What It Means To Be A Spurs Fan

This coming Saturday be part of the Spursshow Live as they talk about ‘Are Spurs Fans Special?’, featuring special fans and authors Julie Welch and John Crace, and special players, Gary Mabbutt and Terry Gibson. There’s a chance for the audience to ask questions and join in the chat. Part of the London Sports Writing Festival, it takes place at Lord’s, no less, kick off 3.30. Tickets still available here. I’ll be in the audience, come and say hallo. Here’s my take….

Life is full of our stories, our stories are full of our lives. We tell stories about ourselves, about what we do, what makes us laugh and cry, what makes our heart beat faster. It’s the way we make sense of our world and our place in it.

We tell those stories to ourselves because sometimes we are the only ones who will listen. In those tales we find out who we are, our identity, what it means to be us. We tell stories to other people about our lives so they know who we are and so others understand and inherit what’s important in the world. We shape those stories, the stories shape us. And so it goes.

Football fans have told stories ever since people first gathered on a muddy touchline to watch other people kick a ball around. You have to have those stories, otherwise watching football is the most absurd pastime ever. As if kicking a ball around isn’t trivial enough, we turn up to just watch.

Our football stories are about justification, a reason to be, reasons to believe, reasons to be there, to turn up next week and the week after. They’re an expression of what we feel when we see the game, feelings that cause a stir deep down and we’re not sure quite why. Stories about why football is more than a mere game, why we come back not just to watch any team but this team, our team. The team in white shirts and navy blue shorts.

All good stories are a mixture of fantasy and reality. Myths and legends create excitement and mystery, an aura around the ordinary, but myths don’t survive unless there is meaning at their core. Sometimes fantasy is the easiest way of conveying an understanding of reality. Spurs fans tell each other stories. About the Spurs Way, attacking football, quick, fleet of foot, pass and move. That the game is about glory, doing things in style. How winning cups is not just to do with silverware but the thrill, the atmosphere, the supporters. How frustration and disappointment is always just around the corner. Above all else, about loyalty.

We tell our stories to fellow Spurs fans so we can have a laugh over a pre-match beer. To our children so they will follow in our footsteps and if not, at least they will understand and take pity. To friends and colleagues in the workplace – it doesn’t matter if they don’t get it, it’s so they know who we are. To complete strangers, who will never see us again but see as we pass the proud cockerel on the ball, the navy blue and white, and know who we are. To ourselves, during interminable journeys to and from the ground, when we bash the credit once again, for comfort during restless nights or idle moments worrying about a result or an injury, a story that says, ‘this is why I do it, this is who I am’.

All fans of all clubs think they are special in some way, and it’s true. But if you know your history, you’ll find out that the Spurs Way, the path to glory, the loyalty, is no mere myth. There’s something distinctive about supporting this club and always has been. Being a Spurs fan means something, something deeper and more profound than just wearing a shirt. Trace that right back through our history to the very origins, it’s the golden thread that runs through the bad times, the good times and most of all, the ordinary times. It’s also about the future, and woe betide the club or its supporters if we lose it.

Tottenham were formed by a bunch of schoolboys gathering in the furtive nocturnal adventure of a flickering streetlight. It’s become known throughout the globe, there’s only one Hotspur who play at the world famous home of the Spurs. It’s a tale to excite the ages. As far as I or anyone else can tell, it’s completely true. The site of the lamppost itself may or may not be a myth, if you’re interested it’s second on the right as you go down the High Road from the Park Lane towards Seven Sisters. In 1882, before Arsenal, West Ham or Chelsea.

They played their first matches on Tottenham Marshes – walk over the level crossing past Northumberland Park station, about there – and since then have never played a home match more than 600 yards from that lamppost. World War 2 friendlies aside, ever. Consider that for a moment. Every single Spurs fan has walked in the same streets to watch our team. You have a direct connection with every Spurs fan that’s ever been. If that doesn’t mean something special, you have no soul and if you have no soul you’re not a Spurs fan.

This story has contemporary resonance. It’s the sense of place that unites us. The first fans walked to see their local team, then the easy transport links in this growing London suburb made the journey convenient. Now it’s very different. Spurs fans come from far and wide, from different places, backgrounds and cultures, but come to a run-down part of north London they do, for magic, passion and the history. That place is the one thing that unites us, with each other and our heritage. Unlike, say, Liverpool or Newcastle, we’re not part of the culture of the city or community. That’s why staying there is so significant. If we had moved to Stratford, of course the club would carry on but it would never have been quite the same. That heritage is who we are. The fans carry it on, same beliefs in the same streets.

The Spurs Way is the only way. Good football, on the ground, allow talent to flourish, don’t sit back and wait for the other lot to die of boredom. Usually dated to Arthur Rowe’s push and run side that won the Second Division in 1950 and marched straight on to the League title the following season, the Spurs Way has taken us to the historic Double with the best English team of all time according to contemporaries, the first British win in European cup completion and subsequent cup success.

This is the other story that unites us. There’s only one Hotspur and the Hotspur play good football, football the right way. It’s a story that goes back well beyond the 1950s, to Peter McWilliam’s team that won the Cup in 1921, to the famous 1901 Cup Final and the first and only non-league side to win the Cup. Spurs have always tried to play good football and success has come only when we have played the Spurs Way.

Again this is rooted in our origins. To demand the Spurs Way is to continue the heritage of our support. In those early years, Tottenham played many local teams. They fell by the wayside. Some players joined Spurs as the up and coming side, the team people wanted to play for and above all wanted to watch. Spurs’ support grew because we played good football on the Marshes.

In recent years, this story has played an important role in defining who we are because let’s face it, the Spurs Way has been aspiration not reality, and a distant one at that. The Spurs Way gives us a foundation in the past, a reason to be in the present and something to aim for in the future. In a sense it doesn’t matter so much if we can’t achieve it at any given time, as supporters we know what we want and this keeps us going when times are rough.

We know what’s important. Supporter unrest at Spurs has come not in marches to protest at only being 6th in the league for several seasons but when loyalty has been exploited and our heritage of support betrayed. When the East Stand was built in 1934, the club was praised for looking after the ordinary fan. The Shelf became the support of legend, then destroyed by executive boxes. Left on the Shelf, further fan protest, the move to Stratford, all about support and our history. It’s no coincidence that the 1882 movement of predominantly younger fans take their name from our year of origin and want not to take the club over but simply, importantly, to get behind the team and support the shirt to the hilt. They get it.

This transcends winning trophies. It’s not the winning that keeps supporters loyal. Don’t get me wrong, as I approach the age of 60 and 50 years of going to the Lane for, say, 95% of league games in that time, I want to win something as much as any fan. My son, who listened to the stories, absorbed rather than rejected them and now sits next to me on the Shelf, about 10 yards from where I have sat and stood, boy to man, for all that time, never fails to raise my levels of guilt when he says, ‘At least you have the Ricky Villa goal, dad.’ He’s made do with a couple of League Cups. But he’s stayed loyal, because he knows exactly who he is and what being a Spurs fan means. It’s about something deeper than just winning.

In his mid-twenties, he’s part of the Premier League generation who have grown up knowing nothing else. This generation grew up knowing Graham, Gross and Francis, not Nicholson, inviting adverse comparisons with our most bitter London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea. Here lies another clue to what makes Spurs support distinctive. The true test of supporter loyalty comes during the bad times and the Spurs have always turned out come what may. When Arsenal came to north London, the gloryhunters flocked to Highbury but the Spurs stayed loyal. They kept on coming throughout the twenties and thirties even though we won not a thing after 1921 and spent several years in Division 2. Relegated in 1977, we came in record numbers for the following season. Nothing changes – we stick with Spurs through rain and shine.

Whisper this, but old school Chelsea and Arsenal fans are the same as us. However, the new generation have come because Chelsea have bought success and their fans revel in it. It denies them a sense of perspective. I like my footballers to have a touch of arrogance but not the fans. It’s not their fault. Pretty soon the answer to the question, ‘where were you when you were s**t’, will be, ‘well, in the womb actually.’

It’s all they know but there’s no substance to it. Take away the cash and there’s quicksand whereas at Spurs we have rock solid foundations capable of withstanding the erosion of failure. Why else would that generation support Spurs? Not gloryhunters or even locals sadly, but because it’s in the family or in the neighbourhood. They’ve learned about being a Spurs fan through hearing those stories so that’s what they have become. Now Spurs supporters in the States and elsewhere talk of choosing Tottenham precisely because of this substance, because they want to be different from their gloryhunting mates. They are proud of our heritage, loyal to the core. It’s as if a mirror has been turned on us, those of us who have been around for a bit longer. Reflected back to us is our loyalty, the things we stand for and they want to be part of it.

In his book Vertigo, a funny and wise account of being a Spurs fan, John Crace brings our story up to date. Yes, we have the Spurs Way, alongside this we have decades of underachievement, an heroic sense of injustice, a pathological ability to rewrite failure as success and an infinite capacity for self-destruction. He goes on to say that this has created a sense of the absurd and most of all of fallibility amongst supporters.

Like John I don’t say this as a bad thing. Goodness knows it has led to some dark times, being a Spurs fan. The anxiety, frustration that we could be more, feeling distant from a club that makes these terrible decisions about managers and players over decades, the sheer bloody expense and perhaps worst of all, sometimes it’s been so dull for so long. But it brings a sense of perspective that is completely healthy. It makes me a better person. It’s an antidote to the overweening hubristic expectation and culture of instant gratification that bedevils modern fandom to the point where some many English Premier League football supporters apparently find no joy in this wonderful game whatsoever. These days, that makes us different.

The new ground is a watershed moment in the history of Spurs fandom. The club could do irrevocable harm to their relationship with the supporters unless they take note of our heritage. Looks like it won’t be the generic modern stadium with its cool, sterile lines and atmosphere to match. The stands are close to the pitch and we have an ‘end’ to allow us to take over, make it ours and make some noise.

However, at the Trust meetings we hear feedback about the bank wanting guaranteed income streams and maximising revenue to justify the loans. If you build it, we will come but the temporary fans, the South Korean tourists, the curious, they may be filling the spare seats and Stubhub’s profits now but they’ll go elsewhere in a flash. It’s about more than charging what you can get away with in the short-term. Spurs must think about the long-term, the loyal fans, their family, encourage more locals. That’s who we are.

One more thing that’s genuinely special. There’s nothing like White Hart Lane for a big game. The stands keep the noise in and what a noise 36,000 Spurs fans can make. I’ve seen rival players visibly wilt. I’ve seen our players inspired, whether that be Anderlecht in 84 or Arsenal in 2015, nothing’s changed. It’s an illustrious history of devotion. I’m proud to weave some modern myths and tell my stories to my grandchildren. I want them to be as proud of being a Tottenham Hotspur supporter as I am.

29 thoughts on “What It Means To Be A Spurs Fan

  1. Thank you ever so much for writing this article. You have put my feelings into words in an explicit and eloquent manner. As a Barbadian living in the Caribbean I don’t get to The Lane as often as I would like but I did go for the Stoke game in 2014 which we lost. It did not matter to me I was just happy to be there and every year I try and buy a few T shirts or something hoping my small contribution will help. I always tell people we may not win much but win lose or draw you always enjoy a Spurs game. As I sat in front the TV watching the Derby last week, feet and hands sweating with anxiousness my heart swelled with pride to see our lads chase the Arsenal clean off their own pitch. TOTTENHAM TILL I DIE.

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  2. Great stuff alan. Really reminded me of what it means to be Spurs. Like you my dad has been going since the early 60s and sits on the same spot in the shelf he’s had since he was a boy. Before every single home game, he walks past the famous lamppost and will touch it for good luck… Doesnt always seem to work, but it’s a habit now! If we ever have a Wembley cup final, my dad will leave hours before the game, and will go via Spurs; he’ll go to the marshes first, take a lap around the lane, then touch the lamppost before making it over to Wembley!

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  3. Alan we had Chivers but really you’ve given me shivers.
    I think I was there with them at the lampost. It was the genesis of our club. Your timing is perfect Alan and Im still in shivers and the thought of a future like that of a distance past seems on the horizon.
    What can I say?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant article, encapsulates what it is to be a Spurs fan. My first game Sheffield Wednesday April 1962 4-0 to the Spurs.
    I’ve had divorces, moved houses, changed banks etc but one constant in my life for 50 plus years are my beloved Spurs.
    I was at Wembley when Ricky Villa scored that goal & still get emotional when I think about. How lucky I have been to see some of our special players over those years ( for me Dave Mackay or Graham Roberts).
    White Hart Lane is special & we are indeed at a cross road with the new Stadium, I hope & dream that it will only add to the Spurs traditions.
    I have often wondered why Spurs are so important to me, Alan’s article goes some way in explaining.
    Yes I feel guilty for passing my love of Spurs to my son, however he has passed that love on to my Grandson & I think we may be moving into a special era with Maurico but being a Spurs fan, how many times have I felt that before.
    COYS

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  5. Alan. Without any doubt about it, this is your best article yet
    You have managed to put into words exactly my feelings for Spurs
    Like you, I have been a regular at The Lane since the mid sixties and have seen the great, the good and some downright awful players over the years but never has my loyalty wavered
    Thankfully all 3 of my kids have followed me in this daft passion that we all have and my eldest granddaughter can’t wait until her “next game” at The Lane
    A lifetime of loyalty is what makes supporters of any club something special and we at Spurs seem to have this by the bucket load (unlike the glory hunters of some other teams)
    Hopefully both you and I will be around in another 50 years to see our great great grandchildren following in our footsteps, although by then I should imagine we’ll both be sat in our wheelchairs dribbling a lot but still feeling the buzz of being a true supporter

    Up the Spurs

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    • Thanks Steve, high praise and I’m sincerely grateful. We’ve passed it on to our children and grandchildren, and I hope we can watch the future unfold sitting together in the new ground.

      Regards to all, Alan

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  6. Brilliant read Alan, many thanks!
    My first game, Spurs 3 – 2 WBA: 71/72 season,
    I sat in a wooden seat in the old west stand and my Mum wondered why I stunk of cigar smoke when I came home.
    Must dash! I’m off to by a time machine.

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  7. Alan, marvellous piece, it brought tears to my eyes.
    My first game at the Lane was the 7-0 thrashing of Burnley on 7th September 1968 – I cried when I got home and realized we hadn’t moved up in the table. I was seven at the time. My second game was the 1-1 draw home draw in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final on 4th December of the same year. If my memory serves me right from one of our previous chats, your first game may have been one of those two games!?
    Hoping Ritchie G is right and that we are on the cusp of something special. Some silverware to mark your 60th, eh, now that’s a lovely thought. Cheers pal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My first game was the last game of 66-7, home to Sheffield Utd, but you have a good memory, I have written about that Burnley game. I lived in west London at the time so my parents would not let me travel on my own. Mum said she would either take me to the Burnley game or buy me a much coveted Spurs shoulder bag and I could go on my own to Brentford, my local side and a bus-ride away.

      I thought about this for ages then chose the bag. Missed a Greave hat-trick from memory and never again declined the chance to go to Spurs.

      Regards,

      Alan

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  8. Alan I think we are all Spurs supporters AND Alan supporters. Bravo!!!!
    Please write the book and by the way in the movie can I please be Dave Mackay???????

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  9. My first game …my dad took me to see us play Newcastle in about 1950 I was 2 or 3. I of course dont remember the game but in the mid fifties went mostly to reserve games. Came to Canada for a holiday in 1957 and saw two Tottenham games in Toronto.My Uncle here got me into dressing room at half time and I met Danny and the boys.In 1958 my uncle kent ne his season ticket quite iften and I saw Billy Nicks first game as manager 10-4 vrs Everton…saw all the home games in 59 and in 1960 my Dad bought a season ticket in the East Stand with my uncle and I saw every game at home and went on the Supporters club #1 coach to all the away games with my Uncle. As the season started to unfold more and more coaches were added…I was at Sheffueld Wednesday where we lost our first game I think it was 14 or 15 games unbeaten,won every except one draw…the mood was brilliant and in the coach I was on was the first singing if Glory Halleluyah..momentum built up…bigger and bigger…as the season went on it was amazing…everything was Lillywhite and Navy. Went to Wembley for the Leicester final…the we bought Greaves. We were just about it. Saw us play tge great Benfica team of the time Semi final of the Eurooean Cup…we deserved to beat Benfica and ut woukd gave been a dream match up with Real Madrid….We were in the Garden….its time its tine to fet back to it.
    COYS.

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  10. Alan,
    I loved this piece, maybe my favorite post that you have created. Why? Because it encompasses what it means to YOU to be a Spurs fan, all these past 50 years and that is special, and because we can all see in your thoughts small pieces of why we are fans. In a lifetime of loving something so much that it sometimes hurts, we can see who we are and what we have become. My timeline as a support is so much shorter, my first game as you know was last Monday Spurs 3- Villa 1, but in my eyes no less important, and not once have I been made to feel that it isn’t as well. That is the beauty of it all, not once have I been shouted down , as a Yank or new supporter, I have been taken into the folds of the Spurs cloth, and welcomed and supported without judgment, that is special , and is in my eyes why Spurs supporters are truly special. Learn the history, read the books, watch the videos and loving the badge becomes second nature.

    For me personally, Spurs has created a global family of supporters, folks I have never and may never know or meet, but with whom I feel a connection or kindred ship. It has been an introduction in my travels, whether it be with another Spurs fan or even an opposition supporter, it’s an ice breaker, conversation starter and a way to learn about my fellow man. Many years ago while walking through a tiny village in Spain, an African busboy was taking out the trash, and noticed the Cockerel, he stopped cocked his head and said “no man, Arsenal”, we then spent ten minutes jabbering on about which team was superior. No hatred, no agenda just two dopes arguing the merits of two clubs thousands of miles away, neither of us had even see our respective clubs in person at that point. Understand that this is a passbook to the world in some fashion, and should be treasured.

    Obviously the joys of marriage, parenthood and career are paramount but the passion and connection with others that being a part of a club entails is very different, maybe we are inherently herd animals, we crave a closeness, and common thread. Time stands still in a crowded ground.
    Thanks again
    Ed

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    • Glad you enjoyed it Ed. The heritage means a lot to supporters abroad. I find the stories from people like you in the US fascinating, which is what I was getting at towards the end of the peice, where you treasure the past, understand it perfectly and it becomes a reason to support the club.

      Thanks again, Alan

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      • Alan,
        Glad to add my thoughts on occasion. Here’s what I find fascinating. I have been a diehard NY Jets fan my entire life, a similar team to Spurs, one title 1968 and unremitting heartache since. I grew up in NY state and had a connection to the Jets since they won their Superbowl on my birthday with one of the most memorable leaders in Joe Namath and with one of if not the greatest upsets in SB history. Now at the age that I began routing for them, all I knew was that I had a small connection, which grew to an avid , some might say pathologic support. Through all the years of supporting the Jets, traveling to NY for regular season games, playoffs and such, I never felt a kindredship to other supporters,like I feel with Spurs fans, why is that? Am I older, wiser, and more aware of my mortality? I do not think so, the professional teams in the states especially the NFL, I believe are not interested in the idea of maintaining “local” feel and have not been for years. The Jets and Giants left NYC for the New Jersey swamps years ago, left the ground roots of city support as the populous moved out into the ever expanding suburbs, moved for tax reasons and for ease of transport to and from the game. Sound familiar? I think it is important that Spurs not only keep the North London address but keep a feeling of smallness , if you will, baseball has figured this out, (it started with Camden Yards) the new stadiums are large but have a angles, nuances and jogs to keep a homey feeling. Please no oval saucer without a soul! It is the reason I had to see the Lane. Maybe it’s because your football teams are clubs, while they most certainly are global brands, and businesses in every cruel sense, I still see a club, patina-ed black and white photos of men chasing a ball, pie in the sky, perhaps. I hope not. It is brought me great joy the past 8 yrs or so, to watch , cheer and connect, to be a child again, that’s all we can truly hope for.
        Thanks
        ed

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  11. Fantastic stuff Alan. I’m a huge Spurs fan too and inherited that from my late father who inherited the same from his father. I’m only 38 so my memories of the lane didn’t start until later than most others who have posted. My first visit to the lane was against Arsenal, Bergkamp put them in front and then Teddy and Chris Armstrong brought it home for us. Since then I’ve been to many games and have been a season ticket holder. I now reside in Brisbane Australia after marrying an ozi and have 2 children who I’m already installing the Spurs magic into 🙂 I really miss Spurs and get to the games when I come back but we have amazing support here in Australia which is fantastic. So glad that Spurs are my club and wouldn’t wish to support anyone else ever! I’ve never been able to truly articulate how special supporting this club is because it’s complex and runs deep but you have done it perfectly Alan. Thank you

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    • Thank you kindly. Heartening to know how many fans across the world feel the same, including now your kids! Good start to your Spurs career there!

      Best to you and your family, Alan

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  12. Alan, I was at the Spurs event at Lords yesterday but failed to find you…..
    How could I have identified you? Were you one of those who asked a question to the panel?

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    • Gah, sorry to have missed you! Always hard in these things, I have missed people myself in the past.

      I didn’t ask a question, we sat near the front, I was with a younger guy with grey hair and my tall son, What little hair I have left is brown, brown glasses. Afterwards I was mingling.

      Next time, Regards, Al

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  13. Alan cheers mate! Cracking read had the tears welling up. Also good to know that others starteed going as children in the 50’s although i wasn’t able to get to so often having moved away from tottenham area earlier. The club is a big part of my families life with all 3 of my children 2 girls and a boy supporting the lillywhites and three of five Grandchildren. should get loyalty points for that. Will be back in UK in 2018 for good hope to get season ticket in somehow!!

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