Thursday, 16 December 2010

Football Fanship and Persuasion

"But why do you follow that team?"

My brother, a Cottager of the Paul Peschisolido aeon, brought this to my attention when in 2006 Chris Coleman was inexplicably fired by Alfayed. Or Alfayed Jr.

What compels us to one team? What are the charms that forge a strange(ways) belonging and scratch reason and indifference upon every kick off?

Firstly, the cause of my brother's disillusionment: How a club is run from the top down. It is worth reminding oneself of the cheap tricks of family, extended family, school mates and school bullies. Legacy and Location (sadly, this is the normal order). Financial investment. Emotional investment. Patterns of play. Tradition. And the individual talent.

I have, before, overheard the brilliantly irrational fan jump to what (s)he thinks is a more important question: "Are you a proper supporter?" These probes, usually accusations, are certainly related, though I would say that ever since the Taylor report, the (off-the-ball) melodrama of Italia '90 and the subsequent influx of middle-class fans, the 'proper supporter' knockout blow has become the tired air punch of the fat and the guilty. Straight-faced righteousness is responsible for the soggiest kind of literature and pub-talk about the game. To borrow a favourite, silly catchprase from British politics: class war is dead. In a boast, the self-described 'proper supporter' - of any social background - will reveal more about its failing ego than the game.

Why do I follow, I mean really follow, Spurs? (OK so I go for free a lot, and I rarely do away games.) Why did I travel back and forth from Leeds, and now from Brighton, to join in this masochistic ritual? Why did I go as far as to customise the web-address of my blog - this meeting of personal and quietly public writing - after love of my club? Well, passion I guess. And passions ought to provoke serious and mocking responses in equal measure. Under the influence of Fever Pitch (1992) - a hideously overrated autobiography about fanship, probably still worth reading eighteen years on - I have listed a few reasons for, and advantages and disadvantages of, having spent nearly two decades enthralled by Tottenham Hotspur's special brand of (recently elevated) mediocrity. 

1) Seven Sisters is a hole. The stadium is not. On the twenty-seven minute walk from the Underground exit to Bill Nicholson (R.I.P.) Way, everything is rotten. But when the gravel, the entrances and the food stalls are left behind, walking out into the surround sound is always a new experience. The blue and white sloping sea of White Hart Lane, filling before kick off, is my macrocosmic Dionysia; a swathing delight at drama that would disrupt the breath of any person interested in culture.

2) "Football is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom." (Danny Blanchflower)

Tottenham Hotspur has a tradition. This argument doesn't work when Peter Crouch is bringing things down from the sky for bystanders, though I'm not going to complain if Rafael van der Vaart continues to score the same goal every other game. For the too-young-to-remember, have a rummage through your parents' VHS cupboard at the next available opportunity. Recorded somewhere between Top of the Pops 2 and vintage pornography, you might chance upon Hoddle's volleys, Villa's slalom and Gazza's belter against our filthiest rivals. And don't understimate Gary Mabbut's bravery, or Steffen Freund's aggression. Match of the Day is inconceivable without us.

3) We do lots for charity.

4) Harry Redknapp is the next England manager. He is a meticulous tactician. His every bone is humble. England deserves his services. (First and final sentences might not be sarcastic.)

5) If nothing else, we are worth a sympathy shag. Our captain left on a Bosman to said filthiest rivals. Ten years have past but even now - as I type out the fifth amendment in a room filled with cobwebs and a stopped grandfather clock - it hurts. I still want dark events to affect Sol Campbell's remaining lifetime. The experience was formative in so far as it hastened my moral education: don't expect loyalty or fidelity from anybody. If ever these virtues are disavowed by a friend or lover, deja vu assumes the gigantic form of a central defender lifting the Premiership title. The analogy all football fans know best - walking in on your best mate and your girlfriend, at it - is hard to refute. But until this happens, Campbell will remain the benchmark. I hate to harp on but there were many nightmares afterwards. And in the cinema, the incident would transfer a vengeance of blood lust. Sol Campbell never goes away. He just stands outside the railway stations I wait at, signing autographs and smiling in one of his Size XXL overcoats.

Readers who support other clubs will argue that you could edit place and person names, and publish the same blog post about any team. I agree in so far as the emotional life of football fans is consistent. But it is not at all protean. I know I am, I'm sure I am, I'm one club till I die. (An exception must be made for Wimbledon FC fans.) I was persuaded into this. It is impossible to be persuaded out.

By and large, idealism is safe and humorous within football. Especially on these shores. There are some idiots however, myself included, who sometimes refer to the game as a religion, approximating their status as a fan to a worshipper, or a sheep in a flock if you will. This is, of course, a ludicrous thing to suggest. And not just because managers actually answer our questions, passed on by priests Guy Havard and Garth Crooks, and offer reasons (sometimes even apologies) for the sickness they birth us into some afternoons. All this singing and proselytising is not done in the name of any Dear Leader. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, before a glass of sherry, will tell you Manchester United is bigger than any of its powerful representatives.

In the modern game there is a kind of stupid sacrifice and a desire for ignorance. Why do I bother? Next week I'm going to do something else. No, you won't. The Future of an Illusion has not conceded its worth. You will not change seats. You will wear the selfsame scarf and retro jersey to every match. Your happiness this weekend comes down to people you don't even know. What marries faith with football is the promise of eternity: an old ticket, torn seasons ago at the turnstiles, ketchup-stained and folded in a jar where I keep the most personal memorabilia. All is not lost. It really did happen:

Tottenham Hotspur 3, Sunderland 2 (December 2nd, 2005)

Scorers: Whitehead, Mido, Keane, Le Tallec and a late winner by Carrick.

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