The Fan: putting the clap-monitor into action at White Hart Lane

From Thierry Henry to Christian Eriksen, It is fascinating to note which names the fans cheers loudest for.

I was at White Hart Lane, waiting for the Spurs v Everton game, wondering whether to eat my sarnies now or at half-time. I hate 1.30pm kick-offs. They ruin the shape of the day. When football began, kick-offs were at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. So sensible. A 1.30pm start means you have to take some sort of lunch. I’m not going to starve, am I, or buy stuff – have you seen the rubbish on offer and the prices? So I decided to start munching at 1.20pm – pausing when they read out the teams.

I do love this pre-match ritual. It happens at all games, everywhere. I record on my clap-monitor which players get the loudest cheers from the home crowd. Away crowds don’t count: they are in the minority and madly cheer every name in their team, just to prove they are there. A home crowd is fickle. Their heroes change as the season progresses; they take against players or give ironic cheers.

At Arsenal, for a while, the overexcited announcer used to read out only the first names. “THIERRY!” he would yell and the whole crowd would go manic and scream, “HENRY!!!”

But when he yelled, “EMMANUEL!” I was never sure which one he meant. Adebayor always got a good cheer, at least in his early days, whereas Eboué, whose first name was also Emmanuel, was never popular.

There has always been a king of White Hart Lane, the player whom we cheered as soon as he was announced. I loved Jimmy Greaves, smiling at his name, knowing he would do bugger all, stand around the penalty box, then poach us a winning goal. Dave Mackay – I felt physically reassured when he was on the team sheet. If Blanchflower was playing, he would bring intelligence.

Hoddle was my all-time Totting-ham love heart. I would arrive early just to see him tie his bootlaces. I loved Waddle and, of course, Gazza, even though I would worry he would do something really stupid. Ginola also made me smile, standing hands on hips, having totally missed the ball, then wildly waving his arms, blaming his teammates.

I loved Modric. So slight, so ethereal, got kicked to death yet always got up and got on with it. Bale became the king of WHL. We all felt better if he was playing, even if he did nothing until the last quarter, then won us the game.

Sitting there, munching tuna sandwiches, it suddenly struck me that in 50 years of going to Spurs, this was the first time that I didn’t have a hero – someone who makes my heart flutter when I hear his name. They are all middling journeymen, no real cloggers or disasters – like some we have had in the past, who made me put a finger in my ear to blot out their names – nor is there one touched remotely by genius.

So I listened carefully, to see what the Spurs crowd thought. Nobody got much of a cheer, reflecting the present mood. Or it could be a reflection of today’s Premiership crowds generally, compared with those of 50 years ago: the affluent prawn sandwich brigade is now the majority,which explains why at Old Trafford and the Emirates you can often hear a prawn drop.

I did record the decibels, using my own code, and to my surprise the one who got slightly more cheers than the rest was Christian Eriksen. He has talent but I was sceptical before he arrived, suspecting every half-decent club had turned him down. I turned to my companions and asked if they currently had a fave. Katherine – whom I suspect is still in love with Darren Anderton, the player who used to push back his floppy hair when he took a corner – immediately said Dembélé. Derek named Lloris, the goalie, and Adebayor.

Spurs did win 1-0 but Eriksen was useless and got dragged off after 58 minutes. I came away depressed, realising that I now find today’s Spurs depressing. Not like me.

(News flash: three days later, I was dancing round the room. Spurs had stuffed Newcastle 4-0 away. Football, eh. Fans, eh …)
 

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 19 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Space Issue

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism