It was a trip of Charles Manson proportions. My outbound journey took 15.5 hours, four cities, three flights and I still didn’t make it to Maribor. Fortunately, mine was not the standard Manson experience. There were no technicolour Jan Vertonghens imploring me to ‘ruin’ Jack Wilshere. I might have listened.
My flight from Heathrow was heinously delayed for several hours meaning I missed the connection in Munich. A dough-faced Lufthansa employee then told me in clipped English to fly to Frankfurt where I could pick up a late night flight to Graz. As she printed my replacement tickets, I stopped myself from yelling, “Why can’t people in your city take a f**king penalty?!” Almost inevitably, my plane from Frankfurt to Graz was delayed further due to a ‘Manson sympathiser’ refusing to leave the previous flight. I rolled into Graz at 12.30am a near broken man. All for the love of Spurs. Andre better not be playing John Obika as the lone frontman.
The onward journey to Maribor was less taxing. An innocuous two-train journey across the Austrian border into Slovenia delivered us to the European City of Culture 2012, a small but pretty city with friendly locals and an indie, hipster vibe in places. Dressed in standard Stone Island clobber, we had to rectify that situation and (pwopa nawty) we tipped over the al fresco tables of a nearby café and smashed up a local bar with a hail of flying chairs* (*fictional event, did not take place). Seriously, it was as peaceful a European trip as I can remember without the slightest hint of trouble. Maribor is definitely worth a repeat visit if we play there again.
Bizarrely, at breakfast on the day of the game, my hotel restaurant was peppered with Charles Manson lookalikes. They love a wild, untamed beard in Slovenia and, as I gazed across my table at a hairy man with mad, rolling eyes, I wondered what the night might have in store.
What followed was a satisfactory point that keeps Spurs unbeaten and alive in the group. The involvement of Bale, Dembele and Adebayor would have certainly secured the win, but the maturing Steven Caulker was an encouraging standout. The performance was often scrappy, toothless and unpleasing to the eye, but we’re in the qualification business not a beauty contest and two home victories (crucially) against Maribor and then Panathinaikos will almost certainly see our beloved club progress to the Europa League knockout stages in 2013. The remaining fixtures are tipped in our favour.
One disappointing aspect of the trip was the sparse number of Spurs fans in attendance. Around 440 tickets were sold, way below allocation, and not everyone with a ticket was in Maribor (an ultimately unsuccessful ploy for extra loyalty points). I estimated that there were no more than 390 Spurs fans in the away end. Regardless of numbers, we made our voices heard. ‘AVB’s Blue and White Army’ was sung non-stop for over 10 minutes in the second-half in stark contrast to the increasingly funereal atmosphere at many Premier League games.
Simple economics, as well as heightened work and domestic responsibilities, mean the days of thousands of Spurs supporters flooding into European cities are no more. Champions League or marquee opposition would inevitably deliver more fans, but as a youthful veteran of 27 European away trips it feels like the passing of something special.
When Spurs returned to European competition in 2006 after a painful seven-year absence, the away end was always rammed to capacity. Fans sung until their lungs burst as an exuberant Tottenham army swept into Europe. The city centre would be heaving with packs of geezerish individuals on the prowl for spare tickets, but those halcyon days are no more. Now we are left with several hundred die-hards of mostly Bruce Willis vintage. The two trips to PAOK and Panathinaikos brought no more than 230 away fans. That’s a Greek tragedy Euripides would appreciate.
It was a noticeably ‘old’ support in attendance in Maribor with a significant over 40s demographic. The Tottenham youth are currently potless, modern life and football has priced them out of the game's Eurotrip. Hopefully, progression to the knockout stages and better times will entice them back into the fold. We need their passion and enthusiasm. They are Spurs' heartbeat of tomorrow.
Just don’t fly with Lufthansa.