by Jack Howes
The above scene from Peep Show, in microcosm, represents my views as a fan of the century long Spurs-Arsenal rivalry, with the two sides set to play each other again on Saturday.
In the scene Jeremy and Super Hans go into a room which the audience doesn’t see, where debaucherous, hedonistic activities are obviously taking place (imagine that being Spurs and Arsenal actually playing football against each other). Both come out of the room shaken, scared, scarred. Jeremy says after taking a glimpse into ‘the heart of darkness’ that all he wants is a “Cup of tea, some soda bread and to sit somewhere that’s quiet” and ‘crack addled maniac’ Super Hans to say he just wants to “Go somewhere that’s safe. I just want to be in a controlled environment, eat a tuna sandwich, have a coke, mong out to some Snow Patrol”.
That’s in essence how I feel about the North London Derby. I find Spurs-Arsenal games are a frightening experience that make me tense, nervous and unhappy. That isn’t just because Spurs in my lifetime have been about as convincing against Arsenal as a John Terry apology. The whole experience of Spurs playing Arsenal, the press hyping the match up, almost everyone at school, in playgrounds and offices talking about the game is almost unbearable and indeed leaves me wanting a sandwich, a can of coke and average, bland, mystifyingly successful ‘indie’ rock.
Watching Spurs at the best of times is a nerve wracking experience. There isn’t a game Spurs aren’t capable of losing. Aside from a run of about five games last season when under Harry Redknapp we looked like forming a credible title challenge, I’ve never had much confidence in my team. Home games to dreadful sides with their hooligan of a manager barking nonsense clichés and swear words at all and sundry turn into stupid 1-0 defeats or irritating draws. Games against good teams lapse into the same weak performances and pathetic defeats. Then we’ll beat Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester United at Old Trafford and the previous misery will (almost) become worth it.
But the usual tension is ratcheted up a level when Spurs play Arsenal. While the players, who don’t come from the local areas and live together in the wealthy, secluded suburbs around North London may not care unduly about the fixture, for the fans it means everything. A good result means I can walk round for the next week with a smile on my face and a disposition sunnier than a lovely summer’s day. A defeat and I encounter crowing Gooners and the miserable thought in my head when I wake up every morning that my team has lost.
Derby games, whatever the result or the scoreline are no fun at all. If Spurs are losing I’m miserable. If they’re drawing I’m scared of losing. And if they’re winning I’m scared of not winning. When Spurs beat Arsenal 5-1 in the 2008 Carling Cup semi-final, I reckon it was the 85th minute before feelings of mass anxiety and nervousness at the prospect of an Arsenal comeback faded and I started to feel vaguely human again.
Of course many fans feel these emotions to varying degrees every match they watch. But in a match against local rivals this is heightened until you can barely take it anymore. The history of a rivalry, the extra build up in the press beforehand and (with local rivalries at least) the close personal contact between opposing fans you encounter at work or in social situations are why the tension and pressure is exacerbated.
That’s why personally I don’t like derbies. There’s too much tension, too much at stake for the state of affairs to be even vaguely healthy. Even this season, when I’ve found that my emotional attachment to Spurs has for various reasons (many not to do with football) not been as strong as it has been in previous seasons, a derby will shake me out of my slumber and make me feel as nervous, tetchy and vaguely nauseous as ever when watching my team play.
This season the fact both teams are not doing very well this season makes things worse. A struggling side induces tension in me much more than a good team. With the two sides playing with all the confidence of an 18 year old virgin walking into a brothel with £100 in his back pocket, facing increasing pressure from fans and media and realising a loss would be a disastrous result in all sorts of ways but lacking, tension is amplified.
Derbies are just too much for me. I struggle to cope with them. The 5-2 defeat to Arsenal last season couldn’t have been more soul destroying if I had been given the Dementor’s Kiss. Even winning is an ordeal, consists of relief more than pleasure and in any case I’m too scared of confrontation to crow about a Spurs win.
If the disappointment of losing and happiness of winning a local derby were to take part in the event on Gladiators where two people tried to knock each other off plinths with giant cotton buds, disappointment would definitely win.