Sunday, 20 February 2011

Do you remember the first time?

It's a quiet weekend in a noisy season, so I thought I'd pause to recollect my first ever Spurs game. Very self indulgent, I know. Feel free to wash the car or something.

The bare bones are these: it was Arsenal away in 1986. We drew 0-0. The attendance was 44,703.

I can't find the line-up on the internet (although, excitingly, I have just put a bid in for the programme on eBay), but I'm guessing it was: Clemence, Thomas, Mabbutt, Gough, Hughton, Allen (P), Waddle, Hoddle, Ardiles, Hodge, Allen (C). I reckon at least eight out of those 11 will be right. Some side.

I was 18. A very late starter.

Tottenham wasn't drummed into me from birth. My dad was a Cardiff supporting Welsh ex-pat. When he first moved to London he lived in the East End, so adopted West Ham. When we moved to the suburbs, he stopped going, and his feelings for them weren't strong enough for him to want to foist them onto me, thankfully.

So he just supported Cardiff from afar and accepted that it was, in practical terms, unlikely that I would do the same.

(He went back to see them one more time before he died. He phoned to ask about tickets (Internet? Not so much, no) and got chatting to the woman in the office. He explained he hadn't been for 40-odd years and how this was something of a pilgrimage. They sent him a pair of top notch tickets, free of charge, met him at the entrance, showed him round the ground, got him a drink and settled him into his seat with a complimentary programme. Fair play to them for that; a real touch of class).

In other words, in terms of choosing my team, I had a free hand. And it's as simple as this: I supported Spurs because my friends did.

Initially, though, I didn't really support them, just followed them. So in the late '70s and early '80s I looked out for our results, liked it when we won but was also more or less fine when we lost.

On Saturdays I was almost always playing football rather than watching it. I think it's true to say that I liked football generally, everything about it, more than I liked Spurs, specifically. Seems weird, given how much of the football world outside of N17 I now despise.

'81, '82 and '84 are all TV memories for me. Pleasant, but not precious. Shame really. Friends of mine who are just a few years older recall that period as the best in their Spurs-supporting lives, never to be surpassed. I hope they're wrong, but I suspect they're right.

In 1986 you could just turn up at the game. Any game. So one September morning a group of friends who did go regularly asked me to come along. Yeah, why not, I replied, not knowing that 25 years of truly astonishing times lay ahead and that a seismic shift in my relationship with Spurs, in the priorities of my life, in fact, was about to take place.

We went first to a pub called The Bull in The High Road. Now, it turns out that this was quite a famous meeting place, frequented by some quite naughty gentlemen. I had no idea. Although it did seem odd when about 300 of us left at exactly the same time.

When we re-emerged from the underground at Arsenal and there was, inevitably, and for a greenback like me, terrifyingly, a lot of running, shouting and throwing things. At one point an abandoned milk float, complete with a vast stock of empty bottles, came into play.

I'd never known anything like it. All I could think was, 'And after all this we get to watch a game of football, right?'.

Then, when I was watching the football all I could think was, 'And after all this I've got to get home...'

I did, of course. And I'd learned two things. One, I would be going again - going a lot. Probably forever. Two, don't meet in The Bull.

(A few years later it turned into 'The Pleasure Rooms'. Jesus, that place was bad.)

The silliness before and after wasn't for me. But the 90 minutes in between most definitely was. And all of a sudden, I desperately wanted us to win. All of a sudden, it really mattered. I'd crossed the line.

I saw us play Arsenal five times that year: That 0-0 draw, a 0-1 win at Highbury in the first leg of the League Cup semi, a 1-2 defeat in the second leg, a 1-2 defeat in the replay and a 1-2 defeat in the league. For a while, whenever I heard anyone say 1-2, I flinched. Soundchecks were a fucking nightmare.

That entire season was one of disappointment. We were in with a shout at the league until the last month or so, and ended up finishing third. We were 2-0 up at half time in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final and couldn't close the deal. We only had to steamroller Coventry in the final to win the FA Cup, and, somehow, we fucked it up.

Disappointment. Nothing but disappointment. Still, things are bound to get better, right? I mean it can't always be like this...


  1. Pretty sure I was in the Bull that day...
    All a lot older and wiser these days ;-)

  2. Amen to that, Simon. I went from The Bull to the Northumberland, to The Bricklayers, to The Corner Pin and now, like yourself, have found a very happy home at the Bell and Hare.