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6 January 2021updated 07 Jan 2021 12:07pm

Why I’m struggling to forgive Mourinho’s dire football

Spurs have started tumbling again and worst of all, I fear that thanks to José, we are unlikely to celebrate St Gooner’s Day this season.

By Hunter Davies

I take back what I took back about José. I have gone off him again. I forgave him all that stupid, pointless defensive nonsense when before Christmas, blow me, Spurs suddenly appeared top of the Prem.

Then they started tumbling again. That pathetic performance against Wolves, defending a one-goal lead for nearly 90 utterly dreary, negative minutes, then losing the lead at the end, made me soooooo depressed.

But worst of all, I fear that thanks to Mourinho, we are unlikely to celebrate St Gooner’s Day this season.

For about 20 years now, Arsenal fans have celebrated St Totteringham’s Day – the day on which it becomes mathematically impossible for Spurs to end the season above Arsenal. It is unusual among feast days by being truly moveable. Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are on the same date each year, but the day of the week changes. St Totteringham’s Day varies both by day and by date. Sometimes it begins when neither team is playing, as results elsewhere make it impossible for Spurs to overtake the Arse. Gooners then explode into the streets and the pubs, flags fly, placards come out, drunken dancing takes place. Spurs fans keep well inside, as on St Totteringham’s Day they have to pay the bets they stupidly made with Gooners, convinced that, yes, this will be our season. Is there not a one at the end of the year? We always do well when there is. This is it, Tott-ing-ham, Tott-ing-ham.

The name Totteringham derives partly from tottering, because that is what for decades Spurs have done, showing signs of being half-decent, only to go all Spursy and collapse.

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[see also: The year in football: swooning over Grealish, full-bodied clichés and the demise of Bielsa’s bucket]

There was a spell of 21 years, up until 2017, in which Arsenal ended ahead each time. It hasn’t happened since, and this season it appeared Arsenal had faltered early, with their worst start since 1974. But now they are picking up.

The idea of a day dedicated to mocking Arsenal has never taken off, for there has rarely been any need of it. I like to think that great day will be known as St Gooner’s Day, though some have suggested St Arse’s Day or St Hotspur Day.

Young and middle-aged fans cannot remember a time when Spurs were the dominant team in north London. The last time was the early 1960s. Or yesterday, as far as I am concerned.

I am in fact a fraud as a Spurs fan. It was not a matter of family blood. When we came to London in 1960, our house was equidistant between Highbury and White Hart Lane. Spurs were a much better, more successful side so I chose them. Shocking, I know. I did not know about the long-established rivalry, which goes back to Arsenal being the interlopers, moving from Woolwich in south London into Spurs territory in 1913.

[see also: Sport in 2020 has provided a space for politics, primal urges – and even optimism]

Throughout the football world there are similar rivalries, clubs you love to hate. Being brought up in Carlisle, far removed from everything except sheep, there was no local team for Carlisle United supporters to hate. The nearest major town, Newcastle, was 60 miles away, on the other side of the country. We did have Barrow and Workington when I was young, but they both left the Football League in the 1970s. Barrow are back this season, so hurrah, Cumbria has two league teams. But it is even further away than Newcastle, some 80 miles, with no historical or cultural connection with Carlisle. It might as well be abroad, ie in Lancashire.

In Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, there have always been deadly football rivalries. And in Milan and Rome. It is part of football life. When your own team is playing rubbish, it distracts your misery to know your rival is doing even worse.

But I don’t know of any other city where a club has a feast day when they cannot be overtaken by their rival. In the past, Arsenal have been able to celebrate it as early as March.

I was making plans for St Gooner’s Day around Easter, getting the flags ready for my front windows, working out which street party to attend. Now I fear Spurs fans won’t be able to celebrate after all. That dreaded devil José, boo, hiss, is to blame. 

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This article appears in the 06 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control