Drugs

'The Mexican Wave Was a Spin-Out' – Fans Remember Watching Football On Drugs

"I thought Barcelona were trying to personally humiliate me by scoring more goals."
illustrated by Dan Evans
31 January 2020, 12:18pm
man snorting cocaine football

Anyone who's ever called in another bag to fuel an impassioned 5AM debate over the composition of an all-time Premier League XI, or grimaced their way through an entire straight-through Super Sunday at the pub, will know that cocaine and modern football go together like peas and carrots. In the anxious humidity of tournament summers, MDMA comes into its own, as victorious afternoon kick-offs segue into endless nights spent ecstatically wandering from house party to bar and back again in shorts and sweat-drenched T-shirts.

Weed is different, a bed of pillows to land upon in the immediate aftermath of a gruelling midweek five-a-side. In heightening the innate absurdity of the live footballing spectacle, psychedelics also have their part to play, though heroin remains a drug that has never really struck up a rapport with the game, a situation that will bear reassessment, perhaps, given the routine loneliness of the illegal long-distance laptop streamer, bed-bound, stone-broke, retreating into amniotic solitude.

Smack aside, most communal drug experiences rely on mining the same resource football does: an underlying urge to be part of something bigger than yourself that manifests in a fierce and transformative sense of tribalism. When you take drugs in a group, you're literally changing the chemistry of your body to be more like those around you, dosing the blood with some unifying substance that tethers you together for the duration of the ride. The same dynamic is what has always been at play for the football fan – each match, whether watched on television or at the stadium itself, a public display of in-group loyalty and submission to some greater cause.

Given that the Premier League and cocaine seem to be positioning themselves as the UK's two favourite leisure activities – that the Premier League is the nation's biggest cultural export and cocaine its most widely coveted import – I sought out some stories from those who've combined drugs and football, for better or for worse.

GAK AND TRAMS IN AMSTERDAM

"I don't think I've watched Celtic away in Europe over the last five years without serious chemical stimulation. It's usually coke these days, but previously it had always been speed, due to the travelling – whether by train, car or ferry, the trips always take bloody ages, and you need to stay awake, keep the spirits up and your wits about you. The police treat you like shite, so having something that diminishes fear helps plenty, too.

"Ajax away in 2013 was particularly nuts. I was one of 50 people arrested in Amsterdam, and that was before the rioting started. I'd done fuck all, but some Feyenoord lads we knew recognised an Ajax boy in Dam Square and chucked fireworks at him, so the cops started arresting anyone whose faces they recognised – Glasgow police hand over big lists of potential troublemakers in advance. I've never been convicted of anything football-related, but I'm on the list regardless.

"When I was finally let go, I was separated from my friends and busting for a shite, because of all the speed. I walked 15 minutes out of the centre to find a serviceable bog, and when I returned all hell had broken loose between the cops and the fans. My phone was dead, so I cornered an Irish Celtic fan in the riot, who let me call my mates in exchange for a key of speed.

"Back in Dam Square, the police were charging in undercover, setting about folk. The Celtic fans assumed these Dutch guys in plain clothes were Ajax hools. A particularly violent member of the local constabulary was later filmed trying to escape, but getting blocked off by a tram, panicking and running right into a big pole. This earned the landmark iconic status and the nickname 'The Fenian Lamppost'. To this day, Celtic fans from across the world flock to it to pose for pictures.

"None of us made the game in the end, but you can be sure those that did would've been high, pissed or both, just like us. The line between 'speed high' and 'Buckfast drunk' is pretty thin. Most lads I know take gear a lot anyway, so football is just an extension of that. I don't really drink, so I take gear just to keep up. If I drank at the rate they do, I'd be toast hours before kickoff.

"I live abroad now, so European aways are part-family reunion with loads of mates, part-football match. Everyone’s up for it, the songbook gets dusted off and we fire into it. I tend to see Celtic at their absolute worst – the record so far reads: nine defeats, two draws, zero wins and only two goals – but the craic is always great. Once in Munich, I'd recently quit drinking, so just caned coke for 24 hours straight. Thank god for the clean bogs of the Allianz Arena."

Would you ever watch football on drugs again?
Sure – we play Copenhagen next month…

COMING UP HARD IN SCOUSER PARADISE

"Last summer, me and my two best friends – all of us Liverpool fans – went to the Champions League final in Madrid. We'd been to all the home games in the run-up and wanted to mark the occasion, so pre-arranged to get a load of cocaine and MDMA. Drinking in the sun-lit fan zone with thousands of other Scousers is a great memory, especially after one of my mates managed to gate-crash a hospitality tent and pilfer an armful of cans.

"There was some paranoia about the logistics and risks involved, but it definitely made it more enjoyable, particularly immediately before the game, when the atmosphere and tension were building. Cocaine helps 'take the edge off' a long day of drinking, while coming up on MDMA in the stadium with tens of thousands of people singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' was sensational.

"Being smashed on drugs isn't exactly helpful when you're trying to leave the stadium and travel to wherever you're going next, but it heightens the experience, particularly the emotion when your team wins. During the final last May, I was more up and down than I'd usually be – completely carried away at some points, tense as anything at others.

"I think that, for a lot of people, taking drugs socially is a normal thing, so taking them at a match is no different. It strengthens the bond with your mates, as well as those around you. To be honest, I think we were more in control than those who'd just been drinking.

"I know I would have felt doubly awful if we'd lost. It happened in Basel a few years back and the rest of the night and the travel back becomes a real chore."

Would you ever watch a football match while high on drugs again?
Yes, I would.

HIDING UNDER A BLANKET FROM SERGI ROBERTO

"I was watching La Remontada, or "The Comeback". Barcelona were 4-0 down from the first leg against PSG, but won the second tie 6-1 to go through to the Champions League quarter finals. Even thinking about it now is making my heart slowly creep out of my arse.

"It was 'just weed', but a special fuck-your-brains blend concocted by some madman in the depths of Liverpool. I got way too bombed and spent the entire 90 minutes trying to escape one of the most momentous games in modern history. It was everywhere. After about three goals went in, the wailing and cheering in the room full of stoned uni lads became too much, so I had to go to my mate's bedroom and wrap myself up in his blanket.

"Under the blanket, I tried to distract myself from the game with Twitter, but alas every cunt and their dog was tweeting about it. Snapchat? The game. Instagram? The game. My head was so minced I thought the goals would never stop.

"I became obsessed with the fact that I was missing the greatest comeback of all time, but couldn't move to go and watch it. When I tried to leave I became obsessed with the idea that I was tying my laces wrong and everyone could see. I was trembling. When Sergi Roberto scored the final goal I nearly sprinted out of the house.

"Broadly speaking, I think all elixirs are an attempt to lubricate the personality, to break down barriers so that you and those you're with can storm enemy lines together. I've seen plenty of lads at footy matches who simply haven't stopped the gear from the night before and don't know when to go home. They seemed more together than me, though.

"I thought the weed would promote my focus on the finer details of the game – slow it down so that I could admire it. But this was too much. It took me months just to watch the highlights. I thought Barcelona were trying to personally humiliate me by scoring more goals."

Would you ever watch a football match while high on drugs again?
I'm not sure. It might be a beautiful and colourful experience on a psychedelic drug, but given my track record I should probably stick to the booze.

magic mushrooms amsterdam

TRIPPING BALLS IN A GIANT BOTTLE OF FANTA

"I took a load of magic truffles before watching the Netherlands beat Germany 3-0 in 2018. I came up in the stadium just before kick-off – it was a sell-out and I remember barely anything about the game itself, just the roar of the crowd becoming really intense, along with the colours. Everything was bright orange and green; it was like being trapped in a giant bottle of Fanta.

"A few Mexican waves went up. I'm not sure how long for. My whole perception of time was warped. Every time they rolled round the stadium I'd feel a swell growing in my stomach, until the wave reached us and everyone stood in unison. The wave would arrive and I would collapse, pissing myself laughing, in tears. I felt like I could see the sound of the chants physically rippling through the sea of orange.

"Eventually, I grew paranoid. I couldn't stop laughing and was sure everyone had clocked I was high. After, there was a pop concert on close to the stadium and the streets were full of children. This confused the fuck out of us. It took an hour just to find the station."

Would you ever watch a football match while high on drugs again?
Possibly, but not psychedelics.

THE NEWCASTLE THRASHING HOSTEL FREAK OUT

"I watched Newcastle get thrashed 6-0 by Liverpool on the 27th of April, 2013 while on ten grams of magic mushrooms and truffles. My friend and I had planned to go to the Van Gogh Museum while tripping, but it was closed for refurbishment, so we wound up in the Red Light District.

"I became convinced that we were being followed by 'agents', so we retreated to our hostel – essentially a sports bar with beds – and the comforting familiarity of the Premier League. When we first entered, there was some La Liga game on TV. I remember the camera cutting to supporters holding up a banner saying, 'We're not really here,' and it felt like maybe they were trying to send me a message. Not long after, there was a goal and the camera cut back to the fans, who seemed to be celebrating wildly. My friend turned to me, looking concerned, and said, 'Is this match important to them?' I was still ruminating on this when someone changed the channel.

"Daniel Agger scored within the first few minutes, which I found confusing, and things just got stranger from there. I remember Daniel Sturridge being tackled by Cheick Tioté (RIP), and when his boot came off I was convinced he'd lost his entire foot. At one point, it seemed like Liverpool had subbed on a second Steven Gerrard. A Steven Gerrard with a beard. It wasn't until he scored that I realised it was Fabio Borini.

"The players kept changing speed like they were in slow motion one minute and fast-forward the next. Time was a big problem in general, actually. I found it nearly impossible to tell what was happening live and what was a replay. I don't think it helped that there were six goals. I kept asking my friend what time it was. I couldn't reconcile all the rival temporalities – UK time, Amsterdam time, game time, the amount of time that had elapsed since taking the mushrooms.

"At the time, my friend was deeply invested in his fantasy football team and kept checking his phone to see what was happening in the other games. At one point, I got my phone out as well, but soon had to turn it off. I remember telling my friend that the internet was 'too deep'. About halfway through the match I had an out-of-body experience and was up on the ceiling looking down, watching myself watching Newcastle vs Liverpool.

"I remember spending a lot of time feeling bad that this was what I was doing during my trip, like I was wasting it. This soon morphed into feelings of wasting my life more generally. I kept worrying I'd shit myself. Whenever someone moaned or jeered at the TV, I thought they were reacting to the fact I'd filled my pants, and had to keep going to the toilet to make sure I hadn't.

"In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so worried – this particular establishment had a pretty high tolerance of weirdness. I remember, during the game, 11 men in pink baby grows and one in a diaper came through the bar and entered the toilet in single file. I never saw them come back out."

Would you ever watch a game while high on drugs again?
I think there are probably better ways to spend a trip.

PINGERS AT THE THEATRE SCREENING

"Some friends and I travelled up to Liverpool to watch the Champions League final against Spurs last year – we had tickets to a screening in a venue. I knew it would be a big night as I've got family up there I hadn't seen in a while, so assumed there'd be some gear at some point. Beforehand, you could tell half the city was on something, but there was a lot less of the usual aggro you sometimes get on a big night out.

"In the queue for the screening, someone suddenly pulled out some pills. We'd been drinking for most of the day so doing a half just before we got in seemed like a good idea.

"Several of us were sat in the top tier of this old theatre. I remember Liverpool scored quite early, then it's all a bit blank. I recall doing the rest of the pill at some point during the second half, and then coming up strongly when Origi scored late on. I ended up hugging a massive sweaty, shirtless man for a very long time. There were a lot of plastic pint cups in the air. It was really dark during the game – I remember going to get the beers in and having to try really hard to keep it together when paying. I thought I did alright, but then everyone always thinks that.

"The darkened, cavernous room, constant trips to the bar or toilet, and smoking area at half time made it feel a lot like being in a big club. My other big memory is walking back into town afterwards. All the roads were empty but for a mass of people funnelling towards the city centre, with lots of chanting and the occasional honking car horn.

"I think the fact it was ecstasy and a major final definitely contributed to the euphoria and togetherness of it all. Would it have been the same if it was a bit of pub gak during Norwich in the league? Definitely not."

Would you ever watch a football match while high on drugs again?
For a big final, and while I’m young, definitely. Although, I'd imagine if your team lost the comedown would be doubly unbearable.

@hydallcodeen / @danxdraws