There we were, 3,000 Spurs fans under the floodlights of the Strahov Stadion. The seemingly endless years of mediocrity at White Hart Lane could finally be laid to rest on a balmy night in Prague. As one flag in the away end put it, 'The Giant Has Woken' and alas, Tottenham were back. Back in Europe, back where we rightly or wrongly feel we belong.
I've grown up on all the stories of the 'glory glory nights'. The European Cup encounters with Eusebio's Benfica, the demolition of Atletico Madrid in Rotterdam and Tony Parks' penalty saves against Anderlect. In more recent times we haven't had so much to shout about, having played only two seasons in Europe since we won the FA Cup in 1991. For fans of my generation, it was time to see what all the fuss was about, starting in the Czech Republic on Thursday.
I'd seen England play on foreign soil before but never Spurs and for that reason I was thrilled at qualifying for the UEFA Cup last season. I don't think in the fifteen or so years I've being going to watch Tottenham I've looked forward to a game so much. I flew into Prague with a number of friends on the Wednesday night, having travelled via Paris, such was the demand for flights for this game. The minute I arrived in the Czech capital, I knew the long journey was going to be well worth it, whatever the result.
Prague has a seedy side, but on the main, it is vibrant and beautiful city. The cobbled streets and baroque buildings around the Old Town area are particularly picturesque as is the landscape along the Vltava river. Spurs fans were all over the city and acted as great ambassadors for their club and country, mixing with the locals and other tourists and also exchanging hand shakes and scarves with their Slavia counterparts.
The George and Dragon pub in the Old Town Square became an instant favourite place for the Tottenham faithful to congregate and was covered in flags from supporters across England and beyond. Stories of past European glory and pints of Czech beer were flowing in equal measure.
My build up to the game was slightly spoilt after my match tickets were lost in the post. The club, much to their credit, immediately remedied the problem and I met an official at the team hotel on Thursday who was waiting their with my replacements. I had a big smile on my face, not only at getting hold of the tickets, but also realising the irony of the venue I collected them from. No lasagne on the menu of this Marriott hotel though - I checked!
With the tickets now safely in my wallet, I joined my friends back in the Old Town square for a pre-match drink and sing song and planned how to get to the ground. The access to the stadium was fairly difficult, mainly as it high on a mountain over looking the city. We decided the only way to get there was by taxi and after a few cheeky Staropramen's, we jumped in a cab and with Spurs scarves out of the window and embarked on the steep journey up to the Strahov Stadion. On the way, we raced past loads of other fans, clearly looking a little worse for wears on the long climb.
Slavia's ground is to the west of the city and one of three stadiums built alongside each other. Out of the three grounds, one of which is no longer used, Slavia's Strahov Stadion is the smallest, but most ascetically pleasing. Built around a running track, the stadium has a neat, bowl-like appearance from outside and inside is reminiscent of the old style Subbuteo stadium, with its tall floodlights and large scoreboard.
The noise levels in the ground seemed to be coming exclusively from the north stand, where Spurs fans were housed across two tiers. Sparta Prague are by far and away the biggest team in the city and most of Slavia's fan base comes mainly from the surrounding suburbs. The hostile atmosphere that can be found when you watch football abroad was certainly not on show here.
After all the build up, the game itself seemed to pass in a flash. Spurs midfield were dominant all night and while it wasn't a classic, Jermaine Jenas' goal could send us back to London happy in the knowledge there should be more European adventures to follow this. Didier Zakora's display was hopefully another sign of things to come. His pace, aggression and technical ability was reminiscent, of dare I say, Patrick Viera. The first round, first leg victory should inspire Spurs to bring to life a rather auspicious opening to the 2006/2007 season.
The players and fans saluted each other at the end of the game and just like that, my first away game in Europe with Tottenham had ended successfully.
I'm now hoping flights to follow the boys abroad become as regular as our buses back in London.
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