Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back on NBC this month. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too.
Our third week concludes with another look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around the metro area, including DC Spurs, which gathers together most Saturday or Sunday mornings from August through May to cheer for Tottenham Hotspur.
Eric Kmetz was stuck on a plane and his team was in trouble.
A work trip to Las Vegas proved poorly timed last May when Tottenham Hotspur played the second leg of a Champions League semifinal in Amsterdam against Ajax. Instead of watching with his wife, Natasha, Kmetz was stuck relying on text updates on the spotty in-flight WiFi.
With Spurs down 2-0, having already conceded an away goal in a first-leg loss, he figured it was over. Instead, Kmetz watched his phone in disbelief as one Lucas Moura goal flashed across his screen. And then another. And then one more with just seconds to go in the game for a miracle win.
“Oh my god! We did it! We did it! He scored. We’re through!” Natasha Kmetz texted.
Tottenham was off to the Champions League final in Madrid against Premier League rival Liverpool. Eric Kmetz wanted to explode, but he kind of had to keep his composure.
“I’m sitting on a plane trying to be quiet and not celebrate and cause a ruckus or anything,” Kmetz said. “But just beside myself with joy.”
When the flight landed he was off to his hotel room in Vegas to rewatch the game. Even knowing the result, it was still a thrill.
Eric, Natasha and a few hundred of their friends would watch a disappointing final at The Irish Channel last June 1, a 2-0 loss to Liverpool. But it’s a weekly ritual throughout the Premier League season at the pub on the corner of 5th and H Streets, NW. Since 2007, Spurs fans have reliably gathered there to watch their club – whether a handful of devoted followers at 7:30 a.m. or a packed house for a late-morning London Derby against Arsenal or Chelsea.
Tottenham fans for six years now, Eric, 34, and Natasha, moved to Washington from Detroit in 2015 and now live in Baltimore. Natasha was actually born at Joint Base Andrews and spent part of her childhood in the area before moving to Michigan. They have their own unique story of how they came to love Spurs. Inspired by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, they wanted to keep watching soccer. When the Premier League returned to action later that summer they had the chance. They just didn’t have a club yet.
Natasha’s mother is from Belgium and its men’s national team made the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil that year – even knocking out the United States in an epic round-of-16 match. A quick scan of Premier League rosters showed two London clubs tied with three Belgium players each, most in the league: Chelsea and Tottenham.
Tough call. But the Kmetzs did their research on each club – their history, their background. They latched onto Spurs and were off. When they moved here, Eric and Natasha quickly found likeminded fans who became friends.
DC Spurs is an active supporter of DC SCORES, a non-profit charity that allows almost 3,000 D.C. elementary and middle-school students play soccer and find outlets in the arts, including creative writing and poetry. The supporters’ club has raised $5,000 for DC SCORES and Eric coaches first and second graders in the program.
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The Irish Channel, meanwhile, plays host to an eclectic weekly crowd under a blue Tottenham banner hanging from the ceiling. There are ex-pats from London who grew up with the team and Americans who came to the sport later. Parents who bring their kids for brunch and football and younger adults who don’t mind a mid-morning pint with the game. Even fans visiting the District from out of town – or out of country - will email DC Spurs and ask if they can stop by. Natasha is the chairperson for the supporters’ club. All are welcome.
The Miracle of Amsterdam drew a big crowd to the Channel. It was, fair to say, completely nuts after Moura's goal. For the Champions League final, the place was packed two hours before game time and lines stretched around the corner from the 5th Street entrance and onto H Street just to get into the place after the match had already started. Any table not bolted down was moved out of the way to clear space.
In April, DC Spurs did a fundraiser for the staff at the Irish Channel. These are the folks they see week-in and week-out throughout the season. Anyone who stops by after a Capitals or Wizards game at nearby Capital One Arena would know the same crew. The business restrictions because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hit hard.
So DC Spurs’ cherry blossom t-shirts and sweatshirts were made up and sold and the proceeds went to the men and women who keep the place humming throughout the soccer season, who open the doors, bleary-eyed, in the early morning after a late night. D.C. Spurs raised $6,600 from people in town and across the country.
“It felt like the least we can do,” Eric Kmetz said.
Eric and Natasha made their first trip to White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s iconic home ground for 118 years, in March of 2017. They saw a Europa League match against Borussia Dortmund and stayed for a Premier League game that weekend. It was a memorable experience.
The most recent trip – not quite so much. They were boarding a plane to London at BWI in March when news of the government travel restrictions to many European countries came down.
A March 15 match against Manchester United at Spurs’ new home, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, built on the site of White Hart Lane, was still on. Until it wasn’t. The match was postponed, the season halted. The Premier League finally restarts later this month.
All wasn’t lost on that group trip, though. You make the best of things in times like this. There was a behind-the-scenes tour of the gleaming new stadium and some time in London before catching the last flight back to BWI before travel restriction went into effect in the UK. There will be another trip when things return to normal to take in the atmosphere of a special place.
“So many people around us, they’re there every week. They’re Tottenham until they die,” Eric Kmetz said. “You think, obviously I support Spurs. I’m flying over to London for it. But to see the passion of those supporters who are at the stadium, it’s next level. It’s incredible to be around those people, to talk with those people, to go to the pub before and after the match with people who can say they grew up a stone’s throw from White Hart Lane. To hear those experiences and those stories, it helps further solidify that passion for us.”
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