Tribalism is the essence of being a football fan. United in support of our obscure object of desire, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, we pledge everlasting love and set aside other relationships in preference to the one that truly matters. We have our colours, our temple of worship, our rituals. At games or out and about, I strike up conversations with perfect strangers because they are navy blue and white. The Lane, just before kick-off, I shake hands with people I see more frequently than I do most of my friends and relatives, people with whom I feel a deep common bond in a place where I am more at home than anywhere else on earth. I don’t know their surnames, where they live, what they do or think, anything of any significance, yet none of this matters, because we are Spurs.
Scratch the surface, however, and deep fissures shatter this fragile unity. At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve reached after reflecting on how this blog has dealt with some of the major issues that face the club. Two topics have produced more comments than any other articles that I’ve written over the past couple of years, namely Stratford and the Madrid tickets. Not necessarily more views than other pieces, in fact ironically my most read article is an innocuous match report on this season’s away game at Everton that was picked up by Everton sites and messageboards, Surprised and pleased at my even-handed approach, they extended fraternal greetings as fellow football supporters and wished us good luck in Europe. It’s the reaction that has been markedly different, revealing deep divisions not just on the topic itself but, significantly, on the very nature of being a Spurs fan.
There are several pieces on Stratford; the comments sections on a couple are not for the fainthearted. The single biggest issue to face Spurs since the club was in deep financial distress under Scholar was bound to provoke a meaty debate. Last week I offered some constructive criticism of the ticket office’s appalling treatment of fans trying to buy Madrid tickets but the fascinating comments section, which as a regular correspondent noted somewhat disconcertingly for an author was as good as the article, revealed distinct differences of opinion about the solutions.
To be very clear – keep the comments coming. I read them all, often respond and don’t censor or delete them. If you take the time and trouble to not only read the blog but also comment, I’m genuinely grateful. Interaction is what blogging and the internet is all about. This piece is not about who is right and wrong. Perhaps I was being naive but the ferocity with which some people got stuck into to fellow Spurs fans did take me by surprise. With the OS, for example, I’m anti-Stratford but understood the concerns of people who see it as the way forward. The fairest way of distributing tickets for big games is via the loyalty points system, not perfect but the least worst. However, several people rightly pointed out that if they have a membership, they are just as entitled to go for the tickets as anyone else. In fact, a wider distribution encourages a broader based support.
In the end, we’re all Spurs, right? Wrong apparently. As the debates raged, the nature of a being a fan came into dispute. Are people who have been attending games for many years more a fan than others who come once or twice a season? Younger fans in this equation will always be at a disadvantage because of their date of birth. Family circumstances and money prevent an increasing number of supporters from coming to see the club they love. When I was in this position for a few years, I remember listening on the radio to a home game when we were near the bottom of the table and physically being in contortions of agony until victory. Would I have been more of a fan if I had been at the ground? Yet who can deny the phenomenal dedication of those who give up their time and money to follow them around the country. Some tried to find the coefficient between the two. With Stratford, both sides saw themselves as defending the club’s future, both with very different views as to how this might be achieved.
To repeat myself, I’m not talking here about who is right or wrong about Stratford or ticket distribution: I’ve written about that elsewhere, feel free to comment. Rather, I’m taking this as evidence of divisions within Spurs fans that are exposed whenever problems arise. I’d say that the one thing we agree about is that we get behind the team, but the fact is, there’s disagreement there too, the two extremes being those who cheer on regardless and those who feel justified in complaining openly by booing or abusing our own team and/or players. Most of the time it’s a comforting and humbling experience to be part of the worldwide Spurs community. Sometimes, that comfort is an illusion.
Ironic that I’d been mulling this over in a week when a 4% rise in season tickets has been announced. I’ll pay of course, and Daniel Levy knows I will. More importantly, he knows that if I don’t then someone else will. For the record, my ticket has gone up by over 6%. Increased operating costs are the reason, apparently. I work for a charity. We have cut our costs as much as we dare because of the current climate, but Spurs are seemingly immune from the pressures we all face because the law of supply and demand has come down heavily in their favour. Increased revenue from Europe and TV ( did I see an increase of over 40% mentioned?) has not been reflected in concessions to the fans. There’s no moral imperative to consider the loyal fans – but again, I’m being naive. Levy knows we are divided. I’m reminded of the industrial disputes of the 70s and 80s. Two factors overruled everything else – the unity of the workforce and how real was the possibility of a strike. Levy knows our weaknesses and will exploit them.