Five Days In April
On the whole, I’ve lived a fairly rootless life. I live in Worthing, on the West Sussex coast, these days, but much of my life has been five years here, five years there, ten years here, a couple there. My childhood, however, was very different. Over the course of the last forty years, my family has dissipated. In 1982, which I consider my spiritual birth year as a football supporter, we all lived in a small corner Edmonton and Enfield, on the outermost northern tip of London. I went to the same junior school that my parents went to, as had two of theirs.
Spurs, for better or for worse, is in my blood. I’m at least the third generation of Spurs supporters in my family, and at the time that I was born, my parents were living in a small flat in Lower Edmonton, barely a fifteen minute walk from White Hart Lane. My first footballing recollection is peering through the living room window, with the net curtains draped over me like a ghost, peering at the murky yellow brightness of the White Hart Lane floodlights in the distance. I’ve never been a regular attendee there, though. A few times as a kid and as teenager, a handful in my thirties… But I’ve never been a regular. My football life has been pretty varied, over the years, but eventually, at 48 years old, I ended up emotionally back at base camp, with Spurs and Enfield Town, even though I’m a long way removed from both.
If my formulaic years in football were 1981 and 1982 or so, I quickly became something of a spoiled child. I’m not certain at all that my reaction, had they lost the 1982 FA Cup final to QPR (which subsequent viewing confirmed they might well have), would have been particularly edifying. To top it off, Enfield also won the FA Trophy in 1982 and then the Alliance Premier League – the name that the National League now goes by – in 1983. I think I started to form the idea that trophies were naturally occurring substances which just turned up every May like a seasonal harvest. They emphatically were not. Spurs have won the FA Cup once, the UEFA Cup once, and the League Cup twice, since. The Spurs team that did the double did so twenty years before my introduction to the game. It’s been almost forty since. As for Enfield, success would just about stretch to the latter stages of that decade, but certainly not beyond.
I swallowed the guff about the game being about glory. I will more than happily accept Spurs being fundamentally flawed if they’re entertaining but yeah, in my private moments I do have a romantic view of the club, which conveniently leaves out Graham Roberts or Ramon Vega, but very much leaves in Son Heung-min, Harry Kane, Glenn Hoddle (the player), Garth Crooks (both the player and the broadcaster), Jurgen Klinsmann, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker. I mean, I saw the last three of them play live. For the team that I, of all people, support.
And that’s all a difficult assortment of ties to have to sever. They sit right at the centre of your heart, whether you like it or not. In 2001, when Enfield FC supporters voted to break away from that club to form their own, Enfield Town, I was a long way removed from it all. We’d moved out of London a few weeks after Spurs beat QPR. Some of the kids at my new junior school had Watford shirts. At the end of my first year there, Watford finished above Spurs in the league.
The fans at Enfield did a brilliant job, doing something without precedent and rising to the Premier Division of Isthmian League. They’re owned by their supporters trust and moved into a ground of their own ten years ago, a stone’s throw from the old ground, Southbury Road, which was lost in 1999. The old ground was where my dad saw his first game, in 1946. It’s where I saw mine, just over three decades later. I was, therefore, hugely sentimentally attached to Southbury Road and I still am, really, even though all that’s left of it is photographs and some footage that’s been committed to VHS and later digitised.
Emotionally, EFC to ETFC was a short hop. They wear the same colours, the old players often meet up there, and it feels like a smaller but better version of the old club. I never felt any great heartbreak over it, but I certainly know that people did and I remain angry on their behalf, as well as on behalf of the supporters of all clubs who lose their grounds or clubs to avarice, incompetence, or both. Whether directly or indirectly, what happened to Enfield and the way in which that club rebuilt – and other incidences like it; very few grounds in London have been safe from property developers for many years – shaped the way that I think about the game today.
It’s been a complicated few days for Tottenham Hotspur. The announcement of the Super League and Spurs’ involvement in it hit hard, because I knew in all conscience that I couldn’t continue to hold the club close to my heart any longer, if they pressed ahead with this. And that would require me to start trying to power down that emotion. It doesn’t really matter that I’m not a season ticket holder, or even a regular, either. Indeed, if that’s how it felt for me, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for those guys.
Against that particular backdrop, the sacking of Jose Mourinho largely passed me by. There was, of course, always an element of deal with the devil about it, only in this case the devil couldn’t really be relied upon to stick his end of the bargain. The voice in my was whispering, “Accept Mourinho, he’ll deliver trophies. Okay, he might deliver a trophy. Okay, he used to deliver trophies”, and it wasn’t a particularly edifying spectacle. I can tolerate Spurs winning badly, but if they are going to lose, then I want them to at least try to be entertaining, and by that I don’t mean in a “providing schädenfreude to the supporters of other clubs” sense.
But in comparison with everything else that has going on, this was all a strangely minor news story. It was probably expected, and I think most supporters had already resigned themselves to him being there until the end of the season, perhaps beyond. So it was a surprise but it didn’t register with me, and it was only last night that I allowed myself to sit back and take it all in.
I’m struggling to muster much beyond quiet satisfaction at Mourinho’s departure, but what about the new guy? Well, my first thought on Ryan Mason is that, at 29 years of age, he’s the first Spurs manager to be young enough to be my son. My second thought is that it’s a bold move to put an untried 29 year old in such a position until the end of the season. We live in hope that somebody behind the scenes at the club has seen something in him that makes him stand out. The gimlet-eyed might be tempted to see this as a cynical PR choice, but the stakes are so high – with Champions League football for next season remaining a possibility (presuming that they’re not banned from it) and a League Cup to be won – that this seems unlikely.
And the human story behind his appointment is the heartwarming tale that we all need after a tough few days. Mason, like me, was brought up in Enfield, but unlike me, he signed for the Spurs academy at the age of eight, made a few appearances on loan for other clubs and, after getting into the first team, more than 50 appearances for Spurs. In 2016 he signed for Hull City for £13m, but the following January he fractured his skull in a clash of heads during a match against Chelsea.
He underwent a successful operation on the head injury and throughout the rest of 2017 went through considerable rehabilitation in an attempt to return to playing. After the operation he had 14 metal plates in his skull with 28 screws holding them in place, as well as 45 staples and a six-inch scar across his head. Thirteen months after the injury, he had to announce his retirement from playing. He was taken onto the coaching staff with Spurs two months later. Having been through all of that, it’s wonderful to see him get this opportunity.
After the stultification of Mourinho, he’ll be given a free pass until the end of the season, and he got off to a decent start this evening with a 2-1 win against Southampton. Spurs started slowly and were a goal behind by half-time, but came back to win thanks to an 89th minute penalty from Son. The second half performance was considerably better than the first, and there was a rapturous reception from Spurs supporters on socal media at the win, while Mason himself seemed keener to dedicate the win to the memory and family of Ugo Ehiogu than anything else, after the match. It would have been difficult to imagine the Spurs manager doing that, this time last week.
Manchester City will go into this weekend’s League Cup final as hot favourites, but Spurs defrosted over the course of the 90 minutes last night, and will likely go into the match in a more positive place than we might have expected, considering the sort of week it’s been. I’d been considering that Sunday afternoon would be something of a wake, an opportunity to say goodbye, but that isn’t completely necessary any more. In my head, Spurs are still on probation, and probably will be until such a time that at least Daniel Levy is out of the club. In the spirit of modern Premier League football club ownership, though, I am fully aware of the the fact that all club supporters should beware whey wish for, over such matters.
Of course, I know that the club doesn’t care what I think. We’ve all learnt that, over the last few days. They don’t care about season ticket holders, so they won’t give a sliver of a shit about someone who lives 100 miles from North London and whose relationship with the club currently consists of occasionally buying some merch as presents from the club shop. And perhaps that’s the future of football, for me. The Premier League, at arm’s length. Down in the belching annals of the non-league game, what these glittering turds get up to means little, any way round, and the bigger piece of my heart is probably reserved for the lower divisions and the non-league game.
And perhaps that’s where I’m really settled, at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, enjoying quality time with my kids or having a beer with friends, or both, while a football match rumbles on in the background. I once missed three goals in a 4-0 win for St Albans City against Weymouth because they were scored within five minutes either side of half-time, and I was in the bar by then. And non-league football, although it has changed, has changed less than elite level football over the last forty years. Perfect for someone hurtling towards old age, as I am.
Spurs will carry on being Spurs come what may. What I do, say or think is of little consequence in a world of global fan bases. If I didn’t support them, I’d definitely support sanctions against them, and I won’t shed any tears if they do end up heavily sanctioned (whether they should or not is a different question). This is a situation that the owners of the club have brought upon themselves, specifically to the exclusion of anybody else, and now they should reap what they sewed, whatever that may turn out to be. But the appointment of Ryan Mason and the way he carried himself and coached the team last night allowed me to take a little heart back. The soul, however, may take a little longer.