“If you know your history…”

A People's History of Tottenham Hotspur

Authors Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher have released their latest book, A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Both Martin and Alan have written fabulous (non-Spurs) articles for Thin White Line magazine. TWL Editor Ian Kerr interviewed the pair about the book, and the importance of history to football supporters.

Gary Mabbutt said that the one stable thing about a football club is the supporters. Why is it important for new supporters of a club to understand the club’s history?

Martin Cloake: The answer is a lot to do with roots and community and sense of place – all ideas that are scoffed at by those who would have us see clubs as just another brand and football as just another business, but all things which have undeniably made football what it is. Each club has a unique history, a folk history, that goes alongside the history of its onfield successes, and it’s important for people to understand that. Let’s not forget, football clubs were created by communities and were integral part of this communities for years – that’s what has knitted the game into the national fabric.

Alan Fisher: We’re in the selfie age of narcissism, instant gratification and overweening expectation. But football support is about the very opposite. It’s about camaraderie, solidarity, commitment and being part of something bigger. The tradition marks us out as Spurs fans as being a bit different from fans of other clubs, and of course those clubs have their own traditions too. Gives a welcome sense of perspective. It’s about who we are as Spurs fans, because being a Spur is an integral part of our identity. That’s what supporter is about.

Writing A People’s History revealed how elements of supporter culture persist through the generations. Loyalty regardless of league fortunes, going away in numbers, being independent and resilient, insisting on attacking football, the Spurs Way, all of them apply to Spurs fans of every generation.

You write that “the game is trying to redefine our own history in order to sell it back to us.” New clubs and leagues around the world yearn for the history that UK football clubs have, so why tamper with one of the main things that makes UK football so compelling?

MC: The answer is linked a bit with the answer I gave above. I’ve written a lot that the football business is in danger of not realising the value of the business football is, and I’d stand by that. One of the things people liked about the game is creating their own culture around it, and the combination of commercialism and an arguably overly safety conscious society is threatening to make the whole experience too controlled, while at the same time the club businesses want the spectacle of the crowd because it helps sell the TV product.

That comment about overly safety conscious, by the way, shouldn’t be taken as dismissive of the real efforts made to make grounds safer after some of the awful things that have happened, but when you hear arguments – as I have – that tifos are dangerous because the cards can be made into darts that could have someone’s eye out, you do wonder if it’s gone a bit far.

But as to why there’s tampering – I think it’s to do with two things. One, the need to maintain the event spectacle I mentioned earlier, and two the need for business to guarantee a business model that necessitates getting rid of as many differences between winning and losing as possible. So, for example, creating closed leagues with no relegation.

No relegation? Hmm, that sounds familiar.

AF: In addition, football fans have always been anarchic, difficult to control. I’m not talking about hooliganism, just that fans don’t want to be organised, they want to go where they want, make some noise, say and sing what they want. This does not fit commercial models where it is easier to relate to and make money from a settled, coherent and predictable model of consumers. Business doesn’t like the unpredictable.

How is it that Tottenham Hotspur supporters can maintain their love for the club? Is it a genetic defect?

MC: Anyone who has devoted much time to supporting a football club must have something a bit loose, but I guess it goes back to that unique identity again. And the fact we’ve got no other choice. It’s been said many times you can change almost anything, but changing the club you follow just goes against the grain. I would also say, though, that we’ve managed to hold on to more than many acknowledge at Spurs, and that’s something to love.

AF: One of the things we explore in the book is how the new generation of younger fans express their support by reaching for the values of the past – the Spurs Way, getting behind the team, being there and staying loyal. The 1882 movement is the classic example – even taking their name from our year of origin and having the motto ‘love the shirt’. We fans are the continuity, players comes and go, we love the shirt and we will still be there. In part this is a reaction to the conspicuous on-field success of Arsenal and Chelsea. We have our heritage to sustain us and mark us out as different. No gloryhunters or hipsters at White Hart Lane.

What will you miss about the current White Hart Lane when it’s gone?

MC: So much. The memories since I started going in 1978, the atmosphere when it’s really rocking, but most of all I’ll miss that connection that comes with having had the same stadium on the same spot for all those years. It might sound daft but, for all the changes at White Hart Lane, I still feel a connection that goes back through the years. I can see the stands as they were in the 1980s, still remember the sounds of the old Shelf, the peanut sellers, Knees Up Mother Brown, walking around the ground from stand to stand; I can still see Hoddle and Perryman and Ardiles dancing on the turf, and I can – in my mind’s eye – superimpose those pictures of Danny Blanchflower and the greatest team of the 20th Century winning the league against Sheffield Wednesday and playing Benfica under the floodlights. It’s all been in that ground, on that patch. We’re not moving far, and I’m so glad about that, but it will be a new site and a new stadium – and a chance to make a new history while acknowledging the old.

AF: I’m getting mawkish already and we still have a season to go. Like Martin, those connections are phenomenally powerful for me, walking the same streets that every single Spurs fan has ever walked and now with my son and granddaughter as I pass on the flame. I also sit about 10 yards from my favourite spot on the Shelf so that’s the same view for nearly 50 years. When the time comes, I will not deal with it well.

So many memories. The most vivid are not the players but the atmosphere. The modern ground is enclosed so for 90 minutes it is your world, there’s nothing else, almost mystically so under lights. Nothing compares with Anderlecht in 84 when the crowd willed the ball over the line to equalise, but beating Arsenal 2-1 the season before last was right up there so it’s something about the ground and the fans, across the generations.

New ground, new memories to create. It seems to be fan-friendly with stands close to the pitch and this huge 17k capacity end so up to us to make something of it.

Who are the best visiting fans at White Hart Lane?

MC: It changes over the years, but in recent years Brighton were pretty impressive, and Dortmund last year probably made the most impression. Interestingly, they brought a culture all of their own, one unique to them, and that prompted a debate that’s still going about how far we should be influenced by that. That’s the latest chapter in the history of our support, I guess.

AF: Villa fans always made some noise.

Buy the book direct from Pitch Publishing.