So – your first game at White Hart Lane. And we won!
We have been planning this for ages but we could not get a ticket. When I was younger, you could go with your family or friends whenever you wanted. Now we were not supposed to sit together but you sat on my lap for first half. You were very patient. In the second the man next to us did not come back so you sat in his seat. Wonder where he went? The game was not very good but it was not that bad.
Before the match we walked round some of the ground. We wanted to show you what it was like. I expect you thought it was just a busy road like the one where you live. It was noisy and dirty, wasn’t it? To us, it is special though. Our place, our ground. People have gone to see the Spurs for over 140 years in exactly the same place. Now you are doing the same. You are part of all that history. Imagine all the millions of people, wearing blue and white, looking forward to the football. You are really part of something, just like us. But you were really interested in walking on the lines between the paving stones.
Bobby Soldado scored the goal. At last! You have been practising his song, haven’t you. He is Spanish – we looked up where he came from on the map, remember? He hasn’t scored a goal for months and months, he waited for you to come to see him. I think you are a lucky charm for Spurs.
He cost a lot of money but he hasn’t scored many goals. This one was scored from close to the goal but it was very good. Townsend made a good run and passed to Adebayor. He was clever – he did not pass the ball very far but it is hard when you are close to goal, so many defenders trying to tackle you but he gave Soldado the ball. Did you see how he touched it once and the ball was right in front of him? It was just a shame that he did not do that more often. Him and the others really – they could not keep the ball close when they touched it.
Did you notice how quickly he touched it past the goalkeeper? The keeper went one way, Soldado put the ball the other side. Soldado made him do that. That’s clever, I liked that.
We are lucky where we sit, we can see the players close up. Did you notice, when the ball is not near him, he sometimes mutters to himself. I think he worries about not scoring and not doing his best for Spurs. Some players, they don’t seem to worry. Perhaps it is because they get paid so much money, they don’t really care what happens but he does. I was pleased he scored, he will feel better now and score more, I reckon. We need his goals because no one else looked like scoring. Adebayor is a good player but he was working so hard for the team, he was not in the penalty area as much as he should be. I think he should have stayed there more often.
That was a good run from Townsend and Lennon did some good runs too. When they started, they were our two wingers, one wide on the left, one on the right. That was exciting but, trouble is, they did not pass it to the right Spurs player. Over and over, they did the same thing and the ball was blocked or they were tackled. You would think they would learn after a while and change, but they didn’t.
That meant we had Paulinho and Dembele in the middle but they did not play very well. It was too easy for Cardiff to get the ball because they had more players in the middle. Paulinho comes from Brazil. The way he has been playing lately, I think he wants to get the next plane home. Luckily for us, Cardiff weren’t very good. Did you notice how often they gave the ball straight back to us or passed it into touch? Did you cheer? They were blaming each other and Bellamy was rude to the referee. He was booked but we thought he might be sent off. I reckon that’s because they are unhappy because they are not playing well with their new manager. He has not organised them well. It is bad for them, at the bottom of the league.
You enjoyed it when the players kicked the ball really high. It shines in the floodlights as it slowly spins. One time, we thought the goalkeeper was going to kick it out of the ground! When it hit one of their players on the head, we could hear it, it sounded really loud. We laughed! Those big kicks look good but let me tell you, Spurs should not have been doing that. We should be passing it along the ground, not doing a big boot up the field.
We could hear the Spurs manager shouting sometimes too. It was very quiet sometimes. When I was your age, well a bit older than you because my mum and dad would not let me go on my own and they worked on Saturdays so they could not take me, back then the crowd used to sing a lot more. You could not hear the managers shouting then. We sang some songs though.
We both wished Spurs had more shots. We should have scored more goals because we were the best team. At the end we were worried that although we were on top, Cardiff might equalise because we only scored one goal but in the end we were OK. It would be much better if we did not have to worry but with Spurs, it always seems to be like that. I wish I knew why. I wish they would change but they never do.
Dawson was our best player. He won all the headers and made some great tackles. We learned that defending is as important as scoring goals.
You really enjoyed the match but it was a shame that all the Spurs players often passed the ball to Cardiff or got tackled. The crowd were getting a bit angry towards the end. Why are they giving them the ball?! Why are they giving away corners and free-kicks when they know Cardiff are good at those? They hit the bar just after we scored. Phew! I was shouting at them too, towards the end. Sorry.
Afterwards we walked back with the Cardiff fans. They were singing some very rude songs about their chairman. Aunty Kirsty explained them to you. He changed the colour of their shirt from blue to red. You thought that was terrible. You noticed all the fans wore a blue shirt, not red. The Spurs fans sung that they should play in blue and the Cardiff fans clapped us.
It’s funny – you are only 9 but you know how stupid and wrong it is to change the shirt colour. You know more than the chairman. These things are very important because supporters understand the history of the club.
We have told you how much supporting Spurs means to us and now you are part of that too. It runs in the family. Jackie who took our photo, her dad and sisters and brothers sit next to us. They were late because they come all the way from Oxford. Arthur has been coming longer than me, since 1964. All his family are Spurs fans too. It was nice of him to have a chat at half-time.
Glad you enjoyed it but shall I tell you a secret? Spurs did not play very well. If we play like that next Saturday, Chelsea will score loads. But we won and you had a great time.
We told you our stories, all the things we have loved over the years from watching the game. How exciting it is, how it makes you feel special wearing the navy blue and white. I have been going for nearly 50 years and there is no feeling as good as when Spurs play well and win. About how good it feels when you celebrate with your family. You felt it too.
And in the end that’s what football is all about. I usually write about tactics and formations, or where we are in the league but that does not seem to matter today. We sat together in the ground and supported our team. We told you our stories and showed you round but actually, the best thing was that you taught us what really matters.
OK, I’ll take that one. The angst and alienation that characterises the prevailing mood amongst Spurs fans has provoked a golden period of powerful, passionate writing about Tottenham Hotspur. Here’s the blogroll of honour: the Lustdoctor and Paul Johnson aka @Sniersmoregut on twitter with a manifesto I wholeheartedly agree with, Dear Mr Levy, Martin Cloake and last but not least Greg on Dispatches. Read them all, you won’t be disappointed.
Greg ends up by posing a deceptively simple question: what kind of club do we want to be? Here’s my contribution. Like the others, let’s move this forward. After all, I haven’t much hair left to tear out.
So this is what I want. This is my way out of the mess.
First thing: football is football. It remains unsurpassed, compelling drama that entices the world. It’s always evolving – the physical fitness of players is the single biggest difference since I began watching the game in the mid sixties. It means it is faster and there is less space for individuals to run with it or pick a pass but I simply refuse to accept that intrinsically it is more lifeless, defensive or dull than it used to be. It’s a little different but football evolves. So leave the game as it is.
There were always good games, bad games and indifferent games. Social media was profoundly affronted when early this season Manchester United and Chelsea contrived to play a dull game. Dull? These superpowers? How dare they? Death of the English game, football not what is was etc etc. Horses**t. It was just a bad game. Ozil – not worth the money. Over-rated. Me, I’d say he’s going through a bad patch, the same as any other player, ever, from Thursday night over 50’s 6 a side to Barca and Madrid. Those blogs that wrote off Gareth Bale after a poor showing in El Clasico earlier this season. His second or third match for Madrid. Talk about giving a bloke a chance. Social media isn’t football. When people say they are fed up with football, don’t get confused with what happens on the pitch. It’s what goes on off it that is the problem.
Next: I want my Tottenham Hotspur to be unique. I want us to remember our heritage. That heritage is a living thing and the current club and supporters are part of that. Spurs stand for certain things: good football, innovation, being in N17. We breathe the same air and walk the same streets as every player, every single supporter since the boys met under the second lamp-post along the High Road from the present ground in autumn 1882 to form a football club.
That’s important. This isn’t some poncy heritage site National Trust pickle the ground in aspic rose-tinted visit the tea-shop on the way out nostalgia. It’s real, it’s us, it’s who we are. It makes us strong, different from all the rest. It gives us something to tell our children and our children’s children. Neglect that at our peril.
This is not an argument for innate superiority. I want City, United, Newcastle and Sunderland, Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic to be unique too, to maintain their heritage. I want clubs to be different not homogenised.
I want the club to be there long after my ashes have been scattered under the crowd’s feet as they hurry home after the match. That’s important too. I want long-term stability and security to make sure that happens. I want Kirsty and Tom, my daughter and son who sit next to me, to be there when they are my age. My club is not a rich man’s plaything, an afterthought soon tired of. It’s not all about me either. I want the club to carry on wehn I’m gone.
Third pillar: The Champions League is not the Holy Grail. I want Spurs to be contenders, to be punching their weight near the top of the league, I want other sides to worry when our name looms on the fixture list. However, I don’t want to spend money we don’t have on the possibly futile pursuit of temporary success. I want Spurs to play good football with good players. If so, success will come. If they don’t make it, it is not the end of the world.
Pausing for breath, let me pull up my soapbox by way of an interlude. Just think about this for a sec. The Premier League is geared towards failure and futility. The goal according to accepted wisdom, is the holy CL. Everybody goes for it, only four get in, reduced to three soon enough if English teams don’t do well. We got in but we didn’t win anything by so doing. Whatever level a team is on, their supporters talk of the next level. The FA Cup what’s the point? Europa League? Give up, not worth anything.
Everything becomes not a victory but a staging post for the mythical next step. There’s nothing achieved, no time to pause and enjoy it, no sense of satisfaction, unless you win the CL three times in a row perhaps. This is not my attitude but one that prevails in much football discourse these days. It’s one reason why some peole don’t seem to enjoy it. Not for me. Stay in the moment. Enjoy a win for what it is, fifth in the league is better than sixth and enjoy it. Shiny shiny trophies, if we ever win any, stop and enjoy it. Fans are always going somewhere else. I prefer to stop and look at the view.
Where was I? To be contenders, we have to have a plan and stick to it. We can’t spunk huge wads of cash, let’s build something over time. I want the respect of fans of other clubs who see us doing this, I want some self-respect when I see us doing it and the problem right now is that I have little respect for what’s going on.
Since Levy took over, he has made a series of attempts not just to build a side but to build continuity, with varying degrees of success. We never really know what goes on behind the scenes but in this perspective, the phases of the club can be measured not through managers but the Directors of Football. Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini have been charged with, happen to be around when, whatever, we bought players who by and large had their best years ahead of them.
Good plan botched by Levy. Two reasons: one, he refused to commit a few extra resources to seal the deal when one or two players would have helped the squad fulfil potential. Second, Levy can’t judge a manager. Good chief exec focusses on goals for the organisation, picks good people to lead the operation and lets them get on with it. He can’t do either. But it remains the only way forward for Spurs, and if it works it will feel good. We watched Modric, Bale, Berbatov blossom. They were ours.
Now, and this is important: the club has to respect the supporters. Deeds not words. Start by understanding that there is a reciprocity in the relationship between supporters and the club. We will put up with a hell of a lot because we are loyal, not to managers, chairmen or players but to the shirt.
It is and always has been an unbalanced relationship with the club holding all the cards because they know that we the supporters will turn up. We have an emotional bond with the club, the board’s relationship is something different, less permanent, less committed.
This is intrinsic to the culture of British football. Fans have always been badly treated by clubs. However, there are degrees of exploitation and right now supporters are being pushed to the limits. It’s true for Spurs, the example I know most about, but it’s sadly also true for supporters of many other clubs.
The relationship may be unequal but never forget that it takes two, and Tottenham Hotspur PLC need to remember that. The current alienation has been caused not by league position – we are steady in fifth or sixth despite everything – but by the grievances fans have about being marginalised.
We can see there’s no coherent plan for the team to progress. Hopes rise only to be dashed again. And there’s a context. Living standards are falling, ticket prices rise. Inflation is falling, ticket prices rise. Above all, the income from non-ticket sources has gone through the stratosphere, ticket prices rise. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth restating, if only as a stark reminder of how much the balance has shifted in favour of the club, of just how unequal the relationship has become.
Look elsewhere and there are no mitigating factors. The FA and Premier League do nothing except put the interests of the clubs first. Kick-off times, scheduling of matches, managers playing second-string sides for the ‘magic of the Cup’. Pathetic, weak, self-interested, these bodies denigrate the hisotry of the English game and have totally repudiated their precious responsiblity for nurturing its future.
Families priced out. Kids can walk round the ground before the game but only if they pay to sit in a certain part of the ground. Tour the ground and pay. Visit the shop and pay – how much exactly does a blue and white acrylic scarf cost to mass-produce? We give, they take. Everywhere. Without exception. Stubhub. If you know your history – Spurs fans do. We remember the Shelf and what happened.
One feature of the concept of alienation is that the alienated are prevented from having a true understanding of what is going on because of ideological constructions that obscure and deny. I have a sociology degree and I’m not afraid to use it.
What’s happened now is that dissatisfaction has risen because what was once obscure is now transparent. We can see perfectly well what is going on. The club have more money than ever before yet choose the option of fleecing us more than ever before.
I want a club that actively espouses the right values. That is transparent in its dealings with supporters. That respects us and the community of which it forms a part, however reluctantly. That gives importance to the needs of supporters. That recognises our emotional attachment. That realises the team will benefit from wholehearted support. That realises the responsibility they have to this and future generations of Tottenham Hotspur supporters, rather than taking a short-term, profit-driven approach.
To respect us, the club has to listen and to respond. I’d like a supporter-led organisation to take over and take this co-operative to the top of the league. Yeah right. That’s true but it will never happen. Point is, I’m happy to settle for a lot less.
Let the supporters have a say on key issues like pricing, the new ground, ticket reselling. Don’t increase ticket prices this season. How much will the club lose? About half the salary of a squad player or something approaching the equivalent of the chairman’s recent salary increase but it would make a hell of a difference both to our pockets and our feelings. How about safe standing? A dedicated extra area for singing led by 1882. Singing – it’s not asking very much, is it.
The PLC have an insular, trench-warfare approach to fan liaison. Two weeks ago local paper the Haringey Independent sent them some questions about Stubhub. They were critical but legitimate. Last week they published them. The club complained. They haven’t answered the questions yet but have the energy to complain that a newspaper publishes legitimate questions on issues that have been raised many times before, including in the established media as well as on blogs. Legitimate questions that fans want answered yet the club complain about openness. And we haven’t even got to the answers yet! Doesn’t matter what you think about Stubhub. It’s symptomatic of an attitude that excludes us, a denial of the outside world.
These things will make the club stronger. They are to be embraced not feared. A dialogue between club and fans, using fans’ phenomenal expertise, building bridges and perish the thought, encouraging our efforts to get behind the team. Think about it – it’s not a revolution, these are not ridiculous demands. I have not even mentioned ENIC here, not about getting rid of them at all. I’m talking about my generation of fan contributing to the long-term benefit of the club.
Tell us what the long-term plans are for the club. Let us discuss them, contribute, have a dialogue, in public. As radical manifestos go, this is more WI that SWP, yet to the club it’s a threat. That mentality has to go.
I want children to go to the game. I want them to be welcomed. I want them to come back. I want them to be as excited as I was when I was a kid. I want fans to be able to say, I want to go to a game and I can afford it.
So there you are. The right values. Money is vital but it isn’t everything and the thing is, there’s plenty to go round. Anyway, respect costs nothing. At least, that’s what I think. Problem is, right now the club doesn’t agree.
The Prime Minister is a man of the people only when it suits him, and what suits is when votes might be at stake. He’s hardly the first politician to attach himself temporarily to sport as a way of proving his street cred and he won’t be the last. He tipped up at a few Olympic events and suddenly became a Blues fan when the late-running 2012 Champions League final provided an unexpected G8 photo opportunity. Angela, I’m with you all the way on that one.
So when in September last year he pronounced upon the long-running dispute over the use of the Y-word at Tottenham Hotspur, he was focussed less on the good of the national game and more on his intended audience, those involved in the debate around free speech and the readers of the Jewish Chronicle, where the interview was published and whose editor happens to be a Spurs fan. Yet there’s no doubt he stuck a chord with many of us.
“There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when motivated by hate.”
He’d better change his legal advisers. Although the PM would have been thoroughly briefed in advance on the topic, the Metropolitan Police beg to differ. Last week three Spurs fans, Gary Whybrow, Sam Parsons and Peter Ditchman, were charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words and are due to appear in court on February 4th. The BBC report a Met spokesperson as confirming the alleged offences were racially aggravated and charges brought under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Perhaps they could call DC as a character witness.
I don’t know anything about the precise circumstances of this case but it is possible to talk about the whole issue of active police intervention in what goes on amongst football fans, which has implications not just for Spurs supporters but for fans of football all over the country.
The debate over Spurs’ fans use of the Y word has been part of my consciousness and identity for the entire time I have been a Tottenham supporter, which dates back to the mid sixties. It’s hard to know when it began. Spurs have always had a loyal following drawn from the Jewish community in north London, which persists to this day. Tottenham itself has had a large Jewish population ever since substantial sections of the community moved from the east End in the early years of the twentieth century encouraged by employment in Jewish-owned businesses based in what is now Tottenham Hale. It was easy to walk up the High Road after schul on Saturday or even, and don’t tell the rabbi, to hop on a tram. Many used their precious leisure time to watch the Spurs, to be part of the local community, to fit in. By the mid thirties, some accounts state a third of the crowd were jewish. That proportion seems inflated but it’s certain the links with the community have lasted almost as long as the club has been in existence.
The explanation of why Spurs are the yids lies outside the club and its fans, however. Arsenal also have huge support within the same north London community. Both clubs have had Jewish representation at board level. The Manchester clubs have a jewish following too. The origins of the term lie in the pernicious, consistent abuse of Spurs supporters from other clubs, especially at away matches. Tracing the origins is difficult. Talking to a couple of long-standing Jewish fans recently, one said it began from Charlton supporters, a mild-mannered bunch there are too. Another watched the 1967 Cup Final from the Chelsea end and vividly recalled the remarks at the final whistle that the ‘the yids have won it.’ After my piece in When Saturday Comes on this topic, a contributor to the letters column blamed Alf Garnett for popularising the term, but I suspect that may have emerged as authentic bias from actor Warren Mitchell, who would have heard it regularly when he came to the Lane as a fervent Tottenham fan.
As a young impressionable jew, I heard the abuse develop in the early to mid seventies and I saw the response. Instead of marginalising the Jews amongst their number or blaming them for provoking trouble and – literally in those days – aggro, Spurs fans chose defiance and reclaimed the word to neutralise its negativity. Claiming class consciousness is pushing it but there’s no doubt that White Hart Lane was notable for an absence of the casual racism sadly rife in football grounds at the time.
I understand that there is a legitimate counterargument, that the use of the word ‘yid’ cannot be justified. It carries a long, sorry history of anti-Semitic abuse and is seen as profoundly abusive to this day by large sections of the Jewish community. It is also argued that Spurs fans cannot reclaim a word that never belonged to them.
Remember that there is no agreement over the use of the word amongst Spurs fans. Many Jewish supporters, including people who regularly and loyally read this blog and whose views I utterly respect, do not want to hear it at the Lane.
These objections are far more substantial than pointing to the culture of instant outrage and offence that prevails in social media, twitter especially. This week the words of national treasure Stephen Fry have been quoted in support of the view that outraged people can feel what they like but this does not give them rights, that being offended has no meaning other than as an expression of an individual’s feelings. “I am offended by that. Well so f**king what.” I agree but this debate has real heft, formed over decades of anti-Semitism. It’s not about Baddiel, newspaper columnists or even the Chief Rabbi – it has history and substance.
I cannot escape that context. It has over-riding significance for me. As the response was formed in fan interaction, I was there. I don’t use the word yid to describe my identity as a fan. Don’t know why, not something I have thought about, but ask me and I am a Spurs supporter. But I defend the use of the word by Spurs fans. I get the debate, the balance but come down firmly on the side of ‘no objections’.
I might fast become the minority if the FA and the Met have anything to do with it. The one point of agreement for everyone involved in the debate is that there are grey areas of interpretation. Nothing is cut and dried. Back last autumn, around the time of the PM’s comment, the FA deliberated on the matter at length. Their report as described in the papers contains a balanced summary of the debate. However, the FA chose sides, concluding, “The FA considers that the use of the term ‘yid’ is likely to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer.”
It is likely they were conscious not of anything happening on social media but problems around the alleged use of racist and discriminatory language in other prominent cases. Then, significantly, their definition was endorsed by the Met, declaring before the West Ham home league game that fans who use the language could be committing an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act. A year before, the police publicly stated that fans would not face prosecution in these circumstances. Now, saying the word itself was enough. Only the FA’s reaction has changed, nothing else. Context was erased from the equation.
The law under which the Tottenham Three have been charged refers to section 5, which enables action against words and actions that are ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’. The phrasing of the FA ruling is deliberate and careful. Section 5 requires that offence must be caused. However, this does not mean one or more people present have to be offended before action is taken. It’s another moment in the spotlight for the reasonable man, presumably on top of if not the Clapham omnibus then the 279 to Edmonton.
My understanding is that the element of ‘insulting’ is shortly going to be removed from the law although ‘abusive’ rightly remains. In reality, an insult and abuse might run close together. When this becomes the case, a lawyer I have spoken to suggests that someone using the insult ‘yid’ would not be a criminal act. However, someone being abusive towards a Jew because they are Jewish could be liable for arrest. Again this is not cut and dried. The thorny problem of the definition of abuse remains.
As it stands, we stay with ‘abusive or insulting’. I have no idea about the circumstances of the arrest of these three men, although I believe they relate to two separate incidents, i.e. they weren’t arrested at the same time. Whatever was going on, they were not the only three Spurs fans to use the word in and around White Hart Lane. It seems to me that the FA and Met have ruled on the definition and it is this that will be tested in court.
I have deep misgivings about this case. All Spurs fans are vulnerable if the word is used. I don’t accept that the use of the word devoid of context is abusive. As Spurs fans, it seems highly unlikely they were directing the word as a term of abuse towards other Spurs fans, let alone Jewish people. If it is the word that counts in the absence of context, what happens if I as a Jew use it outside the Lane during a conversation with my yiddisher Spurs pal Dave? We’re a long way from abusive or insulting.
Another decision has been made here. Spurs supporters have been charged, not those of opposition supporters who routinely abuse us. I could mount a case that hissing noises, songs about concentration camps and Nazi salutes in the High Road are abusive and insulting, and not just to Jews but to other minorities. The FA has adopted a position so contorted that they are gazing up their own backsides.
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust have tracked this case and have pointed people in the direction of advice and representation. They say that, “It remains our firm belief that, used in a football context by Tottenham Hotspur supporters, there is no intent or desire to offend any member of the Jewish Community.” I agree wholeheartedly.
I wonder too about any wider implications for fans in general. The police these days have a sophisticated approach to policing football matches. This implies an interventionist approach at odds with current tactics. After all, police at grounds all over the country have let anti-Semitic abuse directed towards our supporters go past without any action. I have asked police officers in the past why this is. They reply that they can’t prove that any one individual is the culprit. yet the police around our club have made a decision relating to three fans. Also, those officers are acting on orders, which I suggest revolve the idea common in the football policing which is, keep a lid on trouble, if it is in one place it can be controlled and don’t provoke anything more.
Will these tactics change, in the Met and/or elsewhere? Will fans of other clubs be in danger of a word being taken as indicating a possible breach of the law? it seems a reasonable question.
Finally, evidence from twitter suggests this has not increased popular understading of the issues or decreased anti-Semitic abuse one iota. Every day there are examples of fans of other clubs using the Y word as abuse. When challenged, they often dismiss it as not being anti-Semitic, ‘it’s what you call yourselves’, ‘it doesn’t mean anything.’ They are wrong of course but there’s precious little evidence of progress. Plus we return to the problem that this goes unpunished yet three Spurs fans are in the dock. I remain extremely uncomfortable about the whole situation, for Spurs fans and others. I fully the appreciate the deep and complex debate, but to me, in the end this is plain wrong.
Christmas is the season of goodwill and I for one got to know my neighbours better this year. Popping into their houses, the presents round the tree, excited bright-eyed children, deciding whether or not to evacuate. Tis the season to be jolly and in our case, you had to laugh or else you’d cry. Come to think of it, just the crying bit really.
I spent Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning alternating between taking as many of our possessions as possible upstairs and watching the floodwater creep towards the house. Late afternoon, as my neighbour and I paddled in our flowerbeds, we confidently reassured ourselves that it could not possibly rise another two feet and come into our houses. Could it? It’s not as if we live especially close to the river.
By 2am as it lapped over the top step, I was less sure. There’s nothing you can do to stop the water getting in. People rush to get sandbags but unless you are the Royal Engineers, all you get are wet sandbags to move out the way later as you bail out your front room.
In the end, the top step is where it stayed. No damage to the house. We were luckier than many others and grateful for that. The garden and the summerhouse were completely submerged under a few of feet of water – see below TOMM Exclusive Pictures! Unfortunately most of my Spurs books were submerged too and need replacing, a blow but they are insured and easily replaceable these days via ebay and Abebooks.
Boxing Day morning I went to clean it up, took one look and did what any self-respecting householder would do: closed the door immediately and went to the Lane. It was only the following day that I realised what else had been ruined – my entire collection of Spurs programmes. Snug and warm for many years in the loft, just a few weeks ago in a sudden and uncharacteristic burst of organisation, I shifted them into the summerhouse so all the football stuff was in one place. I hope my nearest and dearest recognise that my future untidiness isn’t a sign of lazy neglect but has a clear and distinct purpose to avoid all possibility of future disasters.
It’s hit me hard. Sure, I can retain perspective on all this. To repeat, we were lucky not to lose anything else or experience the months of disruption and misery that is the drying out period following a flood. My wife’s cousin lives in Boscastle and it took them over a year to get back to normal, having made a frantic dash up the hill to save themselves as the deluge swamped a town never mind a glorified garden shed.
I am simply being honest in saying I am very sad. I’ve lost my collection but I’m not a collector. Apart from a few exceptions, I went to every one of those games and brought back a programme. They are not in pristine condition although I’ve looked after them carefully, lovingly even. They are creased and tattered from being shoved in a pocket or down my trousers, the safest place because in the crush on the Shelf or at Wembley they could easily fall out and be lost. These are my memories and I wanted to keep them safe.
With time and effort I can probably buy replacements but it won’t be the same. I didn’t pay for them at the ground, usually outside the Red Lion pub on the corner of the High Road and Lansdowne Avenue, for many years the first place on the route from Seven Sisters to the ground where programmes were on sale. As a kid I wanted to get hold of one as soon as I could, feel the smoothness of the glossy paper, anticipate the pictures of my heroes inside, the secret, special information you got only from being there to get a programme. Nearly there, five minutes more and I would see the stands, inside in 10 or 15, longer if it was a big game, and onto the Shelf. I held my programme and I was a Spurs fan.
66-67, Sheffield United. The score is written in childish ballpoint, it reduces the value for the collector but it’s my first game, so priceless. Late 60s, a photo of Jimmy Greaves (they always had photos of the goals in those days) sliding the ball past the Newcastle keeper, as nonchalantly as if playing with his kids in the park yet he’d weaved from the halfway line through half their team. My favourite player scoring my favourite goal, signed many years later by the man himself when I was lucky enough to interview him for ten precious minutes.
November 1970, away to Chelsea, the programme already ruined because it was soaked despite being deep inside my dad’s pocket. He’d taken me to my first away game. He always worked on Saturdays, not the slightest bit interested in football yet for some reason he took this afternoon off and my mum worked an extra day in our little sweet shop, just to take his football-mad only son to a game. It rained torrentially for three hours (of course I had to get there early) and we stood unprotected on the open terrace at the away end. Soaked like the programme, which I carefully dried out and kept even though the pages were stuck together and unreadable, but who cares – two nil, Mullery late volley and dad. It won’t dry out a second time.
UEFA Cups, the Ardiles testimonial and Diego Maradona in a Spurs shirt, Feyenoord with Guillit and Cryuff taken apart in the best 45 minutes I’ve ever seen from us. Under water. The 81 replay, a few quid on ebay but not with my ticket stub, not in my section behind the goal, leaning over screaming at Ricky to shoot, but he didn’t, he didn’t. I saw it clip Corrigan’s body as it rolled towards me but not Villa’s celebratory dash into the arms of grateful astonished team-mates, because I was in heaven.
91 and the semifinal, on the halfway line at Wembley, for one crazy day the authorities saw sense and made the best seats in the house the family enclosure, that will NEVER happen again, on tiptoe with my late son as the bloke behind me screamed at Gazza not to shoot because he’ll never score from there. Andy and I will never be able to reminisce about that moment together but I have something to remind me. Had something.
And most of all, the midtable, the mediocre, the mundane and the meaningless. The seventies, eighties and nineties, Division 2, all kept with the same care as the glory glory nights, organised by season, flat in cardboard boxes that have followed me through relationships, marriages and housemoves. They all meant the same to me, because I was there, I was watching the Spurs.
I can’t remember exactly when I stopped, some time in the late nineties when ticket prices were going up and up, the programme was £2.50 or £3 and told you nothing of any value whatsoever. The programme used to be a valuable source of information – by being there, you knew things lost to the stay-at-homes and the MOTD watchers. The tone was parochial and patrician, like a old-fashioned headteacher talking down to his pupils, but it felt like there was a connection between club and supporter.
Now the programme is glossy, well-produced and meaningless, another over-priced symbol of the distance between us. It’s slick PR for all the ways they can take our money. I’ve written several times about how the contemporary Premier League increasingly alienates clubs’ core support. Extortionate ticket prices, no involvement or influence, supporters treated as background extras by television companies intent on making their cash from those who stay at home, changing kick-off times, owners changing strips and names on a whim.
As we enter another year, the alienation hangs over the game like a pall of glutinous smog. We try to resist but it seeps into every fibre of our lungs, through every pore. At Spurs, it’s there waiting to overflow. Like the river that burst its banks, most of the time the currents flow undisturbed but occasionally something happens to force an unstoppable torrent through the most resistant of barriers and flood defences. Once out in the open, it’s impossible to put things back the way they were.
Regardless of the merits of Villas-Boas’s sacking and Sherwood’s appointment, the anger at the way we have been treated, the missed opportunities, the directionless management of the chair, the money we pay, has sliced through the thin veneer of acquiescence. There is booing, abuse, fury sometimes. Tottenham can’t carry on like this.
For me, one Act of God over which I had no control has destroyed one part of a lifetime of supporting Spurs. I still have the memories. For this New Year, more than anything else, I wish that the little boy who sits two rows in front of me, who laughed and sang in his father’s arms when we scored our third on Sunday, who loves every second of being part of the crowd, will look back with pride and fondness on his memories when he reaches my age. Other kids his age won’t because their families are forced away by scandalous prices. There’s a real danger the game itself is hell-bent on permanently ruining the unique, glorious, passion of supporting Tottenham Hotspur or any other club for that matter. Despite everything, they can never take the memories away.
Sincere thanks to everyone who has read Tottenham On My Mind this year, especially those who take the time to make the comments section so fascinating and insightful. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. A happy and peaceful New Year to each and every one of you.