(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
It only seems a few weeks since the end of the European Championships, but the domestic football season is already well underway. Football fans provide lots work for the cab trade: if you’re not taking them to stadiums, they’re travelling to and from stations or enjoying a day or a weekend in the capital. Let’s look a little at some of the football matches we can look forward to this season, by way of the cultural and geographical aspect.
I like football, but I know little about it; so don’t expect too much punditry about the merits of different teams and likely results. I should also point out that as a West Ham supporter I’m biased! All football fans have rational and irrational biases, so please bear with me if I go off on one.
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal were formed in 1886 by munitions workers at Woolwich Arsenal, and originally named Dial Square (not a lot of people know that; I certainly didn’t). In 2013 they moved over the river to Highbury (being forced to play away for over a hundred years might explain their recent form). The club then moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006, built close to the old Highbury stadium. The art deco façade of one side of their old stadium has been preserved. Predictably, the façade is now a backdrop to luxury flats. A nice place to live I should think, though I’m not sure what the parking situation’s like.
Tottenham Hotspur were formed in 1882, by schoolboy members of the Hotspur Cricket Club. Football was initially just something for members to do in the winter months. The imaginatively-named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was built on the demolished site of the old stadium in 2019.
I’m a little envious of both clubs as to their stadiums. Tottenham lost the competition with West Ham to move into the Olympic Stadium, but they had the last laugh as they built a fantastic new stadium. And their fans don’t have to sit half a mile from the pitch.
I’d say these two North London heavyweights were ranked pretty evenly. Arsenal haven’t been the same since Arsene Wenger left, and although Tottenham looked as if they might challenge for the Premiership a couple of seasons ago, they seem to have slipped back a bit. They’re both unpredictable, but unbeatable on their day. West Ham rarely beat either of them. Never have. Usually only when Tottenham’s lasagne is poisoned.
Culturally, Arsenal fans would regard themselves as representing the more refined element of North London. This has always been the case to my knowledge. The stadium is on the borders of Highbury and Holloway. It’s typical London: busy, vibrant, diverse, and with traffic thundering through – or at 30mph at least. There’s a lot going on, and something for everybody; whether you want to buy some hooky gear in a pub or enjoy a meal in a wine bar.
My first bedsitter after leaving home in 1985 was in Sotheby Road in Highbury. I developed a soft spot for Arsenal (I’m getting over it now). I spent a lot of time in the Highbury Barn and Bank of Friendship pubs, and would walk up to see live bands at the George Robey. I loved it. I’ve little experience of Tottenham. The area has a bad reputation, but it’s probably no worse than a lot of other places. On my last visit there – in the cab with a Taxicard passenger – I thought the area around Downhills Park quite pleasant.
Arsenal are still something of a glamour club, boasting many celebrity supporters. Although they represent cosmopolitan North London, they’ve never been regarded as flash. They’re solid and dependable, though detractors call them boring.
Spurs have a more gritty working class image. There’s not much art deco gentrification in Tottenham, and fewer luxury flats to house celebrity supporters. They seem to have lived in Arsenal’s shadow for many years, but things have evened out in recent years.
From the Cab Driver’s Perspective
As a cab driver I visited these stadiums many times: mostly Arsenal as they were closest to Central London where I plied my trade. It was usually a pleasant drive through the less-used streets of Islington, with plenty of opportunities to impress my passengers with clever cut-throughs (probably bombed and banned now). Tottenham was a few miles further out, but so long as you weren’t too close to kick-off time you were all right: and even then, being able to us the bus lanes helped immensely. On one memorable Sunday afternoon a Chinese tourist stopped me at the Grosvenor House Hotel. He’d secured a ticket for Spurs v Arsenal and was clearly excited about the prospect of a big London derby. He was cutting it fine, but I got him there on time with help from bus lanes on Seven Sisters Road. The fare was a good £40.
Just before making a U-Turn by the stadium to make my way back to the West End I was aware of some people trying to hail my cab. It was a German family who had turned up without tickets unable to get in. I earned another £40 taking them back to where I’d just come from, the Grosvenor House.
If you get asked to take anyone to either stadium it’s definitely a job worth doing.
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Available from York Publishing Services:
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