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.