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 …)