BY DAVE MARPLES
People, eh? What do people know? People can be infuriatingly dull. People have a tendency to bluster their opinions willy-nilly whilst caring not a jot about their validity or whether anyone is actually listening. People are often in need of a strong dose of mediation before being let loose on anyone else.
Luckily, Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher recognise this and use the people wisely to steer a course through the weird, wonderful and proud history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Formed under a lamppost by some middle-class lads from Northumberland Park, the history of the club is meticulously traced. As is usually the case though, someone else always wants a chip from your plate and no more so than some local working class ruffians, known as Barker’s Bulldogs, who caught one of the founders and threw him through a plate glass window. Even from the start, it wasn’t always easy being a Spurs fan.
More lovely anecdotes from the early days flow merrily along the way, including this on the 1901 FA Cup Final vs. Sheffield United at Crystal Palace. The game ended 2-2 but not without controversy that would make Stuart Atwell blush. United’s second goal apparently did not cross the line yet still the referee – a Mr. Arthur Kingscott from Derby – awarded it, despite an intrepid band of young brothers trying out some new fangled device called a cine-camera being present that day which produced pictures confirming that the ball remained resolutely out of the goal. These things happened. Still do. Some things never change. Back in 1927, fans demanded that Spurs spend more money on new players. It always thus.
At the end of each chapter, the authors offer a nuanced reflection on the issues discussed. In many ways, these are the highlights of the book as each loose end is neatly tied up and contextualised. Perhaps the finest example of this comes at the end of the chapter on the darker side of Tottenham Hotspur’s support entitled, “I go for the football but I don’t mind if the fighting’s there.”
Every club has its characters, tales of high jinks, naughtiness and downright criminal behaviour. If this chapter does sometimes read like an episode of ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’ with a sprinkle of ‘The Football Factory’, the closing section is careful not to glamourise actions discussed but instead posits the reasons for such behaviour and rightly points out that, “much of the fan scene of the 1980s has been reduced to little more than trackies and trainers as the fashion industry commodifies it.”
Of course, being a ‘People’s History’, the people are widely represented and the book really works when the narrative is handed over to them; one being Chris Kaufman, a young fan from Hackney who tells his story about what it was like to travel to and from White Hart Lane in the 1950s:
“It cost about a penny happenny to go down to Spurs on the 149 bus. The first time I used to pay to get in it was nine old pence as a junior, then I remember getting chips when we came out, fourpence for a normal bag or sixpence for a big bag from Young Sams, it was, on that corner where the Red Lion is, near Bruce Grove.”
Such anecdotes are used liberally yet always succeed in providing an insight into the topic at hand.
Brian Dennis’ tale of growing up in the area, crashing a Ford Prefect into one of the factories around the ground and looking after the punter’s cars for anything between a penny and a shilling (depending upon how Spurs had got on and subsequently, their mood at the end of the game) is one of many delightful tales.
Very occasionally, the anti-Arsenal tone does become a little tiresome. Of course, from a Spurs perspective, they have every right to air their grievances what with Arsenal re-locating from south of the river and muscling into Spurs’ territory. However, every opportunity to remind the reader of this is taken with glee:
“Football was first covered on the radio in January 1927, sadly with the questionable choice of an Arsenal match against Sheffield United.”
The book eloquently covers the plc years (Alan Sugar, Amstrad and all that malarkey) and the association of the support base with the Jewish community in the wonderfully titled chapter, ‘Does your rabbi know you’re here?’
The book climaxes strongly with more than an element of soul searching regarding what the club means to its fans in a post-Sky, post-Boleyn Ground, burgeoning worldwide fan base and pending post-White Hart Lane world. Of course, it’s a book about Spurs – written by Spurs supporters, for Spurs supporters. Yet it’s more than that: it’s a book about being a supporter of a football club that has – in equal parts – wonderfully and annoyingly, got under your skin and no matter how much scrubbing, scratching, ignoring and swearing, simply won’t go away. The epilogue, penned by Alan Fisher, beautifully captures this dynamic:
“We tell our stories to fellow Spurs fans so we can have a laugh over a pre-match beer….to ourselves, during interminable journeys to and from the ground, when we bash the credit card once again, for comfort during restless nights worrying about a result or moments, and we all have them, where we doubt our faith, ‘this is why I do it, this is who I am.’”
It’s about Spurs but there are many occasions when you will find yourself drawing parallels with your own club. You don’t need to be a Spurs fan to enjoy this.