Wembley, Paddington, lasting memories
This is our last look of the week from London. We hope you've enjoyed our offbeat (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) reactions to the stuff that surrounded the Champions League Final - those that didn’t involve bribery and super-injunctions, anyway.
The road up to Wembley was jammed yesterday by fans: fans with tickets, fans without tickets, fans hanging off lampposts, fans chatting with cops on horses, fans juggling balls, fans drinking from plastic bags, fans singing songs about their ex-players, and fans generally being fans.
It was a great atmosphere last night at Wembley, and a welcome sight after a week of watching a lot of corporate hospitality types and very few folks with flags and scarves. I was right behind the Barcelona block, and they were truly a joy to be with: exuberant, friendly, and justifiably confident.
But there was also a good spirit about the match, which was great to see. Both sets of fans taunted each other back and forth all night long with songs, but there was never any malice that I could detect. At the end of the night, when I was waiting for the Tube at Wembley Park, the fans had a sing-off across the tracks. United's fans were disappointed to be sure, but also resigned. The fact is, everyone knew they had been beaten by a better team, so why not just drink to that?
The one odd bit was that the trains full of fans happened to collide with the trains full of London clubbers, a curiously coiffed and exuberantly made-up set tottering on high heels. Both groups eyed each other with some suspicion at the Baker Street stop until one clever United fan starting singing “Girl from Ipanema” at them, which dissolved all into laughter.
The official UEFA hotel was located in the West End of London, in an area that is somewhat of an anomaly. This is an historically wealthy area of town, but Edgware Road is appealingly scruffy. The "Joe Strummer Pedestrian Subway," an unusual commemoration of the late punk guitarist, sits just under the A40 to Wembley, and there are a number of smaller shops of the type that are only affordable to open if your rents are on the cheap side. That means I liked it quite a lot, particularly the fact that if you were willing to stretch your legs a bit, it was a pleasant two-mile walk to and from Regent's Park.
One thing that has changed dramatically is the makeup of the neighborhood surrounding Paddington Station. When I was visiting as a boy, the area was overwhelmingly working-class, surrounded by great wealth - this particular district was home to most of the nightlife, theatre and arts in the city. And it still is: it's that the working-class is overwhelmingly Middle Eastern and Indian. All along Edgware Road, as far as I could walk, at least, all the signs were in Arabic as well as English, and there was a surfeit of mobile phone shops.
Hookah bars now line the road, and there is no shortage of tandoor-prepared dishes or kebabs. But the image I took away from the change in the neighborhood came when I was walking up to the park and passed an old pub sign, featuring a stereotypical, portly Englishman of the Edwardian Age. The pub was called the English Gentleman - and it was closed, having been replaced by the Mezza Shiskabob Restaurant, which had never bothered to take down the former owner's advertisment.
Sadly, Mezza didn't seem to have made it either. It was closed on Saturday afternoon at rush.
Seen and loved:
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.