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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue