Football: New fans lack the old virtues

At the Gwladys Street End, we roared our encouragement from first whistle to last
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The Independent Online
I WAS at White Hart Lane on Saturday, watching Tottenham lose 2-1 to West Ham. In fact, of the six or seven times I have watched Spurs at home, they have never won. They should put me on a "not wanted" poster and stick it over every turnstile. The last time I went, during that unhappy period of Gross mismanagement, they lost 1-0 to Leeds. And I remember being shocked by how half-heartedly the crowd got behind the team. Even at 0-0, the Leeds fans were much more vocal.

Spurs are much better now. There are still many fans who would rather it were not George Graham inspiring the revival - in the way that old socialists had mixed feelings about New Labour embracing some of the principles of Thatcherism. But New Labour won the general election, and new Spurs won the Worthington Cup. The White Hart Lane faithful have had some of their faith restored. Yet still they offer the players lacklustre support. On Saturday, the most rousing chants were directed either at the referee, the ever-controversial Uriah Rennie (whose talent for making decisions that are hard for 30,000 people to digest does not suit a man named Rennie) or at the much noisier West Ham supporters. These included a chant puerile even by football standards. "We're in Europe, you're not, you're not," cried the Spurs fans, all but putting their thumbs to their noses and adding, "Na-na, na-na-na."

Twenty years ago, I spent a lot of my so-called leisure time on the terraces at Goodison Park. It was not a good time to be a season ticket-holder, for Bob Paisley's Liverpool cast a giant, gloomy shadow. But, at the Gwladys Street End, orchestrated by a frizzy-haired scally known to everyone as Fozzie Bear, we roared our encouragement from first whistle to last. This season, Evertonians have had even less to shout about, yet Goodison has again been a cauldron of noise. "You're by far the greatest team... the world has ever seen," they cry, without a single discernible note of irony.

With due respect to the free-scoring Kevin Campbell, the most encouraging aspect of Everton's recent revival, as they again wriggle away from the relegation zone, has been the emergence of 18-year-old striker Francis Jeffers. Significantly, he is a born-and-bred Evertonian - as, maddeningly, are Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman - which made it gratifying to hear the old enemy Alan Hansen enthusing about him on Saturday's Match of the Day.

I know they worship Dennis Bergkamp at Highbury, and Dwight Yorke at Old Trafford, but no player should be embraced by fans like one who has risen through the ranks. For Evertonians, the obvious class of Jeffers and Michael Ball gives real pleasure, but I don't mind admitting that I sometimes wish I supported Manchester United - not because of their success per se, but because of the astonishing level of home-grown talent they have in Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers. And Alex Ferguson must also be proud of Roy Keane, who has become twice the player that he was at Nottingham Forest. Certainly, Keane's father is immensely proud of his lad. Indeed, so frequently is Mossie Keane to be found in the pubs of Cork, clutching wads of fivers and buying drinks for everyone, that I am told he has become affectionately known as "Sterling" Mossie.

But back to White Hart Lane, where there was nothing remotely home-grown about the players who stole Saturday's show. For West Ham, the Israeli Eyal Berkovic had a blinder. For Spurs, David Ginola never scaled his usual sublime heights, and was rightly booked for falling over in the penalty area like an extra in a cowboy film. Yet still he managed to score a fantastic goal. Ginola was eclipsed, though, by the only man at Tottenham he considers to be anything like a soulmate, the diddy Portuguese player Jose Dominguez, whose trickery and enthusiasm clearly lifted his teammates.

I first came across Dominguez a few seasons ago in an FA Cup tie at Anfield, shortly after he had signed for Birmingham City. I was there with the incomparable Barry Davies, who made a point of seeking out Dominguez before the game to ask how his name should be pronounced. Barry likes to get these things right, which is why I am sure that his curious pronounciation of Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer - to which he adds an `a' so that it rhymes with Brian Lara - has been confirmed from the horse's mouth. Earlier this season it was rumoured that Spurs were interested in buying Solskjaer. I cannot imagine United selling, or Alan Sugar stumping up the millions, but, if it does happen, the fans at White Hart Lane ought to raise the roof. Unfortunately, I'm not sure they know how.