We at Groundhopper Guides have always said that Christmas time, or the "festive season," is…
A Festive Diary: Watching Soccer in England Over the Holidays
While it wasn’t quite as fun and festive as years past, for reasons I need not state, my experience of watching English soccer over the Christmas period was nonetheless enjoyable. Here’s a diary of my experience.
If you are considering coming to England for a soccer-focused trip over the holidays in 2022, I can’t recommend it enough. There are games all the time, London is all lit up and festive, Manchester has a lovely Christmas market, and if you can get past the weather, it’s a terrific groundhopping experience.
A Festive Season English Soccer Diary
December 21, League Cup Quarterfinals, Brentford vs Chelsea: There is still a bit of a warm glow about Brentford, and why not? They are in a shiny new stadium, playing in the Premier League for the first time ever, and any fan of theirs over the age of 30 can remember the days when they struggled in League One. On the night, we all have a great time even though the interglobal European champions, Chelsea, win easily, 2-0. Whatever. The Bees are Premier League, and it’s Christmas.
We don’t sell tickets to Brentford, but here’s how to get one for yourself.
December 25, Twitter chaos: Somebody has posted that Spurs-Palace on Boxing Day is off. Twitter erupts. The clubs and league say nothing, not a word, until about three hours before the game, when Palace says it’s happening but their manager, Patrick Vieira, has Covid — which is too bad for him, but also for the 60,000 Spurs fans who couldn’t wait to boo the Arsenal legend for the first time in years.
December 26, on a bus: Palace and Spurs fans aren’t really looking at each other, because I guess this London derby doesn’t matter that much to either side. It’s all friendly for now, but pretty soon, over at the stadium and safely separated by stewards, they will be calling each other all sorts of terrible things.
Meanwhile, I would say 5% of the people on this bus are Korean. One of the great, and largely untold, oddities of seeing a Tottenham game is the waves of Koreans here to see Son Heung-min.
December 26, 2 p.m., Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: The pitch-side hospitality package we sell at Tottenham is rather amazing, with seats a few rows up from midfield and free food in the lounge. Also, the waitress takes a selfie with the guy across from me, so I ask who he is, and discover he’s a British rapper whom, to no one’s surprise, this 55-year-old American has never heard of. Still, I can now say I sat at midfield and chilled with AJ Tracey in the lounge.
December 26, 3 to 3:30 p.m.: Here’s how Palace player Wilfred Zaha’s day is going. He doesn’t kneel before kickoff, catches shit for that from the crowd, then bitches at the ref because he thinks he’s fouled all the time, then kicks somebody for Spurs because he’s mad at the ref. Yellow card. Then the crowd gets on him, he yells back, points at somebody in the crowd, screams some more at the ref because he always thinks he’s been fouled, then gets mad and throws a Spurs player to the ground. Bye, Wilf! All of this happens within about 100 feet me and AJ Tracey.
Spurs 3, Palace 0.
December 27, Queens Park Rangers vs Bournemouth: In another football universe the next night, I wedge myself into a plastic seat designed for an 11-year-old, strain to look past a post so I can see the kickoff, and am close enough to see the looks on the faces of Bournemouth fans, who a short while ago were packed outside a pub in Shepherds Bush singing that London is a shithole. I’m sitting with two of our clients, who decide they want to follow, to any game, the blokes sitting behind us, just for the banter. And it is proper banter.
A notable example: Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke used to play for Chelsea, whom QPR hates, so he’s a Chelsea reject and shite, which the boys remind him of all the time. He then scores the only goal in the game which, in typical English fashion, the boys agree is “problematic.”
December 28, Norwich City at Crystal Palace: Sure, our Crystal Palace hospitality comes with a pregame meal, but this is South London. I want jerk chicken served by a woman of very recent Caribbean descent (or arrival) who calls me honey and sweetie. I want, and have, Delly’s.
Over at the ground, “covid-hit” Norwich — that’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot in 2021 — send out the B Team version of a team that has lost four straight, scored none, and conceded 11. Their starters are crap, and this is their backup team. Palace’s “stroll-around-the-pitch” 3-0 win made it a winless and goalless December for the Canaries, who at least had some fun with their predicament, to the amusement and admiration of Palace fans.
December 29, Chelsea vs Brighton: Another swanky hospitality package — what, you don’t normally have an avocado, smoked salmon and bergamot amuse bouche before games? — leads to what for most people was a pretty forgetful 1-1 draw. But when the visitors score the equalizer in injury time, leading the away fans to explode with joy, us neutral Americans very quietly whisper to each other, “That was amazing.” Also, “The train ride getting out of here should be interesting.”
It was also fun, postgame as the Bridge emptied out, watching the Seagulls fans serenading midfielder Yves Bissouma, who tossed them his shirt:
January 1, Arsenal vs Manchester City: For me, it’s back to where it all began, at The Emirates with my friend Dermot, an Arsenal lifer who introduced me to this whole scene almost 10 years ago. More than 150 games later, we have at least upgraded our seats, to the killer Arsenal hospitality we sell, and brought along his son, David. The mood is a lot better, as well. In 2011 it was another “what are we doing here” 4th-place finish in which Dermot at one point stood up, pointed at the goal, and yelled to the passing specialists in red, “It’s over there!”
This time, a young and exciting Arsenal team take it to the defending champs and grab the lead with a goal right in front of us, sending the crowd to a whole different level. It turns to anger when City get a penalty (via VAR), also in front of us, sending the away fans right below us into their own raptures. Then it gets really ugly when an Arsenal player is sent off, and they can’t hang on. It’s City 2, Arsenal 1, but I am sitting between two good friends who, eventually and a pint or two later, calm down and say that, well, at least this Arsenal team is fun to watch.
January 2, Heathrow Airport: I love London and English football, but I’m off to Spain. It’s warmer there, and they have a couple of clubs I hear are pretty good. A final reason to love London so much: I paid less than $100 US for a one-way flight to Madrid. Hasta pronto!