I do so fondly remember that cold September evening 16 years ago. It was an introduction to something special, an introduction I would never quite fully understand for months afterwards – an introduction that, frankly, didn’t really make sense! For here, was I, a young 17 year old who hated football… walking through the turnstiles of a Premiership football club!
Why did I hate football? Well, because unlike most of the kids who liked it I was bullied at school tended to avoid having to play sports with the bullies like the plague. I was bullied because I had little confidence and the few times our teachers would encourage us too play the game in physical education lessons I was truly awful, again, in part due to my reluctance to play with the cool kids and their footballing knowledge. My father was not a football fan and I couldn’t go home and talk to him about it or ask advice. In short, I associated football with pain and shame.
Despite my miserable school years I was forced, as many working class lads were, to go out to earn when I started my A Levels. It was the most nervous time of my life. I liked nothing more than hiding away in my bedroom watching TV. The thought of meeting and working with all these strangers was terrifying, but I had little choice. Well, as it would happen it changed my life in more than one way.
We all make friends along the way, and this was no different. I made multiple friends. But one particular lad at my new workplace was a football fan, and not just any football fan but a follower of Tottenham Hotspur. Curiously I had avoided all things to do with the beautiful game up until that summer and the positivity that had been generated by Euro 96. It was, after that Gareth Southgate missed penalty, that I heard the sentence “meh, enough of England, now back to Tottenham”.
Through all my life changes, there has been Tottenham Hotspur. Nothing else in my life has been so universally shared , maintained and ever present.
Of course I had heard of Spurs, in fact cousins of my father’s had been rabid fans. But that’s about as far as my knowledge went. Nonetheless, my new found work friend needed someone to go to matches with as his father was bowing out. I was desperate to break free of being the unpopular bullied kid so I agreed to go with him to keep my new friendships flourishing…and so there I was, on 25th September 1996, walking through the turnstiles of White Hart Lane. The club was playing Preston North End in the Coca Cola Cup.
Do you know what? As I sat there it became really apparent just how little I knew about the game. I didn’t even know the offside rule. But there was something a little bit special about the September evening…something that well outlived that evening. There were songs. There was positivity. There were bright lights and excitement. There were the players, getting ready to do their part. To this day I cannot put my finger on it, but there was a magic about the place that made it through the skin of someone as adverse to football as you could find.
That season my new White Hart Lane companion would seek to go to as many matches as possible – and I was his match buddy. In truth, after the first game it became more and more appealing to go to matches. I learned about football, and learned what it was to support a club and, dammit, I learned that lilywhite and blue was, without doubt, the finest football kit in the league (even if it was made by Pony)!! We went to match after match that year and it cost me almost all of the money I had earned!
The 1996-1997 season came to an end and my workmate and I went our separate ways as we both neared the end of our A levels and looked towards the future. But, as I stood watching the team doing a lap of honour, with the likes of Teddy, Sinton, Ruel Fox, Anderton and, yes, Campbell, I realised I was indoctrinated. I was part of Tottenham Hotspur.
That season would start a constant in my life that became Spurs, a constant that was often more about the club that it was football. It was the magic of the support, the feel of joy as you walked into the stadium and the sheer desire to see your lads win for you, whether they were world class or worthy of a non-league side. It was that feeling of getting close to a heart attack as a famous victory was near, or the despair of a hard fought loss.
Truth is though; I never became a season ticket holder. I couldn’t. My parents couldn’t afford it and neither could I. I had started a career in law and had to study at the same time. I could only go to the Lane as often as I could afford. Sometimes it would be 15 times a season, sometimes only 3-4. As I got older there was a mortgage was due to be paid and a woman to fund, but the club was and has always remained a constant. Through all my life changes, there has been Tottenham Hotspur. Nothing else in my life has been so universally shared , maintained and ever present. I have been to the Lane with everyone, almost every friend I have ever had, colleagues of every job, clients, girlfriends and even the friends of girlfriends! There was no taking the magic of White Hart Lane away from me and it was something to introduce to others.
So here we are today, in 2012, off of the back of some of the best seasons of Spurs that many Tottenham fans have seen. Oh the magic of finally seeing us in the Champion’s League, and of proving ourselves as a club who means business. I had waited so long to see that. But was it too much too soon?
Truth is that I fear the success of recent years has proven a double edged sword for my beloved club. One, perhaps, that has drawn the highest of expectations from some of the most unlikely of sources. We all savoured the Harry Redknapp years, despite many of us being frustrated at his all too frequent courting of the media. But some fans, young and old, very much took it for granted. It was not Tottenham Hotspur doing well, but rather an expected progression. A progression that they were entitled to and one that they had waited patiently for over countless years. Well, they finally had their just desserts.
Thing is, supporting a football club is not about just desserts. Those of us who have followed Spurs for any number of years know about false dawns. We know about disappointments. We know about being the underdogs. Yet I fear in the modern era of relative success some fans have lost sight of this….and the worst part of it is that some of these fans are not new fans or those who have been to the Lane once or twice, but rather season ticket holders or those who have followed the club for anything up to multiple decades.
A disturbing snobbery has begun amongst some of the most hardened supporters. It is snobbery relating to the right to have an opinion. A snobbery that says that unless you are a hardcore supporter who can afford every game home and away, you don’t qualify to have a view on the club. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that those who now boo the club at matches seem to frequent this group of people.
So here we are, today, with movements like 1882, a movement that should be championed for bringing true support. Yes, that’s right, support. In my view you can be a fan and not a supporter, but if you are a supporter you are always a fan. The 1882 movement is about standing up to those who expect success and remembering back to the day what it was all about offering support whatever happened. I am pleased to have been, and will continue to be, a part of it.
The sad thing though is that for all the good intention, movements like 1882 are ultimately a distraction and sadly a very telling commentary on the state of fandom. They are a distraction from what we all ultimately are. We are supporters of the institution of Tottenham Hotspur. If we feel the fire in our veins for the glory game it really doesn’t matter if you have never been to White Hart Lane or you have been to hundreds of games over 20 years. It is that fire for the club that makes you Spurs. If you have even once felt your heart pound during a match then you are part of the club.
I do not particularly like people who boo, especially when they do so with high expectation. But if they feel like they are entitled to do so, so be it. What I do not like, though, is that a distasteful subsection of these boo boys have decided that they are the final, and only, voice of the club. They mock movements like 1882 and declare that those of us without the time or funds to go every week home and away are nobodies. They do this to justify their right to complain, boo and sit there silently through a match. They then express resentment over movements like 1882, and possibly because it highlights their own lack of support. In a way 1882 has, unfortunately, highlighted a division in the fan base, and one that gives cause for much concern.
In my view you can be a fan and not a supporter, but if you are a supporter you are always a fan. The 1882 movement is about standing up to those who expect success and remembering back to the day what it was all about offering support whatever happened.
The reality is that there is no 1882 movement. There are no divisions, but only fans. It is whether or not you want to be a supporter as well as a fan that defines you. It does not matter where you are from, how often you go, how much you spend or how many away trips you go on, if you have felt your heart pounding then you are Spurs. But we all have supported the club at one point or another, as otherwise how could we all be fans? Surely that means we are all as one? We all fight for the same cause?
For those who boo but still feel the fire, I beg this of you, realise that supporting the club is not about expecting success, it’s tagging along for the journey, wherever it may take us. We are all Tottenham. It doesn’t matter who the manager is, or the players or who runs the club. It is our emotional attachment that drives us. Our hearts. We are all one unit. We always will be. Our duty is to support in whatever form we can, not create divisions and resentment among our own ranks.
That is why, in truth, the 1882 movement does not exist. We are just one chunk of the overall support, not a separate unit. We all have the same objective, to see our boys go out and beat the other lot, not sitting there waiting to die of boredom, to paraphrase a great man. Well, that’s where our support as fans comes in. Let’s do what we can to see that our boys do it and do it in style. That means being there for the club through thick and thin, not giving up when it’s not all going to plan.
We are one big family and must come together as such, for we are Tottenham, Super Tottenham, we are Tottenham…from the Lane.
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