Aaron Wolfe can feel it, you can feel it, even his friend Jonah can feel it. There is something happening here. Welcome to the church of Tottenham.
It was 2ºF (-16ºC) in New York City on Sunday morning but Flannery’s Bar was packed with Spurs supporters. I wrestled my way towards the back to a few square feet of floor space with an uninterrupted view of one of the screens. I had been at the Billy Nic in Tottenham a few months ago to watch us play Woolwich away and it hadn’t been half as crowded as Flannery’s was this past Sunday. Fifteen minutes to kick-off and there was barely room to breathe. And, to be honest, I was a little annoyed.
My friend Jonah and I stood sandwiched between two groups of friends. To our right was a group of recent supporters and their girlfriends. Which meant there was a lot of explaining going on. “That’s Alli. He’s young. He’s, like, really awesome. That’s Kane. He’s young. He’s, like, really awesome. That’s Eriksen. He’s…” To our left was a group of older fans sporting kits from our last Champions League season. With them was an older gentleman who was clearly a neutral based on the academic way he spoke about the game. When Kane slotted home he very calmly remarked, “that was a good penalty. Very effective strategy.” Had I not just swallowed my tonsils with joy I would have grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to shake the emotion out of him.
I don’t talk when I watch football. I don’t like being with a chatty fan that wants to discuss the way the game is going, or what substitution should come next. I don’t like analysing. I don’t like defending the players. I don’t like half-witted observations. I don’t like full-witted observations.
Tottenham is a dream. It’s a fugue-state induced by the slow emerging patterns and the push and pull of attack and defence. When we’re losing it’s a meditation on the impermanence of life. When we’re winning it’s an affirmation. When the game is level through 60 minutes it’s a tantric-experience that would make Sting blush. (NB: Sting can’t actually blush, he’s too busy playing lute while wearing a Newcastle replica kit made thread woven from a virgin’s hair.)
Talking interrupts the magic. Sartre (probably a Woolwich fan) once wrote that our life is a series of moments that oscillate between transcendence and “being-in-itself.” Imagine, he wrote, looking through the keyhole of a locked door. On the other side of the door is a scene playing out. The longer you watch the more you dissolve into nothingness as though your being — your actual body — becomes meaningless and the entire universe exists only on the other side of that door.
Just like the rest of the people that had dragged a few friends along with them. And that’s when I realized: there’s something happening here
That is transcendence. That is what watching Spurs is like for me. I am annihilated. I am Tottenham and Tottenham is me.
Then imagine that you’re peering through Sartre’s keyhole, having forgotten that you essentially exist, when some dude behind you clears his throat and says “f*ck me, why is he putting Tom F*cking Carroll on the pitch?”
Suddenly, the world on the other side of the keyhole is gone and you are thrown into your body. Suddenly, you are more than just a little aware that you’ve been staring through the keyhole, drooling a little with your butt-crack hanging out. In that moment, you are an object. You are “being-in-itself.” You are meat. Smelly. Tired. A little drunk. Fully aware. Meat.
That is what it’s like when I have to talk when watching Spurs.
Or at least that used to be the case.
My friend Jonah doesn’t watch football. Or at least he doesn’t watch it when I don’t invite him to come along. He doesn’t follow the league, he doesn’t really understand the rules, the strategy, the structure of European competition as it relates to the finishing position of a team and the astrological sign that your second-choice striker was born under (hahahahaha that’s a joke, second-choice strikers don’t exist). But he loves sport. And he loves a good game.
So there I was, in Flannery’s Bar, explaining to Jonah all the subtext of what he was watching on the pitch. Just like the rest of the people that had dragged a few friends along with them. And that’s when I realized: there’s something happening here.
All around me people had brought their loved-ones, their friends, their in-laws from out of town. They trudged through the soul-crushing cold to a basic-bar in Manhattan to watch our Tottenham.
I wondered, for a moment, if there was a Leicester City bar someplace filled with casual observers. If the New York Foxes had seen a ballooning in their membership. If someplace in New York there’s a version of me that woke up at 7am to watch Mahrez get replaced by a walking slab of granite. And then Danny Rose took one in the face, got up, fought off roughly £1,000,000,000 of Sheikh Mansour’s playthings and bombed up the left side of the pitch into my heart as one of my favourite players on a team full of players that I feel an uncomfortable level of love for.
Anoint yourself in the glorious sensation that we are the single best team in the English Premier League and if we don’t win it will mean roughly the same as it did when Rocky lost in the first movie
Jonah grinned. He felt it too. It is impossible not to feel it. I leaned over and whispered, “that is Tottenham in a nutshell. That guy right there. Ferocious. Tireless. Brilliant.” But how to explain to him that it wasn’t always this way? That something has changed? That something special is happening? That we are the most important team in the league?
There’s nothing to be learned from Leicester City’s title run. They are an aberration. They are a freak of nature. If they win, I will not be filled with joy. It will not be a revolution. If they win they will be just as likely to be relegated next term as they were at the start of this one. There is nothing to be replicated in Leicester City. You can’t replicate a few players having the form of their life at the exact same time.
But Tottenham is a revolution.
You know the chorus by now: youngest, toughest, fittest, stingiest defence, best bench, best rotation, best coach. All the teams in the Premier League are and should be watching us. I won’t be surprised if, in a few years, teams look a lot like Tottenham. Next year no teams will look like Leicester unless they win the same genetic lottery that Ranieri’s side has won.
So what’s the point? Why go on and on about French philosophy, the weather, and whether or not anyone should care about Leicester City?
Because we won away at Manchester City. And because we’re going to win the league. And everyone knows it and we’re all afraid to say it.
“Don’t! One game at a time! Too much Pressure! What if we lose! They’ve let us down before! Spursy! The world is ending! What if the Mayan Apocalypse happens on the final day and Andros Townsend turns out to be the fire god Chaac and he punishes us for believing that we control our own destiny???”
We are all going to die one day but no one (except for Sartre who probably supported Woolwich) says we should just hide under the covers until it happens. Bad things are going to happen in your life. So enjoy every second of what’s happening right now. Scream from the hilltops that we are going to win the league. Walk around feeling the shifting poles of fortune. Anoint yourself in the glorious sensation that we are the single best team in the English Premier League and if we don’t win it will mean roughly the same as it did when Rocky lost in the first movie.
It’s not about winning, it’s about fighting the fight. It’s about outperforming expectations. It’s about going the distance. It’s about the process. (And it’s about winning. It’s totally about winning. Which we are going to do.)
When my wife and I were planning our wedding I had a realization that the wedding itself is theatre. It’s for the family. It’s a party. It’s an arbitrary moment in which we say “hey cool, everyone, we did it!” But the process of planning a wedding, of negotiating all the family bullsh*t and figuring out what matters to each of us, is actually the marriage of two people. It’s a process. You start as two people and 6-16 months later you become wedded together.
It’s the same with winning the league. We are in the process of it, right now. We are winning the league. The final day will be theatre — It will be grand theatre — but it will be theatre.
This feeling right now that you’re feeling? Or the feeling you felt when Lamela’s perfectly weighted pass split the legs of Otamendi and found Eriksen? That’s the process of winning. That moment that Eriksen coolly took a first touch and you knew that the next touch was going to put the ball in the back of the net?
The ball hops over Hart’s leg. The ball ripples the net. The scream emerges. The theatre of celebration begins. I scream, I jump, I hug strangers, I hug Jonah, Jonah grins ear to ear, I’m singing. I’m singing. I’m singing
That’s the best feeling in the world. It’s the moment before. The moment of potential. The moment that the scream is building in your throat. The feeling of annihilation. The peering through the keyhole.
The ball hops over Hart’s leg. The ball ripples the net. The scream emerges. The theatre of celebration begins. I scream, I jump, I hug strangers, I hug Jonah, Jonah grins ear to ear, I’m singing. I’m singing. I’m singing.
That feeling is the feeling of us winning the league. On the last day of the season when we have won the league, the feeling will be in the past. It will be behind us. We will be happy but it will be over. But now is happening. Now is for celebrating.
After the whistle, Jonah and I pulled on our jackets and headed back into the cold. We were tired, we were hungry, we were euphoric.
“I get it,” Jonah said, “I mean, I really get why it matters to watch with other people like that.”
I smiled and said, “Yup. Get together on a Sunday, sing, clap, dance, scream, be with others… it’s church, man.”
He nodded. We ate a slice of pizza and went home. My voice is still hoarse. My ears are still ringing. It’s Tuesday. This feeling will never end. I have faith.