Madrid – May / June 2019

Hello dear readers! I hope all is well with you? I thought that I’d get back to writing about some travel.

I have written about football-related travels many times on the blog but this? This is a post I never in my lifetime thought that I’d be writing about.

I was listening to an episode of The Travel Architect’s podcast recently and the “travel quiz” on this particular episode revolved around the concept that people travel locally, nationally and internationally to watch sports or any event really at “bucketlist” venues – I am one of those people.

My love of football is no secret, I’ve been obsessed with the sport for as long as I can remember. Football is the biggest sport in England – by some distance. Football is the biggest sport in the world even and I’ve heard it nicknamed the “global language” – regardless of your native language, everyone understands football.

I think that’s particularly true for myself. I’m an introverted person, I’m quiet but that was multiplied tenfold as a child. I was so shy and so reserved but football was my comfort zone, I understood football and if we had a mutual love for the game it made it infinitely easier to connect with you. It was an easy bonding subject I suppose.

As a kid I just immersed myself in to all things football. To this day it’s probably the only passion I have that exceeds travel. I love and loathe it in equal measure, it infuriates me like nothing else can but the highs of the game are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

It didn’t matter what it was growing up. I could be playing football in the streets from dawn ’til dusk, collecting football stickers for the latest Premier League sticker album, reading Match magazine every single week or watching football on the telly. Playing computer games such as Championship Manager (“move aside Gerry Francis.. I’m taking Spurs to the lofty heights of the UEFA Cup!”), reading football-books.. whatever it was, I was obsessed!

I heard so many football stories from my dad’s youth – a very different time in football where tickets were more accessible and affordable. My dad would travel up and down the country with his mates and even experience the occasional foray in to Europe for the ultimate “away day” experience – hearing stories of Spurs in Belgium and UEFA Cup glory in 1984 was something I was so envious of for such a long, long time.

My dad’s “heyday” came and went. Marriage and kids and responsibilities followed and my dad had to stop going. Football became too expensive and required too much sacrifice to follow with the same frequency – sadly resigned to a life of “armchair football” but he still had enough love for it to pass on the reigns to his son. We’ll not give too much mention to the rebel Arsenal-supporting daughter! – “Why haven’t you disowned her dad?”

I loved football so much but my dad couldn’t afford to take us regularly if at all, it’s an expensive day out but my love for it was unrivalled. Growing up I’d firstly dream of playing on the biggest stage, playing for Spurs, winning the FA Cup and once the realisation kicked in that I’d never be good enough to achieve that, my hopes turned to my “idols” achieving that success on my behalf.

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I wanted to see Spurs win an FA Cup (I still haven’t!), I wanted to see Spurs in Europe. Even as a deluded, hopeful child you’d never dream of Premier League or Champions League glory for little ol’ Spurs – that was beyond our limitations but just give me something to remember. Give me something to match up to those stories my dad has from the late 70’s and 80’s.

Year after year I’d witness disappointment after disappointment. I still haven’t forgiven Shearer for breaking my heart in the FA Cup semi final in `1999. Likewise I have held a bitter resentment against Germans, Kaiserlautern, for ending my sole European memory of Spurs far earlier than I was prepared for. Just the one European excursion in my pitiful Spurs-supporting memory – my dad’s fairytale stories are all a lie!

Jokes aside, I dreamt of football on the biggest stage – imagine going to watch Spurs in Europe or England at a World Cup. My dad went to France in 1998 and I watched on again, envious albeit ultimately with similar feelings of disappointment and heartbreak following another painful England World Cup defeat.

My school years were particularly painful, arguably Spurs worst era and similarly coinciding with the years (92-04) I was most susceptible to teasing from my peers.

I left school and typically Spurs fortunes changed. More importantly though, I left school. I was now of working age – the financial limitations my father had had, I did not. I had no responsibility and despite taking a weekend job in a supermarket I was finally free to spend my hard-earned cash as I pleased – going to the football regularly.

I remember little of the first time my dad took me to White Hart Lane but I remember running up those steps and seeing that pitch for the first time – “wow!” – you dream about it but I don’t think that first time can ever disappoint. It’s Disneyland levels of magical – now that I was working I could finally come as often as I wanted.

Better yet, Spurs were improving on the pitch! In 2006, at 18 years old, I finally got to watch my beloved Spurs participate in a European competition – in the flesh! Tottenham vs Slavia Prague in London. A “glory, glory” European night under the famous lights of White Hart Lane!

The allure of European football, playing on the continent in places you have and haven’t heard of, has always mesmerised me. You read blog posts about the hidden gems of Europe – “secret off-the-beaten-path cities no-one has heard of” and it’s like mate, you underestimate the obscure places across the world that football fans know about because of some random football team that play there.

Going back to that previously mentioned podcast.. My love for European football in particular always came with an “I’d love to play there..” wish before materialising in to the “I’d love to watch a game there” dream instead.

There were and still are so many football experiences I’d love to witness one day – famous football stadiums, famous football matches and rivalries, famous football tournaments that would be incredible to see live.

Primarily I want those football experiences with Spurs of course but some aren’t possible and others aren’t realistic. I can’t watch Spurs in a World Cup but I’d still love to attend a World Cup one year – there’ll always be some regret that I didn’t go to Brazil in 2014.

It’s my dream to go and watch either domestic or international football in South America – Brazil and Argentina in particular as the footballing giants of the continent. It’s my dream to go and watch some of the big European rivalries, I have a list of football stadiums I’d like to visit before I die (or before they knock the stadium down!). I have so many football-bucketlist experiences to tick off!

European football again obviously holds a lot of those experiences and I never thought I’d see them with Spurs if I’m being honest. That Champions League anthem is mesmerising but I never really believed growing up that I’d watch Spurs participate in the competition, let alone multiple times as I’ve been fortunate to do. I never thought visiting the likes of the Camp Nou, San Siro, Bernabeu, WestfalenStadion or others would ever be possible.

After finally being able to go to home games regularly I attended my first Tottenham away game in 2008 – Spurs at Villa Park in Birmingham – what a historic, traditional stadium that is too. It’ll be a sad day should Aston Villa ever replace their stadium.

I went to multiple domestic away games over the years and then finally went to my first European away game in 2014 – Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal – one of Portugal’s biggest teams and a huge name in European football.

“Pinch me!”

It was “only” in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League (UEFA Cup) but still – watching Spurs in Europe? “This is the dream!”

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Since that first European outing I’ve watched football in a number of countries and even in that elusive Champions League competition I thought beyond little ol’ Spurs and then ‘here’ we are – June 2019.

I kind of knew, much like my father 30 years ago, that my footballing days were coming to an end. I’ve had this nagging feeling about a different lifestyle, different priorities and different responsibilities that suggested I’d have to “hang up my boots” so to speak.

It wasn’t necessarily imminent but I knew it wasn’t far away and so I went in to 2019 with the mentality that the next European outing, this, could be my last ever European away game with Spurs. I wrote that blog post knowing I was bowing out soon – I just wanted one final away European away game and “anywhere but Dortmund”.

Ironically Dortmund was one of those stadiums I never thought I’d see Tottenham play at – one of Europe’s most famous football venues and undoubtedly fitting of any worthwhile football bucketlist – home to the famous “yellow wall” of Borussia Dortmund.

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Tottenham were drawn to play Dortmund in March 2016 and I’d literally only just come home from Georgia at the end of Feb and I was booking flights – I did not give a shit about work, I was not missing a “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund.

Seven months later we were back in West Germany in nearby Leverkusen and then in November 2017 we returned to Dortmund again! On that occasion I saw Spurs win but twice was plenty – there’s no other reason to visit Dortmund!

So faced with the possibility of a third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund – I was praying to the football gods for some mercy and to send me anywhere else. My prayers fell on deaf ears: Tottenham Hotspur vs Borussia Dortmund – March 2019.

There were no guarantees of progress, no guarantees of more European games. This could be my last and only opportunity so reluctantly, back to West Germany for the fourth football excursion in three years. Spurs typically won comfortably which resulted in a Champions League quarter final against fellow English side, Manchester City.

Unbelievably Spurs succeeded and set up a first Champions League (European Cup) semi final appearance in 57 years – Tottenham vs Ajax – giants of Dutch and European football – “pinch me!”

Amsterdam

Next up Amsterdam – with a touch of irony perhaps. Spurs have offered so many disappointments over the years. Typically I’m on the verge of packing it in altogether and Spurs decide this is the year for a cup run in Europe? “Thanks Tottenham..”

Amsterdam was not in the budget for the year but of course I had to go, hoping that Tottenham may well just go one step better than they did in 1962 and incredibly they did – a first Champions League (European Cup) final appearance in their 137 year history!

and so this is where this story begins!

“Begins? Jason, you’ve already written a novel!”

I know, I know but what’s a story without a little context?

I was ready to pack it in, just one final European outing. I’d budgeted the first six months of the year perfectly so that I could think about next steps with Haleigh. This was the supposed to be me winding down as far as the football was concerned but Spurs said “sod that, we were your first love!”

Madrid

A Champions League final was an “at all costs” trip and boy was it. There was no scenario in which I wasn’t going to Madrid, with or without a ticket for the game, but I genuinely had no idea how I was going to make the logistics of this work.

As if the trip wasn’t expensive enough anyway, Tottenham’s European fate had been sealed on that memorable Wednesday night in Amsterdam. 24 hours earlier our opponents Liverpool had sealed their own fate – we’d face English opposition in Madrid but more importantly that meant fellow English supporters and travelers that had been afforded a 24 hour head start.

Reports suggest 100,000 or so traveled from England to Madrid for this game. I don’t know how accurate that is. I don’t know if it was more – quite possibly but for my fellow experienced travelers, try and book that trip with three weeks notice on very specific dates and when a vast majority have had a head start on your travel planning -it’s bonkers!

The simplest solution (“hey, we’re selling flights to Madrid sat on Ryanair’s wing for only £450,000 one way”) was a no-go.

I was 100% going to Madrid but it was time to get creative. Where do I fly from? What are my options? What’s the alternative to flying to Madrid? Barcelona? Bilbao? Where? Would it be cheaper to not fly from England? Maybe I’ll go out to Dublin or Paris or Marrakech or anywhere else first!

It was a headache! I was still in Amsterdam at the time and pondered if I just should start walking to Madrid now! I shared my frustrations with my parents and knew it’d probably have to wait until I got home.

“Your dad’s thinking of driving..”

Wait, what!!? Dad’s contemplating popping out of “retirement” for this one? Wow! I mean it probably shouldn’t have shocked me,  this is big after all but still, my dad didn’t even own a passport at the time.

That said, anyone who was anyone was going to this. I think it was about Liverpool’s 408th Champions League final in 20 years and they’ve been to one more since then too but for Spurs? This doesn’t happen to the likes of us – a genuine “once in a lifetime!” experience.

I know it’s a case of being privileged and having the luxury of football as a priority in your life that you can do a trip such as this but it still surprises me that any Spurs fan missed this.

If you have to sell an organ or that Arsenal supporting sibling, do it! A family friend of ours flew over from his home in Australia to be in Madrid because this was the big one! Admittedly his journey may well still have been cheaper than any flight from England going to Madrid but he knew how important it was, I knew that I had to go and my dad likewise – a first Father-Son European away game!

Road to Madrid

My dad drove! A European road trip from Peterborough, England to Madrid, Spain. Another friend of my dad’s footballing days joined us for the roadtrip, quite surreal how much of the old gang had come out of obscurity for this one – I’d never met Lloyd before and I don’t think my dad had seen him in decades either but a trip worthy of a reunion!

The match was on Saturday, we left England after work on Thursday and intended to drive back on Sunday so this was as quick and as budget-friendly as such a trip would allow – sharing fuel and accommodation costs between us.

We left work on Thursday and headed for Dover where we’d be picking up Lloyd and more importantly, catching the late-night / early-morning ferry over to France. I can’t recall what time it was but let’s just say it was dark in the crossing.

I was a little apprehensive about taking the ferry. It makes me a little cautious about ever booking a cruise too, I get a little seasick I guess and I felt so rough coming back from Amsterdam three weeks earlier which was weighing on my mind a little bit.

Nevertheless we had a beer on board and kicked off the trip of a lifetime in style. The rest of the ferry was packed with football fans, predominantly Liverpool fans but two sets of supporters all in good spirit – all ready for the big game on Saturday!

We arrived in France early Friday morning and was able to catch the sun coming up over the country – being the end of May it was particularly nice and came up quite early.

The trip made me feel quite nostalgic. We’d take the occasional family daytrip to France when we lived in London and I also visited Spain on a coach-trip with school that no doubt took a much similar route that we did for this trip.

I remember nothing of France from those trips other than stopping at service stations and such in random places. For a long time I didn’t really feel like I’d really been to France. It was only after visiting Paris and Lille that I felt like I’d actually been to France and started falling in love with it. Lille was particularly nice visiting France in the summer and getting to see what the fuss was about. Up until then I’d never really got the fuss about France.

We were on the road for a good few hours on France, stopping occasionally for a food break and chance to visit the grand service stations of the country – feeling very nostalgic for the France I remember from my youth!

Mid-afternoon we arrived in our stop for the night. We didn’t want to do the full drive on Friday so agreed to stop somewhere on route – I’d had a little read on options and suggested Bayonne / Biarritz might be a good choice. So we booked a little budget backpackers hotel in Bayonne for one night – it was very basic. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere really and more dorm-like accommodation but perfect for one night – we had no problems with it.

We dropped off our things and decided we’d go and spend the rest of the afternoon at the coast. We got back in the car and headed for nearby Biarritz.

This was meant to be a whistle-stop one-nighter so none of us were that bothered about where we stayed, we hadn’t done any real research about what to do or what to expect from the area. More than anything it was a good base for us to then hit the road again in the morning.

So Biarritz took all of us by surprise – it is stunning! We stepped out of the car and I was blown away by its beauty. This is why people rave about the South of France!

Biarritz

Biarritz
Biarritz, France

Surfing

The sun was shining, the water was gorgeous and it felt so relaxed. Biarritz were actually hosting the ‘World Longboard Surfing Championship’ this week but it seemed like we’d missed any of the major activity of the day. There were still a few people out in the water but it was so peaceful.

We found a little outside bar to pick up some beers and just sat by the water mesmerised. It’s so easy to glamourise travel places but this felt like paradise. The only disappointment was the reality that we were only here for one night. Part of me sat there, looking out to the water and thinking can’t we just sack off Madrid?

I’d been to Madrid before (and LOVED it), let’s find a bar for the game tomorrow and stay here forever. Why are we leaving this place so soon?

We enjoyed the views a little longer but didn’t hang around for particularly long. We got back in the car and returned to Bayonne, which also looked nice from the little we saw of it, before finding a place to grab some dinner near our hotel. We were pretty close to Spain by this point but still had a few hours drive ahead of us so were keen to get an early night and an early start in the morning.

On Saturday morning we woke up in eager anticipation of the day ahead. Champions League final day featuring Tottenham fucking Hotspur. This is actually happening!

Of course I was sad to be leaving the South of France, I am itching to return to Biarritz one day and also to explore more of the South of France because it had instantly won us over but nevertheless we had to go.

The drive over the border is gorgeous. As I said above, I’d done the school coachtrip to Spain before so this wasn’t of huge surprise to me but it was even prettier than I remember it being.

FranceSpain border

Even more Spurs and Liverpool fans were on the road by this point – all Madrid bound. We stopped off at more service stations along the way and picked up food for the morning to keep us going. Eventually we’d arrived in sunny, glorious Madrid.

I think Madrid is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Europe, I think I might go as far as saying it’s my favourite European city outside of London but on this occasion we weren’t here for the culture or anything else that Madrid has to offer. We found somewhere to park and headed straight for the dedicated fan-park hosting Spurs.

We picked up some beers and soaked up the building atmosphere. One of hope, one of optimism, one of disbelief. This fairytale-like story was one night away from reaching Hollywood. We’d been down and out so many times over the course of the season that there was this feeling of “it’s meant to be” and we just needed that movie-script ending to round it off.

Soon enough our family friend, Dave, had joined us. Coming all the way from Australia Barcelona, it was great to see him after a few years. I’ve seen him a few times over the years in England and we even met up a couple of times when I went to Sydney, now we were in our third country together and for a Champions League final! Had I mentioned that?

A little while later two more of the old gang, Dave number 2 and Mo, had come to join us for a little while too. A great opportunity for a reunion photo and a “we were there” moment.

MadridSpurs

Soon enough the fan-park closed. Dave 2 and Mo went their separate ways whilst the four of us went off in search for elsewhere to drink and hopefully a bar to watch the big game tonight.

We picked up a drunk stray from Aberdeen who’d seemingly lost his friends and tagged along with us for the night. We tried a couple of bars without much fortune – finding that they were either completely rammed with supporters or that they were completely empty because they had no TV to show the game. Eventually we had some fortune in a restaurant-ish kind of bar showing the game and selling beers which was all we really needed.

The day had been lovely. Everyone was in good spirits. I think there was a fear that with tens of thousands of Brits descending on Madrid that there’d be trouble. The Brits, and English in particular, don’t have the greatest reputation on the continent. Some of it is fully justified to be fair but on this occasion there was no need for such concern – everyone got along swimmingly. Now for the football..

All that build-up, all that anticipation and excitement? Minute one: Liverpool penalty – game over.

It still feels unfair, unjust even. I don’t think the decision will ever sit right with me and it just killed the game. Spurs huffed and puffed but without any real quality, it was probably one of the worst Champions League finals in truth but to have this grand occasion go like this so early in the game was and still is hard to accept.

I don’t know how much I ever really believed. I was always hopeful and had optimism, there was definitely fleeting moments of “we’re going to do this..” but Liverpool were of course the favourites for the game, favourites to win the trophy for the Nth time and so it proved.

As ever for Tottenham, no happy ending. No fairytale, no Hollywood movie to come. I can’t and won’t question the effort because we tried but even accepting we weren’t ever expected to be at this stage, it was no less painful. We huffed away and Liverpool hit us on the counter late on – an undeserved 2-0 in a game lacking any quality. We never deserved to win and perhaps it’s the bitterness talking but Liverpool were barely worthy winners themselves.

I walked out at 2-0 completely deflated. I needed to just walk somewhere for a bit. I had no interest in seeing the final whistle, no interest in seeing the trophy presentation. Who fucking cares?

We didn’t have accommodation for Saturday night. I think we’d made the decision to just find some kip in the car later on and then head out Sunday morning.

Nevertheless we hung out in Madrid for a bit after the game, mingling with a few people from the bar that we’d met. I dare say I wasn’t really present at all. Maybe its the years of experience supporting Spurs, maybe its the fact the other three have all tasted real Tottenham success but I think the other three took the defeat much better than myself.

I don’t know how any of them could find the energy to be sociable enough for chit-chat. In truth I just wanted to be as far from Madrid as possible. After maybe an hour we went and found a late-night joint for some cheap and greasy food. I’m not sure you’d necessarily associate Madrid as a good place for a kebab but it ticked the right boxes after a day of beer and football.

From there it was back to the car. Lloyd seemed to find the time to talk to every passing celebratory Scouser. To be fair to the Liverpool bunch, they were very gracious about it and complimentary of Spurs but I didn’t really find any consolation in it.

More to the point was that Lloyd was constantly stopping on our walk back to the car. I lost count of how many Liverpool fans we stopped for in the end – admittedly Lloyd was fairly drunk but I’m sure he was seeking them out – “just keep walking Lloyd, come on!”

My dad seemingly had much more patience than I did. Perhaps I needed to be a bit drunker myself but I wasn’t particularly interested in baby-sitting someone 20-30 years my senior, nor stopping for chirpy Scousers.

We said our goodbyes to Dave, wishing him well for the trip back down-under, and eventually got Lloyd back to the car having stopped for conversations with seemingly every single person in Madrid.

We slept on the outskirts of Madrid for a few hours kip before hitting the road again – determined to try and do it in a day and be back on a late-Sunday / early-Monday ferry back to England.

Sidenote and a word of warning for anyone that fancies doing this road-trip – the tolls aren’t particularly suited to back-seat passengers and dare I say drivers too! Lloyd seemed near-dead in the front seat and was completely passed out which left me on toll-duty as my dad drove and seemingly few seemed to fall on the actual drivers sides for some reason.

Maybe my memory is rusty but thinking back to it, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do if you’re a solo driver. A few tolls on I was an expert on the pay-process but it seems bizarre that that was the case. Perhaps manned toll booths on the right side of the road were closed because it was a Sunday and this was our only option? Who knows?

Anyway, we looked for somewhere to break up the drive once again and as tempting as it may have been to return to Biarritz we wanted to see somewhere different. Bordeaux seemed like an obvious choice but we opted to go to ‘La Rochelle’ instead, I figured I was more likely to visit Bordeaux one day and why not go somewhere else.

We struck out unfortunately. Perhaps we didn’t give it enough of a chance but for a flying visit, we certainly didn’t see the best of La Rochelle and wouldn’t necessarily be inspired to return. I’ve heard good things so I’d be inclined to go back and see if it could change my mind but it was barely a lunch spot for us and left no real impression.

We hit the road again pretty quickly and from there it was the odd service station on an otherwise uneventful drive. Lloyd eventually woke from his slumber, still feeling the effects of a heavy day of drinking. Having perked up a bit we grabbed some food and then made the gradual return to Calais, Dover and Peterborough respectively.

Dam Square Spurs

Reflecting on the trip as a three-parter makes it more special: Köln, Amsterdam, Madrid – wow!

It’s hard to detach from the finale, hard to detach from the pain of how it ended but when you take the whole experience in to account then I can only look back on it with fondness. Amsterdam was incredible, to follow that up with a Father-Son road-trip was particularly special and it’s a footballing-adventure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

I’m gutted that this three-parter doesn’t get the Hollywood ending it deserves but hopefully you’ve enjoyed following along anyway. If this is to be my last football-inspired blog post and how I bow out of European football, what a way to do it!

Maybe there’ll be more European adventures to come, who knows? I’ve certainly cut back on the football this side of Covid and I’d be reluctant to go back to Dortmund for the 592nd time but watch this space I guess. There’ll almost certainly be a World Cup adventure in 2026 given that the USA are one of the host countries!

Anyway, time to wrap this up! Next time on the blog? No idea! Haha.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Amsterdam – May 2019

Hello dear readers!

Do you ever get those posts where you just can’t spit the right words out? It wasn’t my intention for this to be my next post but I was trying to write up part two of the Köln trip and it just wouldn’t come together. I enjoyed the trip but I’m just not enjoying writing about it.

So a change of plans, here’s Amsterdam!

Strangely though, you can still consider this to be somewhat of a ‘sequel’ to that Köln post. Between visiting Köln in March and visiting Amsterdam in early May I’d actually been to three different countries but this is still perhaps the “next chapter” of an unbelievable story.

I hinted at this in my last post but I knew back in 2019, maybe even earlier than that, that change was coming my way. I was feeling good about things with Haleigh and knew that at some point I really wanted to go out and live in the USA. There was no specific date in mind but “as soon as possible” was the aim.

The only thing that stopped me doing it any earlier was balance. I’ve always been quite sensible with money but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my enjoyment just to get to my end goal a little bit earlier – balance was a must!

So I meticulously mapped out the first six months of 2019 (read me) knowing that come July I’d be in a healthy enough financial position to really think about what was next, without having to sacrifice any fun in the first six months of the year.

I calculated that I could squeeze in trips to Köln, Washington, Helsinki and Dublin in the first half of 2019 if I was strict enough with my spending but I’d left myself no wiggle room. That was it!

MyHelsinki

Enter Spurs..

I often joke that football supporters probably hate the game more than those who claim not to like football. The game is rotten in so many ways that infuriate you as someone who cares about the game and, many of those reasons are ultimately part of the reason why I’ve since walked away from the game and cut down on attending.

Anyway.. Köln was my way of bowing out of European football. I had this inkling that it’d probably be my last European football away trip for quite some time, maybe ever? My priorities were changing and so it was quite bittersweet that my big finale ended up being a third trip to Dortmund.
You can’t moan about traveling to Germany really. The last couple of years in particular make you appreciate the luxuries we have but moan I did – “fucking Dortmund!”

I’d told myself that this decision came down to how willing I was to gamble. I knew this was the last season I’d be likely to do this so it was either Dortmund in the last 16 or I’d have to gamble and hope we reach the quarter finals and get a better away trip in the next round.

However I knew that there were no guarantees. It could be Dortmund now or Barcelona in the next round, in contrast it could be Dortmund or nothing. There was every chance we’d crash out of European football and that’d be my plans shattered. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d made assumptions only for Tottenham to disappoint me.

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This wasn’t one of those occasions. Tottenham comfortably beat Dortmund 3-0 in London and it looked like the tie was over before we’d even got to Germany – “are you kidding me Spurs!?”.

I still had some nerves for the return fixture in Dortmund but in reality, unless Tottenham did something very stupid (see why I was nervous!?) we were very likely to be in the next round. We finished off the job in Dortmund and so it turns out that I could have waited a round. I could have gambled!

They soon did the draw for the next round and I took some solace with the knowledge that our next opponents were none other than Manchester City. If I’d gambled away four nights in Europe and had to settle for a European trip to Manchester I would have been beyond gutted – the only fixture more anti-climatic than a trip to Dortmund – we play in Manchester at least twice a year already.

The other piece of comfort was that this draw meant that this was the end of the line for Spurs. This was going to be our last European games of the season and not a trip I was going to have any regrets about. Manchester City were, and still are, far superior to Tottenham and there’s only one possible outcome to this tie. Dortmund was a 50-50 tossup but City? No chance! 85-15 in City’s favour and that’s if they have a bad day.

I don’t want to overwhelm you with football chatter so if you haven’t worked out where this is going already, catch up!

Tottenham weren’t supposed to win this tie. There are a multitude of script-like factors that played a part but fate was with Spurs and they did in fact beat Manchester City – qualifying for the next round in the most spectacular fashion. Tottenham were off to the Champions League semi finals.

I’d told myself I wasn’t going to a semi final. It was never in consideration. There was no wiggle room in my budget for more than one football trip so it was always either the round of 16 (Dortmund) or gambling for a quarter final (Manchester). The only exception I would make in addition to that would be a trip to Madrid for the final and let’s be clear that is NEVER going to happen.

The semi final happened to overlap with my mum’s birthday and that was further cause to stick by my commitment. I travel a lot but it’s rare that I’d miss a family birthday – I have no responsibilities, I can travel any time of year and I don’t particularly mind missing my own birthday but let’s be at home for the others if we can help it, eh? So I’d have to miss this one.

“I’m not doing the semi final, I’m not doing the semi final. I’m.. fuck!”

This wasn’t supposed to happen! I mean you really couldn’t make it up. I’ll turn 34 this year and for the bulk of that time Tottenham have inflicted misery upon misery over me. I wouldn’t change it for anything but that’s the reality. So in typical Tottenham fashion, even when things are going well they find a way to completely inconvenient me.

I was ready to leave my job, ready to head off to Washington for a while and Spurs threw me a curveball. You couldn’t have done this in any of the previous ten years of European football Spurs?

“I’m not doing the semi final” was a lot easier to commit to when hypothetical but an actual Champions League semi final? The only other time Tottenham have played at that stage of the competition was 1962 – this was literally once in a lifetime stuff. How could I possibly not go to Amsterdam!?

My hesitancy cost me. It’s not a mistake I usually make. Football travel 101 – you book your travel as soon as you know the game is confirmed, worry about the accommodation later but when you’re competing with thousands of other people for the same journey you don’t hang about!

I’d stupidly kid myself that I wasn’t going to Amsterdam and I suffered for it. I slept on the decision for two days and by the time I came to my senses, flight prices and Eurostar journeys from London had gone through the roof. Amsterdam is normally pretty cheap to travel to from the UK but not when every other Spurs fan is planning the same journey on the same dates.

Even for a Champions League semi final, it was hard justifying some of the prices I was seeing. Do I really want to pay this much for this trip when I could go to Amsterdam a week later for a fraction of the cost – it’s so hard to justify but this may never happen again.

I compromised, I really couldn’t justify paying stupid prices for journeys way beyond their usual value so I looked at another alternative – how much and how long would a coach take?

Amsterdam wasn’t in the budget but I couldn’t miss it so took the budget-friendliest option I could. Overnight coach from London to Amsterdam, overnight coach from Amsterdam to London, one night in a hostel in Amsterdam – let’s do this!

I booked everything and then had to send an awkward email to work. I don’t know how many of you have been guilty of this but I was on holiday in Washington and having to send my manager an email to request time off for another holiday. “I know I’m away at the moment but..” – such cheek!

Amsterdam

A couple of weeks passed by and it was time! This was quite possibly the most ludicrous weeks of my life because I came back from Washington and started getting excited about Finland – my bank holiday plans I’d made at the start of the year.

I flew home from Helsinki on bank holiday Monday, went to work on Tuesday and then on Tuesday evening I made my way down to London Victoria. I’d been in the country less than 24 hours before running off again – quite absurd!

I grabbed some dinner on route and then picked up a couple of other snacks for the journey – best get comfy for the next 12 hours!

I wasn’t sure how busy or comfortable the journey was going to be so was quite pleased to get a window seat for the journey – towards the back of the coach with “the cool kids”. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only Spurs fan on board which was an added bonus. At least half a dozen around me were also making the budget trip to Amsterdam and feeling optimistic about our chances. We’d lost the first game 1-0 in London but all was still to play for in Amsterdam.

With a lot of football chatter it made sense to keep tabs on Tuesday night’s other semi final. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain but playing at Anfield on a European night? You never know..

With Liverpool 1-0 up and all to play for in the second half, I managed to get the game up on my phone. Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?

Liverpool turned it around, from 3-0 down to 4-3 winners! Anfield’s magic had struck again and produced one of the greatest comebacks you’re ever going to see in European football. It gave the few of us some real optimism for Amsterdam. It’s only 1-0, this tie really isn’t over yet!

The football had helped pass some of the time. Soon enough we were at the channel crossing and ready to go to mainland Europe! I wasn’t sure how we’d be crossing and had assumed by ferry but as it turned out we went over via the channel tunnel – a railway shuttle service for vehicles.

By the time we’d crossed in to Europe the mood of the bus was vastly different. The early excitement of a football adventure had been swapped for opportunist sleepers, hoping to catch a bit of shuteye before the morning. I dozed a little myself but not too much as we made stop-offs in Antwerp, Eindhoven and Utretcht. Antwerp the city that perhaps most caught my eye from the little I could see at night-time.

We continued on through the Netherlands at a rapid pace. I don’t know if the coach drivers happened to be Tottenham fans themselvess but we arrived at our bus stop in a neighbourhood called Duivendrecht two and a half hours ahead of schedule – fantastic as far as I was concerned!

Fortunately I’d been to Amsterdam before so whilst I wasn’t so familiar with Duivendrecht itself, I knew roughly where I wanted to kick off my trip – Amsterdam Centraal station please!

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam at 6am is quite the sight, a treat even. I hate waking up early when I travel but I also love seeing a city before it has had the chance to properly wake up – a bit of a dilemma but this was an occasion where I had no choice. I didn’t have a comfy hotel bed to curl up in so my only option was to have a wander along Amsterdam’s deserted streets.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to enjoy regardless but getting to see it with nobody around was that little bit more special. I know I’ll never see Dam Square this quiet again for instance.

I had nothing I particularly wanted to do with my time in Amsterdam, it was a short and sweet trip and most of it would be preoccupied with football. I wandered off and made the most of Amsterdam being so quiet, capturing a bunch of people-free photos as I wandered around.

Dam Square

Amsterdam 1

Amsterdam Canal

With places actually starting to open I soon went and found myself a little Amsterdam cafe to sit and get some tea from. I had made plans to meet up with a couple of friends later in the day but I had the morning free to myself.

After a second cup of tea I meandered on over to Amsterdam’s ‘MuseumPlein’ – home to a park and some of Amsterdam’s most famous museums. It’s a pretty area so wasn’t an entirely wasted walk but it turns out that the likes of the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum were fully booked – it seems football fans aren’t completely uncultured hooligans and the thousands of Brits in town had had a knock-on effect.

I did some more wandering of Amsterdam’s canals before finding myself a place to grab some lunch. By the time I’d finished I was able to head over towards the hostel I was staying at for the night and check in. I’d stayed at Amsterdam’s Flying Pigs hostel before and although I don’t tend to stay in hostels as frequently anymore, for one night it seemed pretty ideal to be somewhere central and somewhere I also knew.

I checked in to my 6 bed dorm around 1ish and proceeded to find two near-dead Americans who weren’t able to rise from their beds and were still suffering a bit from the night before. They’d got caught up with the influx of Spurs fans in town on Tuesday night and seemingly suffered the hangover that followed. A couple of others sharing our dorm also turned up and we mingled about our various plans before I bid my farewell – extending an invitation or warning perhaps dependent upon your perspective.

“Dam Square..” – come join the party or avoid at all costs but either way it’s going to be busy and it’s going to be loud. I left my hostel dorm and I could hear Dam Square before I could see it – the English have arrived.

Dam Square Spurs

The beers were flowing, the Brits were serenading Amsterdam – Glory glory, Tottenham Hotspur. The rest of the afternoon was spent embracing the atmosphere and catching up with friends – Daniel and Natalie had also made the journey over to Amsterdam and so here we were in yet another country for Spurs.

Sadly this was one of the occasions where getting a ticket for the game was impossible. Nevertheless we wanted to be here, part of the atmosphere that only these European trips can offer – nothing can replicate the feeling of being amongst “your own”.

As kickoff approached Spurs fans scuttered off in various directions, not helped by the rain. We tried one pub on Dam Square which was rammed and had no luck getting in to. We ventured off down a side street and stumbled upon an Irish pub which seemed suitable enough for the evening. No idea where Natalie ended up, we somehow got separated and she ended up watching the game with another friend elsewhere.

By this point the nerves had kicked in, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest games in Tottenham’s history and please Spurs, just once eh?

BAM! Five minutes in and Ajax have scored to put them 1-0 up on the night and 2-0 up overall. That was not the start we wanted!

Time ticked on and Ajax have done it again, 2-0 up on the night and 3-0 ahead in the tie. I’ve had various and numerous Spurs disappointments over the years but is this really how this is going to play out? Our biggest game in my lifetime and we’re just going to crash out with a whimper? I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a Spurs team or performance. I’ve undoubtedly seen worse performances but on this stage it was unacceptable and indefensible. If we lose to Ajax then so be it, they’re a good team but at least do it the right way. At least give us a chance. Gutless, spineless, pathetic.

I considered getting up and going at half time. Let’s not pretend I can’t find a million other ways to actually enjoy my evening in Amsterdam. Something possessed me to stay, I dare say hope but in reality I must just enjoy the misery that comes with following Spurs. Why else let them put me through the ringer year after year, season after season, disappointment after disappointment?

“If Ajax score again I’m gone..” I say to Daniel. If we could just get one early goal in the second half, you just never know.

BAM! Lucas Moura! 2-1 on the night, 3-1 overall. The pub roars and for the first time there’s that glimmer of hope, just a small dash. Could we?

BAM! Four minutes later, Lucas Moura again! Beers go flying everywhere, this Tottenham dominated pub goes delirious. Belief for the very first time! Half an hour to go, only one goal needed, game on! The nerves have returned.

The next half an hour was agonising. So close and yet so far, every Ajax attack sent fear through my body, every missed opportunity for Spurs caused despair.

With a couple of minutes to go a cross comes in to the box, Vertonghen gets his head on it and..

BAM crossbar. Argh! That was the chance! That had to go in!

Now this is typical Tottenham isn’t it? I was suddenly backtracking on my earlier hopes. This tie was dead and buried, Spurs had no chance but they couldn’t just leave it alone and allow me to suffer an embarrassing 12-0 defeat. No. It’d be much more fun to play like idiots for three halves of football, offer you that little bit of hope and then crush you in the finale.

Time ticked on and Ajax wasted every wasting second they could. Five minutes of injury time to play and another chance comes and goes. This is always the way with Spurs, it’s fucking cruel. So close and so far – no happy ending here.

Ajax waste more time and it seems like that is probably that. We get the ball back with seconds to go and boot a hopeful ball forward, we need a miracle. Hit and hope.

Llorente knocks it down, Dele flicks it on, MOURA!!!!!! 95:01 on the clock. Are you fucking kidding!? What the fuck just happened!?

Beers go flying again – more this time. Bodies go flying too. I’m thrown one way, Daniel the other direction as everyone piles in for a massive group-hug. Seriously, what the fuck just happened? How did that happen!? I have no words.

Things calm down long enough to watch the game kick off again. Now this would be typical Tottenham wouldn’t it? Surely even we can’t mess this one up? The referee finds another minute from somewhere, god knows where and prayers are being spoken all over Amsterdam. Erik Lamela decides the 97th minute of a Champions League semi final is the perfect time to do some stepovers and tricks on the edge of his box and proceeds to lose the ball – I daren’t repeat the words that came out of my mouth in the seconds that followed.

Time and place Erik, time and place! Get rid of the fucking ball man!

The final whistle goes and the pub roars again, very little beer left to throw by this point.

Myself and Daniel are finally reunited and we share a look that transcends words. Bemusement shared with the biggest grins imaginable, no explanation to what we’ve just witnessed. We embrace in a massive hug and I’ve completely gone by this point – the tears are streaming down my face. Spurs are going to Madrid for the Champions League final. Spurs have actually done it!

Road to Madrid

Myself and Daniel part and seconds later I’m crying in the arms of another Spurs fan and another and another. Swept up in the aftermath of multiple celebrations I head up to bar, just wanting a glass of water to catch my breath and I’m turned away – no service, not even for a quick glass of water – it’s closing time from the party-poopers.

Not that it mattered. The celebrations spilled out in to the streets and everyone is heading in the same direction – Dam Square! It is rammed with Spurs fans.

I still can’t stop crying. Pride just pouring out of me, happiness pouring out of me. Happiness for myself, happiness for every other Spurs supporter, player, manager and everyone associated with this wonderful, wonderful football club that I love and loathe in equal measure.

It’s evident at just how much this means to everyone but it’s just so hard to put in to words. Even now I well up when I think of that night. More hugs follow with stranger after stranger after stranger and I still can’t stop crying – this stuff just doesn’t happen to Spurs.

Dam Square Night

I can’t express just how many strangers I embraced and shared hugs with. It’s quite weird to think a year later we were in lockdown and couldn’t hug anyone! I got my 2020’s worth in one night!

The mood around Dam Square was just incredible and it wasn’t long before songs were ringing around the square! I somewhat felt for the hotel occupants that were probably hoping for a quiet night in an expensive hotel right on Dam Square and found hundreds singing on their doorstep in to the early hours – glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!

I was reluctant to drag myself away but I was starting to feel quite dehydrated by this point and was desperate to go and find a bottle of water somewhere. I bid my farewells to Daniel and Natalie (who we bumped into again in Dam Square) and called it a night – back to the hostel.

I reeked of beer and debated taking a shower but that’s the one downside to hostel life, I didn’t want to disturb those already in bed and decided I’d just have to make do with a beer-drenched sleep – assuming that I could sleep.

I was still on such a high, laying in bed with yet more tears streaming down my face. I finally had a chance to catch up with some of the online reaction to what can only be described as one of the best nights of my life and seeing that joy shared only set me off further. Am I ever going to stop crying? I tucked my phone away and hoped that eventually my tear-filled eyes would allow me to sleep.

The next morning I woke from the strangest of dreams before remembering that actually, yes that did happen last night. It may well have been the stench of beer that helped remind me so I took the opportunity to shower before then checking out of my hostel.

I had nothing planned for my Thursday. In all honesty I couldn’t focus on anything else but football. My body was in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, my head was in Madrid – it’s all I could think about and working out the logistics of how I was going to get there.

I returned to a much quieter Dam Square and went in search of some breakfast, eventually finding a little place serving some crepes. They just so happened to have a little TV in the corner that were of course showing the highlights from the night before which I couldn’t take my eyes off – still in disbelief.

After breakfast I went wandering, off down one of Amsterdam’s canals but it was no use. I felt guilty but I just had no appreciation for where I was.

Amsterdam Canals

Sure Amsterdam’s pretty but I just want to go back to England and think about Madrid. I even went as far as looking for a Eurostar ticket and came very close to booking the next possible train but couldn’t justify spending a couple of hundred pound or whatever it was on a one way ticket – I’m just going to have to hang around in Amsterdam until my coach later this evening.

The nice thing about Amsterdam is that it’s a great city for doing nothing, it’s so easy to wander and not really care where you end up. I couldn’t tell you where I went in truth. Along this canal, down this street, across that bridge and being a glorious sunny day it was quite nice to get lost.

Amsterdam Boats

Eventually I stumbled upon a bar which I liked the look of and thought I’d stop off for a drink. I took a seat at the bar and by chance the guy to my right just so happened to be another Spurs supporter, a Spurs fan from Helsinki of all places! I mentioned that I’d just been to Helsinki and he offered a few recommendations for next time and then taught me a few Finnish words which was quite fun.

We grabbed another beer and ordered some ‘bitterballen’ which I hadn’t tried before (delicious) before eventually going our separate ways. I wandered a little more but by this point I was just killing time really, not too much longer and I’d be catching my coach home.

I decided to pop over to Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Cafe to get a late lunch and an early dinner. Being Amsterdam, its HRC inevitably overlooks a canal but I took seat at the bar as it was a little busy in the restaurant which ended up working in my favour. I always like the HRC, I’ve ticked off a few on my travels but this occasion was particularly memorable.

I finished off my food and the barman comes back and asks if I fancy another beer – “on the house!”.

How could I possibly say no to that? A wonderful gesture for no reason at all. I had plenty of time to kill so of course, another beer sounds perfect! I was so grateful!

From there it was a gradual winddown to departure. The free beer had certainly perked up my mood for Amsterdam but there wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. The most logical thing would probably to have gone elsewhere to grab a drink but I didn’t really fancy that either ahead of a long journey. I decided to just walk over to the bus stop, a good few miles away.

Weesperpoort Amsterdam

It was a nice way of seeing parts of Amsterdam I hadn’t ventured to previously. I didn’t walk the whole way in the end, maybe half of it before hopping on the metro. I’d gone from loads of time to kill to a mini-panic that I’d dawdled too much and now time wasn’t on my side.

I needn’t have worried as I got to the bus station with far too much time and nothing in the area but at least I was on time. I popped to a nearby supermarket to grab a bottle of water for the journey.

Frustratingly my card proceeded to decline and I had nowhere to get any cash out so was just about to put the water back before a kind stranger stepped in – lucking out with another freebie!

The journey back to Amsterdam was a little busier – no idea why but I guess a few fancied a trip to London. There were again a couple of Spurs fans on board who I got talking to – Madrid inevitably the hot topic.

This time we were taking a ferry journey across the channel which was the first time I’d done so for many, many years. Despite being well versed in travel, sea-travel is seemingly not my comfort zone! Stick me up in the sky and I’m generally fine but ferries? Bleurgh..

I felt woozy pretty early on and hoped to just ride out the journey as smoothly as possible. One of my new bus-friends came and found me and insisted I join him and shared his life story before proceeding to try and get a little sleep on the ferry.

As tired as I was, sleeping wasn’t an option for me. I closed my eyes at one point and that was a terrible decision. It just seemed to heighten my senses and awareness that we were on the water and bobbing along – terrible!

Eventually we were back in England and back on the coach but the rest of the journey was horrible. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be sick. Ferry travel had not agreed with me at all and a claustrophobic-feeling coach wasn’t helping either.

I’d hoped to try and sleep it off but this was typically a much livelier bus on this occasion. We’d picked up a few youngsters in a dodgy-looking part of Brussels who were perfectly friendly but meant there was a lot more chatter on the way home. Nobody, myself included, seemed to kick up any fuss about the noise and ordinarily I don’t think I’d have cared at all but I felt so awful that it just added to my misery.

We got back as far as London and it just seemed to take an age to get to Victoria. I’d got this far without feeling sick, don’t be sick now! Fortunately I wasn’t, I held out but it seemed like the second we got to Victoria and got off the bus I then let it all out.

I’d booked an overnight coach for a multitude of reasons but one last reason I’d booked a Thursday evening coach was that I wouldn’t have to take Friday off work. I felt so awful though that I ended up texting my boss and asking for another day of holiday – a waste but I just couldn’t face going in to work after such a torrid journey home.

and that was that. This post went on much longer than I thought it would do but how could it not? If you made it this far, well done! I appreciate it was quite football-heavy but genuinely one of the greatest nights of my life and the fact I’d started the week in Helsinki means it probably ranks as one of the best weeks of my life.

A post on Helsinki and part two of that Köln trip will come soon but next up? A roadtrip to Madrid for a Champions League final – featuring Spurs!!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Madrid – Part three – October 2017

Those who have been following this series will know from part one and part two that I loved Madrid. However let’s be honest, I was here for one reason only: football!

Long-time readers will know football is my biggest love. I’ve loved football and specifically Tottenham Hotspur for as long as I can remember. It is a huge part of who I am and has been since childhood.

As a child you get wrapped up in idolising these stars. There are some names which were genuinely exciting players such as David Ginola that any child would mimic in the playground and there were others that, with the benefit of hindsight, just makes me laugh that I reflect back on with fond memories. They were my idols, like many English kids I dreamt of playing football professionally and would be kicking a ball around daily.

The reality is though Spurs weren’t actually very good growing up. My dreams were big. Running down the left wing, a bit of trickery to come inside and BANG – the ball curls in to the top corner of the underpass that performed as our goal in the square we lived in. I could hear and see the crowd celebrating in my head – last minute winning goal in the FA Cup final for Spurs – just imagine it!

Sadly my playing career didn’t really take off, probably because I wasn’t very good, and my idols were just as hopeless in reality. Tottenham’s last FA Cup success was in 1991, as an 88 baby it is my lifelong wish to see Spurs win the FA Cup. Another childhood dream was to see Tottenham play in Europe.

Whilst I considered the World Cup to be the pinnacle of football, at club level it was all about European football. Whether that was the European Cup (Champions League) or UEFA Cup (Europa League) I didn’t care but Spurs competing in Europe, in my eyes at least, meant we’d made it.

Sadly growing up Tottenham were starved of European football. I’ve rambled enough times about this in various social media and blog posts but my sole memory of European football was experiencing us crash out to German side Kaiserlautern in just the second round of the UEFA Cup in November 1999. For some reason I don’t remember the first round but I’ve held a bitter resentment against Kaiserlautern ever since for crushing an 11 year old Jason’s dreams.

I waited and waited but my only experience of Tottenham competing in Europe was via video games such as Fifa or Championship Manager. Step aside Gerry Francis – I’m taking Spurs in to Europe!

At 18 my dreams finally came true. I became a superstar footballer! Wait, no.. wrong dream! However Spurs did qualify for Europe and would be participating in Europe’s “second-rate” competition – the UEFA Cup. I had tickets to watch us on a “glory glory night” under the lights at White Hart Lane in London – magical!

It was a drab 1-0 win, little excitement but Spurs in Europe! Pinch me! Since that fateful night in 2006 Spurs have actually been what you might call European regulars and over the next few years I frequented White Hart Lane for many a European night against a number of European clubs.

Whilst I’d finally experienced some of those special European nights, I was now desperate to experience a European away game. Between 2006 and 2013 I had plenty of opportunities but no confidence for a solo trip and no realistic companions to join me. In 2013 I went to Sydney on my first ever solo trip and everything changed for me as far as travel was concerned – it was now a priority.

So at the next possible opportunity I was going to watch Tottenham away in Europe and in March 2014 I did just that as Spurs played Benfica out in Lisbon in the UEFA Cup (Europa League). The next couple of years I ticked off a few more away trips and football grounds and then 2017 came along with Tottenham playing in Europe’s elite competition – the Champions League! PINCH ME!

This is where you compete amongst the very best in Europe and Spurs were part of that. Imposter syndrome is a phrase you occasionally hear on platforms or outlets such as blogging and I can only liken it to that, Tottenham playing Champions League football felt out of place. It was only our 4th participation in the competition in our (at the time) 135 year history. I was excited to be there but there’s definitely a part of you that feels like you don’t belong.

So in anticipation I wrote THIS post as I was desperate to do at least one Champions League away tie if not two. I asked you to play along with me but in my head I had my own dream trip. More than anything I wanted one of the Spanish giants, I didn’t really have much preference between Barcelona and Real Madrid but if we got either of those that would be perfect and here we are.. part three!

SantiagoBernabeu2017
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Part three because Tottenham Hotspur were playing Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League! Ahhhh! Real Madrid – Europe’s most successful football team – does it get any bigger than this? No, no it does not!

So I rounded off part two having spent my Tuesday morning exploring Madrid and some of the sights. I grabbed some lunch and then the rest of the day was reserved for football. The game was in the evening but with thousands of Spurs fans in town the afternoon was just about soaking up the atmosphere.

One of the best places for large numbers to congregate was Plaza Mayor: a decent sized square with a few restaurants making an absolute fortune in beer sales. The atmosphere was quickly building with local media companies all out giving us the “celebrity” welcome with their cameras filming our fans singing. In fact, my parents actually ended up seeing a clip online back home and just happened to spot their son on camera! Haha.

PlazaMayorSpurs
Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

Over the course of the next few hours the beers continued flowing, songs continued to be sung until it was eventually time to hop on the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu. The atmosphere on the metro was equally enjoyable and soon enough we’d arrived at one of Europe’s most famous football stadiums.

The stadium is impressive. The away fans were placed “up in the gods” so you end up feeling miles away from the pitch. Additionally we were outnumbered something like 75,000 to 5,000 so an overwhelming majority of home fans trying to make it intimidating. This was Real Madrid’s home but more importantly this was “their” competition too – the one that mattered most to the Madrid faithful so the atmosphere was that little bit more pumped up.

Nevertheless, this was a special Spurs team here without fear. There was a lot of respect for Real but also a lot of belief within ourselves that we weren’t imposters and actually belonged at this level. For the fans this was a write off, it wasn’t a game we actually needed to win and certainly wasn’t one we expected to so the whole day was just about enjoying it really. However the players hadn’t received the script and weren’t here to just roll over for Europe’s finest.

For me personally it was still a case of pinching myself that I was actually here as an away fan, I always figured I’d visit the Santiago Bernabeu as a neutral but with my own team in a competitive fixture? Unbelievable!

Then Spurs took the lead – bedlam! Tottenham are 1-0 up in the f**king Bernabeu! Our fans celebrations were wild, those of disbelief more than anything. I still think there was an element of imposter syndrome for our fans and although we’d taken the lead, it was relatively early in the game and still a long way to go. You’d be foolish to think this was going to stay at 1-0.

With that said, the players were standing up on a big occasion and I think it built belief in the pocket of away fans. The players were doing their part and so were the fans in silencing Madrid’s 75,000. You could clearly hear our fans pushing the team on to a result. Unfortunately Real Madrid got their customary goal but it was just the one as the game finished 1-1.

RealMadrid1-1Spurs
Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

We’d come here with a “que sera” type attitude with little concern for the result and walked out with a “what if” question mark over the game. There was definitely a feeling we should have won the game with the chances we had and as the final whistle went our fans let the players know how proud they were of the performance they’d just produced. Our manager, Pochettino, took a good chunk of the praise too for masterminding another incredible result away to a European giant in football. It’s probably my favourite away game I’ve been to despite failing to see out the win.

Heading back in to the centre of Madrid myself and Daniel thought we’d go find somewhere to have a celebratory drink but the city was surprisingly quiet. We thought there’d be a good number of Spurs fans out and about but we didn’t really have much luck finding anywhere. I think we grabbed a drink somewhere but called it a night – what a night though! Tottenham getting a result away at the best team in Europe – Real Madrid went on to win the competition for the third year in a row.

The following day (Wednesday) was my last full day in Madrid so I wanted to make the most of it. I woke up and got myself ready for the day in my windowless hostel dorm. An important thing to note because I don’t think you appreciate the luxury of a window until you’re without one.

For one, it’s dark throughout which means potentially being an inconvenience to your hostel roommates (luckily only sharing with one person). Secondly because you dress for Spain don’t you? T-shirt and shorts at the ready, I step outside and I find grey skies and puddles greeting me. It wasn’t actually raining but it recently had and it didn’t look promising above me.

Not that I’d brought a jacket with me but I’d probably have worn jeans instead of shorts had I been prepared for the weather. It wasn’t particularly cold and didn’t seem worthwhile going back up to my room so I just braved it. I did however figure it might be a good day for indoor activities so I made the walk over to Madrid’s famous Museo Del Prado.

The weather had been alright on route but typically the queue for tickets is outdoors and it absolutely chucked it down whilst in the queue – it was a relatively lengthy queue too so everyone else had had the same idea as me – albeit presumably with windowed accommodation as they were well equipped with coats and umbrellas whilst I got drenched.

The museum is well worth a visit though. I spent a good couple of hours looking around and enjoying the various exhibits. I could have undoubtedly spent a little longer there too but eventually called it a day. Fortunately the rain had disappeared by the time I came out of the museum. Just next to the museum is the impressive looking San Jeronimo el Real but unfortunately it looked like it was closed on this particular day so I had to give it a miss on this occasion.

SanJeronimoelReal
The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

If you’re already in this area your next stop should quite possibly be the Parque de El Retiro which is a beautiful park that seems to frequently appear in various Madrid blog posts or Instagram photos. Given its proximity to the museum it’s a mystery to me that I missed this, however my next stop was the equally pretty botanical gardens in Madrid.

It probably helped with the miserable weather and largely being outdoors but I found the botanical gardens to be really peaceful and I largely had it for myself to enjoy. It’s really pretty too. I’d definitely recommend this as something to do and it’s quite a large botanical gardens too. I spent a good amount of time just wandering through and taking a few photos. I expect it’d be busier on a nicer day but for me it was a perfectly relaxed place and a nice escape from the busyness of Madrid.

MadridBotanicalGardens
Madrid’s botanical gardens

Following on from the botanical gardens I wandered back through the streets of Madrid and found myself a really nice little Tapas bar. I couldn’t tell you the name of it but I think that’s part of the beauty in Madrid, you can just wander and you’ll find countless places like this to just stop in on. I practiced a little Spanish with my waitress, enjoyed some good food and then said my adios’ before heading back towards my hostel.

I freshened up a little and then arranged to meet Daniel and Natalie for some beers on our last night in Madrid. We were all leaving at various times on Thursday so didn’t make it a particularly late night but it was a great way to end our time in this incredible city.

I woke up the next day, wandered a little and reluctantly made my way back to Madrid’s airport. For a city I wasn’t all that bothered about visiting to begin with I can only reiterate my thoughts in part one when I say that it’s arguably Europe’s best city. Obviously the only one I can say betters it is London but I don’t really see what Madrid is lacking.

It is one of those cities that has something to offer for everyone regardless of what your interests are. History, food, architecture, culture, sport, weather, museums, night life and I could go on and on and on. I left knowing it’s a city I’d definitely return to (I have and for the bizarrest of reasons) and equally I know it’s a city I’d quite easily live in too. If Madrid isn’t on your list that needs to change!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. Whilst I was sad to be leaving Madrid behind, it was only a few weeks until I’d next be on my travels and visiting another new city: Bremen in Germany.

Stay tuned!

Jason

European uncertainty!

I’ve been slacking a little lately and haven’t got around to posting part two of my Georgia series, I promise that will follow shortly but I thought I’d break things up to talk about my next trip!

Long-time readers of the blog should know by now that I’m a huge football fan and some of you may recall a blog post from last year titled ‘Left to fate’.
You can give that a read here (Read me!) but the point behind that post was that the choice of my next destination was out of my hands and left up to a higher power.

The football gods, fate, luck of the draw, whatever you want to call it. My beloved Tottenham were going to three unknown European cities and I had to wait upon the outcome to decide if I wanted to go or not.
I used that post as an opportunity for you all to play along and pick 3 destinations that you’d personally be hoping for.

On Monday I’ll discover who Tottenham’s next European opposition are and therefore I find myself in a similar position where there’s uncertainty as to where my next trip will be. On Monday afternoon I’ll be booking flights to somewhere in Europe but right now I couldn’t tell you where. I could get you to play along again but I thought I’d actually switch it up a little and go in to a little more depth about what my thought process is behind why some trips are more appealing than others. For instance in my Florence posts I talked about being nervous about visiting Italy for football and that may have surprised some of you.

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Football in Florence

I’d drafted this blog post under the assumption that Spurs would be participating in the Europa League and rather ironically, as delighted as I was to be proven wrong, it was probably a more interesting blog post on that basis. The Europa League offered a few “no-go destinations” such as Rome or Istanbul and also offered a bit more variety in terms of countries I could visit such as Croatia or Switzerland or Ukraine or.. you get the point.

Tottenham produced an incredible performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to confirm our status in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League, but ironically it’s all a bit dull. Opposed to the 16 potential destinations spread across the continent that the Europa League offered, I’m left with just 6 destinations (Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid and Turin). All of which are countries I’ve been to, four of which are cities I’ve been to and three of which at stadiums I’ve already seen Tottenham play at. How bloody boring!

So in explaining my reasoning from least desirable to “dream trip”, here goes:

Dortmund, Germany
Do I need to say anything else? Germany is the pinnacle of European football for me, Dortmund is a football fan’s wet dream and should be on anyone’s “football bucketlist”. I dreamt of visiting Dortmund for a game, irrespective of who the opposition were. Experiencing that famous atmosphere and yellow wall is rightly considered a rite of passage in football.

In March 2016 the unthinkable happened! Not only was that dream trip about to become a reality but even better, Tottenham were the team visiting. Rather than attend a random game as a neutral I could visit with my own team as an away fan – wow! It was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I’d only just come back from Georgia and I was booking flights for three weeks later. I couldn’t miss this game!

In November 2017 Tottenham returned to Dortmund. I was hesitant to return. “Once in a lifetime” scenarios aren’t supposed to come around again so soon. The reality is Dortmund had little appeal to me as a destination other than football so I’d stayed in Köln on my previous visit, which was a sickener when later in 2016 we played Leverkusen (just outside of Köln) and I found myself back in West Germany. A third trip to West Germany seemed excessive but nevertheless I went back – splitting my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf around the match itself.

Dortmund is a fun away trip but I’m not looking for a third return in three years. Please, please, please avoid Dortmund in Monday’s draw!

Turin, Italy
Of six destinations, Dortmund was bottom by a long long way. I will go to Dortmund if that’s what fate determines but I know a part of me will be disappointed. I have my preferred destination too but the other four are split so marginally, I’ve opted to put Turin 5th on my list which might be a little harsh.

There are pros and cons to a Turin trip. It’s a city I’ve never visited which adds some excitement, Juventus are a massive name in European football which adds some prestige to the football, there’s an element of revenge too after Juventus knocked us out of Europe last season and of course it’s Italy which means all of the pizza, pasta and gelato!

On the flipside it’s football in Italy. I loved Florence but from a footballing perspective it wasn’t a dream trip. Turin would be closer to the scale of Florence in terms of safety, opposed to getting stabbed in Rome or Naples but I can’t say Florence was ‘fun’. Aspects of it were but curfews, police escorts, separation from opposition fans, over-the-top security and more just spoil it for football fans. It’s not what the game is about.

I want to go back and see all of Italy, Rome and Naples included, but I didn’t find it enjoyable for football. Florence was incredible for many reasons but the football wasn’t really one of them. My favourite day in Italy was on the Friday once the football was over and the police had relaxed with the knowledge most Brits were heading home. I’ll go to Turin but it’s not top of my list.

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A return to Paris?

Paris, France
From here on in I’m not sure if there’s really a bad draw. I loved Paris when I visited in December (2016) and I feel like I’ve got a lot of “unfinished business” with the city. There’s so many reasons to return and irrespective of the football it’s somewhere I’ll return to.
Additionally I’ve never watched football here and it’s a country I’ve yet to watch a live game of football in so would take my tally up to twelve countries that I’ve seen a game in. It’d also be a simple trip and I probably wouldn’t even bother flying which is a bonus.

However it ‘only’ reaches fourth on my list because, as a bit of a football snob, I don’t feel like French football has that same glamour about it. Paris St Germain are France’s biggest football club for instance and I was amazed to discover quite recently that they were only founded in 1970. I’ve held this opinion of French football for a long time and that revelation kind of cemented that belief, France’s biggest club are younger than my parents! PSG are a global name now but they’re still short of Europe’s elite.

With that said, I visited Lille this year on the day of the France v Argentina game and it surprised me a little in experiencing the atmosphere in the city. Similarly it made me fall in love with France a little more so perhaps a Paris football trip might win me over fully.

Madrid, Spain
I feel like I’m doing this a disservice by placing it third on my list. Madrid is flawless. Nowhere is ever likely to displace my love of London so, excluding London, Madrid is my favourite European city. It’s a city I’d overlooked visiting before last year, I figured I’d visit someday but I was in no real rush to visit the Spanish capital. However in 2017 Tottenham were scheduled to face Real Madrid and I couldn’t miss it.

Tottenham taking on the biggest name in football? Sign me up! It was such a prestigious occasion and huge opportunity and it was enough to rush a trip to Madrid. I’ve spoken about this on the blog before but a Spurs European away game was a childhood dream of mine and these are the places you’d dream of coming to.

The biggest surprise for me was that away from the football I LOVED Madrid. As much as a capital city can be, it’s an underrated city. It blew me away. I couldn’t rate it any higher and I’d love to go back.

The only thing that stops this being top of the pile is the fact I’ve been to see Tottenham there once already. It’d be hard to top the last trip to the Santiago Bernabeu too. I won’t be disappointed if I go back though.

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Watching Tottenham in Munich

Munich, Germany
Not only have I been to this city but I’ve watched Tottenham here too so there was a temptation to put this further down the list. With that said, despite Tottenham playing in their stadium I haven’t actually seen us play Bayern Munich there (or anywhere) so it’d be a novelty factor in seeing us play one of the biggest names in European football.

Additionally I speak decent German and I love Bavaria. I’ve already mentioned German football is the pinnacle of European football in my eyes, the Germans are great hosts when it comes to football and it’d be a popular trip amongst our fans making for a good atmosphere.

It’s a city I feel I could see a little more of and there’s the additional opportunity to visit my favourite German and Austrian in nearby cities. It’d make for a great trip!

Munich, Madrid, Paris or Turin could have been placed in any order really but I’m just giving this the edge for a multitude of reasons.

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Tottenham in Lisbon, Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Lastly we have the dream trip – Porto!

Portugal was where my first European away trip with Spurs occurred and I fell in love with the country. Where Italy tries their best to suck all of the fun out of the experience, Portugal were incredible hosts. The locals of Lisbon accommodated us in to their city, made us feel welcome, had buskers playing Tottenham songs and were happily sharing beers with us.

It’s a travesty that if this is to be the trip in March (2019) that it’ll be five years since my only visit to Portugal. Five years since I’ve visited this beautiful and incredible country.

Porto ticks all of the boxes. It’s a city I’ve never been to, it’s a country I want to see more of, they’re a big enough name in European football to make it interesting, it’s the most winnable game (on paper) of our potential opposition and I already know how hospitable the Portuguese are. It’s easy to get to, thousands of Spurs fans would likely travel creating a great atmosphere in the city. I could go on and on.

It’s a city I’ve been tempted to visit for a while and it’s our best chance of progressing in the competition. A no brainer really!

Anyway, that wraps things up. Unfortunately the Champions League, for all of its glory, is actually relatively boring and favours the Western European nations. UEFA continue to balance the scales in favour of England, Spain, Germany and Italy which whilst exciting places to visit, actually add a dose of repetitiveness to the trips you enjoy.

You want to see your team compete at the highest level but rather ironically a post on potential Europa League opposition would have made for a far more interesting blog-post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!

I’ll keep you posted on where I book flights to on Monday! Where would you personally be hoping for? Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

I might follow this up with a Europa League edition, just as a comparison, but next up on the blog will probably be Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason