A few hours after the referee had blown the final whistle, I find myself sitting in a restaurant, opposite a beautiful woman, picking at a calamari entrée and throwing a glass of (rather cheeky) Chardonnay down my throat.
“You okay tonight?” she asks.
“Yeah. Fine.” I mutter, by way of response.
But she knows me too well. “What’s up?”
“Nothing! I’m good, thanks.”
“You’re not! What’s up?” she persists.
“Nothing.” I say, weakly.
And then finally, under provocation, I blurt out the absurdly-worded truth: “No, I’m pissed off. We got beat today. Two nil! At home! Against Everton! And, for the majority of the game, they only had ten men! I just can’t get my head ’round it!”
As soon as those words leave my lips, I know what she’s going to say – those four little words all football fans dread. They might not have arrived yet but they’re certainly in the post. Shortly, she fixes me with a sympathetic-but-amused smirk she always reserves for these occasions and (here they come, here they come…) she says, “You’re so silly – it’s only a game.”
She’s right of course and it is I that is wrong. I like to think that I am a well-rounded, well-balanced individual but the sad truth is; when it comes to football, I am not. See, I don’t just lose my sense of perspective — any sense of scale I possess totally deserts me too.
Recently, I wrote about the ’emotional attachment’ fans have to their chosen teams. I posted my thoughts to a (Spurs) fan forum I subscribe to and, shortly, the basic premise of the text was attacked (albeit, in an intelligent way by a learned forum member I respect) as flawed. The result of the subsequent exchange I had with my critic was — for perhaps for the first time in my life — I sought to define in my own mind what I meant when I spoke of the bond between fan and club. The conclusion I have since come to is quite troubling…
Way back, ever since I can remember, I have always been a little bit odd with all things Tottenham. Whilst other little boys did what little boys are supposed to do, I took an — in retrospect — unhealthy interest in my chosen football team. Personally, I blame my parents. They should’ve been buying me an Action Man and a Scalextric set at Christmas, not books entitled, “Tottenham Hotspur — An Illustrated History” and the Season Review videos I begged them for. As a result, my head was — and, to a degree, still is – full of spurious, irrelevant, and totally useless information. Knowing Tottenham are the only side in history of English football ever to win the F.A. Cup as a non-league club is one thing, but when you’re ten years old and can name the players in that 1901 side…I mean, come on, surely someone should have spotted I wasn’t all there…
In adulthood, my peculiar passion for Spurs shows no sign of fading. But what does concern me slightly is how my dislike for our bitterest rivals has intensified with the passing of time.
Spike my pint with sodium thiopental (the ‘truth’ drug) and I might — just might, mind — in a moment of chemically-induced objectivity, concede that Thierry Henry has talent. But ask me, in a moment of sobriety, and I am more likely to describe him as an overrated schmuck prone to become invisible in big games.
At the end of the last season when we were robbed of the last Champions League place on the last day of the season by Woolwich, I was physically sick. Note: Not disappointed, not depressed — quite literally, physically sick. When, days later, Britain’s Gooners were beaten by Spain’s Barca in the Champions League final, I was so elevated I cheered loud and long through the night. Not normal behaviour – unless you’re a Tottenham fan. I am aware (and just about sane enough) to realise my hatred of Arsenal borders dangerously on psychotic, and while, I hasten to add, I am no yobbo, leads to what I fear can only be described as obsessive compulsive behaviour that extends to anything even merely associated with our mortal foe.
Examples: I do not buy red clothing, I do not buy Nike-branded products, I didn’t do Dreamcast, would sign up to any mobile network except 02, and even if Emirates Airlines offered to fly me and my much more aesthetically-pleasing half first-class to Dubai for a fiver return throwing in a fortnight stay in world-renowned, five-star – gratis, free, for nothing – chances are, I’d shake my head ‘no’.
True story: A few years ago, I went to Tottenham Court Road to buy a piece of electronic equipment. When I got to the shop, the very helpful salesman informed me that I should perhaps reconsider the object of my desire. We’ve got a special offer on, he told me. The alternative product he was selling boasted a better specification than my intended purchase and was a good fifty lager vouchers or so cheaper. A no-brainer, right? Wrong. Problem was it was manufactured by back-in-the-day Gooner sponsors, JVC. Upshot? I left the store clutching a box marked “Panasonic“, fifty notes plus lighter in the wallet than a logical person would’ve been.
And this — if only just to ram the point home — a couple of weeks ago, I was invited by a friend to watch Brazil v. Argentina friendly taking place today at the new Arsenal stadium. I politely declined his offer. Not, you understand, because I have no interest in seeing two of the finest beautiful game nations go head-to-head on a football pitch. I said no because I simply can’t bear the idea of handing over some of my hard-earned to be banked by the enemy. Bizarre, illogical but completely true.
Mind you, it not as if my only passion in life is football. Oh no. Truth is, I take pride in the fact that I’m multi-faceted waster, me…I care deeply about many other things — just not as deeply as I care about football.
It is my opinion that Radiohead are the greatest kick-arse rock ‘n’ roll band ever to grace a recording studio but, should their next CD be greeted universally by music critics as a “seminal masterpiece “and shift say, a hundred billion copies, would I jump to my feet, punch the air with joy and scream, “YEEESSSSSSSS!!! ‘AVE THAT!!!” at the top of my voice – a manner in which I traditionally greet a Tottenham goal? I would not.
I also believe that White Teeth author, Zadie Smith, is the greatest literary talent of her generation but if her latest novel outsold The Bible and went on to scoop The Booker prize and every other writing award on planet earth, as a fan of the author, would I bask in the reflected glory of her achievement? I would not. Yet, if Tottenham go on to win a trophy this season — even if it is only The Carling Cup — I will, no doubt, walk the streets with chest puffed out large, prouder than a peacock on cocaine.
Tottenham’s indifferent start this term has led for me to spend an inordinate amount of time speculating — electronically and verbally – as to possible reasons why with fellow fans. What has gone wrong? Are the new players gelling with the senior players? There’s talk that Zakora and Davids had a major row after the Everton game, is this true? Is it possible that — O lord, please no — Martin Jol has lost the dressing room? For hours and hours and hours. Over and over and over. All these people have similar personality traits — they are, to a man and woman, clever, engaging, decent human beings. And they all suffer from the same THFC lunacy that afflicts yours truly.
I love cinema too but if I see a not-very-funny Comedy or a not-very-tense Thriller or a not-very-terrifying Horror, would I log in to a movie-lovers forum and converse — ad nauseam — in an attempt to determine what went awry? Was it the director, the actors, the scriptwriter, or maybe studio pressure that resulted in such a mess? The answer is; hell, no. Not a chance – I simply wouldn’t care enough.
“It’s only a game.”
That is as maybe but — in my admittedly warped view of this universe — it is so much more than that. Describing Football as “only a game” is akin to describing Politics as “just a bunch of nutter’s arguing” or War as “just a load of idiot’s killing each other”.
But why has football come to mean so much to me?
I thought about this long and hard and the conclusion I’ve come to is actually quite disturbing. Tottenham Hotspur football club is a projection of self. They are me and I am them. Somehow, it seems to me, such is the intensity of my interest in the exploits of a north London football team they have become inexplicably – but intrinsically — linked to my personality. So much so, that their fortunes — of which I, obviously, have no influence whatsoever – have the ability to affect my moods. If Tottenham are winning, I’m winning and I’m happy. If there are losing, I’m losing and I’m sad. Again – bizarre, illogical but completely true.
And, do you know what? I don’t quite know what to make of this disconcerting personal revelation — so, if there are any psychologists out there who can perchance offer an explanation or prognosis in regard the neurological condition I’m clearly suffering from, I’d be really grateful if you would get in touch soon…
Otherwise, I suspect my affliction might well last a lifetime.