Forgive me, I was only a child – Spurs Preview

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For anyone of a certain age, the question “yeah, but which real team do you support?” will have a certain resonance.  Even on those rare occasions that you found someone whose first instinct was to laugh at Latics fans and then rub their faces in trips to Wembley, it used to be difficult to get someone to accept that you did indeed, first and foremost, follow the fortunes of your local team.  Some of you may have been strong enough to straight bat these questions and keep the faith; others will have picked a team from the wider football world (perhaps a Scottish, Italian or Spanish team). 

I was obviously a weak child and tended to pick an English side, but one I thought no one else would come up with.  That meant that whilst I was attempting to shake off the family affinity for our chums from Eastlands (they nearly got me with a trip to Moss Side and a 7-1 victory over Norwich) I meandered my way though an assortment of top flight teams, usually from darn south.

As my heart was never in it my answer was invariably different every time I was asked the question, incredibly disloyal I know but at least it prevented things getting hand too often (although a wardrobe that at the start of the 80s contained both West Ham and Watford shirts suggests that the tactic wasn’t wholly successful). 

All of that changed one spring afternoon in 1981.  The FA cup final was approaching and one of the ‘bigger boys’ (I’ll admit it I was a bit of a swot) from my year shouted me over on my way out of the gates and asked me a question?  It was a simple enquiry and one that if asked in the pub these days would (and regularly does) trigger a lengthy debate.  However in the culture of the playground “who’s going to win on Saturday” is a question loaded with all sorts of subtext.

As an adult the meaning of the question is quite clear, it’s about which side will come out on top after 90 minutes (or in this case extra time and a replay).  For children it’s slightly different, more of a “who do you want to win?”, “which team are you supporting?” with only a sprinkling of “which side do you think has the best chance of scoring most goals?”.  The fact is that I didn’t really care much about the FA cup final itself, never mind who won it, but I got the feeling that answer wouldn’t wash, either being seen as a cop out or (shockingly) an indication that I was a girly swot, who knew nothing about football.

What’s a geeky kid to do faced with that sort of pressure?  Sure that the wrong answer would at best see me derided as a fool and at worse end up with a beating I bit the bullet.  Now I obviously wasn’t that scared as I’d seen the opportunities in choosing each of the answers.  To choose City would mean I was siding with my family, toeing the line and (in my head at least) starting down a path that I really didn’t want to go down.  Spurs offered the opportunity to rebel against my dad, even if he’d never know, and the next logical step in my quest to support every club with a 01 STD code.

The choice was made all the more difficult as the, what appeared to be, real possibility of a kicking made it seem more permanent.  Ridiculous looking back, as me and the other lad struck up a friendship, forged on my answer, which lasted through the rest of middle school and gradually lead me to the conclusion that he was just asking a simple question after all.  You don’t need to tell me, I obviously did too much thinking back then.

So Spurs was the answer, and it was the right one.  A quick “so do I” and the next thing you know we’ve both got ski hats with cockerels on the side.  My fandom went little further than that.  I had a nice Le Coq Sportif away shirt, wanted them to win when they were on tele and held an opinion on whether Nico Claesen was a better midfield option than Steve Hodge, apart from a programme brought back from my Uncle’s visit to White Hart Lane (against Norwich strangely enough) that was about it.

I didn’t get much out of it, of course I had a stock answer when faced with forced to fess up a ‘real’ team and with Latics and Spurs on the books there was clearly no chance of me joining the laser blue army.  When it came down to it there was no belonging, no sense of affinity and no passion.  I already knew where my heart lay, but as the years went by it became more and more clear that you can’t choose who to support, not even as your second team. 

Eventually I learnt to stand up for Latics and by the time that I hit my GCSEs Spurs were little more than a passing interest.  I kept my eye on their results and still wanted them to do well but little more.  I wasn’t an ex-Spurs supporter and they weren’t even my second team.  My Springfield season ticket took pride of place and any First Division interest was determined by who I thought had the better team, or who was in competition with teams that I’d decided not to like. 

As they say the proof is the pudding and in this case that came in the last game of the 88/89 season.  If you know owt about owt then you’ll know which game I mean, and I wasn’t shouting for our cousins from down the East Lancs.  What self respecting Spurs fan would have jumped up when Michael Thomas slotted that last minute winner?

Anyroad, now I’ve got that off my chest, it’s back to the present day and the visit of Martin Jol’s Spurs team to the JJB.  There’s no tinge of excitement or anticipation on my part and the only thing that makes it special is our current predicament.  Both sides will be wanting to win, but for very different reasons and you’d have to put Latics as very much the outsiders.

There is some hope on our part though.  That Spurs played on Thursday night would be a slight benefit, but that they spent most of the game trying to get four goals could prove massive for us.  Or at least that’s what the press will be trying to tell us.  On this season’s evidence they could probably turn up still in floods of tears and still beat us. 

In any case there’s every chance that we’ll see a fairly different Spurs side on Sunday, if Berbatov and Keane are a little bit weary then here comes Mido and Defoe, elsewhere their side is built on fairly English lads who should be able to manage two games in four days.  If not then they’ve got reasonable back up in the likes of the aforementioned forwards, Tom Huddlestone and Danny Murphy.

If there are fitness concerns then Jewell will be more bothered than Jol.  With Hall, Unsworth, Boyce and De Zeeuw bothering Alan Tomlinson, Latics will have to decide on who partners Jackson at the back.  It’s anyone’s guess who will be the lucky chap, but it’s odds on that it will be someone playing out of position.

The only real hope for us getting anything out of the game is Spurs’ away form, Latics have managed more points on the road than Tottenham this season, but then again you don’t want to look at our record at the JJB. 

If you’ve not picked up on it, I don’t rate our chances.  It’s either going to be a dour affair or a walloping (or both).  You’ll have to keep yourself entertained by abusing our favourite Guadeloupian.  If Thursday’s game is anything to go by, then he’ll be out of position at left back, with Valencia missing there has to be question marks over whether anyone can take advantage of that… actually, who am I kidding, there’s no question marks and no chance of us taking advantage.

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