Should Spurs home fans have given more support? Image: Getty
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Is it a football fan's rights to boo the players?

We know booing will do no good - but we still do it.

My friend Sue, with whom I often go to Spurs matches, got up one minute before the end and started to leave. Which was not like her. She always stays to the final whistle, whatever the result, waiting till every Spurs player has left – and claps each of them off the pitch.

Me, I’m a disgrace, really. For about 40 years, at either Spurs or Arsenal, I have stood up the minute the extra-time board flashes – yes, don’t point it out, I know, those boards didn’t exist 40 years ago – then made my way to the exit. I go slowly, so I can stop and look back at the pitch if something exciting happens, then I pause in the corridors to look at the TV screen. Out in the street, I listen for any enormous roars, working out what they might mean.

All I am doing is trying to get ahead of the crowds – as I do have a dodgy knee – and into my car before the appalling jams. Sue considers staying to the very end a mark of respect. She wants to applaud the players for doing their best, even when they haven’t.

This time, however, she was leaving a minute early – because she sensed the crowd was going to boo and she did not want to witness it.

This came to pass – and it was after this game, against Hull, that André Villas-Boas criticised the Spurs home fans for their lack of support. I thought at the time he was ill-advised, as blaming the crowd is always a mistake. We know, we fans, that when we boo it will do no good – probably make things worse – but we still do it.

Likewise, managers should realise it will do no good to turn against the fans but they can’t help themselves.

Why do we do it ? It’s our right, innit? We have paid our money, we can do what we like. We want them to do good things, then we’ll cheer. We love the club dearly, always hoping for better things, so feel personally let down when they play rubbish. At Spurs, you hear moans of “Here we go again”, as we all think back to the times when things did look good, then collapsed.

They are all millionaires and we have personally paid small fortunes. So when things go wrong, it’s two sorts of greedy bastards to blame: the players and the club.

It’s hard to think of another entertainment where you pay a year ahead to be let down. At the theatre, cinema, restaurants, you pay per visit and if the experience is shite, you might not go again. Today, unlike in the past, at all Prem games almost every fan has paid ahead for the whole season. You can’t get your money back. You have to suffer for the season.

Another result of all seated, season-ticketed crowds is that the average age last season at Prem matches was 41. Young people can’t afford it. Young fans tend to be dewy-eyed romantics, blithely loyal to their chosen team, and will hear nothing against them.

When my son first discovered I also went to Arsenal, when Spurs was supposed to be my team – our team – he was furious, called me a traitor. I tried to explain that I like football first. Secondly, I like Spurs and Carlisle United, the two I most want to win, but really I can enjoy all football.

Middle-aged and older fans have seen too much – the messianic new manager, the boy wonder, a run of two games without being stuffed, promises of Europe next season – and we just sigh, wearily. At all the big grounds today, from Old Trafford to the Emirates, you do get long periods when it’s like a library. One thing about the young hooligans in the Seventies – at least they screamed all the time.

Another factor today might be the pornography of Match of the Day, and all the brilliance of Sky’s technology. You get used to seeing stimulating moves, intimate close-ups, sudden climaxes – and can download them again and again. In the flesh on a grey rainy day against the ugly lumps from Hull, it’s hard to work up much excitement. And that’s just the Spurs team.

But I was wrong. Villas-Boas and Sue were right. In the next home game, the crowd did respond. If you respect them, they do play better.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.