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Don't just boo the player, boo the club

“I’m so depressed,” I said to my friend Jack as we left White Hart Lane after Spurs’ humiliating defeat by Norwich.

“I’m more depressed,” he said. “At least you still like Harry.”
We continued like that all the way home, with me clinging on to the thought of ’Arry as a symbol of, oh, I dunno, something.
Jack, who thinks Harry is a phoney, was forcing me to give reasons why Harry is good: what has he done, who has he discovered, why are Spurs useless at free kicks, why was Harry not ranting and raving and changing things at half-time? And so on , with me saying, pathetically, that I still like him. I’m rubbish at intellectual arguments, whereas Jack, as a barrister, well, it’s his job, innit.
“It’s only the media who like Harry.”

False pretences

I had to pause and think. I am not technically media any more, not at Prem games, since the rotten old Prem League imposed a £5m insurance cover in order to get a press pass and the poor old NS can’t afford that.
I can see that the media love Harry as a character, as I do, but I still think that the fans are on his side, though surprisingly, in that Norwich debacle, there were many who were beginning to mutter against Lovely Luka and Gorgeous Gareth, how dare they?
Intellectual arguments in football are pointless, anyway. Who can possibly explain the collapse of both Man City and Spurs, when early in the season they were doing so well, playing so fluently, so effortlessly, in such style, with such confidence?
What caused it? You tell me. You’re clever. I refuse to believe it was caused by Harry being tipped for England. Sheer coincidence. Spurs just look knackered. And it’s Harry’s job to unknacker them.
I did find myself during the Norwich game uttering the odd boo under my breath, feeling I had been personally let down – nay, affronted – by what appeared to be their attitude, even though I knew it could only make things worse. 
Having talked to so many players, I know they don’t know what happens, why they appear in certain games not to be trying. They can’t help it, poor petals. And I know it does mean more to them than us. It’s all they’ve got. So should fans boo? We’ve paid a fortune, so surely that gives us the right. Or does it?
I can’t think of any comparable activity where customers get conned into paying a whole year ahead for a product that is unlikely to be exactly what they expect and might well turn out total rubbish.
Season ticket renewals start next month, with clubs demanding and getting £1,000 to £2,000 in advance to watch teams whose stars might not be there, or might be playing in different divisions and tournaments.
Only football could get away with trading on such false pretences. Most Prem clubs know there are waiting lists, so they can take cynical advantage. So, yeh, we should boo more, but at the clubs, not just the players.
In defence of fans, it only takes the merest glimmer of hope – a really good tackle, a strong run and then, oh, rapture, a shot at the goal that doesn’t end up in Tottenham High Road – and we are all cheering and roaring them on.
And as we all know, that does have an energising effect. We can and do help. But it needs something to latch on to. The Norwich fans kept it up all through the game but they could see, from the kick-off, their players were knocking their guts out.

Daydream believer

We also know that things can change, fortunes turn round in just a few games. Look at Arsenal, booed by their fans just months ago. Man United, not booed by any fans as far I observed but roundly criticised by the back pages as useless, finished, too old, too injured. Now look at them.
Spurs did try harder in the FA semi-final against Chelsea but a lot of good it did them. Their luck ran out.
I still have some belief in Harry, unlike my friend Jack. But my main football belief is that this is what it is like, will always be like – and all fans have to go through this at some time. Coming home depressed after a Spurs game is excellent practice.
“For what?” Jack asked.
For watching England in the summer, of course. 

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 23 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Islamophobia on trial