. Defoe smashed it in and we had to watch the home support pumping their arms in mad jubilation. It was a truly hideous sight. There must be worse things that could possibly happen to me on my journey through this life, but at that particular moment, I could not think of any.

We equalised – how we celebrated – only for us to spot the yellow flag for offside. Gutted.

Ballack on for Mikel.

Cech made another stupendous save down below me.

The Spurs cockerel was glinting high atop the East Stand – home to the Shelf in years gone by – and it made me feel ill.

Eidur Gudjohnsen was warming up down below and I neither applauded nor booed. Not a nice sight, though. During the closing stages of the first-half, we were getting back into it a bit. Of course, Bale then cut inside with ease and slammed the ball in to give Spurs a deserved 2-0 lead at half-time. Paolo Ferreira ended-up on his knees and he looked truly befuddled.

At the break, the toilets were full of cigarette smoke and depressing opinions from the Chelsea faithful. This wasn’t going well.

Anelka on for the quiet Joe Cole, Ivanovic on for the out-classed Paolo.

We began the second-half with a bit more spirit, but the two stupid John Terry yellow cards put paid to us. JT – what were you thinking mate? Why did you make such a rash challenge way out on the right wing? An awful bit of football.

The Spurs fans were now in their element, but we quietened them down pretty easily –

“Have You Ever Seen Tottenham Win The League?”

Eidur came on and I hated it. Gary, my companion for so many away games, was a constant barrage of abuse. It was quite a performance. Never before had I heard such constant negativity. Let’s leave it there.

If it wasn’t for Petr in goal, we would have conceded more. However, down to ten men, we showed a bit more drive, but of course our defence was left wide-open as we chased the goals we so craved.

I photographed Ballack’s fine cross into the box for Frank to score and our section – minus about 400 early leavers – erupted. We pressed and pressed and it reminded me of the last few minutes from the 2008-2009 game.

It was not to be.

We soberly made our way past the line of police by the Spurs shop and headed over to the White Hart Lane train station. The home fans were bouncing and it sickened me. One noisy bloke said “first Arsenal, then today – I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

“If only” I thought.

As we queued up to get on the train, one Spurs fan in front of me said he “truly despised John Terry” and I imagined a right jab to his head. We eventually reached civilisation at about 9pm and had a meal at “Salvo’s.” Wes came up to join us – this was to be Steve’s last game of his two month stay – and we wished him the best of luck in getting back to the US, what with all of the air-traffic delays. We joked about him being still here for Stoke City.

What a crazy season. United aren’t good enough to win it. Arsenal aren’t good enough to win it. Liverpool aren’t good enough to win it. Chelsea aren’t good enough to win it.

Who knows? It could be us, it could be us.

I sent out a glimmer of hope to a few mates, by text –

“3 Games. 3 Wins. 1 Champion.”

I reached home, eventually, at 11.45pm and there, on the front doormat, was my ticket for Liverpool vs. Chelsea.

And so it continues…


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