Confessions of a nostalgic Spurs fan

Despite becoming the Everton of London, David Aaronovitch sees some hope for Tottenham supporters. Well, sort of
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The Independent Online
At the moment you can get odds of between 33 and 40 to 1 against Tottenham winning the Premiership this season - and that hurts. But why should it? Except for two years at the beginning of the Sixties, Spurs have never dominated British football in the way that - at different times - Liverpool, Man Utd or Leeds have. The club hasn't matched Arsenal for consistency. They, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Everton have all won the championship since we last did. That's the history, so what's my problem now?

Well, for one, it's the manner of the thing. Spurs at their best, were a "Cup team" in the best sense. In both the 70s and 80s, for instance, we won three of 'em, and appeared in two other finals. And we did it all with style, which was something that Arsenal never had. Style, you see, never prospered there: whether in the shape of Charlie Nicholas or Alan Hudson. Like an exotic plant in a barren back yard, it always withered in the face of Arsenal's relentless defensiveness, its co-ordinated ordinariness.

Arsenal won more, but we were the team to see. Out of the dreadful period of the mid-Seventies, were born teams with flair, with elan. Ardiles and Villa came to Spurs. We spawned Glenn Hoddle, and we bought Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle. Gary Lineker, at the height of his powers, chose White Hart Lane; Darren Anderton turned United down. And above all, there was Jurgen, his one season at the club like a glorious holiday romance with the most intelligent and voluptuous woman you can imagine. We were talked about, written about, all our matches covered on Capital radio, the Evening Standard full of Spurs minutiae. We felt fashionable.

We were also, under the glossy impractical reign of Ossie Ardiles, in free fall. When Ardiles was sacked, the incoming Gerry Francis stopped the rot within days. From the Charge of the Light Brigade we turned into FA Cup semi-finalists. The next season, we felt, it was there for the taking.

And then, gradually, things started to go wrong. Glenn Hoddle, managing at Chelsea, brought in Ruud Gullit and, with Matthew Harding's dosh, began to put a team together. And Arsenal - Arsenal for chrissake! - bought Dennis Bergkamp. We, however, lost little Barmby (oh, foolish Barmby!) and Jurgen. Darren Anderton was crocked for virtually the whole season, Ilie Dumitrescu, it turned out, could not play football.

Chairman Alan Sugar got the blame. His sandpaper voice and sandpaper face made him seem charmless, his Thatcherite business background suggested a lack of humanity. He was John Birt, in an industry that loves its Michael Grades. When he jibed at "Carlos Kickaball", the archetypal useless foreign import, the fans saw only Juninho and Zola and lusted after them.

But gradually the discerning fan has begun to realise that Spurs is not the problem, the restrictions placed on Kenny Dalglish's spending this month, and Blackburn's recent near demise, both suggest that sugar-daddy funding for football clubs can only last so long. Sugar's insistence on running Tottenham properly makes sense. When the money is available, he is prepared to stump up.

Which has left many wondering whether the man who saved us back in '94, Gerry Francis, has the ambition and wit to spend it. At Highbury, Arsene Wenger - like Chelsea's Gullit - is connected to the magical world of European football: to Monaco, to Milan, to the maestro nurseries of France, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, to truly international clubs. Gerry, however, is connected to QPR and Bristol Rovers, and he seems to like it safe. That's why he buys players he has already worked with. What he doesn't seem to like is to deal with established international stars, who owe him precisely nothing.

The other problem with Gerry is that he is a miserable old git. He moans all the bloody time, about players leaving and players getting injured. True, last season he has plenty to be miserable about. Mabbutt broke his leg on day one, Armstrong was effectively out from match four, Anderton had another wasted season having keyhole surgery on anything large enough to make a keyhole in. We would buy players to replace crocked players, only to see them limp off forever, and that would make Gerry even more miserable. I became convinced that some players got hurt just to avoid having to listen to Gerry being miserable. Footballers prefer jolly - ask Tel.

Meanwhile, Gianfranco Zola, offered at one time, according to rumours, to Spurs, won the Cup with Chelsea, and all of a sudden we were looking at Tottenham becoming London's third team. If there should ever be a Euroleague, we realised, then our team - with its smallish stadium - would probably not be in it.

That's when the moaning really began. No, sorry, that's wrong. Spurs fans have always moaned. This was worse, for some of them had stopped moaning and begun to die. When Teddy Sheringham left, the cause seemed completely lost. No one would come to us: we were the Everton of London.

But Sol Campbell signed a new contract, then Les and Ginola were signed, and our hearts lifted momentarily. Meanwhile, in the last hours before the new season starts, we are waiting expectantly for our Zola to be signed. Any day now Alessandro Del Piero will step on to Alan Sugar's yacht, and the tide will turn. Even if he doesn't, hope still contends with resignation in any fan's heart - so tomorrow I am going to Ladbrokes to place pounds 100 at 40 to 1. And if everyone's fit, a team of Walker, Scales, Campbell, Vega, Neilsen, Howells, Ginola, Armstrong, Anderton, Ferdinand and Iversen, with Sinton on the bench, could give anyone a run for their money. Though, at 33 to 1, I'm not so sure.