January 2008 and it was the day of the Carling Cup semi-final, second leg. The pessimistic Spurs fan in me saw little way that Tottenham Hotspur could beat the oldest of enemies, ‘the scum’, to reach the final of the league cup. In almost 10 years Spurs had failed to beat Arsenal and the gloating from that end of the Seven Sisters road was too much to take. The constant jibes had fostered a real hatred of the Gunners within me and I was desperate for a chink of light, something to crow about.
I got what I wanted that night, Spurs did batter Arsenal and crow I most certainly did. It made it all the sweeter that at the time I worked on Green Lanes in Haringey, slap bang in the middle of Gooner country. I worked with what felt like an entire building of Arsenal fans and I hated them. I didn’t just hate the fans, I hated everything connected with the club. The players and the bespectacled buffoon of a manager. If you’d have introduced me to the tea lady I’d have probably hated her too.
It is hard to say where this hatred came from. It was very real but why was it there? I’m not from Tottenham so it’s has never been based on regional pride. I can only assume that it was borne out of a misguided belief that this was how ‘real’ fan behaved. Stories on The Spurs Show podcast just reinforced these ideas. Fans who would hold their breath when on the tube and the doors opened at Arsenal station. People who wouldn’t spend money at Costa Coffee because they were part of the Whitbread group and a board member at Whitbread had an Arsenal season ticket. I loved all of these tales and bought into the idea with gusto.
It wasn’t just Arsenal that got my footballing ire pricked either. There were the none too insignificant spectres of Chelsea and West Ham looming over Spurs as well. Detesting them was also a badge of honour worn by all ‘proper’ fans. There exists, as a Spurs fan, a sliding scale of dislike. A hierarchy of hate if you will, and it goes like this. Spurs fans support any team playing Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham. This only changes when the three start to play each other and then it’s Chelsea over Arsenal and West Ham over Chelsea. I would say that I still basically adhere to this theory but something has definitely changed. I no longer ‘hate’ any of the three rivals.
It has been a gradual shift in my attitudes towards Tottenham’s nearest and, well, not quite so dearest. A large part of this is purely down to winning. The dislike of other teams is often directly linked to results achieved against them. Spurs’ performances against Arsenal and Chelsea have ceased to be an ever-expanding list of misery. Recent league outings against Arsene Wenger’s charges have generally been kind to Spurs of late whilst games against Chelsea are now real pick ‘em affairs.
As with so many things recently, Twitter has been behind a lot of the changes in my footballing opinions. It has been a real education to learn that you can support your team just as well without resorting to behavioural extremes. One of the things I have grown to dislike about football in general is the amount of importance placed on abusing your team’s rivals. I regularly go to Oxford United games and regardless of the opponent, the cry of “stand up if you hate Swindon” is never far away. To my mind it’s a pretty redundant chant at any game, it’s no secret that Oxford United and Swindon Town are not the best of friends. Yelling “stand up if you’ve got more than three fingers” would generate a similar result. Surely the team would be better served by the fans getting behind the players they support.
Another strange personal trait was an obsession with Arsenal’s results. I’d get almost as much pleasure in their failures as I would in Spurs’ successes. At times it felt like I was more of an anti-Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham fan than a Spurs fan. It could be argued that all of this is part and parcel of supporting a football club but it has begun to seem like a strange way to go about things. Many Spurs fans were absolutely thrilled by Manchester United’s 8-2 annihilation of Arsenal but I was more concerned by the fact that Tottenham had just been hammered 5-1 at home by Manchester City earlier that day. To many it seemed to be a case of, “it doesn’t matter how much we lost by, look at that lot. 8-2!”.
In the past there hadn’t been room for even grudging respect of Arsenal. I now watch and marvel at the abilities of Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere. I still think Theo Walcott is a bit rubbish but I’d think that whoever I supported. I feel the same about Chelsea. I’ll always dislike John Terry but that’s more to do with him as a man than the shirt he wears. The ‘Fat Frank’ Lampard jokes are getting tiresome now, (they probably always were) and any team with Juan Mata playing in it is one I’d happily pay to watch.
I have grown to realise that you don’t need to be a complete zealot, foaming at the mouth to support your team. Validation does not have to come in the form of how much you hate another club. I cringe a little looking back at the ridiculous behaviour of a few years ago. The mantras I quoted and my attitude towards other people based on the club they chose to align themselves with were daft at best. I still passionately hope that Spurs win their derby games but the vitriol surrounding them in the past has dissipated, within me at least.