League of Faith

29 Aug

The doom merchants were quick off the mark after Tottenham’s inability to put Wigan to the sword at White Hart Lane yesterday. “How can a team that has qualified for the Champions League hope to compete on four fronts if they cannot win ugly on a regular basis?” was the tone of many pundits and commentators. However, having invested the best part of a quarter of a century into supporting this team, I like many other Spurs fans I’m sure, probably knew that such a slip-up was inevitable. Spurs have never been a club that do it the easy way and a return of one win, one draw and one defeat in our opening three league matches suggests that they will continue to enthrall and infuriate loyalists in much the same manner that they have done by and large since the club’s heyday in the early 1960s.

As qualification for the continent’s premier club competition was cemented on Wednesday night, ITV’s Peter Drury rattled off a catalogue of former greats who have graced the pitch at N17 but had not fulfilled their promise on the biggest stage of all in the club’s famous white strip. Gascoigne, Waddle and Hoddle, Lineker, Ardiles, Crooks and Archibald, Gilzean, Ginola and Perryman; all players who had thrilled and served the club with honour and skill and who have mostly played within my living memory. Thinking of these names conjures such joyous images in the mind as if flicking through a photo album in your mind’s eye and it is with some wistful sighs that you realise that however good these players were, they were rightly playing in an era when the country’s champions were represented at that level only and as a result being in a team as famously inconsistent as Spurs consequently obstructed any such dazzling Glory Glory Nights at the old stadium.

The passage of time allows for such objective analysis and it is easier at the age of thirty-two to be able to acknowledge both strengths and shortcomings in both one’s choice of football team and more tellingly in one’s self. The greatest observation my father ever made was when he told me aged twelve that I was “a fanatic, not a fan”. At the time I wasn’t able to fully comprehend what he meant but it’s become ever more clear with the passing of the years that what he was alluding to was that such uncompromising belief in the greatness of one’s team and their inevitable path to glory merely serves to hinder one’s ability to appreciate the strengths and variations provided by those around you. At the time I was immersed in ‘Gazzamania’ and could not see why Spurs were not destined to win the League despite comprising a team which also included such ‘luminaries’ as David Howells, Vinny Samways and Steve Sedgeley. Gascoigne’s greatness would indeed pull us through to eventual glory in the 1991 FA Cup Final but however good a player he was, it would be impossible to sustain such levels of outrageous skill and genius throughout a season of 40 plus games. I appreciate this reality nowadays and I always listen on with bemusement when I hear fans of say Barnet or Gillingham telling rival fans that they “are by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen”.

As a result of this blind faith, I was unable to truly appreciate the players that enriched the English League in my teens. During the 90s it was voguish to spit bile and vitriol on anything or anyone associated with Manchester United. Consequently, a lot of time was wasted ‘hating’ the likes of Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce. It simply wasn’t socially acceptable to show an appreciation for the style of football played by this legendary team and it is only now when you watch compilation packages of games from the 90s and that these men have become as avuncular as any uncle figure that you wish you were just a little less rabid and a little more gracious in your younger years.

When we fail to question accepted views and allow our faith in one belief system to rule our ability to come to rational conclusions, we run the very grave risk of falling into areas less seemingly trivial as our support for a particular football team. While channel surfing this week, I came across a quintet of singers on Fox News called 4Troops. This is a group comprising of ex-soldiers in the US military, representing racial and gender demographics, singing a clutch of patriotic tub-thumping tunes for mass consumption in the Wal-Marts populating the USA’s midwest. With mouth agape, I sat through their latest release called “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, a rallying call for Americans and warning shot to its enemies with such open-minded and articulate lyrical flourishes as “justice will be served and the battle will rage/ this big dog will fight if you rattle his cage/you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U S of A/ cos we will will never back down, it’s the American way”.

It is even more frightening when the tune itself is a mixture of uplifting handclaps and harmonies and spares little thought for any rational understanding for the reality that befell British and American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan and disregards the historical reasons and economic realities of the Project for the New American Century. But that really isn’t the kind of agenda Fox News wishes to pursue. If we as a human race are content to live in ignorance and blindly accept what we are told, whether that be from a politician, a mullah or a football manager, we run the risk of turning into the fanatics my father, wisely warned me against. Knowledge may be a curse but ignorance is so much worse.

So with that in mind, I’m able to look upon Spurs’ impending Champions League campaign as the beginning of a glorious adventure. We will play the reigning European Champions twice. But we will definitely not be at Wembley in May’s Final. Because experience tells me it’s appreciating the journey rather than the blind pursuit of some imaginary glory that is the true, most gratifying aspect of being a Spurs fan. And Arsenal looked good too this weekend. Now that’s maturity…


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