Two years ago almost to the day, was one of the absolute best days in my fifty years of being a Spurs fan. I travelled to the ground to collect my tickets for the Champions League final. The air around the ground crackled with anticipation. Everyone was smiling as we stood in the queue. The senior steward said in forty years, he had never seen people so happy. We shared our stories of the scramble to make travel arrangements, where we were when Moura’s goal went in and most of all, our sheer surprise and delight at being there. We couldn’t find the right words. We shook our heads and gazed into the middle distance in disbelief and wonder.
This fan reaction transcends league position, top four and the pursuit of trophies. It’s the manner in which this had been achieved. Fans, team and manager never closer. They had given their all and surpassed all our expectations. One of our own is more than a chant, it’s an expression of faith.
And so to last night, a sour, bitter occasion, fans in the top tiers a physical representation of the abyss that now separates the club and disillusioned, disassociated supporters. Last night’s performance was appalling. Beyond blaming individuals, the interim manager, the end of season, it was simply beyond belief, one of those games where you can’t comprehend why and how professional players should all play so badly. Some of our defending was astonishingly poor, as if these were, say, individuals from another culture with a notion of how football works but who have never actually played it before.
Step out of our Tottenham bubble for a moment. Football welcomed back the fans. Watching games this week, you could see the pleasure it gave supporters, just to be back, to be back home. But Spurs are having none of this. Pre-match reading from the chairman, a series of bland platitudes about “the values of our great club”, dripping with contempt and hypocrisy from someone who has consistently claimed to the custodian of our heritage, and just as consistently fails to graps what this means for fans and for the team.
Clubs across the PL reduce prices as a small gesture of gratitude, in Burnley’s case it was free. Not much, but it’s something, it’s recognition that it’s been hard for fans, that there is a relationship. That fans exist. But Spurs charge the most, £60 which for seats behind the goal represents an increase. Free food, and they seemed surprised when fans actually ate it and it ran out. Fans in the top tier, as far away from the players as possible, thereby chucking away the value of home support for the team, relegated to TV background noise. Players scuttling off the pitch at the final whistle, their only thought to get away as quickly as they could. An apparent refusal to emerge for the traditional lap of appreciation (doesn’t matter what you think of it, it always happens, it’s recognition, it’s a relationship), only to appear 30 minutes later when a mere few hundred stubborn die-hards were scattered around the cavernous stands. Harry stayed, in tears.
This all takes place in a context, where the club’s botched attempt to play with the big boys exposed their misdirection and untruths, which served to create unity among usually partisan football fans in their derision for the project. And this is how Spurs chose to respond. A group of senior officials and board members presumably sat down and decided this was how to do it. This was their considered response.
Fans enter willingly into an unholy, unbalanced relationship with the club they decide to support. Fans take the vicissitudes of football fortune in their stride. We don’t expect too much from a club. It can be a real slog but that becomes a badge of honour, of fidelity and commitment. We don’t expect much but want something back. Occasional recognition of what that devotion means in our everyday lives. Being treated as an individual, not a customer number, and all that relationship implies. On the field, success helps but players who are fully committed matter more. For what it’s worth, I study this stuff as well as live it at Tottenham, and pretty much all fans across the leagues have this in common. We don’t expect much but we do want something back. The Tottenham board would do well to reflect on their recent actions in this light. Start with not taking us for granted.
Tottenham fans of successive generations can deal with the average and the mediocre. We’ve had some practice after all. It’s been embraced as a sign of a deep loyalty and commitment that goes beyond on field success, in contrast to the excruciating entitlement of younger fans of some of our rivals. But has there ever been a time when we have wilfully thrown away so much in so short a period?
Chatting about this on twitter last night, fellow supporters came up with a few rivals, the Graham and Francis years, the early nineties, failure to capitalise on Pleat’s groundbreaking 1987 team, or my lowest point, Pleat’s caretaker spell after Hoddle was sacked when Levy was prepared to mark time near the bottom of the table for several months with a midfield of a combined age approaching a hundred and no permanent manager.
But this is dereliction of duty on another level. I hesitate to use the word achievement to describe this potentially catastrophic shambles, but it is a remarkable series of decisions to dispose of an unprecedented level of goodwill, a fine manager playing in our club tradition, the buzz of the new stadium, umpteen seasons of top six finisishes, alienated Kane and leave a team denuded of quality with no manager.
Any analysis of how we have fallen has no neatly delineated starting point, no big bang. Levy’s failure to fully support Pochettino in the market, which I wrote about at the time rather in retrospect, is a tipping point in the club’s history. Levy compounded his gross error with the vanity appointment of Jose Mourinho, again covered in past pieces, a manager and club that was always an ill-fitting match. Spurs needed a manager who could rebuild an ailing squad over time on a limited budget, with the patience to bring players through and find value in the market. Everything that Mourinho is not in other words, and to be fair to him, has never pretended to be.
His legacy is a divided, fractured squad, mentally and physically unfit, ill-coached and drained of confidence. If you think this is bad, remember that there could be worse to come. Spurs are, I assume, short of money, the team needs major rebuilding and rejuvenation, with the deficiencies of individual players ruthlessly exposed over the last few months. This is urgent but we have no manager. When an international tournament takes place, little transfer business gets done until it is over.
I didn’t go last night, so it is a sobering thought that I may never see Harry Kane play in a Spurs shirt ever again. He may or may not go, but that’s not the point. Our main man, our goalscorer, provider, our inspiration, our own, wants to leave. It is utterly dispiriting that it has come to this, that our club stretches the loyalty of such a dedicated man to snapping point. It’s also a message to any player who Spurs want to buy – you really don’t want to be here.
If there is a productive way forward, supporters have to be at the very least involved, and may well take the lead. The outpouring of fury at the superleague proposals has led to several positive outcomes. Football supporters have been reminded of the connections between us, that what we have in common is greater than that which divides us, and the inestimable significance of the history of the English football pyramid. The government is involved. Meaningful proposals regarding an independent regulator are on the table.
There is a long way to go and much to be done, but these debates take place in a changed atmosphere, where those that run the game are compelled to take their responsibilities to supporters and to the English game more seriously. This is no revolution – we understand that clubs are businesses too – but the difference is, there should be limits to how far they can go, where fans are a factor and where large investment entities cannot exploit clubs without boundaries and limits being in place.
This is about supporters understanding what makes an impact. It is an understanding of what hurts people who run football clubs and run the game, and using that power for constructive change. I don’t condone any violence to individuals at the Old Trafford protest, but it made football sit up and take notice. Fans have been driven away from United by the actions of their owners, not by those protestors.
The Spurs board’s decision to enable fan representation on the board is a major concession in response to concerted pressure from the Trust, angry fans and sustained, organised co-operation between representatives of supporters’ groups, where our Trust has been extremely active. I’m a member of the Trust and voted for the motion for directors to step down. It brought home to board members the anger of supporters, that they bear personal responsibility for where we are and that there are potential consequences, in case for their status. It also offered a way forward in the form of fan representation.
Regular readers of Tottenham On My Mind know that I blog as myself, openly. My life’s work as a social worker is fundamentally about mediation and talking problems through to find a mutually beneficial outcome. So I do not come lightly to such action. But sometimes, and only after all other opportunities have been exhausted, you have to draw a line. In this case, the Trust despite their scepticism, regularly discussed these matters with the board, and the board lied over an extended period. So draw a line, and then talk about that.
Anyone who has been part of trade union negotiation knows this. Draw the line, keep talking and it focusses minds, from which change emerges. I strongly suspect the club did not expect this reaction. In their statement, they say they did not realise the ESL plans were so far advanced. This is entirely implausible. This is Daniel Levy. Financially prudent, cautious and risk-averse.
I believe Spurs were part of the ESL Sordid Six from early days. Derided because of our lack of success on the field, this in fact makes us prime candidates. We desperately need to be part of the ESL precisely because we’re not doing well on the pitch. This is the only way we could guarantee the promised riches, and we needed it now for fear of falling behind. We’re good for the others because we have big crowds, loyal fans, and are 10th in the money league. Plus, our bargaining position is not strong. Weak, willing and wealthy, to the ESL members we were the perfect partners.
Their idea of calling for compromise is to have a dig at the Trust. Thus they reveal their tactics, divide and rule. Undermine the Trust because they are the best representatives of supporter interests that we have. The club scrutinize social media. They know many do not support the Trust actions for various reasons. Fine, fans express their support in different ways but let’s be clear – in this instance this are tactics to divide and rule, as is the undecided method of electing the board member, so progress but beware.
Last week, you may have seen Ajax’s gesture to their fans, where they melted down one of their trophies into a star for every one of their season ticket holders. Not possible at Spurs because our only silverware is a couple of chocolate coins down the back of the boardroom sofa after the kids Christmas party. It’s also not possible because the board would never think of anything like that. Ajax, another multimillion-pound company, have a different concept of their relationship with supporters. It’s a symbol of something different, something meaningful, of giving something back. At Tottenham, we get a free burger, provided they haven’t run out.
This has become, without me trying, an end of season appraisal before the season has finished. Perhaps this is me wishing it would all go away, where the final league position becomes a secondary consideration as supporters reel from the damage inflicted on our club. Where good judges suggest a lower league position is something to be thankful for because we miss out on a third tier European competition.
Worst for me, I realise I have to end with something I never thought I would have to say. Spurs are part of my life, but I’m glad I didn’t go last night.