Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Friendly Game Of Soccer

I'm back after our short stay in London. My son Greg, soon to be married in May, is a huge fan of the English soccer team Arsenal. So for one last father-son adventure before he ties the knot, I got tickets for all of us to see their contest against arch-rival the Tottenham Hotspurs, a game called the north London derby because both teams are located in the north London boroughs. It climaxed our brief trip across the pond.

Now I thought I've always had some animosity for the rivals of my beloved University of Michigan but the Arsenal and Spurs fans take this to a whole 'nother level, as evidenced by the heavy police presence in and around the stadium.

What also surprised me was the atmosphere before and during the game. I had expected somewhat the excitement that precedes a big college football game--lots of cheers, chanting, singing, laughter, camaraderie and anticipatory celebration. Good god no. The thousands of Spurs fans wearing their team's color black stood sullenly and deadly serious around the perimeter of White Hart Lane Stadium in Tottenham.

"It looks like they're going to war," Greg said.

Underneath Greg's grey sweats, he wore an Arsenal shirt. We would be sitting with the Spurs fans however because we got our tickets through their promotion. I had warned Greg not to show his colors or cheer for Arsenal lest we incite the hometown fans. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. He wised up quickly to the atmosphere.

Even the visiting Arsenal fans, who were segregated in one corner of the stadium, their section surrounded by police and stadium security guards (I counted 50 police just there) mostly wore black to blend in, rather than their usual red. You can just see a sprinkling of red clad fans in the picture here, along the corner section where the Arsenal faithful sat. Notice all the bright yellow, green and orange vests. Those are the police and security people.

A stadium security guard said police would be guarding the Arsenal fans because, "They smell." Wow, even the stadium's security gets into this animosity. I have GOT to bring this kind of spirit back to Ann Arbor for my hometown Wolverines.

When the game started, I was astonished also at how quiet the hometown fans were. I had learned some Spurs chants from the internet but hardly got the chance to use them. But the Arsenal supporters kept up a loud string of cheer, taunts and insults, all directed against the home team, their supporters, even their city. Most often I heard, "It's so quiet, it's so dead, it's so quiet, why so quiet, at the lane." The jeer being directed at the Spurs faithful whose lack of outward enthusiasm may have come from the fact that they're almost last in the premier league standings and in danger of being sent down to the minor leagues, which happens in English soccer.

And the Spurs didn't have much to cheer about this day because they didn't score a goal, despite having a man advantage because an Arsenal player was ejected for flagrant fouls. The game ended 0-0, a result that seemed to mollify the Spurs fans somewhat afterwards. At least I didn't see any trouble as were leaving the stadium area other than a few blokes hassling a policeman on horseback, possibly trying to get the horse to rear up and throw its rider. The cop responded by grabbing the coat of one of them, but then he let go. I was less than ten feet away from all this.

I think Scott wanted to hang out and see if any more trouble ensued but I was in a hurry to get the heck out of Dodge, mindful of a few comments on my blog predicting that Scott would end up in a British jail. That wouldn't do. His mother would never forgive me if I didn't return him safe and sound.


Anonymous Enforcer said...

Greg and Scott look a little tight lipped. I think I would have hung out for awhile.

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh the Sp*rs....
Are marching down....
Oh the Sp*rs are marching down...
Oh how I want to be in that number..
When the Sp*rs go marching down...

7:59 AM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

Well, there's another reason to pr4efer American football. Spirited rowdiness!!!! Oh, and tailgating!!!

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you have any fun with the bloody police watching your every move?

11:06 AM  
Blogger Nankin said...

It looks like the cops were in their riot gear. Talk about serious.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Well, it looks like you had a good time in spite of the lack of spirit...I can not imagine going to an Astors game and not cheering for my favorite player when they come up to bat...

BTW: While you were gone I wrote a blog about Big Dave and you didn't even see it.....Go back and read it.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Carine said...

Wow! a lot of fans! I love soccer, maybe from watching our son all those years. I'm with you though Dave, as much as I would have love to have stayed, I don't want to wind up in anyone's Jail/Gaol-I'm a bit of a weenie.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ENFORCER--Did you look at the pictures? They had plenty of enforcers there. They didn't need another one, especially one past his prime.

ANONYMOUS--Yeah, well I still wish the Spurs would have won.

LYNILU--I honestly expected to find tailgating there at the stadium. Nothing like that there. And the main parking lot had a 15-foot fence around it topped off with razor sheeting. It looked like a prison. How can you have a party there?

ANONYMOUS--Interesting thing about your comment. Unlike here in the U.S., the British police never seem to make eye contact with you. As many pictures that I took of them, they always seemed to be looking somewhere else. So if they were watching your every move, you weren't aware of it.

NANKIN--They were definitely in riot mode with the riot vans, the riot buses, the riot horses (I guess).

LUCY--We did hear some shouting from the hometown fans directed at their players, but they often threw in an obscenity too. Probably they don't do that to their hometown favorites in Houston.

Sorry I missed that blog initially.

CARINE--My son Scott was worried that my picture-taking would get me into trouble. I can't imagine why that would be against the law.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Merle said...

Hi Dave ~~ Sounds like a fun game!!
But nice that you and your son went together. Thank you for your comments
and your concern for the awful fires in Victoria. They have been horrific
and the worst ever in our country.
It is terrible to think some of these were started deliberately, so
darned heartless and if they are caught they spend 25 years in Jail.
Take care, my friend, Regards, Merle.

5:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew! Talk about rabid fans, huh? I'd say it's a good thing the score was 0-0.
And even better that you returned the bridegroom and son safe and sound! A job well done, Dave!
And very happy you finally got across that pond. Maybe now you'll expand your horizons further. Enjoyed your photos.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:45 PM  

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