Review by Ian Kerr
What does it mean to support your club? Do you support a club that bears the name of a suburb where you’ve never lived? Have you ever watched your team play a home match?
For those of us who, for whatever reason, support a club located thousands of kilometres away, the issue of identity is a vexed one. Do we inherit a club’s history when we take on the burden of supporting the club? Do we vest ourselves in the attitudes or bigotries associated with the club’s fans? Do we hate our club’s rivals? Why?
If we ponder these questions too long then we’ll ultimately reach the conclusion that football is pointless; merely a frivolous pastime that temporarily diverts us from the crushing drudgery of modern life.
But before we get all “opiate of the people” and what-not, let’s get back to the point: identity and a football club’s culture or traditions. In an era when players are increasingly interchangeable and signing a new bed linen partner is considered newsworthy, the culture created by the fans seems to be the only thing that can’t be bought. Not yet, anyway.
A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club by Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher delves into the history of the club from the fan’s perspective. It’s a history that informs Tottenham Hotspur’s fan culture.
The club started, as every Spurs fan knows, with a meeting under a streetlight. The club’s wholehearted embrace of professionalism and turning itself into a for-profit corporate machine pre-dated the English Premier League by almost a century. Anti-modern football, anyone?
Supporting a club needs a focus. Supporters need a place to be, a place that is theirs, somewhere around which the bonds of attachment coalesce.
This idea of home is central to the book. White Hart Lane became the club’s home, and the club has played all its home league matches within a kilometre of the Lane. For Spurs supporters, the name Tottenham Hotspur and its connection to the suburb itself are a core part of identity, even if the only a small minority of Spurs’ supporters hail from Tottenham.
If Spurs were to play anywhere other than Tottenham, would Spurs still be Spurs? (Insert your own joke about finishing 10th here.)
Despite – or perhaps because of – the club’s desire to draw in paying spectators, fans at White Hart Lane were better looked after than at other league grounds, with such extravagances as a roof and a refreshment buffet.
Perhaps this is a reason why the supporters remained loyal through the ups and downs of the 1920s and 1930s with promotions followed by relegations and no silverware to follow the cup triumph of 1921. It’s a lesson that still applies in contemporary football that the club would do well to remember.
The book gives an insight into how being a football supporter has changed over the years. Transport links gave fans the opportunity to travel to away games, and we now see that the internet gives fans all over the world the chance to be keyboard warriors for their club. Is that a legitimate form of support? You’ll have to read issue 3 of Thin White Line to find out… Well, it’s also covered in the book!
The subtitle of the book is “How Spurs fans shaped the identity of one of the world’s most famous clubs”. Anyone interested in fan activism simply must read this book for an insight into one of football’s earliest fan power movements. The lessons learned are relevant to all of us today, whether you’re Anti Modern Football, pro safe standing, or just interested in not being treated like dirt by the authorities simply because you’re a football supporter.
The book also busts the myth that “football hooligans aren’t real supporters”.
A quick word about style. I’ve read some books lately that are absolute rubbish, full of overblown prose, bloated, pretentious, and quite frankly boring. Cloake and Fisher have put together a book that is readable, flows well, and doesn’t leave the reader wanting to gouge their own eyes out. It’s a pleasure to read.
Spurs fans anywhere in the world must buy this book. It answers the question of why seemingly rational people follow Tottenham Hotspur. It delves into what makes Spurs Spurs, and what makes its fans unique – wherever they are in the world.
Martin Cloake wrote on football’s culture wars in Issue 2 of Thin White Line.
Alan Fisher wrote about the issue of modern football fan identity in Issue 3 of Thin White Line.