Spurs and Supporter Participation: Lame Duck or Fighting Cockerel?

For the past two seasons, the only legal way to buy and sell unwanted tickets for sold-out matches at White Hart Lane has been through Stubhub, an American ticket reselling company. Tottenham On My Mind joined other prominent Spurs websites and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust (THST) to create the Stop Stubhub campaign in protest against an arrangement which we believe is not in the best interests of supporters.

We generated considerable support both from within the fanbase and from supporters of other clubs who suffered the same arrangement. At the same time we were on the receiving end of criticism from other fans who were perfectly happy with the scheme.

A couple of weeks ago there was a resolution of sorts when Tottenham confirmed they had extended the partnership for another two years. I am not sure if this is an end to the campaign – clearly we’ve failed to stop Stubhub – or a beginning, of a new effort with the same aim but a longer timescale.

What Stop Stubhub has done, however, is provide me with my first sustained personal insight into the murky relationship between a Premier League football club and its supporters. I’m going to tell you what I found.

Spurs fans will know how Stubhub works. When a match is designated as ‘sold out’ season ticket holders can sell on any unwanted seats to other supporters. Stubhub pay Spurs a flat sum for the contract (the amount remains a closely guarded secret) and make their money by charging a percentage fee per ticket to both sellers and buyers.

The club gleefully trumpeted the arrival of the scheme as being in the interests of supporters, as if that was the reason it had been introduced. It’s true that season-ticket holders want a chance to sell unwanted tickets, given the high prices and the moveable feast of a fixture calendar. From next season, if Spurs get into the Europa League home matches can take place on any night of the week. It’s also true that demand is high because we are a well-supported club with a relatively small stadium.

However, this benevolent peer-to-peer ideology swiftly crumbled in the face of good old capitalist exploitation. Tickets for big matches went on sale for exorbitant mark-ups – a pair of Chelsea tickets last season was up for £1200. Meanwhile touts bought tickets from good folk who priced their tickets near face value then resold them, on Stubhub, for twice the price.

FSF 7

I had a real problem with this scheme then and I still do. It’s less about the actions of individual supporters, although personally I wouldn’t sell on to a fellow fan at more than face value, and much more about the actions of the club.

Tottenham Hotspur charge some of the highest prices in the country. This is blatantly exploiting the astonishingly loyal fanbase. They also benefit from television deals of staggering enormity, yet this is not enough. They then make more money from reselling tickets that they have already sold while a company takes money out of the game. They even had the cheek to imply that because ticket prices were so high, this was giving us a chance to recoup the money. Cutting prices would have had the same effect but clearly not an option. All this replaced a perfectly reasonable alternative in-house reselling scheme, which charged sellers a fee and sold on at face value to other supporters.

These and other objections, including the fact that tickets for matches designated as sold out, thus triggering Stubhub, were still on sale at the box office, were taken to the club by some of the campaign bloggers and (mainly) by the Trust. I have not been directly involved in any of the negotiations so there’s no inside knowledge here but I have learned two lasting lessons from the experience.

One is that Spurs’ fans are not a homogenous, cohesive group. To talk about ‘the interests of Spurs fans’ as I did above is to tread on extremely thin ice.

I write as someone who thinks of himself as aware, who reads what people write about Spurs and listens to what they say. I’m open to different ideas and, if I say so myself, possess an ability that’s increasingly rare in social media of being able to disagree with someone and still respect their views and their provenance as a supporter. I thought that broadly speaking most Spurs fans would share my objections to Stubhub even if they did not want to actively oppose the scheme. That is simply not true.

Many supporters, as loyal as I am, see Stubhub as a legitimate way of selling and buying tickets, of giving them a chance to make a bit of bunce as my dad used to say and/or get hold of a ticket for a big game. It’s a free country and a free market – if people want to pay, more fool them but it’s their right to do so, or so runs the argument. Others, the majority I suspect, simply don’t mind one way or the other. They just want to come and watch their team, have a chat, a drink maybe, then go home until the next time.

It was the same with the other big issue we have faced recently, the possible move to the Olympic stadium site. Powerful elements of what it means to be a supporter came crashing together, heritage, the value of place and the need to compete in the brave new world of the corporate global game. Big questions, important to us all and again seen very differently and very passionately by those who saw our long-term future as served in a new stadium next to White Hart Lane and those who saw the high income/low cost Stratford solution as enabling us to compete with the rich and powerful. We support the same team but in different ways, and who is to say one way is more authentic than another.

The other lesson is that the club does not have the interests of supporters at heart, however those interests may be defined, and therefore any blame for problems in the relationship should be laid squarely at their door.

They control what happens at the club and choose to take an intransigent approach. Therefore the power of supporters to change things is extremely limited and that includes the efforts of the Trust.

As a supporter, season-ticket holder, campaigner and Trust member, I appreciate was has been achieved at the same time being disappointed that we have not achieved more. Stubhub continues but the Trust have secured important concessions that set an upper limit on prices and prohibit so-called ‘flipping’, i.e. buying to re-sell. What I am satisfied with is that the Trust have done everything they could to pursue this and other issues affecting supporters, not easy in the face of resistance from a company, and let’s call them that for the moment to make it clear who they are, from a PLC that considers itself untouchable and accountable only to itself.

This is the context that defines relations between supporters and THPLC. It’s inescapable. I know they are accountable to shareholders but Levy and Lewis hold the majority so that’s all the major decisions sewn up right there. A couple of years ago, the club at the highest level was openly contemptuous and dismissive of supporter involvement.

To evaluate success or failure, let’s take a couple of examples. I like to think we are something more than customers or consumers. In reality, the PLC defines that relationship as it chooses according to the circumstances. The fans are great when they get behind the lads, travel all over England and Europe, but these same loyalists are dismissed if they dare to grumble, see Adebayor this year and AVB last. As ‘customers’ the ticket money disappears remarkably quickly from our accounts yet you can’t get through on the site to buy the tickets in the first place, not because of high demand so much as economising on the number of operators and servers available to meet demand that is utterly predictable.

Look outside the blinked confines of the world that is Tottenham Hotspur. One benchmark is the efforts of consumers and shareholders to change the way other large companies operate. I would say the success rate is infinitesimally low. Protest or march outside any big company, even organise shareholder action, nothing of any substance changes.

All clubs including Spurs exploit the loyalty they profess to admire and value. Shoppers and shareholders who moan about Tesco’s recent performance and prices can go to Sainsbury’s if they wish but we’re not going to the Emirates and that distorts the ‘customer’ relationship right out of shape. And don’t mention a boycott because one, not enough people will, two someone else will just sit in my seat if I give it up, three, the TV deal means the club have massive income from other sources and could play in front of empty seats as League sides in Italy do, and four, I’ve loved this club for a lifetime so why the bloody hell should I give up now.

One group in a similar position to football supporters are commuters. Like supporters, they come from different backgrounds, classes and income brackets and have one thing in common, in their case that they have to catch a train to get to work. Commuters have long-standing and well-organised representative groups. Rail staff also face spontaneous outbursts of passenger anger. The sight of a phalanx of commuters with Ian Hislop at its head surging towards the manager’s office of my local station was more terrifying than almost anything I’ve seen at a football ground. Yet it doesn’t make any difference. Southeastern Trains abuse their monopoly position by raising prices every year and not improving the service. I don’t have to point out the similarities.

Let’s also consider this in the context of how supporters’ movements at other clubs have fared. Trusts and supporters’ organisations have increased their involvement and control only when clubs have been in serious financial trouble. The sustained campaign against the Manchester United owners has been fought in the boardroom as well as in the stands and outside the ground. The Glazers are still there. Across town the City supporters’ club complains AGAINST Financial Fair Play because, they say, it unfairly stops their owners spending more money than everyone else, hardly an oppositional stance. At Newcastle, Pardew went but Ashley is still there, unmoved and milking the club dry. Liverpool has changed ownership but the Spirit of Shankly fights on because supporters are still not listened to closely enough.

The Stop Stubhub experience provides a good example of what I mean. The club have listened to the argument, then signed up for another two years. Is that failure of the campaign? In one sense it is of course, in that Stubhub is still with us. I’ve had a couple of emails criticising the Trust’s failure to shift the club on Stubhub from people who were in favour of Stubhub in the first place.

In another though, we have made some changes as I’ve mentioned above. Our experience became evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee investigating the shady aspects of ticket reselling. Freezing season tickets for a second year running has halted the inexorable 700% rise over the past decade and a half, a major achievement.

In this context the Trust have achieved a considerable amount. No one is giving up, it’s just that these are the facts of football life. Protests about anything that is unfair to supporters will and should continue so that THPLC cannot rest easy. The board of the Trust as well as those involved in Stop Stubhub know that better than anyone. I can’t speak for them, that’s just my honest assessment.

We’ve gone from a club which ridiculed supporter involvement and activity a few years ago, let alone responded to it, to one that is reacting and changing its position, albeit in limited terms. That is something to be proud of.

So me. I have joined the Trust twice, once in the old days when it was run by some decent, hardworking folk but, well, they did not get very far because they weren’t up for a challenge. Disillusioned, I rejoined about a year ago because it was clear the body had been resurrected as something different, and if I could help with that rejuvenation in some small way, I would, and should.

I gave it a chance. I know some of them, partly because over the years a few have contacted me to say they read the blog, partly by attending meetings, once by standing in the rain at a demo outside the PL HQ, because we cared about supporters. Several of the Board have a background in activism, one has been elected by her peers nationally to negotiate with the PL. Whatever anyone thinks about the Trust, don’t think they are mugs.

I’m prepared to engage with the club whilst remaining deeply suspicious. To me, that’s a healthy approach, one that I see the Trust as sharing. I’m pleased that the club in the latest THST minutes have been more open with their approach to building a squad but I’m not under any illusions, pleased that Pochettino is doing a reasonable job but knowing that he came here probably because he was prepared to accept Levy’s financial restrictions on the playing budget that in my view have severely hampered our development over the past few years. If he was first choice, which I doubt, that’s the reason why.

I’m not naive. I used to be a shop steward. I led my office in two strikes, one of which lasted 5 weeks. I went to meetings, ran the welfare service, stood on picket lines and, the most difficult of all, explained to my wife why we didn’t have any money. The dispute wasn’t about wages, it was about the safety of receptionists and counter staff in council offices. It didn’t affect me directly, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.

At the beginning of the 6th week, we marched back to work together, in solidarity. We got some of what we wanted, including important concessions on support and working conditions, but in the end we couldn’t succeed with every demand. You work hard, do your best, take what you can and plan the next campaign. There’s always a question about where that point of compromise lies. You have to take something, or else lose everything.

Demo? I’ll stand outside the club or the PL for that matter. Complain? Where’s my pen and paper? Go to meetings. Work hard, do your best, take what you can and plan the next campaign. That’s the right thing to do.

This is all my personal opinion. I don’t claim to speak for anyone else. It’s in keeping with the way Tottenham On My Mind has always been, a blog with a single voice, open, honest, using my real name because of a touching faith that if you treat people properly, they will respond in kind. Too old to change now. I guess this is a personal tidying up of the feelings generated by the Stubhub experience. I blog so I share, I share so I blog.

New stadium, ticket prices – the one big issue. Price it wrong and a generation of fans will be lost, us older ones will be alienated, but there is a precious, precious opportunity to focus on. Safe standing on the agenda too, excellent. Let’s plan. And when we do, remember it’s the club that is the problem.

Steffen Freund: Spurs Become A Player in the Global Game

Steffen Freund’s appointment this week as International Technical Co-Ordinator at Tottenham Hotspur has been greeted by Spurs fans, including me initially, with a mixture of derision and apathy. The job title is classic corporate goobledygook, intending to be self-important and serious but in reality a string of buzzwords devoid of substance or meaning.

For a great example of the art of managementspeak, look no further than Spurs itself and our “strategic partnership” with Real Madrid. This one is a classic of the genre, though. “Co-ordinator” – busy but not actually doing anything. “Technical” is anything you want it to be, something to do with football presumably, that the Technical Director Franco Baldini doesn’t do. Reassuring to know that when it comes to all things technical, Tottenham have it covered.

Strip away the jargon, however, and this role points the way towards a significant development in club strategy. Freund will help develop young players on loan abroad, support partnerships at youth level with foreign clubs and scout young players. He has a decent reputation by all accounts as a coach of young German players before he returned to Spurs. More than that, alongside other developments this signals clearly that Tottenham are broadening their horizons. New club sponsors AIA are an Asian insurance corporation. Their logo is red allegedly because this is considered a lucky colour in the Far East. Spurs’ US tour was a foot in the door to the huge potential of the lucrative American market. Football is a global game and Spurs have come to play.

The general consensus on social media affirmed this gently eased Freund out of Pochettino’s way and rewarded a Spurs stalwart. However, Levy’s hardly renowned for sentiment when it comes to cold hard cash and it’s safe to assume Freund’s not in it just for the air miles. Granted Ledley King is now club ambassador but given his history and status within the club, no one begrudges him the role of Looking Slightly Ill-at-Ease in Tottenham Photos. I’m sure Freund’s passion for the club is authentic but in a ruthless commercial environment running around a lot for a few years is no qualification for job security. Levy could have sacked him in the blink of an eye. The fact he chose not to indicates there’s something going on.

The market for young footballing talent is international and Tottenham have recognised this by investing new resources, in the shape of Steffen Freund. We have already exploited it to some extent. Our development squad contains young men from Serbia, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Ivory Coast.  It’s a far cry from Spurs’ traditional links with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The arrival of 18 year old Belgian Jonathan Blondel  in 2002 caused a flurry of interest because it was so unusual for such a young foreign player to come to an English club. Around that time, Iceland’s youth team captain was also on the books. I can’t recall his name: neither player made it at Spurs.

These days, however, there’s more to it than scouting. The stakes are high. For top clubs, their development policy could be the key to financial survival as well as trophies. Needless to say, in England Chelsea are the club who have taken this to extremes. A quick Google revealed that in February this year, that is after the transfer window had closed, the Blues had so many players out on loan, nobody seemed quite sure about the exact figure. Estimates range between 22 and 27.

Football writer Rory Smith provides a devastating critique into the story beneath the figures. It’s strictly business. One or two of these young players may eventually make it to the first team squad, keeper Courtois being the best current example. But to the Blues, it doesn’t matter. These kids are commodities, buy low, sell high. If they make it, fine, if not, just as good, and the key to this is the new rules on Financial Fair Play. Investment in youth development doesn’t count in FFP but transfer income from the products of that system does. Clubs need to generate income from player sales in order to allow them to keep within the FFP rules, even if they spend large amounts on transfers. Smith states:

“This is because player development, at the world’s largest clubs, is no longer about football. It is about business. It is not about honing talent. It is about making profits. It is run according to the rules of the hedge fund — spread your risk to ensure your reward — with a mindset borrowed from property development. Nurturing young players is not a team’s primary concern, just as a developer does not refit houses to live in them. Chelsea and their peers are not crafting young players. They are flipping them.”

Spurs have dipped their toes in the water. With all respect to the player, I don’t think this is Jon Obika’s breakthrough season. 11 spells on loan, yet to start for the first team, turns 24 next month. Yet we resigned him. I predict a transfer to a lower league side and if not a profit then at the very least a return on our investment. This is typically small-scale but Freund’s appointment indicates the club are significantly upping their game.

A healthy youth policy will do Spurs a lot of good but if first team chances for young players are as limited as they have been in recent years, they will become balance sheet statistics not the home-grown heroes supporters hold so dear. Pochettino has a reputation for bringing them through but as I said last week, he was forced into that position at Saints because of budget restrictions that will not be so stringent at White Hart Lane.

Also, I remain distinctly uncomfortable at the notion of young footballers as commodities. At 16 I was used to the tube but a trip from west to southeast London one day made me feel like a stranger in a strange land. What can it feel like for a teenager coming to a new country, different language, knowing nobody and having to perform at a peak level. It’s not right.

Yet it seems the entire game is moving in that direction. The PL sells passion and atmosphere, Sky sell more satellite dishes but the supporters who generate that emotion face exorbitant prices, bizarre kick-off times and have no say in the way the game is run. My 50 year loyalty is reduced to a customer reference number as far as the club is concerned, or so it appears. Under Armour and AIA are doing their thing but come August 24th I guarantee no one will have cleaned the birdscrap off Jackie’s seat. She sits in front of us – it’s our pre-season ritual. Fans and passion commodified too.

There is something positive here. Freund’s role gives him the opportunity to keep an eye on these players. Let them know someone cares about their progress, a watchful benevolent figure, and if this is part of the investment, credit is due to all concerned. Rumours, always rumours, but it has been said that Spurs do make an effort to look after their foreign players and men like Lloris respect that.

In the summer Nigerian starlet Musa Yahaya signed a pre-contract agreement at the tender age of 16. He’s hot property apparently. Maybe he came to us because we offered to care for him and to give him a better chance of getting near the first team than if he were at Stamford Bridge. I like to think that’s the way we should behave. I hope he gets further than a Youtube showreel.

Bale’s Goal A Cause For Celebration? Thoughts On Watching Modern Football

On Wednesday night former Spurs player Gareth Bale scored the late goal that won the Copa Del Rey for his current club, Real Madrid. If you haven’t seen it, congratulations – your willpower to stay away from social media and the press is far greater than mine.

By any standards it was a jaw-droppingly remarkable piece of football. Picking up a pass from defence on the halfway line, Bale couldn’t get past the defender in front of him so he decided to go round him. He knocked the ball past his man and ran. However, the defender wasn’t to be beaten so easily. Turning quickly, he had the inside track. The ball was his.

That logic would have defeated most players. If not, the nudge he received as he came close would have done the trick. Most would have gone down in an imploring heap, bleating to the ref as they plunged to the turf. But Bale kept going. No way through so like Lewis Hamilton on a fast corner at Silverstone he left the defender on the racing line and put the pedal to the metal. To get round he went a couple of metres off the pitch, through the technical areas and when he was back on the field, the ball was his.

Full-pelt he carried on with the ball at his feet, the full-back forlorn, desperate and beaten. He bore down on the keeper then with the ball perfectly in his stride went from power to delicacy in an instant and touched it home.

There’s more. Here’s the context. This full-tilt 50 metres in 8 seconds with a ball at his feet and a defender in his wake took place in the 86th minute. Bale had had a good game, working hard up front interchanging with Real’s main striker Benzema. It was a final against Real’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. The score was 1-1 at the time, a tight game heading inexorably for extra time and penalties. This was no ordinary goal, this was the stuff of legend. Whatever he accomplishes in the future, he will never be forgotten by Real supporters.

Most of the photos I use on Tottenham On My Mind are of the goals themselves but the one at the head of this article tells the real story of this goal and of the nature of football itself, what it meant to the crowd. In it, Bale soars in majestic isolation, as if born aloft by the tumult. The reality is more prosaic – he was alone because none of his team-mates could keep up with him.

Like I said, remarkable. Moments like these are precious, the reason why I remain unshakably fascinated by the game as I approach my sixties. Nothing else does it like football – the shared experience, the unsurpassed passion, that unique combination of improvised skill, power, beauty and presence of mind. Being gobsmacked by the whole thing is the essence of being a fan.

Not so if you gauge opinion from social media and the comments’ sections of newspapers. Reading this, my feeling as a supporter is out of step with many. I freely admit when I’m wrong, as I often am, but there’s something here about changes in the way we relate to the game, something that goes way beyond this goal and which I do not think is for the better.

Two examples. First, many said this was a good goal but was it really all that? In several places on the net, for instance the Guardian comments section, it is suggested that this is not ‘a wonder goal’. Leaving aside the use and creation of that phrase, which we’ve all heard over the past few years to the point where it becomes meaningless, many say this goal is not worthy of that accolade.

You can call it whatever you like but it’s clear many were at most only mildly impressed, others positively dismissive. Using that term as shorthand, if this is not a wonder goal, then what is? Partly this is a rhetorical question, partly a genuine search for examples. There have been goals as good and better but I would contend this is head and shoulders above most goals we’ve seen this season, especially if you add the context. You’ve got to say it’s up there – apparently not.

The modern game distorts expectations in many ways. Success must be instant. Supporters especially of the so-called big clubs have a overweaning sense of entitlement. Second is nowhere, success is not something to be acheived or worked at, rather it is their right as supporters to have success at the highest level to celebrate.

This distorts the nature of the game itself. Last week author Adam Powley overheard some Chelsea fans after they beat PSG saying it was a good thing that moneybags PSG didn’t get through…

This distortion has seeped into the way we perceive the game itself, gnawing away over time at the very meaning of being a supporter. If you can’t enjoy Bale’s goal because it wasn’t really that good, what can you enjoy? What are you waiting for? Because I am here to tell you after fifty years of watching the game, there’s nowhere else to go. Wait for something better to come along and you will be sorely disappointed. This is about as good as it gets.

I’ve seen all of Bale’s goals for Spurs. Some were up there as wonder goals, although I wouldn’t use that term myself. But in my time I have never seen, never, anywhere, a player like him. That fast, that strong, that powerful, that touch, those long-range shots, those deft touches in the box. This goal showed off the lot. This is what football is all about and if you’re looking for something else, it doesn’t exist. Treasure every moment. If this goal doesn’t excite, I cannot possibly see how you can get any enjoyment from football.

Bale’s goal was all the more breathtaking for me because as a Spurs fan, I’ve seen him grow up. More than just any ex-player, Bale has gone from a gawky, hesitant man-child too big for his body to an outstanding footballer. Along the way he’s provided some fantastic goals and memories. I have said before that I feel close to these wide players, these wingers and full-backs. From where I sit on the Shelf, they are 10 yards away, toiling, scared, audacious. I know because I can see every bead of sweat, I can look into their eyes.

I wasn’t the only Spurs fan who wished him well, who took pride in this goal and others even though it brought into stark relief how limited we are in comparison and how much we miss him. I openly admitted that Bale’s goal made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, warm in that I was pleased for him, the memories were fuzzy, generous recollections of his days with us.

Many Spurs fans were not so generous. Bale (and Modric, having a quiet moment together as the goal celebration finally ended) rejected us so we reject them. Many on the boards and twitter saw no reason to join in. Others were downright angry with him for leaving and the goal left them at best indifferent, at worst downright angry.

Unlike my first example, I do get this one even if I don’t feel the same way. An element of sentimentality infuses my writing, without dominating, because that’s part of how I relate to being a supporter. The past is important to the present. Football is 22 men kicking a ball and at the same time so much more than that. Equally I know only too well that investing in an emotional attachment is nothing more than love unrequited, doomed before it began because in the end, they all leave.

I say all. Ledley didn’t leave, he was taken from us. I don’t do friendlies or testimonials but I went to Billy Nick’s and I will go to his. But these days, they don’t hang around. This change has been mirrored by changes in supporter attitudes. Fans are quicker to reject them now, when they go. If a player indicates that he wants to leave, the anger and opprobrium is particularly harsh and bitter. Players have been agitating for a move for as long as there has been professional football but the reaction of fans these days seems much stronger than I recall in the past. Waddle, Hoddle and Gazza – I remember disappointment and sadness but not the fury provoked by, say, Berbatov’s or Modric’s departures.

Just to be explicit about what I am not saying. I’m not saying my way is better, merely that this development seems to be a part of contemporary fandom. Neither am I welcoming back every past Spurs player with open arms. The ones I don’t like are those who take it easy and don’t give us their best while they wear the shirt. All I would say about Bale is that when he played for us, he played. He gave as much as any man and his football over the years contributed to our best results, our best league positions for decades and unforgettable memories. He didn’t stop playing for us, just got a bit sulky in the close season when Levy was haggling over the fee. He was always going to be sold once Real made the offer and I can’t blame him for joining arguably the top club in Europe. In my balance sheet therefore, he is forever in the black.

So why are reactions more vehement? The answer must lie beyond the actions of individual players, although that is important of course, witness Vertonghen’s apparent disdain at the moment. Fans feel alienated from their clubs to an increasing extent. Players and clubs are distant, exploiting our willingness to come every week to the point where their praise of supporter loyalty borders on the patronising. Clubs invite us to be part of the experience but do little or nothing in return to earn our trust or respect.

It’s natural therefore that we don’t invest emotionally in players because we know they will be off soon. It’s not just Spurs. This is part of the modern game. And the consequence of not being close to players is that you are less close to the club itself. The ties that bind are loosening. There is a real danger that the nature of support is changing irrevocably and the only thing that will stop it is if the clubs begin to recognise that and treat supporters with the respect they deserve. I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy it while it’s there. That is not meant as an ironic throwaway remark. Get as much from the game as you can. See a goal like Bale’s for what it is, a sublime example of the art. Relish Eriksen’s goals or Hugo’s saves – maybe if they do enough of each they’ll stay longer because we will do well but don’t allow the certain knowledge of their departure to taint your enjoyment of the game. Football isn’t just about winning, it’s about wonder, so marvel all you can. Because if that goes, there’s nothing left.

 

 

Dear Ellie

Dear Ellie,

So – your first game at White Hart Lane. And we won!

We have been planning this for ages but we could not get a ticket. When I was younger, you could go with your family or friends whenever you wanted. Now we were not supposed to sit together but you sat on my lap for first half. You were very patient. In the second the man next to us did not come back so you sat in his seat. Wonder where he went? The game was not very good but it was not that bad.

Before the match we walked round some of the ground. We wanted to show you what it was like. I expect you thought it was just a busy road like the one where you live. It was noisy and dirty, wasn’t it? To us, it is special though. Our place, our ground. People have gone to see the Spurs for over 140 years in exactly the same place. Now you are doing the same. You are part of all that history. Imagine all the millions of people, wearing blue and white, looking forward to the football. You are really part of something, just like us. But you were really interested in walking on the lines between the paving stones.

Bobby Soldado scored the goal. At last! You have been practising his song, haven’t you. He is Spanish – we looked up where he came from on the map, remember? He hasn’t scored a goal for months and months, he waited for you to come to see him. I think you are a lucky charm for Spurs.Spurs blog 110

He cost a lot of money but he hasn’t scored many goals. This one was scored from close to the goal but it was very good. Townsend made a good run and passed to Adebayor. He was clever – he did not pass the ball very far but it is hard when you are close to goal, so many defenders trying to tackle you but he gave Soldado the ball. Did you see how he touched it once and the ball was right in front of him? It was just a shame that he did not do that more often. Him and the others really – they could not keep the ball close when they touched it.

Did you notice how quickly he touched it past the goalkeeper? The keeper went one way, Soldado put the ball the other side. Soldado made him do that. That’s clever, I liked that.

We are lucky where we sit, we can see the players close up. Did you notice, when the ball is not near him, he sometimes mutters to himself. I think he worries about not scoring and not doing his best for Spurs. Some players, they don’t seem to worry. Perhaps it is because they get paid so much money, they don’t really care what happens but he does. I was pleased he scored, he will feel better now and score more, I reckon. We need his goals because no one else looked like scoring. Adebayor is a good player but he was working so hard for the team, he was not in the penalty area as much as he should be. I think he should have stayed there more often.

That was a good run from Townsend and Lennon did some good runs too. When they started, they were our two wingers, one wide on the left, one on the right. That was exciting but, trouble is, they did not pass it to the right Spurs player. Over and over, they did the same thing and the ball was blocked or they were tackled. You would think they would learn after a while and change, but they didn’t.

That meant we had Paulinho and Dembele in the middle but they did not play very well. It was too easy for Cardiff to get the ball because they had more players in the middle. Paulinho comes from Brazil. The way he has been playing lately, I think he wants to get the next plane home. Luckily for us, Cardiff weren’t very good. Did you notice how often they gave the ball straight back to us or passed it into touch? Did you cheer? They were blaming each other and Bellamy was rude to the referee. He was booked but we thought he might be sent off. I reckon that’s because they are unhappy because they are not playing well with their new manager. He has not organised them well. It is bad for them, at the bottom of the league.

You enjoyed it when the players kicked the ball really high. It shines in the floodlights as it slowly spins. One time, we thought the goalkeeper was going to kick it out of the ground! When it hit one of their players on the head, we could hear it, it sounded really loud. We laughed! Those big kicks look good but let me tell you, Spurs should not have been doing that. We should be passing it along the ground, not doing a big boot up the field.

We could hear the Spurs manager shouting sometimes too. It was very quiet sometimes. When I was your age, well a bit older than you because my mum and dad would not let me go on my own and they worked on Saturdays so they could not take me, back then the crowd used to sing a lot more. You could not hear the managers shouting then. We sang some songs though.

We both wished Spurs had more shots. We should have scored more goals because we were the best team. At the end we were worried that although we were on top, Cardiff might equalise because we only scored one goal but in the end we were OK. It would be much better if we did not have to worry but with Spurs, it always seems to be like that. I wish I knew why. I wish they would change but they never do.

Dawson was our best player. He won all the headers and made some great tackles. We learned that defending is as important as scoring goals.

You really enjoyed the match but it was a shame that all the Spurs players often passed the ball to Cardiff or got tackled. The crowd were getting a bit angry towards the end. Why are they giving them the ball?! Why are they giving away corners and free-kicks when they know Cardiff are good at those? They hit the bar just after we scored. Phew! I was shouting at them too, towards the end. Sorry.

Afterwards we walked back with the Cardiff fans. They were singing some very rude songs about their chairman. Aunty Kirsty explained them to you. He changed the colour of their shirt from blue to red. You thought that was terrible. You noticed all the fans wore a blue shirt, not red. The Spurs fans sung that they should play in blue and the Cardiff fans clapped us.

It’s funny – you are only 9 but you know how stupid and wrong it is to change the shirt colour. You know more than the chairman. These things are very important because supporters understand the history of the club.

We have told you how much supporting Spurs means to us and now you are part of that too. It runs in the family. Jackie who took our photo, her dad and sisters and brothers sit next to us. They were late because they come all the way from Oxford. Arthur has been coming longer than me, since 1964. All his family are Spurs fans too. It was nice of him to have a chat at half-time.

Glad you enjoyed it but shall I tell you a secret? Spurs did not play very well. If we play like that next Saturday, Chelsea will score loads. But we won and you had a great time.

We told you our stories, all the things we have loved over the years from watching the game. How exciting it is, how it makes you feel special wearing the navy blue and white. I have been going for nearly 50 years and there is no feeling as good as when Spurs play well and win. About how good it feels when you celebrate with your family. You felt it too.

And in the end that’s what football is all about. I usually write about tactics and formations, or where we are in the league but that does not seem to matter today. We sat together in the ground and supported our team. We told you our stories and showed you round but actually, the best thing was that you taught us what really matters.

Love

Granddad xxx