I’ve nothing against Joe Hart. He cops a lot of stick but he’s a decent player, albeit one whose declining standards have been unfailingly exposed. But his time-wasting was high comical art. His thirst whenever he had to take a goal-kick, the slow draft from his water bottle, the meticulous positioning of the ball…positively Fosteresque.
I was livid. But here’s the thing – it’s not important. Not really. A minor irritant in the scheme of things. A projection of my frustration at Spurs’ inability to get past Burnley’s stout defending. Spurs dawdle to run the clock down, of course they do and so they should. It’s not as absurd as a grown man of temperate mood bawling at him to get on with it.
I know why. It reveals a truth about my life. This is football, this is Spurs and that matters. More than it should but it runs right through me, indelible and everlasting. It’s because Joe Hart made me feel alive.
So where were we? It’s been a while. Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Life. But I’m back on the beat because through it all, there’s Tottenham Hotspur.
I’m missing home. Home is the most emotive and profound word in any language. It’s where I am comfortable, nurtured, sustained. Where I feel the foundations beneath my feet. Where I can open my heart and soul. The new ground will be magnificent when we get there but the waiting hurts.
I feel it in my legs as I stroll up the incline from the station to Wembley. I feel it in what’s missing. The skip in the step as I turn the corner, knowing that the Lane is in sight. The sense of anticipation in the turnstile queue. Popping into the Antwerp pre-game if there’s time. Come back to me soon.
I sat down to watch England Croatia, then turned it off. Couldn’t bear to look at Wembley. A low point. That’s stupid, up there with cursing Joe Hart’s drinking habits, but I had had enough. Saw Harry’s goal though. True love.
My son and I discussed whether to go to those open days. Not the cost or timing, but two adults earnestly debating the meaning of spending a Sunday afternoon in an empty football ground. You can see why I long ago gave up trying to explain football support to nonbelievers.
We decided against it. Football grounds are about the fans, about being full and raucous and vulgar and fun. About the noise. I’ve never been to a pristine football ground. Doesn’t seem right. So if you don’t mind, I’ve leave the videos of the lightshow or the installation of the latest bit of cladding for the time being. Hope the test events go well without me. I’ve waited this long, so let’s hang on for the first game. Whenever that is.
Because when that first game kicks off, the ground beneath your feet will be shaking with the noise, concrete and steel breathing with energy and life, trembling with joy and the release of the pent-up frustration. Waves of noise rolling out across the pitch and washing the wait away. That’s the only opening ceremony that matters.
Tell you what I have done though. I bought my son a badge for Christmas. You think I’ve been standing still all this time, but no. What the hell, pushed the boat out and got one for my lapel too. East Stand, it says, and I always will be. This is why I’ve paid 25% more for a seat on the corner of the Shelf compared with getting a view from behind the goal. Because it’s stupid, because it’s home, because it’s right.
A couple of weeks ago, I chaired a meeting in Bruce Grove with people I hadn’t met before. They were anxious that I would not be able to find my way to their home but I reassured them. Might have done the journey once, twice or a thousand times in the last fifty years. I took the opportunity of apologising to them for the disruption that descends on them two or three times a month. Unsurprisingly, they like Wembley more than me.
The man of the house was reserved and quiet. That’s OK, talking about the things I talk about is not a regular topic of conversation. But football breaks down barriers. Through a shared love of the club, we communicated, first about football then about other things. He trusted me, we were on common ground. Afterwards, another professional complimented me on being able to get through when others had not. I gave Spurs the credit. That’s what being a fan can do like nothing else.
Had a look round the outside of the ground. Had to. Couldn’t resist that. By the way, there’s a reason why they only show you pictures from the High Road side. But then it quickly became a reminder of what we should have but don’t, and there was a long queue of kids in Chick-King so I slipped away.
There’s been some great stuff this season that I’m never going to take for granted, and anyway I want to savour it all. Those Champions League games, fighting to get out of the group against the odds and succeeding, great nights. Marveling at Harry Kane, no matter how often I watch him play, no superlative matches his contribution. Living through the Age of Sissoko, where the groans come because Moussa has gone off injured and not because he’s coming on: truly these are strange times. Fury at losing to United that lasted well into the week, a properly big game that we should have won and would have banished many doubts about the team’s ability to succeed in crunch games.
This is how I felt as a teenager. No different. The joy and pain, I want to feel both because it means that it still matters. That I am still me. Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Tottenham Hotspur are still there, the only constant in my life. I’ve moved away from my childhood home, losing all my friends in the process. Relationships begun and ended, opportunities missed more than taken, but with the navy blue and white there’s no regrets. That furious fire in the belly still burns.
I’ll talk a bit more about football next time. Promise.