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.