I was walking next to hundreds of fans when I noticed the ‘White Hart Lane’ sign and realized just how privileged I was to be part of that game. When I went abroad to London, I told myself that I had to go out and engage in British cultural activities. In case you are wondering, that included regular pub outings with flatmates and friends, of course. On the other hand, some more unique opportunities also presented themselves. As a fan of soccer (which I will refer to as ‘football’, its proper spelling), I had casually followed the London-based team, Tottenham Hotspur, from the U.S. Being in London, I had to see for myself what the games were all about.
After purchasing my first ticket online, I realized that I had to figure out how to get to White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s stadium. It turns out that there is only one train that gets to the stadium, which simplified things. Let’s face it, London is expensive enough that paying for a taxi never crossed my mind, plus the public transportation infrastructure is superb. The decision paid off; as soon as I boarded the train, I noticed there were many other Tottenham fans headed the same way. As we got closer, more fans got on, and we started singing team songs louder and louder. I was so ecstatic, and the game hadn’t even started.
When I got to White Hart Lane, I noticed it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing building – it looked quite old and barely resembled a stadium. The inside, however, was the complete opposite. The moment I got inside, fans were singing songs, which did not stop until the end of the game. My seat happened to be located in the hardcore section of the stadium, where no one sits throughout the entire game, despite there being seats. Like everyone else, I immediately forgot there were seats as I sang my heart out throughout the game. The game itself was tense. Tottenham was tied for most of the game and it did not look like we would score a winning goal. Right at the end, at the 90th minute, one of our attackers put the ball in the back of the net to give us the victory. The entire stadium went absolutely crazy.
My Tottenham adventures continued from then on. I took at least ten of my American friends from my study abroad program to show them what the British football culture was about. Everyone, including the non-football fans, really enjoyed the experience–some even begged me to take them back.
Then there was the time when I traveled by car through England with fellow Tottenham fans to an away game. I had met a fellow Tottenham fan while waiting in the very long customs line at the London Stansted airport, where we bonded and got each other’s contact info. We both happened to be in Liverpool at the same time just as he and his Tottenham buddies were going to drive to Burnley, where Tottenham was set to play next. They were all nice enough to take me along. The experience was fantastic. While the game ended as a draw, I really enjoyed bonding with fellow Tottenham fans, being in a different atmosphere, and getting to see stunning rural and urban parts of England along the way. After that, I traveled back to London on my own, and it was totally worth the 12 hours it took to get back.
While all the aforementioned experiences were great, there is one that truly stands out and will stay with me forever. I was lucky to be in London when Tottenham hosted its North London archrival, Arsenal. If I had been there during the fall, the game would have been at Arsenal’s stadium, not Tottenham’s. Given the opportunity, I desperately searched for a ticket to the game, but could not find one. I soon found out that only season-ticket holders could buy tickets for the game because of its rich history and incredible demand. Imagine if Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees season-ticket holders were the only ones allowed to purchase tickets for the games they faced each other! I was depressed for a few days, knowing I had the perfect opportunity to attend a once-in-a-lifetime game, yet I wasn’t able to do anything about it.
I didn’t give up. I tried finding any way I could to get to that game, but I was losing hope. Then, a miracle by the name of Twitter came flying out of nowhere. It turns out that some fans sell their tickets via a Twitter account that is dedicated to posting fans’ tickets, at face value only. Unsurprisingly, all the tickets posted were bought within five minutes, so I had to be fast. I missed the chance for quite a few, but two days before the game I reacted quickly enough to a tweet and got my wish. I was filled with utter joy.
I met the fan in central London and got his Tottenham season-pass card, as it was the only way I would get in; I meant it when I said it was it impossible to get in without it. On the way to the game, the intensity was more extreme than than I had experienced at any other game. We were shouting at Arsenal fans at the top of our lungs (and vice-versa) as we were walking towards the stadium. The police had massive horses to divide the fans and ensure they didn’t start fights. In British football, the opposing team is allotted a small section of the stadium; thankfully these small numbers of Arsenal fans did not look threatened – we just had fun bantering with them. As soon as I got inside, the nerves started to kick in. I realized that I had overcome all odds to be there, yet it could all be for nothing if we failed to score and lost the game. I was further unsettled by the fact that Arsenal scored first early in the game.
I regained my composure, as did every other fan in the stadium, and we all cheered our team on. The Tottenham players were emotionally stirred too; they mounted an all-star effort and began dominating the game. Unfortunately, we were failing to score despite many opportunities as the game was nearing its end. That is, until our hero, Harry Kane, who grew through Tottenham’s youth system since age 11, scored from a corner to tie the game. Everyone went crazy. We wanted more. The whole stadium got to its feet with the anticipation that we could win the game in the few minutes we had left. The team once again had chance after chance to score, but it looked like the game was fated to end as a tie. Suddenly, a casual cross from near the halfway line finds our hero, Harry Kane, in between two Arsenal defenders. I can still see him in his white jersey, rising high above the two red giants, heading the ball with the most delicate of touches, sending it towards goal. What felt like the slowest second in my life was followed by one of the most euphoric moments I’ve ever experienced. The ball glided to the back of the net, and the whole stadium was elevated to cloud nine. I was thrilled; I hugged every fan around me. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Needless to say, I got countless selfies with fellow fans on my way home, by which time I had lost my voice from singing too much.
The experience of going to Tottenham games was completely amazing and enrichening. I was converted as a fan and completely understand why Europeans prefer football over other sports we watch in America. Looking at the big picture, it all started with my desire to participate in a cultural activity that locals in my study abroad country took part in. Sure, it helped that I had an inclination for football and Tottenham going in, but in the end anyone out there can have as much fun as I did if they go out and dive into local culture.