Going to Spurs the other week, I was struck by all the shirts. Not the cheapo Spurs T-shirts on the street stalls with the rude words, though I did write them down, as a matter of sociological research. "You can stick your Double up your Arse," said one T-shirt. "Support the Scum - I'd rather rod my dog," said another. Who writes them, I wonder. Who then decides to manufacture them, convinced they're on to a winner.
No, what surprised me was the vast number of fans wearing the brand new, up-to-date, official Spurs shirts, the ones with the Thomson logo and the silly face. They had all obviously splashed out once again, spending £35 or so on this season's latest. Where do they get the money from?
Same at Arsenal. I went there a week ago, with my friend who is a judge. He had three tickets for his family but one person couldn't make it so he rang up and invited me, so kind. As the match began, he started pulling this horrible old thing out of his pocket and proceeded to put it on his head. Oh no, I thought, it's his wig. Turned out to be his ancient Arsenal red-and-white pom-pom hat. So embarrassing. Least he wasn't in an Arsenal shirt, this season's new one,with the stupid O2 on. I still don't know what it means. Some sort of bottled water? But all the Arsenal fans are now wearing it.
Arsenal are doing brillo, so their present loyalty and love is understandable, but throughout the Premier League, even down in the depths, there are full houses, with fans buying all the club tat and souvenir rubbish, despite the disappointments. That's what supporters do. Despite everything. They support. And yet there are so many new despites, unknown in ye olden days. Despite, for example, that match fixtures can be mucked around, can be any time, any day. I can't now remember the last time Spurs had a Saturday afternoon home game, which is what nature intended. It's been on a Sunday five times in succession. Yet still they come, despite the fact that on Sundays you can stay at home and watch live Premiership games on Sky.
It was thought when radio and TV coverage began that the fans would stop coming. That's what the FA and Football League assumed. In the 1930s, the FL banned live radio reports, which led to the BBC covering games at Arsenal by having a relay team of runners who every 15 minutes would race out of the ground and bring the latest information to a commentator, crouching in the street with his mike and machinery.
Eventually, live radio reports were allowed, and the gates, surprisingly, did not drop. Same with live TV. So far, it appears that fans still want to see a game in the flesh, to turn up and support their team, despite all the other attractions.
A week ago, with Man United, Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool all abroad in Europe, playing midweek games at really awkward times in really awkward places, we still saw large huddles of their supporters who had managed to get away to cheer them on.
Amazing, where do they get the, etc. And amazing, when you think their teams are no longer English, the majority of them foreigners, mercenaries who just happen to have fetched up on these shores, passing through, only temporarily wearing the famous shirt, knowing nothing of its history.
The fans should have the real shirts, for free. They have put their money where their heart is. The players should be forced to buy the rip-off, phoney replicas.
It's potty, dopey, the devotion of fans. But will it last? That's what the clubs assume. Yet football collapsed during the 1970s and 1980s. Gates dropped from 41 million in 1949 to 16 million in 1986.
Fans can be pushed too far. Oh yes. One day they may wake up and decide they'd rather rod the dog . . .