Updated: May 10
The complexities of organising a trip that suited everyone meant I travelled alone via Lisbon on Monday, arriving in Madrid at about 8pm. Hungry and fidgity after a day’s travelling, I foolishly opted for a cab into Puerto del Sol instead of using the excellent Metro. The meter raced faster than Gareth Bale going at Inter’s full-back and after a 15 minute ride it was €25. Handing the cash over prompted some aggressive gesticulation, much repeating of the word “supplemento” and some vigorous gesturing at a postage-stamp sized notice stuck on the window. Evidently the nice chap had neglected to mention the additional €10 airport supplement when he picked me up. It seems no one connected with Spurs can go to Madrid without getting mugged.
I had to write it off as a bad experience and a bad choice. I soon contacted some friends who’d arrived earlier and we had a great meal in shirtsleeve weather at about 10pm, just hear the Opera Metro – very welcome after our rotten English winter. As we finished, a text popped up on my phone telling me yet more friends were in another tapas place up near Gran Via, so we went off to meet them, share more wine and get the lowdown from a friend who lived in the city. From the bars, restaurants and streets it was already evident that there was going to be a big turnout of Spurs fans. We turned in at about 2am, anxious to make the most of the following day.
Cliff Jones, Paul Allen and coffee
The next morning we took in the town with a long circular walk of the centre and I was blown away by the place. Milan was beautiful, but this was stunning. Dripping with tradition but still modern and efficient. Above all clean and with everything well thought out – plenty of greenery to offset the concrete and glass. I made a note that I would definitely be back with the family. We stopped for a coffee in a particularly appealing spot, and I spotted Cliff Jones sitting with Paul Allen a few tables away.
It may seem an odd thing for a journalist to say but I’ve never been entirely comfortable going up to famous people and assuming they want to talk to strangers who recognise them. But Cliff, of course, had given us tremendous help with the 61 book and I had unfortunately missed out on meeting him – having had to work on the day he saw the production team. So I introduced myself and we chatted for about 10 minutes, Cliff again praising the book and remarking on what a great city this was. I thanked him, again, for all his help – Paul Allen by this time a little bemused by the mutual love-in – before carrying on.
We’d decided we wanted to get to the ground early, and had arranged to meet some friends who were staying at the Holiday Inn just by the stadium. By the time we left the main square it was almost full of Spurs. We walked down the pedestrianised street towards Sol and that was packed with Spurs. At the vast concourse by Sol Metro, again there was a throng of Spurs fans carpeting every available inch. I estimate there were easily 15,000 out there. We got to the Holiday Inn two hours before kick-off, our own party now pretty big. I got a phone call from 5Live asking if I’d do an interview after the game – they must’ve liked what I said after AC Milan and I agreed.
Our route into the a way section took as around two sides of the ground. I’ve never seen a stadium and its surroundings so pristine, but this was no sterile setting – the atmosphere was already crackling, and with not a hint of aggression. Inside was almost as impressive, with even escalators to take us up the several miles to the by now familiar Champions League away section location just above the low flying aircraft heading into Barajas Airport. But even though we were pretty high up, the view was OK and you felt part of the stadium rather than on the edge. The usual ticket situation panned out – no one had their name checked despite all the warnings and when we got into the section we were just able to sit where we wanted. Clearly we weren’t going to be able to see much detail, but it was shaping up to be a better experience than we’d had at most grounds.
The game has been gone over more than enough so I won’t do a minute by minute here. I thought we defended well for large parts of the first half, after the shocking defending for the first goal, and we were starting to believe we may just be able to keep the score down. But the second half saw Real really come at us and things went from bad to worse. Most of us thought Pav would have been a better option as the lone frontman from Defoe, who never really looked like achieving anything. Two more awful bits of defending and one unstoppable goal really flattened us, we never really created much due to a combination of having fewer players, people out of position and Real simply being exceptionally good and the game finished with us looking well beaten.
Only two of the team bothered to come over and acknowledge the fans, which didn’t go down well. The support had been magnificent although we were later to hear from friends in other parts of the stadium that we couldn’t be heard at all. I guess the players were as hacked off as we were, but even so, it doesn’t take much just to come over and say thanks.
We stayed up late into the night turning it all over. I did my 5 Live after my friend and Trust chairman Bernie Kingsley had been interviewed – we were both standing outside the Holiday Inn on our mobiles for this. After Bernie’s impassioned contribution I thought I should play the comedy role to his straight man, responding to the opening question about the Crouch red by saying I’d been distracted by texts from my Arsenal mates telling me how good Emmerdale had been that night. Tony Livesey seemed to want to lead me into some criticism of Crouch but I sidestepped, and I’ll finish with what I said to him.
We’ve had a great campaign so far and Crouch has more than played his part in it. We’ve still got a very good team, and there’s still something to play for. In the League, I believe we can still get top 4, even though we are making it difficult for ourselves. In the second leg, we at least need to play for pride and get a win. Knowing Spurs we’ll be 5-0 up in the 92nd minute and then, in the last minute of added time, a shot will go under Gomes’s body. It’s almost nailed on.