Jonty Mark
Football Editor
3 minute read
10 Apr 2018
10:41 am

A privilege to watch English league games

Jonty Mark

"Stoke is a "s**thole," we want to go home". We are on a bus with a group of Tottenham Hotspur fans, making our way to the bet365 Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, and they are singing out their feelings about this small city in the English Midlands.

Christian Eriksen was the hero for Tottenham at Stoke City with a brace

This particular ditty is actually one of the more polite that gets a rendition – there are a couple about former Tottenham defender Sol Campbell, who once made the cardinal sin of moving to North London rivals Arsenal, that are unrepeatable.

Thousands of Spurs fans made the journey up to Stoke on Saturday to watch their team play in the English Premier League. This has to be partly because Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham are doing so well, on the brink of securing Uefa Champions League football for another season.

But it is also a culture embedded in the English game to travel the length and breadth of the country to follow your team. It makes for a cracking atmosphere at the stadium, as we found out on Saturday, with the Tottenham end singing away, while Stoke’s fans were also in fine voice.

Even though Paul Lambert’s side are in deep relegation trouble, there was a healthy turnout, with the stadium pretty much packed to capacity.

Another reason for more fans going to games on a Saturday at 3pm could also be that it is against the law to televise matches at this time. South African football fans really are spoiled by SuperSport, in the sense that we actually get to watch more English football than the English do from the comfort of our own living rooms.

Television has begun to show more and more live games in England, but none that kick off at 3pm on a Saturday – that is sacrosanct, though there are pubs that you can find which do show the matches via an overseas satellite feed.

And there is nothing quite like attending a live match. Stoke’s fans do not take long to get frustrated with referee Graham Scott, who they clearly feel is being biased in Tottenham’s favour. They also boo Spurs leftback Danny Rose every time he touches the ball, apparently because of an incident in a game between Stoke and Tottenham in 2014, where the Potters’ Ryan Shawcross was sent off. The memories in this game are long.

But Spurs are the better side, and take the lead in the second half through Christian Eriksen. Even though Stoke find an equaliser through Mame Diouf, Eriksen nets again, and the Tottenham supporters go home happy, singing more rude songs on the train home (in our carriage, so much so, that a policeman comes over and tells them they are only allowed to sing the songs without the swearing!).

The next day we head off to the Emirates, to take in Arsenal’s home game with Southampton. Here, the away fans are making most of the noise, even though they only occupy a small pocket of this behemoth of a ground. Arsenal’s fans seem nervy, and even more so as Southampton take the lead.

They finally find their voice as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalises, and this match turns out to be an absolute cracker, with Arsenal winning 3-2, and a couple of red cards thrown into the mix too right at the death.
All in all, it has been a privilege to watch two games in the English Premier League live this weekend, that embody the excitement of the game in this country, on and off the pitch.