Families sitting together. Parties of young people singing. Women and girls. Happy stewards laughing along with the crowd. I’m at a football match but it will never catch on.
This weekend I forsook Spurs for the Petts Wood Under 10s girls’ team. Called in as a late sub for my lovely daughter, I took my midfield schemer of a granddaughter to the women’s international between England v Germany. If nothing else, it’s most probably the only way I’ll get to Wembley this year.
My last Tottenham On My Mind piece characterised Spurs as a club without a heart, the Tin Man of football. I found the heart of football beating hard not in the Premier League, the supposed pinnacle of the British game, but at a women’s football match.
You probably know this was a record crowd for women’s football in this country, over 50,000 in the bottom two tiers at Wembley, despite the FA and Transport for London predictably conspiring to make it as difficult as possible to get there by choosing to hold the game on a day of a planned closure of Wembley Park station.
That was the only thing that was typical of a big football match in the capital. The ground was full of families and children. It was hard to see who was more excited, the children or their parents. 99% of them would not be able to identify any of the players if they sat next to them on the team coach, including me. But that didn’t matter. They were here to watch a football match, together, for its own sake.
My granddaughter doesn’t take outings and treats for granted but being part of an extended family who love the game, she’s been to Wembley three times already, once for the Olympic football and for two internationals. Even she was impressed though by the historic nature of this fixture, the first ever England women’s international at the new Wembley. She and her friends wanted to be part of something. They didn’t know the players or the tactics, they didn’t care it was a friendly or even who won, but they knew it was a good place to be on a Sunday afternoon. It was important and they were there.
What it must be to discover the enthralling, compelling fascination of football for the first time. The ebb and flow of the game, the welcoming comfort of the crowd. These days it’s hard to find that at a Premier League match, a league which sometimes feels as if they make it as difficult as possible to enjoy a day out. You want to secure the involvement of another generation in the game we love? Group discount for football clubs, adults £7.50, children £1.
A different experience in many ways. We went by coach and parked about 6 feet from the ground, under cover. I pined for the 45 minute queue for Wembley Park, well almost. Dutifully in full school trip mode we followed our group leader off the coach. It took 10 minutes to realise that he had no intention of going in the ground but was looking for a leisurely meal in the shopping centre. It had never occurred to me that Wembley had a shopping centre, let alone eat beforehand.
We turned round and went in to watch and feel the crowd build up. I’m proud to say my granddaughter has been well taught in the ways of being a proper supporter. She knows that the most memorable aspect of her last Wembley trip, for the international versus Peru, was the paper plane thrown from the top tier that hit a player on the head. Regarding half and half scarves, she’s as disapproving as only a 9 year old can be. But nobody cared this time. Kids wanted souvenir of the match and wore their scarves proudly. Things were so different, I even joined in the Mexican wave.
Back in the coach, radio on, second half from Hull and I’m back to normal, hunched in my seat, stomach turning over, gloomy then relieved. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but then again I learned to love the club game from an early age whereas I can’t help feeling Spurs sometimes make themselves hard to love.
No detailed match discussion this week. It was the first game this season I’ve not seen as it happened, no chance to write in the middle of a 14 hour day yesterday and anyway the time is past. Maybe just re-read the Villa piece. I’ve seen it now and relief rather than elation sums it up. Credit to the fightback and to the way the side kept pushing for the winner. Delighted that Eriksen was prominent in that resurgence, taking command and using the extra space very well. The late winner was a re-resurgence because Hull had successfully broken the play up to take away our momentum.
I’m conscious of being critical of the team recently. Honest is another word for it. I take no pleasure in pointing out how poorly we have played and the total absence of leadership from anyone within the club, on or off the field. Regular readers will know how much it hurts.
So enjoy the win, always, and the Spurs away support came through loud and clear on the radio, which is never taken for granted even though it happens every away match. Credit must go to Pochettino, who has given several players a run in the side but rightly made changes for this one, including changes in the spine of the side where he seemed to have settled on his best options.
But we were awful, simply awful, for much of the first half. I was open-mouthed at times even though I knew what to expect. Harking back to my last piece, this didn’t answer the question of heart, of being able to find the strength from within to make progress rather than expecting something outside our power to lift us. We had to wait for a red card again. Let’s leave it there with the comforting thought that if an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters for an infinite amount of time can produce the complete works of Shakespeare, surely Soldado is bound to score this century.