I’ve been a Spurs season ticket holder since the late 1990s, so I know a thing or two about suffering. But the experience of being a fan at the Champions League final was an unexpected low point, and not because we lost.
When we beat Ajax in the semi, I knew I couldn’t not go to the Champions League Final in Madrid. So with one match ticket between us, me and two mates drove the 2000 odd miles from north London in my Renault Scenic (product placement disclosure).
We suspected we wouldn’t win but knew we had to be there, which is a decent definition of “fanatic”.
Let’s gloss over the game (who knew Imagine Dragons would be the entertaining bit?).
We had a brilliant time and we’re really pleased to have spent money to get there (and back). It was great fun and both sets of fans did their clubs proud inside and outside the stadium.
But we need to talk about what is fashionably referred to as the fan experience, which wasn’t what I’d been promised by my new friends in the sports marketing industry.
Indeed, my enjoyment of that weekend in Madrid happened despite the efforts of UEFA not because of them.
Let’s start at the train station Spurs fans were directed to use, which was a 30-minute hike uphill in 30 degree heat. When we finally got to the stadium which was in a weird no-man’s land, there was hardly anything there; It was as if the whole ground was woefully unprepared and unready for the match.
We were penned in by aggressive mounted police for seemingly no reason. Inside, it was difficult to buy food and drink, and they ran out of water at half time.
There was no alcohol for fans but we could watch the UEFA family knocking back the free booze in the posh seats to our right.
The general sense among the fans I spoke to was that we were at the bottom of a caste system.
This is hardly news but is harder to take when the messaging from brands and rights holders has shifted so far to being ‘for the fan’.
Who are they kidding? UEFA’s customers are national governing bodies, sponsors, corporate ticket-holders, media partners and other stakeholders.
Football fans aren’t customers, they’re a necessary evil, there to create atmosphere for the telly cameras. Give the customer free champagne, but don’t worry if the football fan (who is highly dehydrated) cannot even buy water.
The customer must be treated well as they might take their business elsewhere, whereas the fan is stupidly loyal to their team no matter what.
The fan zones were a weird social experiment, like The Hunger Games for thirsty middle aged blokes.
It was very easy to buy beer tickets but then almost impossible to redeem them to actually get any beer. The food concessions showed us food but wouldn’t sell us any for fear of rioting.
It’s difficult to resist taking these specific examples and using them as the lens in to other, bigger UEFA decisions. Like the allocation of tickets for example, which prioritised themselves and their stakeholders over the clubs and those cherished fans? Or the Baku fiasco, which meant Chelsea and Arsenal fans faced journeys to the Europa Cup final that made mine look like a trip to Tesco’s.
Marketing is about being customer-focused, and we’re told the sports industry is shifting to being D2C. But someone needs to let football authorities know that the real fanatic is also a super loyal customer, and deserves respect, rather than contempt.
Next year’s Champions League final is in Istanbul. Maybe, just maybe, if another miracle should happen and Spurs get there, I'll pay the money and fly there.
But it could be worse. I could be an Arsenal fan.
Sean Singleton is publisher of Unofficial Partner. Follow him on Twitter @paulpingles