Putrid Modern Hell #18

by HST UK on October 18, 2011

Falling out of Love with the ‘Beautiful Game’

“When it is played at its best football remains the greatest game of all. And Tottenham, so close to my heart, is still to me the greatest club.”
-Bill Nicholson

“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
-Danny Blanchflower

When Luka Modric handed in a transfer request I wasn’t too surprised. After tasting Champions League Football last season, Modric became addicted to Europe’s finest club competition. When Tottenham Hotspur finished fifth in last season’s Premier League, just outside the Champions League qualification it was inevitable that some of their star players would consider their options, and seek a move from White Hart Lane.

Chelsea tested the waters with an undervalue bid to obtain the services of Modric, a dynamic midfielder that can unlock defences and create openings for predatory finishers. The transfer bid was a clever move by Chelsea, sounding out Modric’s commitment to Tottenham Hotspur, especially since he isn’t that far into his current contract. The official twenty two million pound bid also avoided any accusation that they are ‘tapping up’ the player illegally.

Whilst attempting to look at things from an objective standpoint the move would suit Modric perfectly, he can slot effortlessly into Chelsea’s team in the ‘number 10’ role, floating behind Fernando Torres, he could once again play in the Champions League with the blues and conveniently he doesn’t have to relocate from his current home in London.

As a Tottenham fan, I obviously don’t want the move to happen. Selling a key player to a local rival makes no sense. And in fairness, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, arguably the best chairman the club has ever had, told Chelsea sternly that Modric is not for sale. I guess he hopes, and we supporters all hope that Modric will either knuckle down and pledge his future to Tottenham like Wayne Rooney did last season for Manchester United after he had publically declared his frustrations, or an agreement can be made where Modric will be allowed to leave next season provided he gives his all to the club this season as Tottenham strive to get back into the Top Four and qualify for the Champions League.

For those who don’t follow football (soccer) all the above probably makes no sense. But, when you fall in love with football as a kid, you develop an intense sense of devotion to a certain club, or certain football players that is equal in intensity to fundamentalist religious belief.

I became a fan of Tottenham Hotspur because of the likes of Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne who starred for England in the 1990 World Cup. I began watching both players in the Tottenham side that won the FA Cup in 1991. As soon as the trophy was raised I pledged my allegiance to Tottenham, ignoring my local club Norwich City. I was a glory hunter. No different to the kids of today who choose to support Manchester United or Manchester City.

Aged six I would avidly watch football matches on TV and collect all the assorted memorabilia. I would read SHOOT magazine every week, put posters up on my wall, and emulate my heroes whilst kicking the ball around with my mates at the local park, using jumpers for goalposts. Football was everything to me. If I wasn’t flicking around Subbuteo players on a green bit of cloth super glued to a plywood board then I was playing ‘Sensible Soccer’ on my Amiga 600.

As I got older my love for Tottenham grew fonder. I remember the first time I saw them live when they visited Carrow Road to play Norwich City. Every moment was cherished, though I had to be careful not to cheer too loudly when Tottenham scored just in case I got spat on by a Norwich fan. Fun Statistic, I have never seen Tottenham lose to Norwich City.

Attending a football match is a unique experience with the feelings of tribalism, the share theatre of the ninety minutes. You buy the programme outside the stadium, watching as all the fans walk proudly to the turnstiles gripped by the same sense of anticipation. You sit at your plastic seat, and the atmosphere bills around you. Music plays over the PA system to amp the crowd up, the player’s warm-up on the pitch, everything builds. The players return back to the changing rooms for the final team talk, everyone waits. Then the two teams come back out from the tunnel. The referee puts the ball down on the centre circle, a coin toss is made, and then the match kicks off.

During the course of the game you’re living it. You stand when you team is on the attack. Your hands fly up in the air, but oh, no, the ball has hit the post. When the ball eventually goes in and a goal is scored, you miss the moment because of the pandemonium in the penalty area, but you’ll get to see that tonight when the highlights of the game are shown on Match of the Day. Still, you punch the air and celebrate the goal, hugging the stranger next to you. Because on this day he is your brother, a fellow Spurs fan. As the board gets held up by the fourth official you chew your nails as your team hangs on to a slender lead. Then the ref blows his whistle, the match ends. Your team has won. A mixture of jubilance and relief shivers through your body.

When I began earning money, I saved up and went down to London. I spent over a hundred quid to see Tottenham play at White Hart Lane. For a lad from Norwich visiting Tottenham was a scary experience. See, I’d been to cosmopolitan central London and seen all the touristy places, but I’d never seen the poorer boroughs. Tottenham being one of the most run down. I felt like Eddie Murphy’s character in the film Coming to America. I remember taking the wrong turn on the Seven Sisters Road and ended up down this windy little street full of market stalls. The stalls were populated by various Ghanaians, Nigerians, and Somalians. I was the only white boy in town, and the looks I got made me realize this.

For nearly twenty two years I have supported Tottenham Hotspur Football club, there have been ups (The already mentioned 91’ FA Cup win, two League Cup triumphs, qualifying for the Champions League) and downs (Lasagne-gate, the spineless League Cup final defeat to Blackburn, the desperately bleak nineties), and I have seen many great players play for the club; the likes of Ginola, Klinsmann, King, Sheringham and Sol Campbell.

That last name there, Sol Campbell. His name will usually draw a negative response from many Tottenham fans, since he left the club and joined the enemy, Arsenal FC. Campbell received a lot of abuse over the move, and most of it stepped way over the line, to the point that people actually got arrested for shouting anti-Campbell chants from the stands. Sol Campbell is one of my favourite players because he was supremely athletically gifted, the kind of centre back that combined grace and physicality. At times he held the Tottenham defence around him together, performing heroically, diffusing wave after wave of opposition attacks. It seemed like one man against the world.

Campbell’s departure triggered a bleak spell for the club, a period of staleness and mediocrity. The worry is that if Modric leaves, a similar thing could happen. It would be the kind of move that affects my enjoyment of the game. When you support a big club with a rich history there are certain expectations, and for those expectations to be met, the clubs playing assets need to be retained.

A lot of non-Football fans struggle to understand how a seemingly sane, reasonably intelligent, down to earth man can worship a bunch of overpaid, spoilt men who kick a ball around for a living. Footballers for the best part are flawed people; most get a bad rep in the media. Footballers can get away with having extra marital affairs, they can break the law, and whereas me or you would in all likelihood lose our jobs, and end up in prison if we committed similar acts, a footballer can earn a reprieve.

Whilst we expect footballers to be judged in the same way we are judged, as fans we expect them to make unrealistic decisions that for the vast majority of us would make no sense. Say for example that a rival Security company offered me a job with better pay, more opportunities and the chance to work in an elite sector of the Industry. I would be foolish to turn that down and stay loyal to the company that I currently work for. However if I was a footballer, if I was Luka Modric I would be expected by the fans to stay where I was and not improve myself.

Football is a religion, a whole other world, a Sport that exists both in and above society. I find my enthusiasm for the game is on the wane. In previous off seasons I would feel like a junkie going cold turkey, I would crave football. Nowadays I follow other sports more closely (such as Cricket and MMA), and the excitement for the new season has faded. To an extent I blame Luka Modric. I want him and the club to make a decision about whether he will stay or go because it is getting boring reading about the transfer saga in the newspapers, and hearing about Modric non-stop on Sky Sports News, because the story is becoming bigger than the club, and everything about the game that I hold dear. One man’s hope for a transfer should not overshadow a whole club. I wonder if because of this I am finally falling out of love with the ‘beautiful game’.


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