There was a moment on Monday night, as the haze lifted from a stray smoke bomb, when clarity reigned once more. As I looked around me at 1392 shoes being waved in the air I realised with total certainty that this was the way it was meant to be. What might have looked odd from the outside made perfect sense to the tightly packed group inside Barnet’s crumbling stadium. For this raucous show of trainers and old boots was not a catwalk of footwear but a symbol. A symbol of hope for the next generation, a symbol of disillusionment against faceless corporate greed and, not least, a symbol of unity that drew this little band of visionaries together.
If shoes is to be the beacon then so be it, something needs to change. Over the past decade the atmosphere at home games has spiralled dramatically downward. As we have become more successful so the expectation levels and targets of the club have quickly altered. Where once we were happy with a solid league placing and an exciting cup run, now the holy grail that is Champions League football has become the only prize of any real consequence. Falling short of this lucrative financial windfall has become synonymous with failure. Just ask Martin Jol where 5th place gets you in Daniel Levy’s end of year appraisal. The utterly bemusing aspect of this new found feeling of over importance is that in the 20 years since the inception of the Premier League, Tottenham have qualified for the Champions League just once. It seems feelings of entitlement are reserved not only for the upper classes.
Prior to Monday night I had read and heard much about the infamous 1882 movement. What I found interesting was that their positive and proactive ethos was seemingly not universally supported amongst fellow Spurs fans. Their aim of returning to the days of “how loud you sing and how passionate you became wasn’t dependent on how well Tottenham were playing” was a notion that immediately struck a chord with many who were becoming disenchanted with the match day atmosphere offered up by an ever more passive White Hart Lane crowd. However, there have been accusations that this, almost arrogant, attitude of thinking they were somehow “better” than the majority would prove divisive and maybe even start to segregate our supporters. This is a view I find hard to understand as I also long for a return to the days when football was about a day out with your mates. When the first pint in the morning and the last pint after the lengthy inquest were as, if not more, important than the result. When the camaraderie and songs were remembered long after the team’s performance. When the only hope and expectation you came with was for a great day out and a safe journey home.
And so on a balmy night in North London I made my way, with some apprehension, to the mini derby. Apprehensive because it has been a long while since I was part of the young crowd. Due to personal circumstances I am rarely able to attend matches anymore and so, although I craved it, I was not entirely sure that this all singing, all dancing extravaganza would be for me. In truth I thought I would be seen as the old codger desperately clinging onto his fading youth, embarrassing himself in front of young, energetic teenagers smiling condescendingly whilst thinking to themselves – sad bastard!
But, nonetheless, I boldly persevered. First stop the Old Red Lion where true to form I felt completely out of place, a man adrift of what was going on around him. Fans singing, shouting, barracking, vying with each other for air time, briefly reminding me of horrific late night karaoke bars when only the drunken few are left and it becomes impossible to extradite them from their microphone whilst they butcher yet another favourite hit. But this was different. These fans were drunk, not on alcohol, but on Tottenham and what it means to be a supporter. I didn’t feel sorry for them or embarrassed by them, I felt only jealousy for their total lack of self consciousness. They were here for one reason and one reason only and they meant to shout it loud and proud.
Feeling even older I made the short walk to the ground (tin roofs and terraces) and hid myself at the back of the stand attempting to become invisible, wondering why I had come and if it was foolish to stay. Surely I was too long in the tooth for this. Here was a young man’s dream and the honourable thing to do was to leave stage left and let them get on with it. Had I deserted then it would have represented one of the single most disappointing decisions of my life. During the course of the next 2 hours I rediscovered my love of supporting. I rediscovered my love of belonging to something bigger than myself. I rediscovered the joy of influencing events around you by sheer force of will and noise and togetherness. I rediscovered the brilliance of crowd humour and impromptu chanting. I rediscovered the camaraderie of intense rivalry and most importantly and unexpectedly I rediscovered my voice. It was impossible not be caught up in the fun of it all. There was no hidden agenda, no undercurrent of ugliness. Just like the old days the atmosphere was created not by events on the pitch but by the crowd off it. A bit like a rare bird, the term 12th man is often quoted but seldom seen and yet that is exactly what we were because that is the role we had come to perform. For the first time in a long while I became caught up in the utopia of unflinching support and can confirm that yes, a middle class, 37 year old man with 3 young children took off his shoe for Tottenham, pogoed for Tottenham and most certainly marched with Tottenham.
The truth is there is no right or wrong in the direction this group has taken and actually the question is irrelevant. This is about fun, pure and simple, and if that cannot be encouraged and celebrated then we really have come to the end of the road. What must be applauded is that here is a group of fans who, instead of sitting at home moaning, are actually taking positive action against something they believe needs mending. It is time to take a side because football and its relationship with the paying public is disintegrating and certainly in this country we are losing a battle some of us don‘t even know exists. It is time to reclaim our terraces and stadiums from the financial muscle of the unseen bureaucrats . It is time to remember our role in making this club great again.
I don’t know if 1882 will eventually make a difference. What I do know is that I will go again but this time I will take others with me and the time after that hopefully they will bring yet more friends and in doing so this movement will grow until it’s voice cannot be ignored any longer. I left that tiny dilapidated ground euphoric. I have never had so much fun at a football match , never laughed so much and never sung so much before. The irony is we never came to watch a football match, we came to support our football Club.
[author name=”Julian Betts” avatar=”https://si0.twimg.com/profile_images/2284680476/d7kga4d6th17mydvnc9a.jpeg” twitter=”BettsJulian” website=”” tag=”JulianBetts[/linequote]