Ah, another European away day! Finally, and for the first time since the Seville trip last season, my sister and I made it to a European fixture in Europe. With the generous 2000 allocation we had it looked likely we'd get tickets so we booked our flights and hotels a few weeks ago, took time off work, and got ourselves ready to follow the boys on the continent again.
An 11:40 flight out of Gatwick meant an early start for me. The car was dropped off at our office near Heathrow and my sister drove hers the rest of the way. An easier than expected journey around the M25 meant we were at Gatwick with plenty of time to spare, and having used online check-in we breezed past the queues and straight into the BA lounge. Only 10:30 and time for the first G'n'T! Sadly I had to have one phone call with a colleague at work. He was most impressed by the fact I was already well on my way at that time of the morning.
Another G'n'T sunk and it was time to board the plane. A fair few fellow Spurs supporters on the flight with us, and as the cabin crew (also known as trolley dollies to some!) started their service I was straight onto, yes, you guessed it, another G'n'T. Now, its not that I'm particularly partial to these - although you may think differently based on this account - but when I'm flying somewhere, it just seems the right and very British thing to do!
A couple of small bottles of red with a very passable Thai chicken curry, followed by a cognac and the flight was coming to end and we were landing in a very cold Prague. Temperatures already close to freezing. Man, it was going to be fun going to the game with a 21:00 kick-off!
We taxi'd it to the hotel, dumped our kit off, got directions for how to get to the stadium, but with a good four hours (maybe more) till kick-off, it was time to find a bar or two. The hotel was just off Wenceslas Square and right next door to Darlings. A gentleman's club to some. A titty bar to me!
We bypassed that for the time being and found a pub with a few Spurs fans already in there. Chas & Dave playing. I'd forgotten how many songs they'd sung! In the time we were there I don't think a single one was repeated. How is it possible for them to have come up with quite so many lyrics? Admittedly, some of the lyrics are actually utter rubbish, but even so!
The other thing about the pub - and for that matter all pubs, bars and restaurants - that hit me was the smoke. I'd forgotten just how bloody horrible it is to be stuck in a confined space with so many smokers. Bleurgh!
By now I was well on my way to being thoroughly sauced up. Exactly the way it should be on a European away day I reckon. The only difference to the Seville trip last season - the bloody freezing temperatures! Still, we decided after a few drinks that it was time to have a wander. After finding another bar for a few more drinks we decided it was probably best to get a bite to eat before heading to the game. Where else but Pizza Express?! Of course, there was more beer. This time the rather lovely Budvar dark. Nice stuff. They really do know a lot about beer in the Czech Republic. Budvar, Urquell..... Mmmmm.....
Fed and watered it was time to once again brave the freezing temperatures and grab a taxi to the stadium. Slavia play in Strahov on the other side of the river and boy was I glad we'd opted for a taxi en route. That was one of the biggest climbs you could possibly hope for if you were on foot.
The Spurs fans were there in their numbers and despite the cold in good voice. As always! The stadium was an odd one. It looked a lot bigger than it should've been. Apparently the capacity is about 19500. The massive running track around the pitch obviously make it seem much bigger. It also served to deaden the atmosphere. There's just no way you can get any really loud chants echoing around with so much space around you. Strikingly, there were vast swathes of empty seats in the Prague areas. No wonder their manager/coach and captain had been urging supporters to turn up in their numbers for the game!
Slavia's stadium stands right next to the massive Strahov stadium. That was built during the Communist era I gather. And it is massive! You would not believe how big the place looks. I think its the second biggest stadium anywhere in the world. And its now totally derelict! Just as well Slavia don't play there if they can't even sell out their own place!
No major surprises in the line-up. Although King had travelled there was no way he was going to be risked on such a cold night with rock solid ground underfoot. Zokora returned, but other than that, pretty much as expected.
Now, for those of you who watched it - maybe even managed to get out there - you don't need me to tell you that we utterly, utterly dominated the first half. The fact that Slavia hadn't played for two months due to the winter break probably had a large hand to play in it, but it looked like they'd hardly turned up. I'd have thought that with an away leg still to come they'd have gone all out to get a result at home.
They didn't, and we capitalised. It didn't take long. Three, maybe four minutes and we were a goal up. It was difficult to see exactly what happened as we were at the other end of the ground, but from what I could see, it looked like an attack broke down at the edge of their box, the ball fell to one of our players (who I now realise was Berbatov!) and he guided it in. As you'd expect we went nuts! Its just fantastic to take the lead so early in a game when you've been building up to it for so long.
The pattern of the game continued in much the same way as the half progressed. Slavia barely getting into any kind of threatening position. It almost looked at times as though we were coasting. That's probably not surprising considering how poor Slavia were and really, with how bloody cold it was - have I mentioned how cold it was?! - probably understandable.
As it was, with half an hour on the clock we added to the lead. This time I was able to follow the play better. A good goal. Very decent build-up with Jenas making one of his runs in possession and the ball being squeezed through to Keane who slotted it past the Slavia keeper. Come on! Two-nil, and for a few seconds we forgot the cold and couldn't contain ourselves from going mental again. To the tune of Yellow Submarine we were off..... "Number one is Robbie Keane! Number two is Robbie Keane!....."
In a position of total dominance we went in at half-time two goals to the good, looking forward to a second half where we'd hopefully add to the score. The break also gave us a chance to take a little look around, see what was what. I opted not to have any more beer. It would probably have meant missing chunks of the second half with regular trips to the toilets! Rather bizarrely I did notice that the security guards had a fire extinguisher and a bucket of sand at hand. Couldn't work out what they'd need that for, but realised later it was probably in case of any fireworks being let off. Talking of the security, they formed a cordon in front of the fences and stood there all game, just looking at us. Never once turned around to watch the match! Obviously not big Slavia fans. Still, at least their policing was considerably better than that at Seville.....
As the second half got underway there was no real change to the tempo. Spurs still dominant, and if anything, beginning to get forward with more threat. Slavia still weren't offering very much at all. We could, we should, have scored more. I can't remember the exact sequence of chances, but I think at various stages their keeper denied us brilliantly. There was a double save - and a really excellent one - from Berbatov (in the first half?), and Huddlestone crashed one against the woodwork.
And then Slavia scored. Without ever really threatening. We gifted them a goal. Cerny's error - and it was a bad one - on a night when he didn't really do anything else wrong, and this, despite it being at the other end of the ground, I had a very good view of. I still don't quite understand how he dropped the ball. He seemed to have it under total control as he went up to claim and came back down. Then, inexplicably, he dropped it right at the feet of a Slavia player, and they got a goal back.
Thanks to that they gained a bit of impetus and started to attack us. They created some half decent positions, and got some half decent shots off. It was as though they'd suddenly realised they needed to put a bit of effort in and try to get a result. Disappointing then that it was entirely down to us that they had that opportunity.
Even so, we kept coming forward and we could've still had one, maybe two more after they scored. The Spurs crowd had gone a bit quiet for a while but we found our voices again soon enough. There was one bloke there who, during the quiet spell, gave us all a decent reason for laughing out loud. He's clearly been following Spurs a lot lot longer than me, or most of those around me, and he really got stuck in by reminding us of the days when we were in the old Second Division, losing at Mansfield. "Two-one up! Come on! We're two-one up! In Prague. We're winning. Get behind the lads."
Too right! The chants didn't take long to get going again. Keane's substitution just before their goal removed one of our key angles of attack. Bent didn't really get into the game - again, because of the temperatures and hardness of the pitch, I'm not surprised, but it is worrying. If he's going to be the back-up striker, he's going to need to perform a lot better. I was happy enough with some of the runs he made and finally used his pace to beat the Slavia players to one or two balls down the left, but he didn't really have his shooting boots on, and the one really good chance he did have, the keeper saved brilliantly from point blank range - although he'd already been flagged offside.
Two-one at the final whistle then and the ranks of Spurs fans were happy enough. A bad error from Cerny in a game he otherwise did well in allowed them to gain impetus and attack, but even after that we should've score more. Their keeper played really well and has helped to give them half a chance still. Defensively we were solid enough. I haven't even mentioned Woody yet, but once again he was outstanding. Zokora did well enough alongside. Chimbonda, interestingly, despite rumours of his demise, again impressed at left back. He got switched back later in the game when O'Hara replaced Tainio. Actually, in the second half, the best performance from any Spurs player came from O'Hara. He got stuck right in, just as we've come to expect.
In the middle Jenas wasn't quite so commanding as we've seen recently, but still had made some very decent runs, two of which led to our goals in the first half. Tommy sprayed the ball around - sometimes well, sometimes not so - and should've scored when he got himself into a really good position. On the wings we weren't flying, but I'm not surprised. Conditions really didn't make it easy for either Lennon or Malbranque to beat players and cross. Keane and Berbatov were good up front. Both scored, and Berbatov was unlucky not to score more.
As we filed out security decided we needed to be kept back fifteen minutes so we massed around gates where we'd eventually be let out and decided to keep the chanting going. This is the kind of thing that makes the European away experience so unique. A good performance. A two-one win. Some disappointment, and yet, you still remember something like the fifteen minutes when you're stood around with the two thousand other Spurs fans at the end of the game.
To keep ourselves warm and in good spirit there were plenty of chants. Some of the choice ones were where we changed the words of the Adebayor song to "Open the doors! Open the doors!". Nice touch! And, with it being Valentine's Day - "You can stick your red roses up your arse! You can stick your red roses up your arse! You can stick your red roses, stick your red roses, stick your red roses up your arse! Singing I love Tottenham ore than you! Singing I love Tottenham more than you! Singing I love Tottenham, I love Tottenham, I love Tottenham more than you!".
You can't fault us for being right behind the team and coming up with a few innovative changes to the regular songs!
I couldn't resist a shout of "Come on, there's only nine thousand of them out there"! A pathetic attendance really. If you count the Spurs fans who travelled - two thousand plus - they only managed just over 11000.
As the gates were opened we pegged it for a cab. There was just no bloody way we were going to walk back in that cold. Sadly, the @$%&$@£ taxi driver ripped us right off. In hindsight I should've lamped him. Kc1000 - roughly thirty quid - for a ride back into town, when it had cost less than half that to get there. He was taking the piss. I was too cold, and too in need of more beer to argue so I gave him some serious stick and left it at that!
We retired to the hotel bar - once again bypassing Darlings(!) - and sank a good few more beers in the company of a Spurs supporter who lived in - wait for it - Alaska! Fair play. He's got a season ticket and had just been to the final of the African Nations Cup.
Didn't have much time to do anything in Prague on Friday morning. Brekkie in the hotel with some interesting punters. Two Greek blokes, one married to a much younger Russian girl, clearly too pretty for him, talking to each other in Greek, but switching to English when speaking to her. No idea how that could have transpired!
At the airport I bumped into the bloke from the garage just down the road who'd been out as well. Small world! Plenty of Spurs fans headed back, hitting the M25 at rush hour on a Friday. Nasty. But happy enough. Taking a two-one lead home, and looking forward to progress, a Cup Final, and another European trip, probably to Eindhoven. Let's hope we're not counting any chickens!
By the way, apologies for the crappy photos, one of which appears to be blank, and the strange order in which they're presented. Just got a new phone a couple of days before the game, so still getting used to it!