They say you should always support your home town team. I do, and it’s Salford Red Devils, the local professional rugby league team.
However, when it comes to supporting my local football team, I decided to take a road less-travelled for northerners and began supporting the mighty Spurs instead of Manchester United, who were situated no more than three miles down the road from where I was born and raised.
As an 8-year old in the pre-mass sports media age, I admit to having no knowledge of any other football team than Man Utd before the FA Cup 4th round results were read out on the radio one Saturday tea-time in February 1967. Utd were beaten surprisingly 2-1 at home by second division Norwich City that day and I now needed a new team to follow for the rest of the cup competition.
My dad suggested Tottenham Hotspur to me, apparently for no other reason than he’d been impressed by a certain Alf Ramsey, who he’d seen playing fullback for Spurs at Bolton Wanderers some years earlier. By the time Spurs beat Chelsea 2-1 a few months later in the ‘67 Cup Final, I was a committed fan who spent hour upon hour scribbling the cockerel and ball logo on any available scrap paper or notebook, in the same way that I later tried perfecting my signature for my very first cheque book.
My interest in football generally, and Spurs in particular, began when there was no such thing as Sky Sports, social media, bloeugs, or even regular TV football for that matter! Consequently, I rarely saw Spurs on the telly and only got to read match reports when they played local teams. Things were so bad I was often found scouring the ‘Manchester Football Pink’ on Saturday evenings for any random reference to my beloved club in obscure sections of the paper, such as readers’ questions, etc.
My actual first live football game was Manchester United versus Manchester City at Old Trafford in 1969. I remember City won 1-0, but my abiding memory is of standing next to some City fans who were discussing beating Spurs in the Cup Q/Final the previous weekend. As a Spurs-starved youngster, I hung on every word they had to say about the match and, more importantly, what they had to say about my team!
I can’t quite recall the first time I saw Spurs play, although it would have been at Old Trafford, and most probably we would have lost. I know for a fact, however, I was sitting in the Stretford End seats when George Best produced that sublime chip over Pat Jennings – in my direct line of vision – to record yet another win against us back in ‘71. For anyone not old enough to remember seeing it live, or on the Match of the Day opening sequences over the years, it can be viewed still on YouTube.
I do have vivid memories of my very first game at White Lane, which came in 1972, and once again involved my personal nemesis, Manchester United.
An older family friend booked us on the Inter-City Football Special, an innovative way of entertaining football fans going on big away games in the early ‘70s. In reality, it comprised no more than a cattle-truck added to the normal rolling stock, which meant that the travelling hooligans could enjoy drinking beer while being thrown about a designer-graffitied wagon with every twist and turn of the track, and every braking motion of the train. Great fun for some, I guess, but where on earth was the elf-n-safety??
The official pre-match entertainment was either forgettable or non-existent, but us Park Laners had a great laugh when a tall, gangly Utd fan dressed in denim jacket, half-mast denim jeans and obligatory bovver boots escaped from the Paxton Road and ran full-pelt towards our end. There was no way he could have got at us owing to the metal fence between us and the pitch, so instead he dived full-length, feet-first into the line of police waiting to apprehend him. How we all laughed. I bet the police had the last laugh, too, when they got him under the stand out of our view.
The match ended 1-1, with George Graham scoring for Utd and Martin Peters for us.
We bought fish and chips in a chippy in a small parade of shops near the ground after the game, and nearly missed the coach back to Euston station. I’ve often wondered where exactly the chippy was situated and I wonder if any of you guys can suggest where it might be. I very much doubt it was on the High Road, so maybe it was down a nearby side street.
As a teenager, my dad bought season tickets for my older brother and I at – yes, you’ve guessed it – Old Trafford. I was a closet ABU fan, politely applauded ‘home’ goals while secretly willing on every visiting team. I can recall only one occasion when my mask slipped and, naturally, it occurred when Spurs came to town. How could anyone be expected to sit on their hands as Martin Peters scored 1, then 2, then 3, and then a glorious 4th in a 4-1 demolition of the home team. The fans I sat with every second Saturday must have thought I’d taken leave of my senses, but I just couldn’t help myself.
My worst Man Utd related experience occurred on my younger brother’s stag day at Haydock races in 2001. As his best man, I was in charge of 27 Utd (and 1 City) fans on a day we were playing them at WHL. As many of you will know, it started really well as we took a deserved 3-0 half-time lead. The 5 goal collapse in the second half turned the afternoon away from a focus on the horses to how can the life of the only available spurs fan be made as miserable as possible. To great cheers and merriment, the number of our hired corporation bus was changed to read ‘35’ for the return journey to Salford, and the misery continued well into the evening when even more Utd fans joined the stag party at a local pub. As a rabid Utd fan himself, my brother was more than happy to find more people seeking to speak to me rather than him at his special event!
I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough to convey how Manchester United are for me the mortal enemy, even more so than the Arse, the Chavs and the Spammers. As despicable as these London teams may be, they can never haunt me in the same way that Utd have done over the years.
Attending the 3-0 win at OT on the weekend of my 60th birthday in August provided some relief from regular family taunting, but we need another statement win on Sunday to continue putting their ‘bogey team’ status fully to bed.
In closing, they say that most people who switch football teams are nothing more than glory hunters. Well, as all we Spurs fans know, the “Game is about Glory” and so I’m happy to admit to being guilty as charged!!