Saturday’s loss to Liverpool hurt. It didn’t hurt because we lost. It didn’t hurt because I had to watch it on abysmal hotel wi-fi in Washington D.C at 7.30 in the morning. It didn’t even hurt that we were the masters of our own downfall.
It hurt because, well, it really didn’t hurt. I think I may have finally reached a point of top-flight apathy.
I’ll have to give a bit of background on this.
My great-grandad arrived in the east-end of London as a child from Poland sometime around the 1890s. His dad, my great-great-grandfather, began taking him to Spurs games not long after. Tottenham Hotspur has been in the Gerlis family almost as long as Tottenham Hotspur has been in existence.
My first game was in the year 2000. 7 years old may be quite late for a first football match but I didn’t have any say in the matter. Regardless, my dad, grandad and I watched as we smacked Southampton 7-2. Our front row, west stand tickets cost £30 and I knew I was home.
I’ve never held a season ticket, but attended matches as and when it’s been affordable and available. My life takes me down the high road and past, or within viewing distance of, the stadium almost every other day.
In recent years, however, my career situation means I work when football is on. I knew that would be the hit when I took up a career in retail, then sports journalism and now sports social media. That matchday buzz, of waking up holding a ticket, having a drink and heading to the stadium with friends, family and tens of thousands of others is an unparalleled experience a select few fans are fortunate enough to experience every week.
I began volunteering in the press office of Bostik Premier League club Wingate and Finchley in 2015. It’s a close-knit family of volunteers and players, attracting around 100 fans on a good weekend and constantly punching above its weight in a tough league.
I have a tangible role there, as does everyone turning up on a weekend, be they kit-man, ball-boy or supporter. Each person walking through the gate on a matchday is priceless to the club. There’s no multi-million pound TV deals in the 7th step of the football pyramid. No ‘Ronaldo 7’-esque shirt sales generating excess cash. You’re far more likely to see a white van than a Bentley in the players’ car-park.
I think it’s here, freezing my arse off in the tin stand behind the goal, that my frustration with Tottenham Hotspur began.
The scourge of ‘modern football’ is unavoidable. In the two decades between my first and most recent match, the face of top-flight football has changed completely.
That ‘afternoon out to the game’, i.e travel, ticket, pie and pint will now set you back the best part of £100, if not more. Some fans’ only motivation for turning up to games is to increase views on their YouTube channels. Overpriced popcorn, pick n mix, stale burgers and now cheese are your food options. And that’s just at Tottenham.
In the bigger picture, 24-hour football news and the media’s desperate need for narratives has reduced the actual sport of football to a 90-minute sideshow that sometimes happens.
Oh no, the really juicy stories are off the pitch. FIFA’s laughably-straight-in-your-face corruption. What Raheem Sterling bought for dinner JUST HOURS after a Man City defeat. The latest zany thing Jurgen Klopp has said. Jose Mourinho’s current temperament and vitriol target. Whose agent was spotted at an airport in Spain or “Which manager/player/transfer is better? Here’s two ex-players from 30 years ago without any connection to the teams in question to discuss it. Text your opinion to 62022 or use the hashtag #PlayerXvsPlayerY”
This spills out into the wider fanbase too. Football opinions on social media are met with ‘nonce’, ‘big L’ or ‘you get a trophy with that?’. One Wingate colleague of mine was recently told ‘he deserves to die’ for having the audacity to post a Twitter poll on this very subject matter.
This social-media tribalism is fuelled by the constant focus on ‘elite’ clubs and drive towards narratives and agendas. The irony and hypocrisy of this piece is not lost on somebody who actively participates in that for a living.
The season I attended my first Tottenham game we finished 10th, 38 points behind winners Manchester United and 20 behind rivals Arsenal. We were shit, and we knew it. Successive managers came and went. Players got better, worse, started their careers, retired with us and used us as a stepping stone. It took a long, long time in the wilderness before we could finally dine at the top table.
If fans could add up the exact amount of time, money and effort they’ve exerted supporting Tottenham over the years it would be tens of thousands on average, with many likely in the millions. We’ve invested a lot into this club and, when Mauricio Pochettino took over in 2014, it seemed like we were finally able to withdraw our accumulated interest.
The years of losing football debates with other fans were over. We started finishing above Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, United and battering them at their own grounds. Curses were being lifted and our average league finish rose. World-class players were signed or promoted from the academy and what appeared to be a new golden era of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was starting to form. A trophy no longer seemed a possibility, but a likelihood. We were within touching distance of major silverware for the first time in my lifetime.
The last few seasons we’ve been so close. First, to the title, then an FA Cup. Just a couple of results away. A couple of major signings. Maybe a new stadium would help. It sadly didn’t happen in our last season at White Hart Lane but, keep the fans on side and who knows what might come. Some have waited decades for this, others lifetimes. They deserve it, and so does this squad.
Summer comes and goes. Not a single signing and only £2.2m Keenan Bennetts being sent to Germany as ‘shifting the deadwood’. Toby Alderweireld is the focus of a justified contract storm, with bench-warmers Llorente and Sissoko earning almost double his wages. 8 of our first-team players come back from the World Cup semi-finals and start the season immediately, with no option for tiredness or injury.
Then comes the stadium announcement. Hurried after details were leaked to the press, Daniel Levy confirms that the club will not be moving into his £400m vanity project when they were supposed to. Maybe not even this year, maybe not even this season. Who knows?
Fans were already sold expensive season tickets, now being embarrassingly refunded on a game-by-game basis for each one played at Wembley, in Milton Keynes or somewhere else. Tickets for that game in MK have gone on sale to fans of that abysmal franchise club before ours.
Embarrassment after embarrassment, PR disaster after PR disaster and now in-fighting between fans and ex-players. It’s tiring to defend, it’s tiring to watch and it’s tiring to follow. It might be made easier if our on-pitch performances were alright but we’ve looked exhausted since that victory over a dishevelled Manchester United and it’s too late to bring in replacements for key injuries. This season has gone from one of hope to one of worry and we’re only five games in.
What made it worse was that the defeat came at the hands of Liverpool. A side that have cleaned up their act after a few barren years, pumped funds in their squad and stadium and backed their manager. A couple of bad performances in the blue half of Manchester and they could rightly be title favourites. It should be us in their position, and it would be but for lack of investment.
I care about Spurs. I care enough to spend my whole weekend from 9am Saturday morning discussing it, dedicating half of my flight home writing about it and most likely half of my week responding to people who take umbrage at this piece.
It’s because of my love for the club that I’m slowly becoming disgusted at what it’s becoming behind the scenes. I’ve had friends and their family booted out of backroom areas of the club by its new management without so much as a thank you for their years of service. It’s now a business, aimed at commercial gain, image rights and profit. Surely, surely it would have made more sense for Daniel Levy to take a small financial hit and invest in new players to help us compete in the long-run and keep the fans on his side. That he didn’t told me all I needed to know about his motivation, not that it was ever a secret.
His book-balancing model has served us well for a long time, but we now find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we stay as we are, refusing to bolster a tiring squad for sake of ‘not being like the big-spenders’? Or do we in fact spend big, making ourselves no better than those in West London and the City of Manchester who have effectively bought the silverware they’ve celebrated in the last decade? How long can we afford to wait before making that kind of decision?
I’m not going to be leading the protests to get Levy sacked. I’m happy for him to stay if he starts addressing the concerns of the club’s core support and putting them, and the team, first. Not foreign interests, not tyre partners, not naming rights and definitely not careerist ‘Spurs-fan’ vloggers. The problem is I, and many others, don’t see that happening any time soon.
Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is part of the big time now. If we want to sit at the table with the big boys we have to eat what they’re serving. Tourists will continue to flood to our ground, ticket prices will continue to rise and the popcorn everyone loathes so much will continue to pop on a matchday. Vloggers will grow in number, as will their views; and the new generation of fans, who support multiple players across multiple teams, will only serve to increase their fanbase.
As Spurs’ future becomes clearer, I’m glad I have little old Wingate and Finchley to fall back on. A hark back to what football used to be before the Sky Sports era, where fans are the head cornerstone of a club.
Without fans, the external shell of a club may be propped up by appearances. High league finishes and Champions League qualification do very well to serve the board and accountants and keep the coffers up and stadium seats full – but the very soul and atmosphere of a club dies.
I’ve seen people talk recently about thick and thin, good and bad, proper fans and ship-jumpers. That anyone who doesn’t like it can lump it ‘cos they’re the real fans. I get that these people don’t want to rock the boat, that we were much worse off in the 90s and that they’re happy with the status quo.
My point here is that top-flight football in the modern age is becoming a soap opera, and an expensive one at that. There are goodies and baddies, controversies and the occasional plot twist. If you want to keep buying into that, paying your ever-increasing Sky Sports subscription and season ticket fees, that’s you prerogative. It makes you no more, or less of a fan than anybody else who supports Tottenham Hotspur.
How and why somebody chooses to support is nobody’s business than their own. Their opinions are not worth more or less than anybody else’s, and that goes for all clubs. Die-hard, long-term fans hoping for success will have to sit side-by-side with those who chose to glory hunt once that success comes.
I know as well as anyone that a football team is for life. My keyring will stay on my keys, my flag will stay on my wall and my Hugo Lloris bobblehead will still stay in my car (though away from the driver’s side). I’ll pull on my favourite shirt when I go to Powerleague (2012/13 away goalkeeper kit, blue, with GERLIS 25 on the back) and attend matches when I can.
But allowing it to stress you out, ruin your whole week and cause you to fight with fellow supporters just plays into the hands of the puppet masters in the media who rely on your anger and tribalism to keep you hooked.
I’d urge everyone to find out their local non-league team and pop down for a game on a Saturday afternoon.
You may hate it. Or, you may just find the antidote to simmer the feelings of frustration at top-flight football that have been sub-consciously boiling away inside you for a while.
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