by Paul Johnson

Real Madrid. This is a European away day on another level. Paul Johnson recounts the journey as we fronted up to the Champions League holders.

“Jesus what a f**king group of death that is – well I suppose we’d best just enjoy the games as they come. Only Arsenal would have wanted that draw.”

“Don’t be a lemon – you want to play the best in the biggest club competition in the world – for me this is a dream group – massive matches, huge away days & a true test of where we really are. Come on… you never know. Dream big.”

And so it was. Madrid away. The Bernabeu. My team vs the most glamorous club in the world in the most mystical, majestic & trophy laden stadium on earth. Pinch me.

“We’ll go for the event, the spectacle, the experience. We might get mullered but at least we can say we were there. We’ve 6 points from 2 so this is a free hit – no expectation, no pressure really & I just hope we have a go and don’t embarrass ourselves or take a hiding.”
“I’m not expecting a thrashing. This is Poch’s Spurs not Harry’s hot and cold mob. Not Tim’s untrained, uncoached random rabble. A point isn’t out of the question if we are brave enough & have the requisite belief. We are a very very good side…..”

Beer. 4000 Spurs mobilised in Plaza Mayor from early. Songs bellowed out – Oh When The Spurs bouncing off the dramatic painted panels of the four sides of this quite beautiful square. A call and response from one end to the other. We own this piece of land & have claimed it as our own. It’s North London. It’s yours and mine. It’s Tottenham. My beer goes down quickly as my hairs stand on end. This feels special. This is not a normal away day.

Beer. 4000 Spurs mobilised in Plaza Mayor from early. Songs bellowed out.

The noise level increases with each drink, each bigger belt of the ball in the most frantic game of keepy uppy I’ve ever seen. And the flags – strung from every bar and restaurant canopy – from all corners of our incredible support. Viva Tottenham. We sang it in France…Pride of North London…1882.

And not for a second did the mood, attitude or exuberance ever drift from the boisterous, joyful party mood. No glass smashed, no resident, local or staff abused, no violent intent. We were here to celebrate and make the waiters week. The bars coined it in and welcomed our spirit with bottles of theirs. The local rozzers stood back and relaxed into a casual observation – with no need to even approach us. The Guardia Civil had a night off.
“Emmerdale” Again and again and again. I’ll never tire of it.

And as with all away matches, at some point, with no obvious call to action, the masses moved as one – heading off to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. A unified, singular mob of spectacularly drunk, singing, smiling, Spurs. Come on then Madrid – what you got?
The free to use (at least it was to us) metro network, with the heating fully dialled up to blast, delivered us to the ground eventually. The collective nervousness over names on tickets and the likelihood of checks had for some been a nagging concern most of the day. “We’ll all get in…they can’t check every sodding ticket…”

Baby wipes. They remove ballpoint pen from gloss event tickets – well enough to write the name you need on the ticket. Who knew that? That’ll do.

We’re all in. It’s hot and drizzly – steam seems to be rising. Familiar faces all around, all beaming with what I’m sure is pride. We often seem to sing ourselves out pre-match and come the actual game the volume hovers at “hush” for most of the time. Not tonight. From start to 30 minutes after the game finishes we are relentless. The participation level is total. The variety of songs is astonishing – it’s not what I’m used to. We don’t do this. I realise I’m not only drunk on hops, but also on the unique sense of belonging, of unity of purpose, of oneness you only feel in a football crowd. We are so up for this.

And so were the team. I’m not going to talk about the match other than to say I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such immense satisfaction with a 1-1 draw. Ever. You all know why so I don’t need to embellish.

On the way out and back on the free metro we poured. In disbelief I think many of us. Pinch me again.

“We could have won that you know…seriously….we could have actually f**king won in Madrid. We went toe to toe with them. We’re a serious f**king team….”

“Hugo kept us in it – still don’t believe the Benzema save – defying all known laws of physics, probability & flight of a football. How good was Winks though? Eh…Christ that wasn’t Barry & Livermore he was against it was Modric (who was breath takingly brilliant throughout) & Kroos…”

And on it went. For many hours over much tapas and more beer. And some coffee for lightweights like me. And still they sang. Into the night.

I realise I’m not only drunk on hops, but also on the unique sense of belonging, of unity of purpose, of oneness you only feel in a football crowd. We are so up for this.

As I eventually lay down, room only slightly moving, it finally struck me. I had an epiphany of sorts, a realisation of what and why this was all so overwhelmingly perfect.

7 years ago, in Manchester when Kaboul like a rocket, with the wind in his hair, crossed that ball I thought I felt deliverance. Into the Holy Land of Champions League. But who was I kidding?

Tonight, we fronted up Real Madrid. We did. This is what it feels like. This is deliverance. This is completeness. I’m an inch taller, I think we all should be.


Paul Johnson


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