In 2004, the book We Are Tottenham was published. It was the first book Adam Powley and I had been commissioned to write, and it was an idea we’d had for some time. We’d both been going to see Spurs since we grew up in North London in the 1970s. For Adam, it was in the blood – his dad worked on the gate during the glory days of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s. For me, who came from a family that couldn’t be less interested in football, it was an accident of fate – Spurs, the local team, happened to win on the first Saturday I looked out for the result as a five-year-old. I was hooked.
During our time following the team, we’d met lots of people, heard lots of stories. We’d also seen the image of football fans change. Where once they were seldom mentioned, apart from the odd condemnation of “hooligans”, by the early years of the 21st century you could barely move for mention of the fans. But while much attention was focused on the crowd, less was focused on the individuals who made it up. We wanted to challenge the idea that a football crowd was a single entity, and in doing so share some of the stories we’d heard – stories which football fans of any persuasion swap regularly, and which help give us our sense of identity.
The book did well, and people said some nice things about it. But when the print run sold out, no more copies were produced. Over the years, we’ve been asked if it will ever be available again. It is now. The full original version of We Are Tottenham, including the forward by Hunter Davies that thrilled us when we received it – The Glory Game was an inspiration to us both – is now available as an ebook. We’ve added a new introduction, and we’ve written a new chapter in which we tell what happened when we caught up with many of the fans we originally interviewed. Details of how to buy the book, which will set you back a mere £5.14 for 208 pages, are at the end of this article. But if you want a taster, read on. This is an extract from the first chapter, an interview with my friend Bruce Lee, who I’ve watched games with all over Europe for years and whose stories of watching Spurs and travelling with Spurs fans were one of the main inspirations for the book.
“When your name’s Bruce Lee and you’re growing up in north London, you need a quick wit. ‘You’ll never believe the amount of Hi-Karate aftershave I used to get for Christmas and birthdays,’ says Bruce, a 37-year-old tax consultant who lives in Enfield. He’d be the first to argue that a sense of humour is also required for one of his greatest passions – supporting Tottenham Hotspur.
Humour is probably what helps Bruce maintain the optimism for which he’s known and liked by the extended group of Spurs fans he’s been watching matches with for years. The phrase Tottenham through-and-through certainly applies to Bruce, and he’ll admit that his life’s been shaped by Spurs. ‘I left school when I was 15 and left, if I’m honest, because of football,’ he says. But although he readily confesses to his obsession, he’s no one-dimensional fanatic. He’s almost as passionate about music as he is about Spurs, and his awareness of a wider world beyond football allows him a sense of perspective that often seems to be missing when football people talk.
Most of all, Bruce likes to talk, and for those who accompany him to matches the tales he spins are as much a part of the entertainment of a day at the football as the game itself. He’s got a rich vein of experiences to draw from, such as one incident from the late 1970s. ‘We used to go on the private coaches, the Grey Greens. We went to Norwich once and the coachload we were with turned over a sweet stall outside Harlow station. The police were called and we got pulled up further along the A11. I think they just followed the trail of lemonade bottles.
‘The coach was full of kids, and some of the older blokes, cramming bars of chocolate and bags of crisps in their mouths and shouting “Eat the evidence!”. We all got taken to Harlow nick, and my little brother Andrew was with me. He could only have been about eight or nine but he was a cunning little sod. They held us on the coach waiting for the ringleaders to own up, and my little brother looked at me at one point and said “this is silly, we’re going to be here all night” and he started crying.
‘Within two minutes some policewoman got us off this coach. I think it was when Andrew was getting off the he said “ I would have liked to watch this”. I mean, he’d eaten two dozen Mars bars himself!’
Bruce first became aware of Spurs around the age of seven, in 1972. ‘I lived about half a mile from the ground. There was no parental influence, no one else in the family interested. I was aged about five or six and just suddenly got into it, kicking a ball around with all the local kids. Spurs were the local team.
Once the die was cast there was no looking back, and Bruce soon started taking his little brother to White Hart Lane. They were formative years. ‘I look back at some of the games I went to and, I say this to my mother now, I can’t believe the things she used to let me do. I think because my mum and dad split up I was not necessarily streetwise but quite mature for a boy of my age. I would have only been about eight or nine at the time so there must have been a limit to my mother’s patience, or wallet or whatever. But I went a couple of times a season for a few years. Although it got me in scrapes, I think it kept me on the straight and narrow. Once I’d been once it became all-pervasive very quickly.’
We were sat there about ten minutes before kick off and at the opposite end the crowd parted and this mob of Spurs fans had gone steaming down the middle of the terrace and this big hole appeared. There had been a good atmosphere and all of a sudden it all closed around them and you could see people thrown out covered in blood.
By the mid-70s, going to a football match could be a risky business. ‘I went to that Chelsea game, I think it was 73-74, when there was a famous punch-up on the pitch because both teams were dreadful then. Spurs actually managed to beat Chelsea and it was more or less a knockout blow about five or six games before the end of the season. Alfie Conn took the mickey out of them. The game kicked off about 20 minutes late because there was fighting and I watched the game from an aisle on The Shelf. Supposedly there were about 55,000 in there.
‘At that game, a fella on our estate got turned in to the police by his old dear, because there was a big ruck on the pitch before the game – all these blokes in loon pants with scarves tied round their waists kicking seven bells out of each other. It was on the evening news. One of them was this kid on our estate and his mum apparently took him down by the ear hole to Tottenham nick.’
The growing culture of violence at football matches worried many parents and Bruce found his match-going curtailed. ‘The most obvious example was Millwall in ‘77 when all the stuff about Harry the Dog had been on Panorama. There was a lot of talk about what Millwall were going to do to Tottenham, and we played them on Boxing Day. By all accounts it was fairly fearsome. It was an 11.30 kick-off and I really wanted to be there, but my mum put her foot down on that occasion.
Away games are a whole new adventure, and regular travelling to see Tottenham play away soon became a real draw for 10-year-old Bruce. ‘The first couple of times I was chaperoned with another friend of the family. I don’t think he ever came to White Hart Lane with me but he would have been late teens, early twenties, and we went to Burnley on Grey Green coaches. They used to drop you outside the Co-op in Tottenham High Road and pick you up.
‘Burnley was an eye-opener. Even at that age I knew the Hovis adverts were a stereotype, but Burnley did look like that. I’m not playing the sophisticated Londoner because Tottenham’s always been fairly unsophisticated. There was a period when the home games became very run of the mill, you were looking forward to the away trips. It was great going to a new ground that you’d seen from a certain angle on the television and then you’re there and it’s all fresh.
He has also made trips abroad. For football fans, particularly English ones, it’s a fact of life that reputations precede them, and Bruce has seen the best and worst of English club fans overseas while following Spurs in Europe. There can’t have been many trips like Bruce’s first European experience.
‘It would have been about 78-79 I guess, Spurs played a friendly against PSV Eindhoven. A mate of mine saw it advertised in the local paper, and coaches were leaving from Harlow. This game wasn’t even in Eindhoven, it was somewhere called Beilen or somewhere, some small non-league town.
‘The ground had temporary stands all around it and there were loads of boisterous Spurs fans there, but no real misbehaviour. This fella that I booked with, his older brother was a nutter, one of the main boys, and he lived out our way. I knew he was going on a different coach and that they’d run into loads of trouble in Amsterdam. But we ended up going straight to this place and it was just fantastic. You start to feel so grown up when you get out there, it wasn’t because we were into any trouble or anything, it was just hilarious. You could just wander on to the pitch and there was a 50-a-side match going on at half time. As we left the town on the coaches the locals were out on their front lawns waving.’
Bruce’s appetite was whetted, and the growing success of Keith Burkinshaw’s early 80s side meant that soon the team were back in Europe proper.
‘The first competitive one I went to was Ajax in 81 after we won the cup, which was the first game back after we’d been banned. For the same reasons that five or six years before Burnley had been such a treat, Amsterdam was special. I went on the organised Spurs tours in Europe, although I shunned that at home. So it wasn’t really a question of carousing, you weren’t given any chance, it was just going somewhere different and seeing the different fans and the different faces.
In the 1983-84 season, Tottenham’s successful UEFA Cup run was accompanied by ugly scenes in Rotterdam for the match against Feyenoord and in Brussels for the first leg of the final against Anderlecht. Tottenham fans were labelled “the shame of Britain”, but many, like Bruce, had gone for the football and the experience and were appalled at the scenes they witnessed. He takes up the tale of the Rotterdam trip.
‘I’ve never seen so many Spurs fans in a place. At a game like that in an English city they don’t allow you to congregate in such numbers at football matches. If you’re there two or three hours before kick-off then that’s extreme. It was the era where people were going around thieving, and we’d be standing outside the pub and somebody would come and try and sell you a Lacoste T-shirt still in its cellophane.
‘We got into this ground and there was lots of history between Spurs and Feyenoord. Stupidly some Spurs fans had bought tickets to cause trouble in the other end. We were sat there about ten minutes before kick off and at the opposite end the crowd parted and this mob of Spurs fans had gone steaming down the middle of the terrace and this big hole appeared. There had been a good atmosphere and all of a sudden it all closed around them and you could see people thrown out covered in blood.
‘Coming outside that ground was just horrific. You could see people coming back down talking about Dutch fans with knives. I had two programmes, one I bought for someone else and I had one, so I adjusted them under my clothing and I thought “if anyone comes at me with a knife they’re going get the programme first”. But there were people openly brandishing knives, you don’t often see that really, even going to as many football matches as I have; openly brandishing knives. Spurs fans, to be honest, were being ill-behaved. We heard there were people that were thrown off motorway bridges and all sorts.
‘We were supposed to stay the night in Rotterdam and a few friends and I squeezed on to the train and I said, “Look, I’m not getting off at the main station, I’m going straight home” and about two or three of us did.’
When Spurs arrived in Brussels for the final, the fear some of their supporters had spread in previous rounds led to a tragic incident, as a jumpy barman fired a shotgun into a crowded bar and killed a young Tottenham fan from Wood Green. Bruce remembers it well.
‘It should have been one of the high points, but a Spurs fan got shot dead in a bar round the corner from the hotel we were staying in. A friend of mine was in the bar. In the morning people were apologising to us and we didn’t know what they were apologising for until we heard what had happened.
‘That was the night before the game, so on the evening of the game itself there was a real atmosphere. After the game we were caught up in the aftermath because we came out of the ground late and we were wandering around – we lost some people and we were wondering what the easiest way to get back into town to our hotel was. We happened to be behind a mob of Spurs fans who were taking out some vengeance for the night before. There were bars turned over and cars on fire. We got out of it pretty quick.’
There was a lot of talk about what Millwall were going to do to Tottenham, and we played them on Boxing Day. By all accounts it was fairly fearsome. It was an 11.30 kick-off and I really wanted to be there, but my mum put her foot down on that occasion.
Despite the bad experiences, Bruce has never lost his affection for the Spurs crowd. He is philosophical about the criticism thrown their way. ‘If we’re disliked it’s because we’re seen as big-time Charlies with no reason to be swaggering. Obviously there’s an element of truth in that.’
But, in common with many Spurs fans, it’s the f word that really gets him going. ‘One of the things I get a bee in my bonnet about is Spurs fans being called fickle. I think there’s plenty of adjectives you could apply but I don’t think fickle is one of them. Fickle to me always meant the opposite of loyal and I think that Spurs fans are as loyal as ever, perhaps slightly above the Premiership average. We’re quick to jump down the players’ throats as a crowd, but I would still stick the loyalty tag on them because I think we’ve had an awful lot of gruel. We’re always hanging on for a better day and I think the crowd has held up reasonably well.’
For favourite games, Bruce chooses two very different ones. The first would be near the top of any Spurs fan’s list, the second one many would rather forget. But his choices neatly illustrate the range of pleasures fans draw from following their club.
‘One-off games I think would probably be the semi-final against Arsenal in 91. Coming home from that game with my mate in the car, (we were going to do our celebrating later) and just seeing normal grounded people waiting for buses people and walking the streets, I said, “Look at them, they can’t know, they obviously don’t know what’s just gone on round the corner there.” It was just like sheer nirvana.’
Bruce’s second choice is the unsuccessful trip to Kaiserslautern in Tottenham’s all-too-brief return to Europe in 1999, a trip which he undertook with a large group of fans including one of the writers of this book. We flew out early on the morning of the game and met up with various friends who’ve become regular travelling companions over the last 15 years or so. It was a peaceful, friendly trip and we’ll remember the kindness and hospitality of the local people – who’d apparently been rather apprehensive about our arrival – for some time. Thanks to this, the efforts of a fluent German-speaker in our party, and some fantastic food and beer, we’d had a great day out – so more’s the pity a typically-negative George Graham side paid the price by conceding a last minute own-goal to go out of the competition.
‘The trip to Kaiserslautern in 99 I immensely enjoyed,’ says Bruce, ‘especially when you contrast that from a football perspective. That’s one of the darker moments. People were crying on the terrace and I could feel it, you know, I wasn’t far off it myself. To concede an own goal, to go out when you were singing about who you were going to get in the next round, its all what football’s about. You know, a football experience is a kick in the ribs as much as a leap into the roof but I still look back on that trip as absolutely fantastic.’