I was chatting with some friends recently when the subject of how we ended up following our respective teams came up.
You see, my friends are a motley bunch in terms of their backgrounds and occupations, but their choice of football clubs is far more prosaic. Predictably, clubs such as Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs are all supported, but this group was in the main brought up and lives within the M25 and home counties.
This got me thinking, how did I end up a Spurs fan? What transpired some 24 years ago in a suburban junior school playground that means to this day I am a proud Lilywhite, rather than a Red Devil, a Kopite or, heaven forfend, a Gooner or a Blue?
I was a relatively late starter in terms of following football. It wasn’t until I reached the age of nine or ten that I started to develop a real interest in the game. This initial reticence could be attributed to the fact that my dad and older brother weren’t fans of any particular team other than England. I consider this to have been an advantage; unencumbered by family patronage or loyalties, I was able to plough my own furrow.
As a schoolboy growing up in Hendon, northwest London, I was told you should always support your local club. It wasn’t clear at the time if this was to be taken literally. Was I supposed to conduct research and deduce a list of local clubs and calculate exact distances from my parents’ home? Or was I meant to accept the diktat in a looser sense and pick the nearest decent professional or top tier club?
Naturally, the capital boasts an abundance of professional football teams, particularly north of the river. As such, I could easily have ended up an Arsenal, Barnet, Brentford, Chelsea, Fulham, Leyton Orient, QPR, or even a West Ham fan – I still shudder at the thought. Gladly for me though, the fates were in my favour on the auspicious day I finally declared my allegiance to the Lilywhite half of the Great Divide.
Back in the halcyon days of the 1989-90 season the football landscape was quite different to the norm we know today. Liverpool, very much the dominant force in English football, went on to beat Aston Villa to the First Division title. Spurs finished third due in part to top scorer Gary Lineker’s goals. Arsenal, the previous season’s champions, finished fourth ahead of Chelsea, the winners of the Full Members Cup, whatever that was. Manchester United won the F.A. Cup, giving the then un-knighted Alex Ferguson his first English trophy, but they ended the season in a lowly 13th position. Nottingham Forest lifted the League Cup and finished ninth.
Being an impressionable boy, I was easily swayed by the overtures of my schoolmates who were a mixture of Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs fans. Truth be told, I came very close to opting for Liverpool who had amassed an impressive haul of English and European trophies throughout the 1980s. However, not being a London team, I refrained.
The vast majority of my classmates supported Arsenal, so you would imagine they’d have been the obvious choice. However, my junior school nemesis was a Gooner and this put me right off! Coincidentally, this situation was replicated at my secondary school. To this day, I find most Arsenal fans to be pretty objectionable (except for my boss Steve, of course, in case he’s reading).
The person solely responsible for my becoming a Spurs fan was my best mate at junior school, Adam (who is sadly no longer with us). He was completely insistent that I support the club and wore me down. But before I was permitted to pledge allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur, I was required to undertake an initiation, and no, it wasn’t a circumcision! Rather, it was committing to memory and reciting the full 1989-90 squad list.
And so, after an evening’s revision, I duly managed to reel off a long list of surnames, some of which must have seemed quite unusual, and possibly exotic, to a nine-year-old boy from suburban Hendon: Thorstvedt, Stevens, Mabbutt, Fenwick, Bergsson, Samways, Howells, Gascoigne, Allen, Lineker, Nayim, Walsh, Sedgley, Thomas, Edinburgh, Tuttle, Moran, Hendon, Moncur, Van Den Hauwe, Houghton, and the Polston brothers.
Having successfully completed the task, Adam presented me with a Spurs woolly hat and a matching set of wrist sweatbands and with them the die was cast. The rest, as they say, is history.
But what about my mates mentioned earlier? What’s their story?
My best mate Nick grew up in Winchmore Hill but is a Liverpool fan. The reason? John Barnes. It is as simple as that.
Kathryn is a Manchester United fan, but – like me – she grew up in Hendon. Her defence? Her father is from Lancashire and her three older brothers are all fanatics. As such, she had absolutely no choice in the matter.
My brother-in-law, James, is also from the north west. He’s followed a number of teams over the years. He started out an Everton fan, but was persuaded by his friends to follow Liverpool instead. However, his attention was later drawn to an improving Blackburn side and the goals of Alan Shearer. Later still, he fell for Middlesbrough having met the club’s diminutive Brazilian star player, Juninho. Alas, Craig Hignett was not the main draw. Eventually, though, James was drawn back to the blue side of Merseyside courtesy of Kevin Campbell and the goals he scored to save the Toffees from relegation in 1999.
My wife, Libby, though now a Spurs fan, once supported Aston Villa because she liked the club’s shirt and at one time she possessed a signed photograph of Dean Saunders.
Paul hails from Middlesbrough and that’s the team he supports. Paul explained that coming from that region, there was no way he could have followed any other team.
Lastly, Ben grew up in Enfield and supports Arsenal, following in the footsteps of the entirety of his dad’s side of the family, who are all from Hackney originally. He used to be a ball boy at Highbury and once had to have a head wound stitched up after being caught by Philippe Albert’s studs.
What is clear from my own example and that of my friends is that the factors influencing our choice of club vary from the predictable (geography, family, peer pressure), to the more obscure (club colours, the attractiveness of a certain player), or else it’s simply the pursuit of glory.
But what is it exactly that keeps us following our beloved teams? Some fans may never experience the sheer joy of seeing their team win a piece of silverware. For others fans it’s been an excruciatingly long wait, whilst for the lucky ones it’s become routine.
There must surely be a common thread. What keeps all fans addicted in equal measure to the agony and ecstasy?
Hope is the one thing that sustains us through the interminable close season break. It’s hope that causes us to frantically refresh the scores on our mobile phones. It’s hope that leads us to believe we’ll grab a late equaliser or a winner in the dying minutes of a game. And it’s hope that keeps us believing that, even though it’s not happened since before the introduction of colour TV, this season it’ll be different and we’ll bring the title back to White Hart Lane.
It may well have been plain old serendipity, but I’m glad my powers of recall enabled me to become a Spurs fan back in ‘89. Surely no other team is so expert at keeping us fans glued to the edge of our seats with hope?
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