Beaten up in the toilets at Wembley - for being a fan
I landed lucky, coming back to London when I did. At least I thought I was lucky, until something rather nasty happened to me at Wembley.
The good luck first. I returned just by chance, in time to be present at some really big matches, not that watching Carlisle United was not full of Big Occasions. (Printing error, by the way, two weeks ago, about their supporters' magazine, Hit the Bar. It's 80 pages every issue, not eight.)
My son has had my Spurs season ticket while we've been in Lakeland, but I came back for the Manchester United home game, what a victory. That was on Saturday - Spurs' first Saturday home league game since 28 August and the last till 22 January 2000. Tragic how Sky has ruined the social life of the nation, upsetting a tradition of Saturdays established over a hundred years.
My half season ticket for Arsenal has also turned up some excellent fixtures. By half, I mean the one I share with a friend who is an Arsenal supporter. He has two, but his son is away at college and he didn't want to give it up, so I pay half and get it for certain months. It's coincided this time with the two European Champions League games in a row at Wembley.
It was strange going to Wembley for an Arsenal "home" match. Usually at Wembley, for things such as cup finals, the crowd is equally divided and awfully well tempered, pleased with themselves for having got there. I didn't see or hear any Barcelona fans at all. It appeared to be 100 per cent Arsenal, as I suppose you might expect for a midweek game.
Barcelona were brilliant, two ahead without hardly trying, so fluent, so confident, so lithe, while Arsenal appeared lumpen.
Around me Arsenal fans were muttering, "That's it, Seaman's finished, our defence is crap, it's finally going to fall apart, old age has caught up with them". Seaman did look dodgy and very nervous, right from the beginning, unable to direct the simplest clearance. Tony Adams was falling over his own feet.
I went to the lavatory at half-time, hoping that Arsenal would be better in the second half. I rarely do that at half-time as my Spurs seat is in the middle of a row. I can't get out so I sit tight, legs crossed. The queues were enormous, about 300 blokes pushing and shoving to get into the lavs while at the same time 300 were trying to get out. This was in the north stand, turnstile F. It's the same all over Wembley. I'll be sad when the old Wembley goes, and the twin towers are no more, but the facilities are archaic.
I got in OK, and was just coming out, my mind miles away, when this bloke aged about 30 grabbed me. He pushed me up against a wall and started punching me.
"Tottenham wanker!" he shouted. "I know who you are! You're a Spurs fan!"
Others took up the cry and started pushing me as well. The first bloke grabbed my hat, just a brown woolly thing, and pulled it down over my head so I couldn't see.
"That's how you want to watch the second half, you Tottenham cunt!"
It happened so suddenly, out of the blue. I couldn't think what to do or say. I got mugged once in Kingston, Jamaica, my own fault, getting lost, and it was some time before I realised a kid had pulled out a knife and was slashing at my shirt.
This time, I wasn't hurt. I was just pushed and banged, and eventually got free and returned to my seat, quite shaken.
I don't know how I was recognised. It's not as if I'm Melvyn Bragg, to whom I had been speaking, as he was in the row behind. I wasn't wearing a Spurs scarf. Not that daft. Just my usual scruffy going-to-football clothes.
It is true that I have written various articles over the years about being a Spurs supporter - and also written about going to Arsenal matches. Rather stupidly, which I now bitterly regret, I did once say in passing that "I go to Highbury to see Arsenal get stuffed". It was inflammatory, I was being a big mouth, showing off, very silly. And it's not actually true. I don't go hoping to see Arsenal beaten, unless of course they are playing Spurs.
Football is what I love, ahead of any individual club, though for 39 years now, Spurs has been my first team. But I honestly go to a football match, any football match, to see good football players performing at their best. I take pleasure in watching Arsenal doing well, as long as it's not against Spurs. And that night I really did want them to do well against Barcelona.
It's a strange thing, football loyalties. Why can't love for one team mean love for one team, and nothing else? It doesn't work that way, not in football. You also have to hate, whichever is the other team one is supposed to hate. And when you haven't got a traditional hate team, then you make do with Manchester United.
Stand up, etc. I don't hate Man Utd either. But most fans do. You get otherwise sensible people, who help old animals across the road, are kind to dumb women, who always want Man Utd to get stuffed in Europe.
Few football supporters understand how anyone can regularly watch two rival teams. It is hard to explain. It defies decades of football logic and traditions. I didn't even bother to try, when confronted by those blokes at Wembley. For the Fiorentina game, I'll be going in disguise. If asked, I'll say I'm Melvyn Bragg . . .
More from New Statesman
- Online writers:
- Steven Baxter
- Rowenna Davis
- David Allen Green
- Mehdi Hasan
- Nelson Jones
- Gavin Kelly
- Helen Lewis
- Laurie Penny
- The V Spot
- Alex Hern
- Martha Gill
- Alan White
- Samira Shackle
- Alex Andreou
- Nicky Woolf in America
- Bim Adewunmi
- Kate Mossman on pop
- Ryan Gilbey on Film
- Martin Robbins
- Rafael Behr
- Eleanor Margolis