A Day In Spent In ‘Nam – Tottenham

A Day In Spent In ‘Nam – Tottenham

I’m still recovering from the shakes having spent, involuntarily, for reasons of filthy lucre, from 6.00am until 10.20pm a stone’s throw from White Hart Lane yesterday working on a polling station as presiding officer in the elections for the European Parliament. It bought back a flood of memories, the best of which was the famous “We won five-nil at the Lane” game on 23 December 1978. Can that really be over thirty years ago now? How time flies.
Orchestrated by the wonderful Liam Brady –  my all-time Arsenal King of Kings –  at his absolute best Alan Sunderland got a hat trick, Frank Stapleton had one laid on a plate for him by “Chippy” then the man himself belted home a blinder which had commentator John Motson sounding like he was getting his freak on with the woman of his life’s dreams. Happy days!
Through a family connection I had a free pass for the game in the old enclosure in front of the main stand opposite The Shelf. It meant biting my knuckles every time we belted in another but it was so, so worth it. To witness one of our great humiliations of the Forces of Darkness from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road without giving them a penny piece of my hard-earned was just too delicious. I was even given a free match programme so only parted with bus fares there and back. How good was that? You simply can’t have more fun with your clothes on!
Unfortunately I wasn’t there for the famous League Cup semi-final second leg and replay in 1986/7. I was working in Ecuador at the time. In those far off times (all of 23 years ago) the internet didn’t exist, nor mobile phones. Phone calls from South America to Blighty cost an arm and a leg and Quito was one of the few places in the world (then) you couldn’t receive BBC World Service on short-wave radio. I had to wait an agonising eight days for the British papers to arrive at the British Council Library to learn the results in all three semi-final games as I was living on such a tight budget I couldn’t afford the US$30 minimum call fee to ring home.
The British Embassy in Quito was no use either. When I rang them to ask for the football results I was met with blank incomprehension. On the day of the League Cup Final against Liverpool I’d arranged with my father to ring me as soon as the final whistle went at my boarding house with the result. It wasn’t quite so ruinous for him to ring me as me to ring him. The news that we’d won 2-1, breaking Liverpool’s famous streak of never losing when Rush scored had me bowling down the road to my Quito “local” and buying a round of drinks for all present for some very mystified Ecuadorians.  A round of about 20 drinks came to less than the equivalent of £6 and a very pleasant afternoon was had by all, especially me! I felt no pain whatsoever when I wobbled back to my digs, drunk as a monkey and twice as silly.
I loved my time living in Quito, despite pining for my beloved Arsenal. At that time the Ecuadorian capital had only one big ground, the wonderfully named Estadio Atahaulpa, named after one of the last Inca kings and with a breathtaking setting in a valley of extinct volcanoes high in the Andes mountains.
Quito had five first division teams at the time: Aucas, Liga Deportiva Universitaria (who last season became the first Ecuadorian team to win the Copa Libertadores de América), Universidad Católica, El Nacional (the army team, the only one in Ecuador not to field foreign players) and Deportivo Quito. Most weeks at the Atahaulpa there would either be a triple header or a double header. In the summer (December-May) the games would kick off at 12.00noon, 2.00pm and 4.00pm. In the winter (June-November) the games would start for triple headers at, I kid you not, 8.00am, 10.00pm and 12.00noon.
Ecuador, being about 15 miles south of the equator, has only two seasons, summer and winter. Quito’s altitude of 2,600 metres means the temperature never gets about 25 degrees Celsius with chilly evenings when the sun goes down. Being right on the equator, the days and nights are 12 hours each with no twilight at all. When nightfall comes it’s like the lights going out, likewise at sunrise. It’s dark then suddenly the sun is up and shining. The only difference between the seasons is that it will reliably belt down with rain for 2-3 hours every day without fail in winter at some time between 2.00pm and 5.00pm. Ecuadorians simply won’t watch football in the rain, hence the mad kick-off time of 8.00am in the morning. Being a mad, out and proud football anorak, Thermos flask and all, I simply had to see what sort of lunatic plots up to watch a first division professional football match at breakfast time on a Sunday.
The answer was me and about three thousand other lunatics for the clash of El Nacional and Filanbanco of Guayaquil, Quito’s great rival city and the commercial centre of the country down on the tropical coast at sea-level. There were over 42,000 in the ground for the biggest clash of the day, Aucas v LDU, the so called hyper-clasico. All for 100 Sucres, about 70p. How good was that? Yes, it was 1987 but it was football trainspotter Heaven.
These days both LDU and Aucas have their own grounds so triple headers are a thing of the last. A pity for trainspotters like me!
Keep the faith!

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