It’s not been an ideal start to the new season, no Tottenham fan needs a blog post to tell them that. Three points from four games is not the start Spurs fans had anticipated when the fixture list was released in June, but the Lilywhites have found it tough going to take that final step.
After a promising, exciting and enjoyable 2014/15, expectations for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham rose amongst many fans. A 5th place finish and a cup final was an excellent improvement on a topsy-turvy 2013/14 season under the stewardship of Andre Villas-Boas and later, Tim Sherwood. Pochettino’s task was an unenviable one; reunite the squad, reunite the staff and - toughest of all - reunite the fan-base. The emergence of the academy players went a long way to forging a connection with the previously disillusioned fan-base, notably the rise of Harry Kane to stardom. But now that the team has hit a rocky patch, many fans have been quick to jump on the club’s back.
When things are good, every player is buoyed on, every pass cheered, every tweet cheerfully responded to and every article met with nothing but positive responses. But, when things aren’t so great, boo’s ring around the Lane, players are abused (yes, abused) for the smallest mistakes and the SpursOfficial Twitter account, which – to your shock horror – is not run by Daniel Levy, receives no end of abuse. Is it just football fans being reactionary and impatient, or is it a case of unachievable expectations being just that, unachieved, with the ghosts of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale looming over disgruntled fans?
It may never be as good as 2010/11, we may have to wait years before we reach the ‘holy grail’ of Europe’s elite club competition and it may be decades before the League trophy is paraded down Tottenham High Road again. But that doesn’t mean the club isn’t succeeding – and it definitely doesn’t mean we’re no longer a big club. The club’s history speaks for itself; we’re a club of firsts and a club of greats. The hallowed turf at N17 has played host to innumerable flair players; Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle, David Ginola, Cliff Jones and Gareth Bale to name just a few.
The entire squad that did play in the Champions League for Spurs have now moved onto pastures new; be it greener or not. The much-loved Harry Redknapp, who gave his side the freedom to play without fear, managed the side. Whilst this may be controversial to say, was Redknapp’s tenure a case of ‘right place, right time’? He was fortunate to manage a solid squad, with many flair players and got the best out of them by letting them play their way. Whilst this was an undoubted success, would he have been able to succeed with today’s younger squad? And despite the attractive football, there were still frustrating home losses to Wigan, Wolves and Norwich – amongst others – along the way. It’s worth noting that Redknapp’s time at Southampton and Queens Park Rangers were near-failures, with some level of success in jobs at lower league sides such as Bournemouth and Portsmouth. Villas-Boas achieved Spurs’ highest Premier League points total a year after Redknapp left and only missed out on fourth place by a point. The same number of points, 72, would have got Spurs third place a mere few years beforehand. Since, the league has got more and more competitive, with clubs needing more points to reach the same position. In his final year, Redknapp’s personal life got in the way of his professional job and he cost Spurs Champions League football, only after throwing away a 13 point lead over North London rivals, Arsenal. Was it at this point that Levy decided that a more pragmatic and tactical outlook was required.
Whichever way you look at it, since Redknapp’s departure, Spurs have failed to get back into the Champions League. How much of this can be put down to the Englishman’s departure is difficult to say, but Real Madrid poached both Modric and Bale within 13 months of each other, Ledley King retired and Rafael van der Vaart moved to Germany for personal reasons. Was it this that meant the club has to start again from scratch? This is by no means disrespecting Redknapp. Whether it was luck or ability, he was the man in charge during our best season(s) in modern years and for that, Spurs fans will always appreciate him.
But back to self-deprecation. One definition of the word ‘support’ in the Oxford dictionary is “to speak in favour of”. So immediately, anybody who abuses a player or manager is not showing ‘support’. This may be a good moment to drive home the point that there is a difference between criticism and abuse. No player or manager is above criticism, but no player or manager deserves the abuse that has crept its ugly head into the fan-base. Kyle Walker’s superb performance at Old Trafford on the opening day was overshadowed by a hugely unfortunate own goal, which lead to personal threats to the full-back on his Twitter feed. Ryan Mason’s dip in form last year, and mistake versus Southampton at St Mary’s, also lead to abuse aimed at the midfielder from angry fans. Spurs are, and always have been, known for some of the finest support in the land. Not every club could take 4,000 fans to Burnley on a cold Monday night in January and raise the roof at Turf Moor. But for those incredible fans who turn up in their thousands week in, week out, there are always some who choose to taint the name of this great club. The infamous song sung away at Stoke at the tail end of last season was an embarrassing moment for many fans, leading to fights in the away concourse at the Brittania Stadium.
What use is it to players to hear boo’s or unsavoury language aimed at them at the end of a game? A 2-2 draw at home to Stoke may not be the ideal result, especially after being two up. But being in the crowd that afternoon, it felt inevitable the boo’s would ring out at the full time whistle. Tottenham don’t have a god-given right to win each game and I’m fairly certain Pochettino and his players were aware how poor the last 15-20 minutes of that game had been. But on what level does booing or swearing at the players count as support? The word can also be defined as “to give approval to”, so why not support our players throughout and let others abuse us to their heart’s content? Being a football supporter used to be about standing up and defending your team, singing for the shirt for 90+ minutes and enjoying a match day experience. When did it become about disgruntled moans, angry slurs and in-fighting? When did it become about laughing at our own team at a bad time rather than defending them against any criticism given? The playing and management staff are intelligent enough to know what went wrong, arguably more so than the fans – who don’t see what goes on on a daily basis. The fans will outlive any player, manager and chairman – but a line has to be drawn at which any sort of self-depreciative behavior is replaced by raucous support, constant chanting and unflinching loyalty to those who wear the shirt. Fans will always have the right to moan, complain and be disappointed, but it is the duty of fans to back the team. Lower expectations, because a top four finish is nigh on impossible with our financial remit, and just enjoy supporting Tottenham again. Most of those who set zero expectations for 2014/15, like myself, had an incredible season. Legendary player and manager Bill Nicholson once said, "I always said that it was an honour to serve Tottenham Hotspur and I feel the same every time I walk back into the stadium." Whilst we may never have the fortune of serving the club to the level Bill did, why shouldn’t it be an honour to support this magnificent football club? Just enjoy it.