I got a call from one of my several girlfriends, a youngish woman called Katherine, asking if I would like to go to Wembley with her. She had a spare seat, as her mother couldn’t go. She would bring food. It was the last bit that clinched it. When you live on your own, having to think about food is such a bore.
The food fairies – my children and some of the neighbours – often put lovely things in the fridge when I am out, which is always a surprise and a delight, but mostly I come home and think: hmm, I’m not really hungry. If I make something, I just eat it, and then I have to start again the next day. I’ll just open some more Beaujolais.
It was Spurs v Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley, where Spurs will be playing next season until their new stadium is completed. I don’t like night games any more. It ruins the evening. You get to bed so late, sometimes after ten o’clock, oh horrors, and you lose at least two hours travelling. The chances are that it will be live on TV, for which I have paid a fortune. But going with Katherine, and having food provided – well, that was it.
She is a diehard Spurs fan and even travels abroad on her own to watch them, which is not something you might expect from her private-school background or her job: she’s the director of HR at the Royal Academy. She sings along and chants with all the fans, but I’ve never heard her being abusive. “You don’t help by booing them. Criticism does no good. If I’m really pissed off by how they’re playing, then all I’ll do is leave early.”
It was, as ever, exciting to be at Wembley, among 85,000 fans, all pleased to be there, the biggest “home” crowd for any Premier team – but I was moaning and groaning almost from the kick-off. Spurs seemed asleep, as if drugged, unable to control the ball, letting it bounce, giving it away. I was getting furious with them but Katherine was lustily singing all the Spurs songs. Luckily, she agreed that I could start on the food she had brought and not wait for half-time.
I was like a kid on a school outing – opening your sandwiches the minute you’re on the coach, scoffing your lunch before you’ve left the playground. There were loads of different sandwiches, pork pies, yum, yum, and home-made apple and almond cake. Katherine had been emailing me all afternoon about what I would like and I had said certainly not prawn sandwiches. A joke, which I had to explain (Roy Keane once rubbished Man United’s trendy supporters as prawn sandwich eaters).
Katherine has eyes and ears only for Spurs: I follow all football. I bored her with my memories of being at Wembley in 1966 for the World Cup final, before she was born, and all the Wembley cup finals I’ve been at over the decades. Wembley still is a big occasion: the new stadium is stunning. But I could hardly see anything. You’re so far away from the action, as in other monster stadiums such as the Camp Nou in Barcelona. The players become flies. Seen from above, they are so hard to identify.
Spurs were appalling all the way through. It was like watching England play – so-called top players playing rubbish. Is it Wembley that’s doing it, making the poor petals nervous? Footballers are creatures of habit. The pitch is bigger than normal, the stadium intimidating, the atmosphere so different – but come on, this is what they have trained for all their lives.
We left five minutes before the end, as Spurs were a goal down and it didn’t look like they’d score this side of Christmas. Half of the fans did the same, so we were immediately stuck with 40,000 others on the brutal, concrete flyover leading to the Tube. What was interesting was the lack of fury and bad temper from the crowd. Was it the absence of bossy coppers? I can remember scary mounted policemen trying to control the crowd streaming out of Wembley, being abused and having things thrown at them.
This time, the crowd was quiet. Mostly they were Spurs supporters, saddened by the game. But the food was really good . . .
This article appears in the 10 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump apocalypse