Attending a Premier League game at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane in London stands out as one of my greatest sports travel experiences. Yes, I’m a fan of Spurs, so being able to attend a game at their home pitch stands out. But more than that, attending a Premier League game for the first time opened my eyes to the beauty of football in its birth nation. And as the 2013-2014 season just concluded Sunday, I find myself reflecting on our experience of attending a Premier League game.
As an American in my late 30s, soccer isn’t a sport I grew up watching. I did play for a couple of years, but being a child of the 1980s with no professional soccer league in the United States, there was no real reason for me to develop as a soccer fan. The creation of Major League Soccer in 1994 has been important in the development of soccer in this country. But for me, it was baseball, basketball and American football that I watched on TV.
My soccer fandom has been on a slow progression since the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994. I’ve watched every World Cup since, even waking up at 3 a.m. to watch the U.S. games being played in South Korea and Japan during the 2002 World Cup.
But it wasn’t until preparing for a visit to England in 2005 that I began watching the Premier League.
Watching games on Fox Soccer Channel leading up to that trip gave me a connection to our future trip. One of the main reasons I’ve loved planning trips is that it gives me a real connection to the destination.
I quickly became a fan of Norwich City because we would be visiting family in the Norfolk city on our trip. But the Canaries were relegated the last day of the season, just days before we departed for England. So because Norwich City’s games in the Championship (second division) wouldn’t be televised in the U.S., I needed a new team. And my allegiance switched to Tottenham after discovering family we stayed with in London were huge fans of the club.
Fast forward seven years to our next visit to England, one that would include our then-5-year-old son. I’ve attended the World Series, major college football bowl games, NBA playoff games, the Summer Olympics and many other sporting events. But I knew if I could get tickets for a match at Tottenham, attending a Premier League game would be right up there as one of the ultimate sporting experiences.
But I soon would discover that attending a Premier League game wouldn’t be that easy.
I originally thought I could just go straight to the team’s website and buy single-game tickets well in advance. I do that all the time with baseball, basketball, hockey and American football. But it wasn’t an option at Tottenham, or most of the other stadiums in English football.
Maybe because we have so many high-level sporting opportunities as fans in the U.S. from college to professional, tickets aren’t that hard to obtain. If Major League Soccer is included, making a category of five major sports leagues, there are some 140 teams across North America hosting games, plus more than 100 colleges playing NCAA Division I football — and more than twice that many playing basketball. And if buying tickets through the team isn’t your thing, the secondhand ticket market is thriving, meaning for the right price — and often less than face value — a ticket can be had.
But back in the fall of 2011, I discovered StubHub didn’t yet exist in the United Kingdom. There are ticket agents and other third parties that offer ticket packages at crazy high prices.
Because of our tight schedule, and the fact we were arriving in town the last weekend of the season, we didn’t have many options with other teams. I put all my faith in our cousin, the Tottenham season ticket holder. She did, in fact, come through for us and helped us secure two tickets from other season ticket holders.
Why So Difficult?
I’m not sure, honestly. But I do know the history of fan violence plays a role. English teams work hard to keep fans of the two competing clubs segregated in the stadium. Visiting fans have a specific section to sit in at the game. There aren’t opportunities for fans of the opposing team to buy single-game tickets from the home club.
And while some of the stadiums hold 60,000 or more fans, the vast majority are more in the 25,000 to 40,000 range. White Hart Lane holds just less than 40,000.
So why does attending a Premier League game at White Hart Lane stack up as one of my greatest sports experiences? I think the anticipation is part of it. I had heard from friends how fun games are. I’ve watched many games on TV over the years, and listening to the fans sing throughout the game adds so much to the game experience on TV.
And I think the singing was probably part of what made the experience so great. It amazes me how fans attending a Premier League game seem to all sing the same song at the same time. To hear 40,000 fans singing at the top of their lungs with brilliant songs about their players, and even negative ones about the opponents, is chilling.
We don’t really have that in North American sports. Chants of “DE-FENSE” at basketball and football games is cool and all, but it’s not exactly chill-inspiring. Football fans are so creative in their songs.
I was shocked when I went up to the beer counter in the concourse just before the game and was told beer sales had been stopped. No beer can be taken into the stands? I’m not sure that would fly at American stadiums. But, again, it goes back to that violent past.
I’d be happy if I could attend a Premier League game yearly. I know that’s probably not in the cards considering I live in Memphis where airfare is so cost-prohibitive to get to Europe. But I’ll always have my experience at White Hart Lane.
Do you have any memorable sports travel experiences?