Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 12 January 2022.
It had just turned three o’clock in the afternoon and I pulled up in my car alongside PD’s motor in the pub car park opposite where I work. I clambered out.
“I’ve got to work on lads. You’ll have to drive up and I’ll go solo. Can you give me my ticket?”
Work had been going swimmingly well, but I had just been hit with two problems – in The Netherlands and Ireland – that needed my immediate attention. I sped back to the office and tried to get my head around what needed to be done. Of course, typical, a few other problems arose too. But, thankfully, at around 3.45pm I was able to eventually head off to London.
The race had begun.
I had been awake since 5.45am and, ironically, at around 2pm, when I started to feel a little tired I thought to myself :
“Not to worry, I’ll get a little shut-eye on the drive to London in PD’s car.”
So much for that, eh?
I sped off east towards Salisbury Plain but soon stopped for refreshments and an all-important coffee at a petrol station in Tilshead. A woman at the till who was buying lottery tickets – slowly – wound me up – quickly.
Thinking to myself, again :
“Come on, this is Tottenham away.”
Luckily, the traffic was light, the weather was fine, the roads were dry. I made good time but there was always that risk of getting caught in a London rush-hour in reverse. It’s always a lottery. I reached the M3 at about 5pm and was able to speed on. Thankfully the tiredness that I had feared never enveloped me. I tried to compute my projected arrival time in London and my chances of reaching the all-important main line station at Liverpool Street.
It seemed like ages since I had driven alone to London for a game.
As I passed Twickenham, PD called me and asked for advice on how to get to Liverpool Street. The two Chuckle Brothers were on the loose in London and it brought a wry smile to my face.
“Change at Holborn I think.”
At exactly 6pm, I was parked outside Barons Court tube station, a few car lengths down from PD’s car. There was a slick change of trains at Holborn and I was soon on the short journey to Liverpool Street. I arrived there at 6.35pm.
“Hour and ten minutes to go. Should be OK, but it all depends on the frequency of trains to White Hart Lane.”
As I came out of the underground tunnels and walkways and was almost up at ground level, there was a sound that brought another smile to my now masked face.
“We love Tuchel, we love bugle, Chelsea’s won the Champions league.”
This meant that Chelsea were in the vicinity and – presumably – there was a train to take me to the game in good time.
I quickly glanced at the train timetable.
“Platform 1 : Cheshunt – 1845, stopping at White Hart Lane.”
I had exited the underground station right next to platform one.
I walked all of the way to the front of the train since the rear carriages were full, but also full of Chelsea too. This was going well. The train stopped at around ten stations and the time flew. At Seven Sisters, there was an extended stop of five minutes or more. There was an announcement.
“For those going to the football, please get off here. People on the platform need to get on to use the service.”
I didn’t see one single person alight.
Eventually, at just gone 7.15pm, we reached White Hart Lane station and everyone shuffled along the platform like penguins. Downstairs, the two sets of fans were forced left and right unlike at any of the previous two games that I had attended at Tottenham’s spanking new stadium.
“Chelsea left please, Chelsea left.”
Once split, the singing began. But beers were thrown at us by the Tottenham fans descending some stairs. The police waded in on a few Chelsea fans who retaliated. I walked on. Outside the station, much-modernised these days, was a row of potted plants, with up lighting, all very modern. Around fifteen Chelsea fans in a strict line, their bladders unable to cope, were watering the plants as if it was part of a military operation.
In the London night there was noise, anticipation, a palpable sense of danger.
Opposite there was a shop that caught my eye.
“Tottenham Hot Spuds.”
That made me chuckle.
“Hate to think what is on sale at Arsenal.”
Down on the High Road, there was more noise, but with scurrying crowds, a few engaged in fisticuffs, a swarm of police and I saw that the road was blocked off. The police had no desire for the two tribes to mix. Things were definitely feisty. As I took a few photos with my camera phone, a police horse reared up close to me and I had to adjust my footing to avoid getting struck.
I raced on towards the away turnstiles, the clock ticking. Outside were more police, and more noise. The bright illuminated cladding of the stadium contrasted with the shadows of the Chelsea supporters clambering to get in to the game in time for the start.
Up the steps, a COVID check, a check of my ticket and then a bag check.
“Need to check.”
He called over his supervisor. I was one step ahead. I lifted up the camera with the small wide-angle lens attached. I didn’t open up the bag to show the larger zoom lens.
“Nah, that’s alright. In you go.”
Time for a last minute visit to the gents. “Hellos” to a few mates. I bumped into the bloke who I was stood next to at the Chesterfield game. It was his first visit to the new stadium.
I eventually located block 113, then row 10, then Parky.
It was 7.42pm.
Just in time.
Have I mentioned that I work in logistics?
We were right behind the goal and only a few yards from the Tottenham fans.
Unfortunately, a few stewards were close by too. I knew it would be a case of cat and mouse with my camera all night long.
The stadium took my breath away again. On the previous two visits I was tucked away in the corner. This time, the view was even more spectacular. Way above the metallic cockerel at the top of the huge South Stand, way up in the clear night sky was the crescent of the moon, as clear as you like. It was certainly a dramatic setting.
The game kicked off and it took me a while to put players to positions. Back to a 4-4-2?
Azpilicueta – Rudiger – Christensen – Sarr
Mount – Kovacic – Jorginho – Hudson-Odoi
Werner – Lukaku
Things were pretty even at the start. I tried my best to take it all in. I tried to catch up with Parky. They had arrived at Barons Court at 5.15pm. PD had taken two and a quarter hours just like me. All was good. I was just so relieved to have made it. Another fifteen minutes of work would have killed my timings and connections. I spotted tons of familiar faces dotted around.
As the game developed, we looked at ease and confident. But the home team were not without threat. A shot from Kane at a free-kick was blocked. A forest of “wanking hands” greeted his miss-fire. There was an effort from Moura that went well-wide.
I sang a song from the ‘eighties to myself :
“How wide do you want the goals?”
Timo Werner was full of running in the first part of the game and his lob over the Tottenham ‘keeper from the angle of the penalty box dropped just over the bar. Next up, his striking partner Romelu Lukaku was released with an early ball and he did well to fight off a challenge, bring the ball down and shoot. Sadly, the ‘keeper was able to save. It was a bright start, this.
On eighteen minutes, we won a corner. I hadn’t used my camera too much thus far. But on this occasion, I asked Parky to lean forward to block the view of the nearest steward. Mount swung the ball in. A leap from Rudiger. I snapped. The ball – in slow-motion – dropped into the goal.
Get in you beauty.
There were the wildest of celebrations in the away segment which encompassed two tiers for this match. We had around 5,500 fans and every single one was going doo-lally.
“There’s that third goal.”
The one we couldn’t quite score last week.
“Safe now surely.”
A few minutes later, a steward spotted my camera and I was asked to pack it up. I wasn’t too worried. I knew I’d be able to use it again if I chose the right moment. At least I had nabbed the goal.
The home team threatened with a flurry of misdirected efforts and shots that were blocked. I never really felt that we were in danger.
Of course, the away choir was on fire.
“Tottenham get battered everywhere they go.”
“Champions of Europe. You’ll never sing that.”
“We’ve got super Tommy Tuchel.”
I watched as a fine sliding tackle by Antonio Rudiger robbed Hojbjerg outside the box. The Tottenham player then seemed to dive once the ball had gone, but this dive was inside the box. I had a great view. I was adamant that everything was fine. To my horror, the referee pointed at the spot. Well, that seemed ridiculous. Somebody in the crowd reckoned that VAR wasn’t being used for this game. I wasn’t sure.
After a while, it flashed up on the TV screen that VAR was being used.
We waited. And waited. And waited.
As the Chelsea players lined-up in a wall for the resulting free-kick, we spotted Dave squatting behind the wall and peeking through his team mates’ legs. At the last minute he fell to the floor. It was such a bizarre thing to see and I wished that my camera had been able to capture it.
I turned to the couple behind me.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dave.”
Anyway, the free-kick was headed over by a covering defender. The Chelsea support roared. We had quelled a little bubble of resurgence.
Apart from some noise at the very start when, naturally, the home support might have thought that a comeback was possible, the noise from the home stands was pretty minimal. Only on the half-hour did the place shake when a loud “Come on you Spurs” rattled around.
It dawned on me recently that only Tottenham fans call their team Spurs. Chelsea fans tend to say Tottenham.
Interesting fact #547.
The first-half ended. Time for a chat with a few folks. I spoke with the Bristol lot. Since the last game I have taken the plunge and booked up Abu Dhabi. I am going with PD. I am sure there will be a plethora of WCC worries along the way but I had to gamble and go. Let’s hope that the COVID thing doesn’t ruin all that. I chatted to Tim, Kev and Bryan briefly about it the trip. By pure luck, we are all in the same hotel.
At the break, I remembered the comments from a visibly crestfallen Antonio Conte after his new team lost 0-2 at Chelsea last week. He spoke solemnly of how far Tottenham are from Chelsea right now. I still like the bloke, even with his miss-guided decision to join forces with the numpties from N17. I would imagine that his straight-talking must have irritated the Tottenham support, but – lusciously – must have struck a chord too.
They have slid since a few years back. They were a decent team under Pochettino.
I loved the way that we dominated possession in the opening moments of the second-half, killing the game further. We never ever looked in trouble.
A Lukaku header from a corner flew just over.
Just before the hour mark, the away fans were at it.
“Tottenham Hotspur. It’s happened again.”
Now, my immediate reaction was this :
“I know we are 3-0 up on aggregate, but that is a bit premature.”
A ball was immediately pumped forward and Kepa appeared to time his run to perfection to rob Moura with a sliding tackle. To our sadness, the referee pointed at the spot once more. It was as if the footballing Gods had unanimously agreed with me about singing that song. The Tottenham fans roared again. However, much to our joy, VAR was called into play.
The same decision. No penalty.
Now it was time for that chant.
“Tottenham Hotspur. It’s happened again.”
Oh my aching sides.
On the hour, a magnificent save from Kepa from the head of Emerson Royal kept us ahead on the night. The ‘keeper was enjoying a very fine game. It was the save of the night thus far.
But the home team had built a little momentum and we needed to be at our best.
Kepa appeared to go walkabouts as a ball was played into Kane well inside the box. With only a covering Rudiger to beat, he blasted the ball low into the far corner.
The home fans properly roared this time.
It was a horrible feeling, despite our 3-1 lead.
Oh my God.
And again it went our way.
Chelsea smiles in North London.
I posted on Facebook :
“This is just three easy.”
I always thought that the funniest Chelsea win over Tottenham happened in 2000 when George Weah hopped off a plane at Heathrow and came on as a substitute to score the winning goal in a slender 1-0 win.
But this just might edge it.
Three disallowed goals.
Tuchel strengthened things with a flurry of substitutions.
Thiago Silva for Christensen.
Marcos Alonso for Werner.
Hakim Ziyech for Mount.
And then N’Golo Kante for Kovacic.
Tottenham fans, all forty-thousand of them :
“Of for fuck sake, Kante. I’m going home.”
And then Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Jorginho.
The shape had changed to three at the back. Thiago Silva was warmly applauded and his song was sung with gusto. Likewise, N’Golo Kante.
“He’s indestructible. Always believing.”
These were great moments as the home support dwindled away. Everyone was so happy. Smiles everywhere. There were gaps appearing all over the stadium too.
“You’ve had your day out, now fuck off home.”
I love that we seem to be the only club to sing that. Is that correct?
I was able to take a few photographs as the game wore on. The stewards, like Tottenham, had given up by now. The fresh legs had re-energised us. We seemed to have more of the ball once again. We finished the game strongly and never ever looked in danger.
Towards the end of the game, a recognisable chant from a few years back quickly spread in the away end. It pleased me.
“Antonio. Antonio. Antonio, Antonio, Antonio.”
I loved that we were at last able to honour Antonio Conte. I loved him to bits. One supposes that if, miracle of miracles, Tottenham had turned it around on the night – no 2002 here – we would obviously have resisted. But there it was. A nod to our former manager who won the league in 2017 and the cup in 2018. It’s just a shame that he now manages that lot.
And I suspect that he thinks exactly the same.
The game over, we waited for crowds to move on. The plan had been to escort all 5,500 Chelsea to Tottenham Hale, a good half-an-hour walk. We were having none of it. We met up with PD and waited. In the shadows, we edged past police near the away end and slowly walked back to an almost deserted White Hart Lane station. It absolutely worked in our favour that so many home fans had left early.
As we reached the platform, a train arrived. We were on our way home.
By 11.30pm, we were in our separate cars, at Barons Court.
At Chiswick roundabout, I turned left towards the M3 and PD drove straight on towards the M4.
On Saturday, it’s back to one car for Man City away.