Monday, January 11, 2016

A Wild Soccer Saturday in London

Last week my friend Jordan and I embarked upon a winter soccer adventure.  It was an eight day trip with the focus being a Super Saturday in London.  Our plan was to take in an EPL double header.  12:30 would be attending West Ham United against Liverpool at Upton Park followed by a trip all the way across town for a 5:30 Watford - Manchester City clash in Watford.  It was going to be tough but we thought we could pull it off.

Prior to Saturday we had already attended Manchester United v Chelsea at Old Trafford and Queens Park Rangers v Hull at Loftus Road. Our appetites had been wetted for Super Saturday.  It was not all to be easy though. As of Friday night 10pm we still had no tickets to either match!  Both games were sold out within minutes and being non-members on the Watford and West Ham websites there was no chance to get tickets through the club.

That left us with three options. Go to a third party website like livefootballltickets and stubhub, try craigslist or find a scalper outside the grounds.  The third party website was really not an option as the tickets there were quite expensive and we had no intentions of paying those prices.  Craigslist would be our main option and if that was a bust we would just go to the grounds and find someone scalping an extra pair.

Jordan and I arrived in London on Tuesday night and had been working Craigslist for days.  As of Friday night 10pm we still had no tickets to either match!  Finally around midnight we got a message. Two tickets to Watford v Manchester City.  The issue? We had to meet in central London at 9am.  Definitely doable, but it would add another jaunt to an already long day.

So up early and off to central London to get the tickets for the 5:30 match.  We still had no tickets for the 12:45 West Ham v Liverpool game though.  The plan was on the tube into central London to Euston Station to buy the Watford tickets and then back on the tube out to east London to Upton Park.

The first trip was uneventful making it over to Euston Station in thirty minutes and meeting our man to purchase the Watford tickets.  This time Craigslist came through.  We met our man, paid the cash money  and had two tickets to Watford - Man City in hand.

Back on the tube and out to Upton Park.  The problem? We had no tickets.  This match had been sold out for weeks.  Nothing on Craigslist at all.  We were going to try our luck with the scalpers.  We arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes before kickoff.  Within minutes we had found our first scalper. He had nothing other than a few seats in the Liverpool section. No way we're we going to sit in the visitor section and be subjected to abuse the whole match.  We moved on.

The next man we ran into was the man.  "Tickets. You need tickets? I got tickets!"

Jackpot! We walked over and said we needed two.  He said he had two second deck 200£.

Yikes!  That is $300 US each. No way.  "We said no way too much"

He responded with "Well how much you looking to spend ?" In his deep British accent.

I said "Around 100£ each" and you would have thought I insulted his mother!  He went nuts.

F- bombs! Cussing!  "F!  This is Premiership Football!" He yelled.  "F sake!" He kept babbling and we were out of there as he continued to cuss.  Jordan and I shook our heads and moved on not sure to laugh or to run?

Anyway. We moved on.  While doing my pre-trip research I had read a story about the ticket office taking care of fans that had travelled a long way to attend a BPL match.  I decided we should go to the ticket office. Perhaps a season ticket holder would not be attending and had turned their tickets back in last minute or something.  Down the road to Upton Park.

We were still quite early so there were few people around the West Ham ticket office.  We walked up and I asked if they had two tickets.  The ticket girl looked surprised and said something to the effect of "There are a few singles but you would not be in the same section."

That's when I said "We came all the way from Texas to come to this match! We've been trying to get tickets for weeks!"  Jordan chimed in with a similar "All the way from Texas" plea.  Behind our ticket girl the manager just happened to be listening.  She walked over and interjected "Hang on a minute, I might have something for you."

Suddenly our hopes changed!  There might just be a chance.

The manager returned and said she had seats for us. Good seats in fact.  Front row. Just off the midfield stripe! 95£.  "Deal!" We exclaimed!

Jackpot! Front row.  Right in the middle of the action. Who would have thunk it??.  I wanted to go back and show our cussing scalper friend, but Jordan talked me out of it.  Probably smart I guess haha.

We were bouncing. An hour before kickoff and Jordan and I were in our seats staring wide-eyed. The huge Upton Park.  Liverpool's Christian Benteke, Coutinho, Lovren, Lallana warming up just feet away.  What a day this was going to be!

The opening was spectacular.  The player walkout.  Bubble machines throwing bubbles everywhere. The crowd singing 'forever blowing bubbles' at the top of their lungs.  It almost brings tears to your eyes.  What an experience.

The crowd would go even crazier when West Ham jumped in front with a beautiful goal in the tenth minute.  A perfect cross from Valencia was headed home by Antonio sending the crowd of 35,000 into a frenzy.  It was nuts!  The home fans sang and cheered the entire rest of the half.  Directing most of their songs right at the Liverpool section to our right.

Talk about entertaining.  The soccer match was only half the fun.  The songs were awesome.  Those poor Liverpool fans!  Every song was filled with jeers at them.  We heard a nice song entitled "Your support is shit" and of course taunts and jeers. But our favorite was the "Andy Carroll song" which we heard several times for extended lengths.

You see Andy Carroll is a former Liverpool striker who transferred to West Ham with a big contract.  He was starting at forward in the match against his former side and the West Ham fans made sure the Liverpool section knew it!  The first time they sang it Jordan and I looked turned to each other with a look of "am I hearing this?"

In fact we were!  Here is the song:
"Because you're shit,
Because you're shit,
Andy Carroll left because you're shit!"

And they sung it over and over. It was just too funny!  We couldn't believe our ears and we laughed at every phrase. I won't even deny we might have just joined in late on.  It got even worse in the second half after Andy Carroll scored a wonderful header in the 55th minute.  It was a celebration from there as West Ham ran out impressive 2-0 victors.  What a great experience.

Now it was 3:00 and we had two and a half hours to make it all the way out to
Watford on the far northwest of London.  Google said it would take 95 minutes by train.  It would be tight but we could make it.

Then we left the stadium and saw the epic line for the train.  Epic is definitely the right word.  At least 500 yards long and stacked 3-4 wide.  Barely moving at all.  This was big trouble. Jordan and I made our way to the end and knew we were in big trouble.  No way we could get through this long line and still make it to Watford for the Manchester City match.

After mulling at the back of the line for bout five minutes it was time for plan B.  Two options. Either try to get a taxi to another tube station real fast or hoof it on foot trying to walk to another station.  Since we were in a more residential area the taxi plan didn't look promising. So off we raced on foot.  It took a brisk ten minute walk and directions from several nice Londoners, but soon we were at another tube station.  Plan B was a raging success.  A ten minute brisk walk easily saved us 90 minutes and gave us a chance to get to Watford.

It was a long trek to Watford. 94 minutes according to Google and we really had no idea where we were going other than the news that it was over a mile walk from the train station to the stadium.  Luckily our people skills took over and we found a couple wearing Manchester City scarves.  They were heading to the match so we latched onto them.

It was a long way to Vicarage Road! We rode the train forever it seemed. Further and further out of London we went with the clock ticking.  I would have much rather arrived at the grounds over an hour before kickoff to take in the sites and atmosphere, but it was not going to happen this time.  Our train arrived at 5:05 giving us a short time until kickoff. This is the time that we finally found a good thing about the sun going down at 4pm in England. We could see the stadium lights beaming in the distance giving us a perfect target for the walk.

Jordan and I made it to our seats with only five minutes to spare.  We missed the player warmups, but were in time for the walkout and kickoff so it was all good.  Hectic, but all good.  The seats weren't as good as the West ham seats. Right on the pitch down towards the corner and straight across from the Manchester City section.

I expected the Watford crowd to be a bit better. The stadium was sold out of course, but they definitely weren't as boisterous as the West ham folks.  A scoreless first half was well accepted by the home fans who seemed to be happy with taking a point off the giants from Manchester.  Then things took an abrupt change after the break.

A swerving corner kick was whipped in by Ben Watson at the near post.  Alexander Kolarov was there for Man City but the curling ball was inches too high for him to deal with.  He jumped but could only glance the ball over the helpless keeper Joe Hart who ended up punching air as the ball whizzed into the net.  Suddenly the home fans had hope. Could they steal the full three points?

The place was buzzing as Manchester City went to work trying to flip the score line.  Pellegrini threw on attacking players taking off a holding mid and introducing Bony up top. He also removed speedy Raheem Sterling who had done nothing the entire match.  Sterling was greeted with a special chant from the Watford fans.

"What a waste of money!"
"What a waste of money!"

Of course Jordan and I laughed and nodded as the game returned to action.  Ten minutes to go and we thought Watford might just nick this one.  Then Man City did what the big boys do.  83rd minute and a corner kick right in front of us. Kevin De Bruyne whipped in a low ball to the six near post.  Waiting was YaYa Toure who slipped just inside his mark and blasted a left footed volley into the net.

All square at 1-1. City didn't celebrate the goal though. Toure met De Bruyne for a quick hug and that was it.  Nobody else even acknowledged. Aguero quickly dug the ball out of the net and the other players all raced back to midfield. They clearly had bigger intentions.

They were spot on too.  Watford were rattled and only two minutes later Manchester City jumped in front.  A long, looping cross from Sagna was heading to the top of the six yard box. Two Watford defenders were in place, but neither took the initiative to deal with the cross.  Instead, Sergio Aguero rose right between them and headed home the winner.

This time City celebrated. Racing over in front of their traveling fans who were going nuts.  What a comeback. Two goals in the final eight minutes to rescue the night.  What a finish we saw.
Manchester City 2 Watford 1

After the match Jordan and I found the Watford gift shop looking to get some souvenirs.  Not much of a shop I must say. I would venture that my bedroom is bigger! Anyways, we bought a couple of things and headed out in search of the tube station.  Little did we know our night was far from over as another adventure awaited.

Now it was time to find the elusive train station.  Arriving at night and having walked easily over a mile it was safe to say we did not have good bearings.  So off we went following the crowd. Now you have to understand, Jordan and I pretty much talked to everybody on this trip.  Made friends at every turn. So it was no surprise when we latched onto a family walking our same direction.  It was an entire family of Watford fans ranging in age from a 14ish year old girl all the way up to the grandfather.

We talked as we walked.  They weren’t the friendliest family, but after such a heart-breaking loss that might have been expected.  The grandfather quickly took a disliking to the two friendly Texans and stated in Spanish “This is stupid. I’m going” and he crossed the street to walk by himself.  He thought we would not understand him, but Jordan is fluent in Spanish.  After a few minutes of chatting we asked if we could have their tickets.  The man we bought ours from only gave us paper copies and we were wanting the real tickets as a keep sake.

The father was not really having any of it.  Neither was one of the older boys.  Personally, I didn’t see the big deal. I mean they were going to go home and throw them in the trash anyways right?  Finally the 14 year old girl spoke up and convinced the dad to give us the tickets.  Jackpot!  Soon the family turned and we were left out in the middle of nowhere.  Where exactly was that train station?  We asked for help and the Watford people weren’t giving out the super secret location it seemed.

Jordan and I walked on, hoping the train station would magically appear around the next bend.  We asked for help again. “Ten minutes. That way” we were told.  Ten more minutes?  Finally we found ourselves in what must have been downtown Watford.  A lot of restaurants and a nice little party area.  Almost deserted though. Aha! There were a couple of police officers.  I headed over and asked about the train station.  “Ten minutes that way.”  The same answer again!  This time pointing in a different direction.

Ugh. This was getting ridiculous. We had easily been walking an hour by now.  Finally, a train station came into sight.  Eureka! We stumbled inside and found the right train back to London.  Two hours later back at our hotel in Stratford.  What a day! 14 hours of soccer matches, crazy scalpers, travel and being lost, but we nailed it. A true London soccer adventure!

Read about my previous trip to Craven Cottage to watch Fulham v Stoke City

1 comment:

  1. That was fun! I look forward to reading more about your treks!