By Gary Walker

Sitting in the comfortable Saturday lunchtime embrace of the pub, with Keys and Gray’s familiar warm waves of empty hyperbole washing over me, I began to wonder if it had all been a surreal dream.

The first-class train ride from Madrid‘s grand Atocha station, slicing south through the barren plains of central Spain, with a silver service meal, free wine and beer and the ex Arsenal forward Jose Antonio Reyes a fellow passenger.

The 30,000 Sevilla fans with their huge banners and flags, whistling every Spurs touch and creating a cacophony of noise so intense that it seemed to close in around us.

Robbie Keane giving Spurs the lead after only two minutes to silence the jeers, and the subsequent unjust awarding of a penalty to the home side that turned the game and saw the hosts secure a 2-1 UEFA Cup quarter-final first-leg lead.

The Spanish security wading in to strike any Spurs fan in their way with batons, apparently knocking a wheelchair-bound supporter out of his chair, and being booed by home and away fans alike, mystified by this unprovoked attack.

And most surreal of all, well into the early hours of the following day, the sight of the narrow, cobbled Andalucian streets filling with hundreds of thousands of worshippers. Dressed in long purple and white robes and pointed conical hats, the city’s religious brotherhoods carried effigies of Christ in sombre, eerie silence from each of the city’s barrios to congregate in the centre. The influx of more than 5,000 Spurs fans to Seville had been overshadowed heavily by around one million Catholics arriving to mark the holy week of Semana Santa.

Then the sleepless night, dragging ourselves from bar to bar, in the knowledge that every bed in the city was taken by Christians. Our train out of this unreal 24-hour fantasy, back to Madrid airport and ultimately England, left at 7am, and the initial heady excitement of pre-match drinking had become a test of endurance – a means to an end in order to stay awake.

And now, as I sat in a Bristol pub on Saturday lunchtime, sorting through all these scrambled memories, were the Spurs fans at Stamford Bridge for a Premier League clash with Chelsea, a punishing 38 hours later, really singing “Puta Betis, Puta Betis, HEY HEY” in solidarity with their new friends in Seville? It certainly sounded like it.

Tottenham had overcome Slavia Prague, Besiktas, FC Bruges, Bayer Leverkusen, Dinamo Bucharest and Braga to get reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, winning every one of their matches in their first season in European competition for seven years.

But Sevilla, the cup holders, proved a step too far. Spurs having taken the lead when Keane rolled in a rebound after being played in by Dimitar Berbatov, Sevilla took only 15 minutes to get level. The referee unfairly punished the Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who had clearly got the ball when he advanced out of his goal to try to stop the Brazilian striker Adriano, and from that point Spurs were on the back foot as Dani Alves and co swarmed forwards.

That was the moment that saw the game’s momentum change allegiance. Former Spurs player Fredi Kanoute, excellent throughout, scored  the penalty, before his Russian strike partner Alexandr Kerzhakov made it 2-1.

The penalty also signalled ugly scenes in the lower tier below us, as the security took an incredibly heavy-handed approach with some Spurs fans for no reason that anybody could see. The segration seemed pretty much non-existant, and some Sevilla supporters dragged a few of our fans into their midst to spare them a beating from these baton-wielding thugs in uniform.

All around the stadium there were boos, and it was clear they were being aimed at this over-zealous and needless display of violence. After the game, talking to Sevilla fans, the consensus seemed to be that the police had been stretched to the limit by the religious festival, and private security firms had been called in to fill the void, with horrifying results. But rather than creating an air of tension or sparking further violence, the incident seemed to galvanise a feeling of respect and empathy between the two opposing sets of supporters.

We’d had a universally warm welcome from the Sevillanos, and spent the day exchanging stories and scarves, and buying each other drinks amid the stunning Moorish buildings of one of the finest cities in Europe – the passionate, beating heart of Spain’s south.

And the welcome continued after the game. Picking a way through the crowded plazas and bustling alleyways, watching the processions and squeezing into the packed bars and clubs, we never felt under threat. After eating a beautiful meal in a restaurant with fine art deco stylings for about a third of the price it would have cost in London, the waiter walked us through the kitchen and showed us out of the back door so we could avoid the crowds that were now pressing against the front of the building as the procession approached its peak. Everywhere we went, the people of Seville were kind, good-humoured and proud to show us the hidden corners of their wonderful city.

Everywhere we went, the people of Seville were kind, good-humoured
and proud to show us the hidden corners of their wonderful city.

But just as the penalty that never should have been turned the tie, it may also have been the turning point for poor old Martin Jol, the Spurs manager so beloved of the club’s supporters.

Tottenham were unable to overturn the deficit in the second leg at White Hart Lane – an evening of swashbuckling football between two teams committed to attacking aesthetics ending in 2-2 draw and a 4-3 aggregate win for Sevilla.

Maybe that was the beginning of the end for Jol. He lasted only a further 21 matches in charge, and it was his opposite number on that warm April night in Seville, Juande Ramos, who Spurs turned to the following October as his successor after he had helped the Spanish side win the UEFA Cup for a second successive year.

As our train finally pulled out of Santa Justa station and began to propel us north, I fell almost immediately into a deep sleep, rocked gently by the meditative motion of the train. I dreamt of arid deserts, Roman cathedrals, pretty little plazas, endless crowds of silent worshippers, heaving nightclubs with beds in, and the raucous Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

And when we arrived back in Madrid there was just enough time to drag our zombie-like, hungover carcasses around the Santiago Bernabéu and its excellent museum. It gave us the chance to admire a few European Cups and dream, again, that one day Spurs would be back in Spain, this time playing in the Champions League against Real Madrid. Audere est facere.

Do you have a football travel tale you want to share with the world? If so, contact us at smallfootballworld@gmail.com



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