I may have seen the greatest football match of my life the other week. I have supported Tottenham Hotspur my entire life, not because of any family loyalty and definitely not for any glory but mainly because of the Moss Man figure from Masters of the Universe but that’s a different story altogether.
The Peter Crouch headed goal at Eastland on 5th May last year guaranteed Spurs a place in the Champions League. This would be the first time in my supporting life that I would get to see my team playing in Europe on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and not on Channel 5 on a Thursday.
I’m not one for nostalgia but I do recognise the history of the club I support and have been filled with a sense of optimism and excitement as well a deep sense of pride for the achievement last season. Many talk about the European pedigree of the club and of 1984 but I am just too young to remember that let alone feel part of it, this is my time and I want it to count.
That first game against the Young Boys in August last year brought me back down to reality very quickly. Getting a top 4 spot in the PL is only half the battle the play-offs are tough. The following matches have shown the best and sometimes worst of Spurs and I can honestly say I could not in my wildest dreams imagine that we would get this far, sure we have some talent but our frailties have been highlighted by many ad-infinitum.
Tickets were limited for the San Siro with club members needing a large amount of loyalty points to apply in the first round of allocation. Knowing that we wouldn’t get tickets or maybe this chance ever again to see Spurs at this stage in the CL in such an amazing ground a group of us decided that we would opt to get tickets from AC Milan direct, much against the advice of the club. A few had done it for the Inter match and assured us all there would be no problem at all, I can highly recommend this site for ticket purchases: http://www.milanpoint.ch
The night before felt like Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep at all; the excitement of watching Spurs at the San Siro in the Champions League in the last 16 was just too much. I was travelling in from Copenhagen and the rest of the lads from London via Zurich. It’s amazing how much plane tickets go up between destinations after the CL draw but we were quick and managed to all get return flights fewer than 100 quid each. Purely by chance we all landed at the same time in Malpense and had agreed to meet in arrivals and head to the hotel together.
Walking through arrivals I was met with the familiar faces of the lads I have spent the last few years going to the Lane with, however, this time we would be swapping the engineering works on the Victoria Line for the Malpense express direct into Milan, this was it, we where here, finally after 2 months of waiting I was in Milan.
A few missed turns and typical English hand signals later we got to the train platform ready to mount our double decker train that would take us straight to our hotel. Anyone who goes to football regularly knows that the pre-match build up is part of the wonder of watching football every weekend. A chance to meet with your mates, share your views on the last match have a few beers and get yourself geared up for the match, this train ride was going to be special. Singing, beers, rowdiness? No, we all fell asleep – the 4am start for everyone was a bit too much and there was a feeling that we didn’t want to over exert ourselves too early
Successfully checked into our hotel we were directed to a small restaurant nearby to grab a bite to eat before we headed to the Duomo. We ended up spending the next 4 hours eating great food and drinking a few bottles of wine talking about everything from the match to whether you really would let Heurelho Gomes sleep with your wife. Time like this with your friends is priceless especially when desert is a Champions League match. The owners were so welcoming we were invited back to spend the evening with them to watch the highlights and drink a few more Limoncello shots whatever the result. Their parting gift was written directions to the Duomo and the San Siro and back. We hadn’t asked for these, their hospitality and friendliness was second to none, no wonder Carlsberg sponsored them!
We arrived at the Duomo which initially resembled somewhere in Seven Sisters, the place was just jam packed with Spurs fans, tents had been erected to house us and the fans were in full song. The usually quiet and photogenic square had a new feature, which immediately had the Japanese tourists double checking their guidebooks and then reaching for their cameras to get a shot of something out of the ordinary. The atmosphere was just amazing, I’ve spent many an afternoon in the back garden of the Bell and Hare outside the Lane before and after some memorable matches but this was a different kind of buzz. The anxiety, the excitement the feeling of being part of something on this stage all came together in a feeling that can’t be described easily.
One of the downsides of ordering our tickets online meant that we needed to get to the ground at least 3 hours before kick-off to collect them. Passports in hand we left the Duomo and headed to the metro for the short journey to Lotto station. I was looking forward to the 10 minute walk from the station to the Ground, even if it was raining hard, I wanted to see the behemoth that is the San Siro increasing in size as we approached. This unfortunately wasn’t to be as we were ushered onto courtesy buses that were ferrying people back and forth from the ground.
We were dropped outside the ground and I was just awestruck by the size of the San Siro, never before even the first time I went to Wembley when I was 8, had I seen such a magnificent stadium, it is just immense.
To collect your tickets from the ticket office you need to present your passport and booking confirmation at the main gate. It was deemed that there were just far too many of us to all go through so the stewards insisted that one person went with all the passports and collected the tickets. We were all left in the pouring rain our only shelter was the row of portaloos. The acoustics of a plastic portaloos lend themselves well to a few choruses of some terraces favourites and with a plastic box each we passed the time 10 in a row coming up with new words to standard verses, I can only imagine what it must have looked like from the outside but one of the songs will remain forever in my memory.
Our tickets returned 30 minutes later and not a moment too soon, the small confines of a portaloos and the blue chemicals used seemed to be having an adverse effect on some of us, it felt like waiting for a delayed train when you really needed to get somewhere. We were in the Orange zone and our view of the pitch and the entire stadium was amazing, I could just about make out the away fans in the upper tier of the Green zone. I love to be near the action and am so glad I wasn’t stuck up with the pigeons in the loft of the San Siro, many afterwards said it was the most disconnected they have ever felt from a football match. That said, the stadium is without doubt one of the seven wonders of the footballing world (I’m unsure what the other 6 are but I’m sure Stuart will have a good list to share)
That Champions League music is so annoying but it took on a different sound as it blasted around the ground as the teams lined up, this was it, kick-off. I was so consumed by the atmosphere that my usual pre-match nerves were nowhere to be found. So often I have watched the usual teams in the CL come to face the mighty Milan it was so strange to actually be here watching my team face the second most decorated club in the competition.
Being a regular at football in Denmark along with Mr Fuller I am partial to the odd sausage and beer at matches around Copenhagen, this standard football fayre was swapped for the popcorn, miniature grappa’s and coffee liqueurs that are sold by the American hotdog style sellers that walk around the seats inside the ground, there are so many of these guys they must outnumber the stewards 3 to 1.
Football is unpredictable at the best of times and the events that unfolded over those 94 minutes proved just that. No doubt everyone is aware of what happened but to watch it in person was incredible. Tottenham played the type of away game and exuded a new level of confidence that shocked one of the daddies of European football. There were incredible individual performances in fact too many to mention but the team played with such an air of confidence and such discipline that Milan just unfolded. The headline moments of Flamini and Gattuso summed up Milan on the night – nervous, erratic and undermined. Our seats were level with the goal and watching the move that lead to the goal unfold was really in slow motion, there was an initial moment of disbelief then it was raining popcorn as we all jumped in unison to celebrate the one goal that unfolds in my mind in 3D whenever I think of that night.
The rest of the evening was spent celebrating in a bar next to the ground and time literally flew by accompanied by the constant flow of singing and beers. Getting back to anywhere from the San Siro is difficult passed midnight and at closing we were left with what seemed like an impossible task of getting back to our hotel 6km away. Our request for a taxi at the bar was overheard by a few Inter fans who having forgot the thumping of the previous stage offered us all a lift back to our hotel in their armada of cars – this may have been the most unexpected event of the evening but the most welcome one.
The combination of great food, great friends, incredible football, wonderful hosts and good Samaritans in the form of Inter fans made this one of the greatest football matches of my life. I sincerely hope that every fan no matter what their club gets to experience this in one form or another. As you read this we are now through to the last 8 of the tournament, whatever happens next I am happy we got this far. As for the songs made up in the portaloos I think we can safely sing that “The San Siro is ours, San Siro is ours, say no to Stratford, the San Siro is ours” I think the team have earned it.
This blog post was sponsored by my very patient and understanding girlfriend who understands my need to watch football and takes care of our baby daughter while I swan around Europe and the World.