For the purposes of this article, the word “football” means “soccer.” Fondly referred to as the Beautiful Game, this is a sport played primarily with the foot, hence the term “football.” Any references to “soccer” will be part of the story and should not be considered as evidence that the author has got confused.
A long time ago, in a world before the Internet …
It is the 11th September, 1976. Around 34,725 are packed into a football stadium in North London, the majority of whom are urging a team in white to keep going forward. An eight-year-old boy is watching the action unfold on the pitch from a seat in the East Stand, clutching his father’s hand and, rather bizarrely, a Manchester United pennant purchased from the home team’s club shop prior to the game.
After what seems like an eternity to the child, the men in white score. The crowd erupts and the boy holds his ears and complains that the noise is hurting. He does not drop the pennant, but the look on his face suggests that the reaction of the fans has sparked something within him. Fifteen minutes later, the referee blows his whistle, the crowd cheers and the home team—Tottenham Hotspur—have won by a single goal to nil.
As the father leads the boy away from the stadium and through a local park to their car, he asks his son if he had enjoyed the game. The answer was an equivocal yes … but it was really loud.
From Tiny Acorns …
Several months later, the home team are relegated from the top division of English football.
Due to work commitments, the game—Tottenham Hotspur vs Leeds United—is the only one that this fledgling sports fan attends with his old man that season. On the plus side, the Manchester United pennant has been consigned to a draw and the boy is the proud owner of a lilywhite replica shirt, emblazoned with a cockerel standing on a football.
Setting aside the rather obvious fact that September 11 is now a date to never forget for non-sporting reasons, there is an additional significance for this particular North London boy that can’t be taken away. To put it simply, this day was the start of a love affair that has lasted for 42 years, cost me thousands of pounds, several relationships (probably), and put me though an emotional rollercoaster on a regular basis.
Every sports fan has an origin story. That moment in time when the path of their allegiance was set. This is, quite obviously, mine.
The irony of being relegated in the first season that I supported Tottenham meant that I understood at a sub-conscious level that following the boys from N17 was not going to be easy from day one.
With the club playing in the Second Division for the first time in 27 years, I quickly realized that my first real season of attending home matches at White Hart Lane with my Dad was not going to involve battles against Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea or even Manchester United. Rather, clubs of the caliber of Oldham Athletic (5-1), Blackburn Rovers (4-0), Burnley (3-0) and Bristol Rovers (9-0) would be visiting the Lane.
At the end of the 1977/78 season, Spurs finished two points behind the champions (Bolton Wanderers) and claimed not only third place but a return to the top division at the first attempt. The club has never been relegated since … although we have flirted with the concept at least twice.
Echoes Of Glory
More importantly, retaking our place in Division One was something of a watershed for both myself and the club.
First, the manager—Keith Burkinshaw, retained after relegation—persuaded the owners to buy two Argentinian players after the 1978 World Cup. Both Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa would go to become legends at the Lane, and be major contributors to the silverware that Spurs won in the early 80s. It is widely accepted now that Tottenham were ahead of the game when it came to recruiting foreign or non-British players, especially when you consider how many football clubs rely on imports in the modern era.
Second, the nascent football fan had spent the year in the wilderness of Division Two watching a young man called Glenn Hoddle play on a semi-regular basis. To cut a long story short, Glenn Hoddle is the best player I have ever seen wearing the shirt. And I have seen dozens of great players strut their stuff at both the Lane and numerous away games in the last 35 years or so.
If you want to know good Hoddle was, then I suggest checking out this video compilation of his greatest moments.
Hoddle played for Spurs for 10 years before departing for Monaco (managed by future Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger) before returning as a player/manager with Swindon Town and then Chelsea (pre-Abramovich). He also managed the England national team—qualifying for the 1998 World Cup—and Southampton before coming home as Spurs manager … a return that, sadly, did not end well when he was sacked in 2003.
Despite his tenure coinciding with some of the most mediocre performances and players ever seen at the Lane, Glenn Hoddle remains my all-time footballing hero, and is likely the catalyst for why I became a Tottenham fan.
But I digress. The origin story is the one thing that all sports fans share and, as such, it takes on a symbiotic relationship that is not predicated on investment or even attendance.
Some stories are related to family members or tradition. Others might be based around where you live or study. I have friends who started supporting their football club because they liked the color of their shirts, while I even know people who claimed an allegiance because of a certain player.
And then there are some fans who follow a team because they either win things or have the financial resources to buy whoever they want, whenever they want … yes, I am looking at you, any Manchester City fans post-2008.
Timing Is Everything
So, why am I a Tottenham fan?
I could not have known when I sat in my seat with my hands over my ears in 1976 that this was the start of a journey that would take a prominent role in the next four decades of my life.
And it would be fair to say that the team has treated me to more pain and misery than any other entity, and the moments of joy have been basically that … moments. Brief glimpses of the promised land that are merely preludes to me shouting at the TV in frustration once again. Or refusing to read social media for at least next few hours.
My origin story was a mixture of both luck and a stated desire to watch a game in the flesh. The latter was relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, what mattered was that my Dad was not traveling abroad on a certain weekend and got tickets for Spurs vs Leeds.
Anyone who has read Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” will know that the author’s love of Arsenal was born when he went to a game at Highbury in the early-70s. The very next week, he was taken to White Hart Lane by his father but the die was cast. If my Dad had been home on September 18, 1976, then I could have been dressed in red rather than lilywhite for the rest of my life. And I would have watched my chosen team win titles and cups on a semi-regular basis. On the flip side, I don’t look good in red.
I got my first season ticket in 1981 (sitting with my Dad) and started going to games on my own in 1987 (which coincided with me being old enough to drink in pubs). I have seen Spurs play several times in Europe and, lately, the United States—mainly because a) I live in America and b) the global brand that is the English Premier League has meant that more people here have become “soccer” fans.
Following in the footsteps of my father, I have based my social life around the football season, which has meant that weekends away or holidays with girlfriends needed careful planning. Again, the increased level of global TV coverage since the mid-1990s made this easier. I have owned at least one replica shirt every season since 1980 and have a collection of Spurs-related memorabilia that is either in boxes or has managed to find a place on my bookshelves. I even jumped out of a plane wearing a Spurs shirt.
Since I moved to the U.S., I have become friends with a lot of American Spurs fans, a situation that has been helped (and occasionally hindered) by the current high profile that the club enjoys. Much of that is down to the plain and simple fact that it is very easy to watch football on TV almost anywhere in the world (I have now watched my team play “live” on four continents, for example), and the ubiquitous nature of the Internet.
Despite living across the pond, my love for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is unwavering. In some ways, my dedication to the cause has increased in the last nine years. I still have a season ticket, still buy replica shirts—mainly retro ones that are replacements for ones that I wore in my teens—and access as much Spurs-centric digital media as my patient fiancée will allow.
In addition, I have become part of the U.S. Spurs leadership, with a position on the board of Boston Spurs. This has meant that I get to interact with other Spurs fans on a regular basis, and while I may not agree with every social media rant or meltdown, the plain truth is that I consider fellow sufferers to be family. I may not have any real insight into their lives away from Spurs, but the fact that they align themselves with N17 and the Lane is (usually) enough for me.
We All Have A Story To Tell
At the end of day, my origin story is probably not a lot different from other sports fans. The journey since that day in 1976 has been filled with more downs than ups and I have sometimes questioned why I have put myself through 42 years of supporting a club that has the capacity to ruin my day on a regular basis. But that is why we become fans … there is no rulebook and no guarantee of success.
Tottenham Hotspur’s club motto is Audere est Facere (“to dare is to do”), a mantra—that I try to apply on a regular basis to my life. Granted, I have always wanted to make the most of our time on this mortal coil but supporting a club that essentially tells you to go and do things is very helpful.
And while I can’t supply any concrete answers as to why I was not only holding a Manchester United pennant at my first match, but also the reasons behind its purchase or why the Spurs shop was even selling it, I do know that my allegiance to the boys from White Hart Lane has made my life that much richer. Even if the trophy cabinet has not been as full as the one at Old Trafford.