An Origin Story, In Three Parts
Where we lived in Lower Edmonton when I was a small child, in the middle of the winter you could see the dim haze of the White Hart Lane floodlights in the distance on winter Saturday afternoons and the occasional midweek evenings, through the leaded-petrol murk of late 1970s London. It’s probably my first memory of football, in any meaningful sense.
There are vague recollections of being taken to matches, of long, dark tunnels with shafts of lights at the end of them, of wishing I was at home, playing with my toy cars, hanging out with Emma and Amanda, the girls who lived next door to us, of wishing that I was doing anything other than standing here in the cold, watching grown ups kicking a ball about for no reason that I could see, and frequently to very little effect.
When I was, say, six years old, the chief loves of my life were, in no particular order, toy cars, buses, dinosaurs, butterflies, flags of the world, and any sort of map. My mother once told me that she was once stopped in the street whilst pushing me in my pushchair to be asked for directions to somewhere in the street by somebody and was surprised when, before she could give an answer, a small voice piped up from the pushchair giving very precise directions indeed. Apparently, I was going through a phase of devouring the A-Z of London at the time.
For most people, the moment of clarity seems to come with going to a match for the first time. The first match that I can remember going to at Enfield in around 1979 or 1980, though as I’ve got older I’ve become increasingly wary of false memory syndrome, so trying to establish which season this was or even who the opponents were is something that I’ve become increasingly far from confident in confirming. There is, however, a moment that I do remember, as though it was yesterday.
In 1980, I became a cub scout. My dad, a navy man, had wanted me to join the Boy’s Brigade – my first sense of what a local rivalry might feel like was the mutual enmity between the cubs and, as we used to call them, the ‘BBs’ – and the cubs, the 5th Enfield, which still exists to this day, had a football team that played every Saturday morning. I don’t remember how I came to be involved in it, but I do remember my first game for them as though it was yesterday. I remember very vividly a family discussion around the dinner table the week before the game, on the subject of how I would celebrate if I somehow managed to score a goal for them, that Saturday.
The cub scout team played on the myriad of pitches at Bush Hill Park in Enfield, to where we’d moved shortly after my fifth birthday, in 1977. We had a kit that was probably no more than four or five years old, but which, in line with the high speed with which fashions changed at the time, might as well have been accompanied with platform-heeled football boots. It was in Wolverhampton Wanderers colours of old gold and black, resplendent with a large black chevron across the chest and collars so wide that on a breezy day there was a chance that any one of us might be picked up and swept through the air from London’s northernmost outpost to its southernmost.
I was introduced as a substitute, a short while into the second half of a 35 minute per half match. I didn’t know what I was doing, obviously, only that I was nominally supposed to be occupying a position on the right side of midfield. I’d only been on the pitch for a few minutes when we were awarded a corner on the left. Not really knowing where to stand, I took up a position near the far post. To say that the corner was “crossed” would be something of an overstatement. It was hit and miss whether any kick from a set piece would even get off the ground, and this one didn’t. Instead, it skidded across the greasy pitch and bobbled a couple of times. Reflexively, I stuck my right knee out and, to general astonishment, the ball bounced up and into the top corner of the orange goal netting.
It was a goal of no great consequence, even in the history of whatever tournament this particular match was in. We were 5-0 up at the time and the final score would be 7-0, so I can hardly lay claim to it having been a match-winner that led to me be chaired from the pitch in triumph. But it was significant to me. It was the beginning of my longest-lasting love-affair, a moment that would lead to me meeting so many of the people that I call friends today, the moment that would lead to some of my happiest memories, a couple of serious injuries, and even this dust-filled corner of the internet, of which, whether rightly or wrongly, I remain so fiercely proud. It was the point at which I fell in love with this brilliantly simple, ludicrously over-thought, ridiculous yet very serious game.
Even if I do say so myself, I was a pretty smart eight year-old, and I knew immediately what a fluke my debut goal had been, a fact borne out by the sad truth that I never scored another goal for that cub scout troop. My allegiance as a supporter was immediate, and was split two ways. Tottenham Hotspur and Enfield. Spurs, the glamour club three miles from where we’d moved to, and Enfield, whose ground was a short walk from our new home, which smelt of boiled hot dog sausages, and which seemed full of small white huts which presumably had once been useful for something.
The following May, Spurs won the FA Cup against Manchester City after a replay, a result that was never in doubt so far as I was concerned, even though they’d needed an own goal just to get to that replay. The following year, on successive Saturdays, Enfield won the FA Trophy and Spurs won the FA Cup at Wembley, and I assumed that it would be like this forever. In the intervening 38 years, Spurs have won the FA Cup once and Enfield won the FA Trophy once.
We moved away from the area in the summer of 1982, and slowly but surely my ties with the area were severed. All four of my parents lived in Bush Hill Park when we moved there in 1977. Fifteen years later, the last of them died. We weren’t a massive family, and now there are only a couple of distant cousins left in the borough. In the early 1990s, my sister met and fell in love with a man from Horsham, and moved to West Sussex. By the time my dad retired, she had two daughters, so it made sense for them to move down as well. I made my own way in 2006, settling first in Brighton and then 15 miles away in Worthing.
Mum’s gone now. She was never a football fan anyway, and to the best of my recall the promise that she made to come to that 1982 FA Trophy final if Enfield got there remained the only football match she ever went to in her entire life. But the flame still burns brightly in my dad, who’s been to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and, on a previous tour of White Hart Lane, had the chance to meet one of his heroes, the great Alan Gilzean (who was working for the hospitality team at the time), shortly before Gilzean’s death in 2018.
And football remains the language that my dad and I speak. Our telephone calls always lead with the latest on whatever on earth it is that Tottenham Hotspur are trying to turn themselves into. Our family visits, obviously curtailed for the time being, still play out with a background soundtrack of whatever match happens to be taking place on Sky Sports or BT Sport at the time. My owns boys have an occasional interest in kicking a ball around, but they’re no more interested in the game now than I was in 1976, when my only contact with it was the glow of the floodlights from our living room window on dark and murky afternoons and evenings.