ife as a Spurs fan has been all about novelty lately. Getting used to occupying one of the world’s best stadiums, reaching a Champions League final, even signing a striker, it’s all been pretty uncharted territory.
But nothing quite prepares for you for the utterly bizarre experience of going to a north London derby during a global pandemic.
Pundits talk about the modern game being sanitised but the fan experience in late 2020 is another level altogether, one of face masks and temperature checks at the turnstile. First, I had to apply via a lottery process to be one of the 2,000 allowed to attend. Then, the club I support sent me a questionnaire asking, among other things, if I was suffering from a persistent cough or loss of appetite. I was allocated a strict arrival slot and told that if I turned up late – perfectly possible given that I was schlepping from Streatham to N17 – entry might not be permitted.
There were some unexpected positives. In normal times, I go to pretty much every home game, meaning I sometimes take going to Spurs for granted. On cold, rainy days, when we’re not playing well, it can feel like a chore. This time, I felt that long-forgotten spark of wide-eyed exhilaration, the same thrill I felt as a kid going to my first game. There were even butterflies in the stomach and slightly sweaty palms.
Other than that, it was just a bit eerie and flat, deprived of colour and spectacle. There were no scarves to be seen or bursts of premature singing to be heard on the Victoria line to Seven Sisters. Normally, the High Road would be thronged with fans, spilling out of pubs, ignoring red lights and getting beeped by traffic. This time, you’d barely know a game was on.
Once at the ground – even more magnificent than I remember it – everyone had to be zapped with a temperature gun before we could go in.
Unsurprisingly, Daniel Levy opened the bit of the ground where it is easiest to spend money, the food court. Strange times create economic necessities and some fans, perfect strangers before the game, were cutting deals to go in together on pizzas and beers, within the rules on serving alcohol. The EU negotiations are nothing to six thirsty fans haggling with bar staff over how many slices of pizza constitute a substantial meal.
Once the game began, it didn’t feel that odd. The fans lucky enough to be there were determined to make as much noise as possible, although fellow glasses-wearers beware, singing in a mask makes for poor visibility. Standing two metres apart, with most of the ground empty, a strange kind of mid-crisis camaraderie was in the air, like an away game, except at a ground where no home fans have turned up. It helped, of course, that our return was a victory over the Woolwich.
This was one to tell the grandkids about, in more than one way. Here’s to a better 2021, for Spurs and everyone.