Behind Enemy Lines: What’s It Like to Work for a Football Club You Hate?

Behind Enemy Lines: What’s It Like to Work for a Football Club You Hate?

Behind Enemy Lines: What’s It Like to Work for a Football Club You Hate?

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Arsenal were storming to a famous victory in the north London derby, and sitting in the press box at the Emirates Stadium was a man in a Tottenham Hotspur club suit who was absolutely delighted.

It was February 2012. Tottenham had gone 2-0 up in the first half of the Premier League contest, sending the away supporters into raptures, only for Arsenal to mount a stirring comeback that propelled them to a crushing 5-2 win. It was turning into a bleak day for everyone associated with Tottenham, but despite being in charge of the club’s official live text commentary stream, Tim Love was thrilled. Because he also happened to be an Arsenal fan.

“I was doing the live text, and I remember I did one entry when Arsenal were coming back,” Love told Bleacher Report.

“I wrote ‘GOAL! GOAL! GOAL!’ in all capital letters, with exclamation marks, and then I described it. We had some messages coming through saying, ‘Hang on a minute; you sound a bit too enthusiastic about this.’ So I had to reel it in. Because I was incredibly enthusiastic about what was happening. It was glorious.”

There are countless stories about football fans exploiting opportunities presented to them by their jobs to mock their club’s archrivals, from the Manchester United supporters who buried a red United shirt beneath the car park at the Etihad Stadium to the West Ham United fan who embedded a Hammers scarf in the concrete at the new Spurs stadium. But what must it be like if you find yourself working for the club you hate on a permanent basis?

Love grew up in Finchley, north London, and attended his first Arsenal game, a 0-0 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, in November 1994. As an adult, he lived just off Holloway Road, a five-minute walk from the Emirates, and when he heard about an opportunity to work at Arsenal as a multimedia producer, he thought all his dreams had come true.

In what he describes as a “really cruel twist of fate,” he missed out on the Arsenal position, and having been encouraged by a recruiter to apply for a similar role at Tottenham, he found himself working for the enemy. It was either that or unemployment, but it was nonetheless a difficult pill to swallow.

The Red Devils @utdtrd

United shirt put under a car park at the Etihad LOL Nice one boys! https://t.co/8dxDTmKeIw

“I had issues with it. I’ve got a couple of really good friends who are Arsenal fans, and I didn’t want to talk to them about it, because it did feel a bit treacherous and a bit wrong,” Love says.

“You can’t help your allegiances. There would be times when I’d get into conversations [with colleagues] about Arsenal and Spurs, and that fire in the pit of your belly is there the whole time. I could take the job for what it wasit was a job, and I was being pragmaticbut I still felt like I had to defend Arsenal at all times.”

Love joined Tottenham at a time when Arsenal were still in the ascendancy in north London, but could only watch on powerlessly as his employers slowly began to turn the tide. After seeing a resurgent Spurs take the lead against Arsenal in one derby game at White Hart Lane, he walked out of the stadium and went to sit in his car.

“Spurs went 1-0 up before half-time and I was like, ‘I can’t handle this anymore. This is just too miserable,'” he says. “I was really hungover as well. Seeing my team lose to our biggest rivals while I was wearing a Tottenham suit and very hungover with incredibly happy Spurs fans around me: It was every bit of misery you can imagine.”

While he believes he has “mellowed” with age, Love remains implacably anti-Spurs. He followed last season’s UEFA Champions League final at a fearful distance, via live text commentary, dreading the thought that Tottenham might lift the European Cup before Arsenal. “It would have been the worst-ever sporting situation I can imagine come to life.”

Ed Jones watched that match in an entirely different state of mind. A lifelong Tottenham supporter from Hertfordshire, he got his first season ticket at White Hart Lane in 1994 and has followed the club passionately ever since. Which made it all the more complicated when, in 2013, he landed a job as a producer at Chelsea TV.

“I won’t lieit was very difficult,” Jones says. “Basically, Spurs are my life.”

Mark @Stanwhu1

Concreted into the new Sp#rs stadium 🖕🖕🖕😂 https://t.co/0lp59DHdaS

Part of Jones’ role was to produce preview shows on matchdays with former Chelsea players such as Jason Cundy and Pat Nevin. When Chelsea played Tottenham, he would do everything he could to get the day off, and if there was no way of avoiding it, he would “secretly” wear a Spurs pin badge as a private show of defiance. Obliged to don a Chelsea polo shirt or sweatshirt when on club duty, he would always wear a jacket over the top, regardless of the temperature.

“It would be boiling hot, 30 degrees outside, but I’d be wearing a jacket,” he says. “I would not wear that badge in public.”

The rivalry between Chelsea and Spurs inevitably exposed him to keen disappointments. He walked out of Wembley Stadium and caught the tube straight home after Spurs went 2-0 down to Chelsea in the 2015 League Cup final. He describes going into work the day after Eden Hazard’s late goal against Tottenham in May 2016 had given Leicester City the title at Spurs’ expense as “horrible.” But there were giddy highs, too, such as the 5-3 humbling that Spurs inflicted upon their west London rivals at the Lane on New Year’s Day 2015.

“I was sitting behind the Chelsea dugout with [Didier] Drogba and [Petr] Cech in front of me,” he recalls. “We went 1-0 down, then we were 3-1 up at half-time. I wanted to celebrate, and I couldn’t. My legs were shaking. I was holding on to the two people either side of methe reporter and the cameraman. I was grabbing their legs, trying to control myself.

“At the end of the game, the Chelsea players were in a downbeat mood, hanging around in the tunnel. We were waiting for Jose [Mourinho] to do a post-match interview. And I was just smiling like the Cheshire Cat. My manager said to me, ‘I know you’re going to be buzzing about this, but please try to be as professional as you can.’ Obviously, I was, but I just couldn’t wait to get out of that stadium and let out a ‘Yes!'”

Tottenham's Dele Alli supporting in front of the Chelsea fans

Tottenham’s Dele Alli supporting in front of the Chelsea fansChris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Jones left Chelsea in January 2018. Although he felt relieved to no longer have to bottle up his allegiances, he concedes that his experiences at Stamford Bridge changed the way he felt about a club he had once hated unthinkingly.

“They’re all really good people. I got close to quite a few of the academy players, and you always want them to do well,” he says.

“My opinion of the players changed as well. I wanted them to be horrible people—I really did. But John Terry’s actually a really nice guy, Frank Lampard’s a really nice guy. I didn’t expect I’d like them. Well, not like them, but think, ‘Yeah, they’re OK.'”

Kevin Bridgewater had his own routine for the occasions when he was obliged to wear a Chelsea suit. A diehard Arsenal fan who went to his first game in the early 1960s, he started working for Chelsea as a steward in 2003 and progressed to a supervisory role in Stamford Bridge’s corporate hospitality suites and players’ lounge.

After slipping into his Chelsea blazer, he would remove his accreditation badge from its lanyard and clip it to his breast pocket, thereby obscuring the club crest. He would also affix a pair of pin badgesone a bust of Arsene Wenger, one showing Arsenal’s old club creston the reverse side of his lapel. “Silly little things that other people never picked up on,” he says.

The former postman was only once rebuked for showing his true colours after instinctively punching the air with glee when Mathieu Flamini put Arsenal ahead in a 1-1 draw at the Bridge in December 2006.

“I was just standing there in the players’ bit. Arsenal scored first, and I sort of went, ‘Yes!'” Bridgewater recalls. “The next home game, I got an email saying that I had to curb my enthusiasm and [asking] could I not make it quite so apparent that I supported Arsenal.”

Alex Kunawicz, a Manchester United fan from Stretford, crossed one of the deepest divides in world football when he took on a job as head of content at Liverpool in 2014. But as much as he secretly wanted United to finish above Liverpool in the table during his year in the role, he had practical reasons for hoping that not too much misfortune befell the Anfield club.

“There are so many Liverpool fans working at the club that the results affect the mood until the next game,” he explains. “The highs are much higher, for the Liverpool fans who work there, but the lows are obviously lower too.

“Obviously, if United had won and Liverpool hadn’t, then you don’t go into work shouting about it. But people at work knew. There were a few United fans there, some working at quite senior levels.”

It is one thing to privately will the club you work for to fail when you have no direct influence over their performances, but the lines become blurred when you do. Manchester United fan Pete Lowe found himself in such a position in the summer of 2000 when he accepted a coaching role at the Manchester City academy.

Pete Lowe

“Utterly fixated” on United as a child, he vividly remembers being “spellbound” by George Best after being taken to his first game at Old Trafford in the early 1970s. But his brief at City, who had just secured promotion to the Premier League from the old First Division, was to help revitalise their youth coaching structures, and that meant taking direct and unflinching aim at the club he had grown up supporting.

“You always measure yourself against the best, and the best were Man United,” Lowe told Bleacher Report. “When the fixtures came up to play Man United at junior level, all the way from under-9s to under-18s, that was the week that everybody worked for. And they would say the same. Because you didn’t want to lose those games.”

For Lowe, it was not simply a case of artfully concealing his allegiances. Such was his investment in City’s project, professionally and emotionally, and so genuine was his desire to improve the young players in his care that he became aligned with the Sky Blue cause in a manner that felt entirely natural.

“The tough bit comes when you’re an employee at one place and you play your favourite club in a fixture,” he says. “People would say to me, ‘Where was your heart, then?’ It’s really simple: I always believed that whoever you worked for, your heart must be with them.

“On derby day, I was a Blue. I had to be. I didn’t believe that you could claim that you were a great employee and not believe that you wanted them to be the kingpins.

“Young players soon find out people who aren’t authentic. And they’ve got every right to, because you hold a part of their career development in your hands. They have a right to expect from you what you expect from them.”

Lowe, who became City’s head of education and performance, looks back with justifiable pride at the achievements of his 10-year tenure, during which he and his colleagues saw 74 of their graduates make professional debuts in the game and 39 play at Premier League level. But when the experience came to an end, he was soon back in the arms of his first love.

“I can’t say to you that I don’t look for City’s scores, but that’s only a little part of me,” he says. “My heart was there when I was working there. But I’m a Red. My heart is red.”

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