Saturday, 17 September 2016

Spurs' biggest attendance proves their biggest problem at Wembley

Walking away from Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night, I felt I was beginning to understand the challenges Tottenham face in making the national stadium feel like home.

Controlling the game on a bigger pitch, keeping 85,000 home fans on side, not letting Arsenal's experience play on our minds etc.

But it turns out I was yet to encounter the biggest obstacle of all. Getting home. 

On the way down the ramp towards Olympic Way, big steps turned to little steps, then to pigeon steps, until finally we ground to a halt.

I looked up from texting my missus - finally enjoying some signal - to see I was near the back of a 40,000-plus queue for Wembley Park tube.

Suddenly I was not going to be home in the hour and a half I thought. And I began to sympathise with those supporters flocking towards the exits before full-time.

Initially, when fans started filing out on 85 minutes, after Harry Kane missed a gilt-edged chance to level the score, I was fuming. How can the players be expected to fight tooth and nail for one vital goal while the place is emptying out? Not real fans, I thought.

Now, faced with a sea of stationary heads, I understood. Wembley is a totally different beast. I had stayed to applaud the players because I had paid for a ticket and I think it's the right think to do win, lose or draw. Or I do usually. 

But it took me an hour and 40 minutes between full-time and getting on a tube at 11.10pm. I was going to South London, others I spoke to were going to Brighton, Coventry and Ipswich. I have no idea if they got home. 

Still, I have since read untold numbers of comments on Twitter where people have hammered those who left early… “pathethic", “disloyal”, “plastic fans”. Hurtful comments have progressed to arguments, others have waded in, and gradually you see chasms emerge between the differing factions in a crowd of 85,000. 

This is not the way to settle in at Wembley. Yes, if you have no care other than the club you support, it is right to stay until the end and stick by the team regardless - but accept other people’s situations.

When you have other priorities waiting, relying, on you - kids, pets, sick relatives, an early start for work or even a car parked somewhere you don't entirely trust - then waiting an extra 90 minutes paints the situation in a new light. 

Especially when the spectacle you came for was only 90 minutes anyway. 

From what I gather there were a few casualties in the queue but on the whole the authorities did a great job moving fans safely towards the tube station, it just takes a long time to clear that many people, so the situation is not going to change dramatically in the coming weeks.

And that means fans, real fans, who have their own priorities in life and have probably thought long and hard about making a difficult decision, will still be leaving before the final whistle. Next time round, with people knowing the travel situation, you may find that thousands more even look to make a sharp getaway.

But faced with the choice of people leaving early, or not being there at all, I would far prefer they came to support Tottenham Hotspur for 85 minutes, making sure this incredible arena is full at the start and the atmosphere electric for as long as possible.

Wembley might not have brought the right result but the experience as a whole was unforgettable. Walking up the gangway steps into a packed house of 85,000 roaring on your club is a privilege that very few get to enjoy - but petty squabbles, backbiting and turning on each other is a surefire way to spoil it. 

Of course, if there is a lesson the players themselves can take from this, it’s to take their chances and make sure the game is won long before people’s minds turn to getting home.

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