Some readers will have heard my ramblings on the excellent Fighting Cock podcast and I’ve promised them I’d pen a few words for about two years now. I’d like to take the opportunity to write a short article about a subject I feel very strongly about.
As regular listeners to the podcast will know, I’m a long standing season ticket holder in the Park Lane lower and over the past decade, have visited most away grounds with Spurs on numerous occasions. I’ve also been privileged to fulfil a great ambition and follow Spurs all over Europe.
In 2003, nearly ten years ago, I moved my season ticket from the Park Lane upper tier to Block 33, Park Lane lower. There were two reasons behind this. The first was to relocate so that I could sit with a couple of mates, despite compromising on the excellent view I had with my previous seat. The second was to be part of the action. I wanted to be where the atmosphere started. I wanted to be in that number.
It was a measure I took to counter balance the woeful displays we’d see on the pitch under the helm of Hoddle and later, David Pleat. It didn’t matter that I didn’t really enjoy watching Gary Doherty and Milenko Acimovic make Spurs look like a pub side. What mattered then was that I had a good laugh with my mates and our support drowned out the away fans (and the inevitable ‘Crazy In Love’ by Beyonce that would blare over the PA system at White Hart Lane as David Pleat shuffled nervously after a home defeat to Bolton.)
Our performances on the pitch improved under Jol, we marched back in to Europe before ‘Arry took us to the dizzying heights of the Champions League. The atmosphere at White Hart Lane mirrored our new found optimism – the night against Inter Milan stands out as the pinnacle. It was as if everyone in the stadium that evening found harmony. Those old around in 1984 reminded why they’d stuck with it. Those too young thinking, ‘finally, this is what I’ve waited for.’
But was that night the worst thing that’s happened to our club in recent years?
With success brings expectation. And with expectation, you get failures – a sense of disappointment that doesn’t exist with comfortably underachieving. That win against Inter Milan fed Spurs fans with an expectation that we could and should beat every team we face.
I’d noticed the lack of atmosphere throughout last season. The sense of expectation that we should be winning every home game bred nerves which in turn flattens the mood as nails are chewed to the bone. It was obvious that the fractious crowd was split; pro and anti Redknapp. Hardly conducive towards a unified support for the team, for the club.
The home games in the 2012-2013 seasons have been painful to attend. No more so than they were during the early 2000s, quite the opposite in fact – we get to watch Bale, undoubtedly the most exciting footballer in the Premier League. The impatience of the crowd, the tension that so evidently filters through to our players and the jeering is intolerable. For me, it ruins my day and my whole experience of attending games at White Hart Lane, whatever the final score.
So, why does this happen? Why do we do the one thing that, for many years, we have taken such great pleasure in berating our rivals for? Why do we treat our players and even more so, our manager, as enemies?
The popular argument is that we all spend the cash that we work hard for, and a lot of it these days, watching people doing the job we’d all love to do and getting paid twice as much a week than most earn in a year. And it is because of this that the fans feel like the players owe them. Instead of turning up at the ground to get behind your team, fans go through the turnstiles and expect to be entertained and to get the result they want.
The most unlikely of people summarised this perfectly this week. A man who was hated by the majority in his early years at the club. In his ever eloquent way, Benoit Assou-Ekotto wrote on Twitter: “so dont support us! Com wotch and go bk at home...WHL is not a CINEMA! Fans com to support in BAd or GOOD moment( TRUE FANS)”
That’s exactly what we used to do and we’d enjoy it, whether we drew at home to Middlesbrough or lost at home to Manchester United. But how much did we love it and appreciate it when all that was rewarded by a win over Liverpool, Newcastle or more recently Arsenal and Chelsea?
At times, I wonder whether there is a greater fear of losing than there is a desire to win amongst some Tottenham fans. I speculate about the advent of social media playing a part in this. It’s now so easy to berate rival fans over their shortcomings in a way that we fear failure because we, as fans, are open to typed torture and feel vulnerable. Do our players feel the same?
The calls for Villas Boas to be sacked deserve a separate article, but to boo his substitutions at this stage is totally moronic behaviour. To boo and jeer our manager, our players or our team in general is completely counter-productive. It doesn’t make players try harder, it doesn’t make managers rethink their tactics and it doesn’t make our team win. Getting behind them does. It’s not difficult to see that.
White Hart Lane used to be feared by opposition players because of the atmosphere. Away fans hated coming to Tottenham because it was intimidating. During that period, our home form was excellent, even if the football wasn’t up to the standard we have come to expect over the past few seasons. Neither statement is true now.
We have become the Chelsea fans that we laughed at for pleading with Roman Abramovich to fire. Worst of all, we have become the Arsenal fans that we loved to hate because they booed the team off at half time, because they sat in silence for the rest of it and because they left early when they were 1-0 down at home.
Football is romanticised by fate and destiny. It is uncontrollable and, as fans, you are powerless to change that. You can’t pick the team, you can’t make William Gallas taller, nor Gareth Bale stick to the left wing. Football fans have one power and that is to influence the spirit of the players.
Just as we did that night against Inter Milan, unite, be one, be Tottenham Hotspur and love every minute of it. Tottenham chose you, but you choose to be with them when you go through the gates at White Hart Lane.