Like Arsene Wenger, I didn’t see it. While Spurs were imploding at Wembley against Chelsea, I was at Marlins Park in Miami watching the aforementioned Marlins beat the Houston Astros 5-4, relying on a fragile data connection to update me on the unfolding debacle across the Atlantic.
In early January, I had intentionally booked a much-needed break to South Beach to coincide with a potential FA Cup semi-final, all but guaranteeing Tottenham’s progression to the final four. It was a selfless act for the good of north London’s right-minded people. Should Spurs win and I’d missed it, we would be in the final, but were they to suffer a sixth consecutive semi-final loss I would rather be anywhere than stuck in human traffic on the slow trudge back down Wembley Way.
At 1-4 down, I turned to my girlfriend who was attempting to eat a ketchup-smothered hot dog and comprehend baseball’s bewildering rules system. “Bastards,” I said darkly, repeating the word seconds afterwards for dramatic effect. “They are slowly killing me inside. Another piece of me has died today.” She nodded solemnly and returned to her hot dog.
Minutes later my dad was moved enough to send his first ever text message. In bizarre, scrambled English it made the grimmest of reading: “Thamk god yu on holiday n did nt see it. Bad.” Slowly the full scale of the atrocity filtered through to my seething smartphone in Florida. The Chelsea ‘goal’ that failed to cross the line (the second the Russian billionaire’s team has enjoyed in just 12 months against Spurs), more bewildering tactics and bad luck along with the scandalous abuse by some Blues ‘supporters’ that forced the abandonment of the minute’s silence for those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Presumably the nation’s media have printed pen pictures of those sick Chelsea ‘fans’ who chanted ‘murderers’ like they did for the alleged homophobic abuse of the heterosexual Sol Campbell at Portsmouth a few years ago? They didn’t? Oh, I see. English selective morality at its finest.
The two sporting events I witnessed during my break in Miami could not be in greater contrast to the poisonous scenes unfolding back home. In America a fan’s custom is valued (I know! It sounds fantastical) and every attempt is made to make the spectator experience more enjoyable while stadium rules are enforced in a light-hearted rather than patronising way.
Before watching the NBA’s Miami Heat defeat the Charlotte Bobcats at American Airlines Arena, fans were shown a video on the big screen listing the arena’s regulations. Instead of a solemn, prison warden style message encouraging people to confidentially inform on nearby swearing fans, spectator rules were sung by a middle-aged sportscaster in the manner of Barry White. “Oh please. Oh please refrain from imprompah language,” he crooned. “Imprompah language!” echoed a falsetto backing singer. Essentially, the same message as White Hart Lane but presented in a fun and humorous way. Maybe if our football stadiums didn’t treat fans like gibbering idiots they would not behave like them.
Several days later, we walked out of Marlins Park to find a man who the stadium had employed for the sole purpose of hailing departing fans a taxi. Twenty yards away there were free shuttle buses to take others to the nearest metro terminal. At both basketball and baseball events, every stadium employee, without fail, engaged us in friendly conversation and said they hoped we enjoyed the game.
These goodwill vibes clearly have the desired positive impact. I didn’t hear a single swear word uttered at either event yet fan participation was vocal, supportive and constant (unlike White Hart Lane vs Norwich, for instance). All children under 12 were invited to ‘run the bases’ on the pitch immediately after the Marlins game. The young Marlins fans could barely contain their excitement and it made me reflect rather grimly on my experiences in our stadiums back home.
Our custom and loyalty is sickeningly taken for granted and, in the fallow times of recent months, this makes a defeat like last Sunday’s even harder to stomach.
“Bastards.” They know we’ll be back.