No match report from the 3-0 cup win against Coventry. I missed this game and can’t concoct a report from 29 seconds of ITV highlights. Instead, the second in a series of articles about what it means to be a Spurs fan. Martin Cloake is a journalist and prolific author of books about Tottenham Hotspur.
In an age where football is examined from every conceivable angle and dissected to the point of extinction, the modern game is in danger of becoming flatulent and predictable, in the process alienating many existing and potential supporters. Yet talking Tottenham with Martin Cloake is a search for something deeper that forms the essence of his relationship with the club. In the process, it’s reassuring to know that whatever it was that originally captivated and entranced us is still around.
Already in this short series, one theme stands out above all else. Whichever route we take, when it comes to Spurs, there’s magic in the air. However, for Martin it could have been so very different. He was brought up in Haringey so Spurs seem a natural choice. In the absence of any existing family allegiances, what else would you do as a football-mad 6-year-old but ask your mum.
“I asked her who’s the nearest team, she said ‘I think it’s Arsenal’ so I thought I’d be an Arsenal fan.”
Then fate stepped in. Martin continues, “That Saturday, they lost. I thought that was a bit rubbish so then, Queens Park Rangers, that’s quite a good name so I’m a Rangers fan. They lost too, so that’s not good. I knew Tottenham were in the other bit of Haringey ( I lived in the west), thought I’d be a Tottenham fan, they won and that was that.”
Martin chuckles at the inescapable conclusion: “I was a total glory-hunting so and so at 6 years old.”
It sounds as if even then he was a bit of an obsessive, which means in this blog he’s among friends. As he read more and more, he realised he had chosen a special team.
“When I started finding out about Spurs, there was this magic about them. That was before I’d even been to the ground. Pat Jennings was larger than life, a superhero. We had the Mirror every day in our house, I’d read Ken Jones and Frank McGhee. I was 7 in ’72. Nicholson was still there, I didn’t really understand but knew he was something special.”
Even then, Europe had a particular fascination. “I looked up places where we were playing in the atlas. That was special. The Arsenal weren’t doing that! I listened to the ’72 and ’74 finals on the radio.”
For many of us, football provides a rich seam of continuity in our lives. It’s certainly true in my case, where Spurs is the link between the boy and the man. Relationships, jobs, houses and friendships come and go but Spurs is always there. Martin continues to search for more of that magic he discovered as a 6-year-old,and it’s still there in those European nights, which are an integral part of Tottenham’s rich heritage. That search is the heart of the Martin’s latest book, the Glory Glory Nights, co-written with long time collaborator Adam Powley.
“It was part of the reason for doing the book, to rediscover the magic. When I was a kid, there was that bit of magic, where’s Zagreb, where’s Belgrade. It was a pioneering time. That Double team had done something nobody else had done before. They went into Europe. They were the standard bearers for the English game.”
Spurs were full of firsts in Europe, the first to win a European trophy, the first to win two, the first to fly fans to an away tie. However, these days european football is commonplace, with every tie on television and many relegating the Europa League, the latest incarnation of the Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup where that Spurs glory lies, to the status of a worthless league for our second string. So has the magic gone?
“It was a different age, that’s true. People going up Everest, into space, running the 4 minute mile. Nicholson, Busby and a few other visionary managers had to fight against the football authorities to be allowed to compete in Europe! Inevitably things can’t stay new forever so some of that has been lost. Familiarity breeds contempt.”
This is no rose-tinted nostalgia trip to bygone, better times. Martin is quick to emphasise that history is still being written. The run to the quarter finals of the Champions League was remarkable because it was so unexpected. He went to all the games that year bar the away leg against Young Boys.
“The Champions League was new for Spurs. The magic was back. We saw some great games of football and surprised our own supporters as well. Yes, the familiarity, the marketing, the over-analysis means the magic has gone from a lot of football but when it comes down to 11 versus 11, those glory glory nights aren’t clichés. When it works, like Bale destroying that team [Inter in the San Siro], that’s what you go for. I’ve never seen Spurs supporters go quite as mental. Nothing surprises you in football these days, but that did.”
The Glory Glory Nights, reviewed here, allows the story of Spurs in Europe to unfold by using those self-same contemporary newspaper reports that fascinated Martin as a boy, plus excellent photos, some of which have not been published before, ably chosen by art director Doug Cheesman to complement and enhance the mood. The sections on the sixties and seventies are eerily atmospheric. The text sets everything in an historical perspective without breaking up the flow and access to interviews from Chivers, Beal and others not only gives the players’ insights but proves that Europe was very special for them too. No other team can tell this story.
Martin’s first game was towards the end of the 1978 season, a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at the top of the old Second Division. “54th minute diving header from Don McAllister. 52,500, schoolboys’ enclosure West Stand.” Martin recalls the details with boyish enthusiasm. “Hairs standing up on the back of my neck seeing the camber of the pitch, getting in for 50p. Spurs had gone down and we had to get behind them to get them back up again.”
He continued to go to home games but drifted away in the 80s when he had a Saturday job and discovered girls and music. He picked it up again later in the decade when he started going regularly with a group of mates who went to a lot of away games. Football remains a social activity. and he’s irrevocably committed now.
“I had to admit to myself years ago that I’m a bit stupid when it comes to football.” He mimics an AA meeting. “My name is Martin Cloake and I’m a Spurs fan! It would take a lot for me to give up my season ticket. That’s what I do, I go and watch Spurs, and I spend far too much time, money and effort on all things to do with Spurs. I’ve done the same as every Spurs fan. Another bad season, that’s it, I’m not renewing, but I know I will always go.”
I pause to remind myself this is not me talking but someone else, such is the similarity of our feelings for the club. This craziness, it’s our reality, but at least this is about as far as it goes for Martin because he’s never done anything too ridiculous in the name of Spurs, apart from a day trip to Austria for an early round in Europe. I wondered if he enjoys it more now or in the past.
“Hmm, not sure. It feels like I enjoyed it more then but I still enjoy it now. I miss some of the edge. It was like in those days you went to gigs, it was overcrowded and there was no fire exit but it was part of being a kid. I got streetwise going to football. It shapes who I am. Some of my best friends, I’ve known over 30 years, been to their weddings, know their kids, that friendship began because we supported the same team. Some of the best times of my life have been going to football.”
Those friendships sustained him through dour times under Sugar and particularly under Graham where going to Spurs became a great day out spoilt by the football. “It wasn’t the fact he was an ex-gooner. We were not investing in the team and going nowhere. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, there wasn’t even a tunnel.”
“One thing I don’t like now is all the arranging, planning in advance. It’s annoying that some spontaneity and anarchy is missing, but there are great times when the ground still bounces. There’s a change in the crowd this year. I never want to be an old git moaning about how things were better in the old days, but something’s around. I like what the 1882 lads are doing, good to see a different generation finding out about the same things.”
Time for some choices. Hoddle or Roberts? Martin is reluctant to plump for one or the other. “I love Roberts’ spirit but Hoddle was the best player I ever saw live, a god to me when I was a kid. Roberts, you couldn’t wish for a more committed captain.”
His favourite Roberts’ story takes up the tale after Robbo put Charlie in the stand. “To let them know he was there, he kept sliding and ended up near the Arsenal bench. Peter Storey asked him if he was all right. Roberts said, yes, then Storey belted him in the eye and said, ‘Well, you’re not f**king all right now.”
Gascoigne is the other player that makes Martin wax lyrical. ” I would just watch him, he was so much better than anyone else. With the Hoddle team you had Ardiles too.” Modric and Berbatov are the more recent players singled out for praise.
And the scenario. Under manager Tony Pulis and backed by Russian squillions, our long-ball, muscular game will win the league. Alternatively, we play great football the Spurs way, are contenders for the top 6, maybe more, but there’s no guarantee of winning anything. The club’s fate is in your hands. Martin deliberates carefully.
“Well, there’s something wrong about celebrating a 4th place finish but I guess I would have a duty to the club to get a top four place. We could go for the league playing the Spurs way but part of that is that we will find some of screwing it up. With a gun to my head, it’s Pulis and win the league.” He shudders. “I feel a bit dirty now….”
I can’t leave such a warm and generous interviewee on the horns of that dilemma for a moment longer. Time to move on and end with some great memories:
“Perryman, he was one of us, Labour voter, a suedehead….Chivers was a big hero, a goalscoring giant….i was terrible at getting up in the morning and I remember my mum shouted the news up the stairs, Spurs had bought two Argentinians. I strutted into school, Spurs have got two World Cup winners, what have you got!?…I bunked off school to go to Highbury for the cup semifinal in 81, one of my favourite Spurs games, Archibald and Crooks were brilliant, then I queued up all night for the final replay, the greatest final of the 20th century and saw Ricky score the greatest goal in a cup final in the 20th century, you’ve got me now, that’s where the drug started…”
It’s more important than ever in changing times to hold on to our heritage. The debate over our new ground brought this debate to fever pitch. Martin can see both sides but is clear where he stands.
“Look, I buy into the idea but know Spurs is not of its place any more in the sense that people round there don’t go to games, largely because it’s not a well-off area and they can’t afford it. It’s a little like us imposing our memories, creating our own heritage theme park when we go back there. But I’m glad that if the new stadium ever gets built, it will be close to the same stands where ‘glory glory hallelujah’ first rolled out. It was in that same patch of ground. I don’t know if the club realises the mistake it would have made if they had moved [to Stratford]. The magic and the connection the Spurs crowd has with the game is part of knowing that this is where its gone on for all that time. You are in the same stands watching the same pitch where Blanchflower, Mackay, Jimmy Dimmock played. How far do you want to go back?”
Amen to that.