I have a confession to make: I’m a Tottenham fan (that’s not the confession) and a couple of weeks ago I actively chose not to watch our match against West Brom.
It was a game we won and it sounded (I couldn’t go completely cold turkey so listened to some of it on the radio) like a match I would have enjoyed: something resembling an attacking outlook, plenty of chances and the kind of domination you would expect against a team hopelessly equipped for Premier League survival. Easy Sunday lunchtime fare.
I didn’t regret my decision though, which had lifted a weight off my shoulders in spite of a lingering sense of shame that still remains for betraying my tribal loyalty. You shouldn’t choose; you should commit. I just couldn’t do another match.
These are strange times for all football fans, especially Spurs supporters. Forced to watch from afar as our club plays a brand of football at best described as pragmatic and at worst soul-destroying, the disconnect for many is vast.
That the club remains firmly within sight of the top four, raising hopes by seeing off minnows in the Europa League and has secured a Carabao Cup final spot only adds to the perplexing issue of what exactly we want from our football team; what it is we want from sport in general.
This lockdown is hard. Long ago tired of an endless cycle of pitiful recreation options – run, walk, Zoom chat, run, walk, Zoom chat – the desire for the light relief of watching our sporting heroes is greater than ever. A chance to escape the tedium. I don’t just want to watch sport right now, I need it. And yet…
Time for another admission: it turns out I am no football connoisseur. With every passing week of lockdown, I am exposed as the kind of footballing Luddite I always fought to deny even to myself.
My respect for the ever-growing industry of more complex statistics and deeper tactical analysis is considerable, and I have done my due diligence of inverted pyramids, zonal marking and false nines. But my emotional response (sheer, childlike joy) to Gareth Bale’s north-London return will forever be tenfold greater than a detailed graphical representation of the mind-boggling interplay between the fluid front four in a Pep Guardiola side.
Granted, such analytics would almost certainly have identified that Bale would be utter dross against anyone tougher than the sixth-best team in Austria long before he boarded the flight from Madrid, but it would also have denied me those days of pure excitement that the greatest Spurs player in my lifetime was coming ‘home’.
Because sport is about so much more than clinical numbers and data. More than about just winning. It is about the story and the journey. The annoyingly long queue for a frustratingly priced burger, the haste to finish a pre-match drink before rushing to your seat, the conversations, the familiarity, the joy and the despair. The unexpected, the ridiculous, the fun and the frustrating. And so much of it has gone.
Being able to watch your team play every single match on television should be a dream, and yet somehow it has become a chore. How can I need something so much that makes me feel so desolate?
There is every chance that Jose Mourinho provides that rare gem of a Tottenham trophy this season and yet it won’t quell my exasperation for what he has done to my team. Sport is my release, football my passion and Spurs my tribe. But – mismatches against the likes of Marine and Wolfsberger aside – I have started to hate watching them and, even more so, hate that I feel such hatred.
A few days after the West Brom game I returned to viewing duties for an FA Cup tie against Everton, which Tottenham lost 5-4 after extra time. It was a quite ridiculous game with mistakes galore and it meant another chance of elusive silverware had slid by. But I enjoyed it. It was silly and frustrating in equal measure.
My messages to friends were full of emotions so rarely seen in the depressed drudgery of recent weeks. All too briefly, sport had made me feel again.