by Jack Howes
Football is not something that takes to change or revolutionary thoughts very easily. If any sport applies ‘earth is flat’ style thinking, it’s football. See the authorities approach to goal line technology, the way dangerous tackles are seen as ‘going for the ball’, the belief English players don’t dive, the people who ring Talksport and believe ‘passion’ and singing the national anthem out of tune will overcome all technical deficiencies on the pitch. Tony Pulis. Mark Lawrenson. All these things are the products of archaic, outdated thinking that the sport of football is yet to get rid of, even though they deserve to be fired out of a cannon and land in the deepest ocean any human can find.
Football supporting follows similar principles. The ridiculous belief that ‘true fans’ should never boo the team, their players or be negative in anyway lest it hurts the team’s performance (forgetting the large sums fans pay every week to fund their club and how bad players, managers and chairmen shouldn’t just receive obsequious, Kim Jong-Un style false praise all the time). The barmy superstitions that don’t work have never worked and never will work. The monkey chanting towards black players that attracts risible, pathetic, miniscule fines from the governing bodies. Every single chant being to the tune of Sloop John B when hearing the screaming lambs that so frightened Clarice Starling is a preferable alternative.
Football and football fans having out of date thinking is nothing new. The same chants, same views and same lame insults are used by fans season after season. There are still for example Spurs fans/massive twats (delete as applicable) who think chants about Arsene Wenger is a paedophile are funny and Gooners who make jokes about the Holocaust. Old, rotten, vile stuff.
But here, in contrast to all the things mentioned above, is a revolutionary thought: that supporting Spurs and Arsenal is basically the same.
I say this because fans of Spurs and Arsenal (and of the majority of clubs involved in a local rivalry) are broadly the same. They support clubs in the same part of London, the demographics of both fan bases are similar, both sets of fans are of a similar social class and come from either the same areas or areas very close to each other. In schools, workplaces, social gatherings, fans of rival clubs mix happily. The old joke about how ‘there are some types of mixed marriage’ that should never come into being (referring to fans of rival clubs marrying each other) isn’t really a truism.
As football teams Tottenham and Arsenal are fairly similar. They’re both good teams, neither good enough to win or even go particularly close to the league title but decent enough to finish in the top four or five every season and have at least one good cup run a season. Good enough to sign excellent players but not good enough to keep hold of the really good players that pass through their ranks. See Spurs selling Modric and Berbatov, Arsenal selling Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie.
This season already, the top three of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs have made a break for it. Arsenal are ten points behind Chelsea after only eight games which make the ‘could Arsenal challenge for the title this season’ and ‘Steve Bould is a genius defensive coach’ articles of yesterweek now look ridiculous.
Spurs are eight points behind Chelsea, having won away at Old Trafford, beaten or conceded late equalisers to a bunch of mediocre middle of the table sides and having lost at home to Chelsea. They’ve done well considering Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart have gone, along with Andre Villas-Boas and a new style of play being brought in. Fourteen points from eight games after a summer of upheaval and revolution isn’t bad at all.
But where Spurs and Arsenal are so similar is in how frustrating they are to their fanbases. Both are sides capable of beating the best but also more than capable of losing to sides they really shouldn’t get beaten by in a million years. See Norwich, a plucky not very good side beating Arsenal 1-0 on Saturday. Arsenal are eminently better than Norwich, should win easily, but were lacklustre, hopeless in front of goal and never looked like scoring. These sort of limp, 1-0 defeats to Norwich, Wigan, Stoke etc have been afflicting them for years.
Spurs are similar. No win is ever guaranteed like it is with Man United or Chelsea when they were in their Mourinho-led pomp. They’ve drawn at home this season to West Brom and Norwich when with performances of more conviction they’d have won both games. Before that see their poor results the last few seasons against teams like Wolves (more than once), Stoke, Wigan, Hull, Norwich (again more than once), QPR and Aston Villa at the end of last season. There have been constant slip-ups against poor sides that turn normally sane supporters into men, women and children “Madder than Mad McMad, winner of last year’s Mr Madmen contest”. And mean the likes of Spurs and Arsenal are never going to trouble the truly top teams over a thirty eight game season.
Here are two inconsistent, maddening teams for fans to follow within three miles of one another geographically. Arsenal overall in their history have more trophies and success but in the last five years or so have only been slightly ahead of Tottenham. The average league positions, aesthetically pleasing styles of play, wonderful wins, at times glorious football, sombre 1-0 defeats in rain and mud to mid-table, bottom dwelling, rotten teams playing a glorified form of hurling behind the façade of playing football. Devastating, gut wrenching, soul destroying defeats in the latter stages of the domestic cup competitions. You can barely distinguish Spurs from Arsenal looking at all those things.
They wear different colours, have different stadiums (though Spurs planned new ground is eerily similar to the Emirates in design), have different personnel playing and managing them and are separated by three miles down the Seven Sisters Road.
But overall, given all the similarities between the clubs and despite all the anger and vitriol that exists between both sets of fans, supporting Spurs and Arsenal is pretty much the same isn’t it?