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Adam Powley reviews A People's History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. A book of significant importance to understanding why we are who we are.
It was something Martin Cloake said to me when we first met around the turn of the new millennium, and it still matters to this day. Back then I was editing a football website, which Martin was writing articles for. We shared a love for (and often a frustration with) Tottenham Hotspur, and one post-match evening in the midst of a beer-fuelled moan about George Graham’s Spurs and modern football in general, Mart said something as profound now as it was then. ‘Football without the fans just doesn’t work.’
It’s a comment that’s stayed with me because it is so simple yet so truthful. People in the game love to trot out similar sentiments, with the suspiciously insincere ‘fans were great as ever!’ tweets from players particularly notable examples. But such platitudes belie a fundamental truth. This sport – this sport business – would literally be nothing without the people who make it. The fans.
Given the absolute importance of supporters to the game, it’s still a wonder there are not more books on the subject. Martin and co-author Alan Fisher have done their part in trying to redress that imbalance, with their wonderful A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur.
I’m biased. As well as being a mate, Martin and I have worked on a number of Spurs books together, and I am also lucky to count Alan as a friend. You’ll know him as the best Spurs blogger around (in a very talented field). His regular musings on Tottenham On My Mind are that rarest of things, genuine ‘must-reads’.
Tottenham, as a club, is not unique, and followers of other teams might bridle at the inference the ‘Spurs Way’ is an organic state of mind as much as a method of playing football. But what do they know.
I agree with most things the pair have to say about our club and the wider sport. But putting such friendships aside, this book is, genuinely, a vitally important one in the development of football publishing.
It puts the fans front and centre of one club’s story. It happens to be about Tottenham, but it’s a universal tale, showing in lovingly crafted prose how people in a community have come together over the years to build, nurture and sustain a sports team that represents them.
It’s about people, place, identity, of common purpose, and the material and emotional investment people make in supporting a team. The context of Spurs as the embodiment of the area from which it arose, is expertly expressed, showing how integral the environment of the emerging London suburb from the late 19th century was in giving a genetic code to the Spurs DNA.
Tottenham, as a club, is not unique, and followers of other teams might bridle at the inference the ‘Spurs Way’ is an organic state of mind as much as a method of playing football. But what do they know. This is a thoroughly well-researched and superbly conceived book that articulates a narrative too often missing and which has very necessary things to say.
You can dip into the chapters or consume in a couple of reading sessions. I opted for the latter, compelled by the flow of the colourful story. In particular I loved the recollections of supporters, from the local street urchin of the 1950s who forged a bond with the club, to Richard Cracknell’s colourful descriptions of one famous Tottenham boozer The Bull, and its relationship with the gaff up the High Road.
The tales of the Shelf and its demise are equally involving, and for many of us of a certain age, still a vivid, personal experience we can share and lament through these pages.
Given the absolute importance of supporters to the game, it’s still a wonder there are not more books on the subject.
I wanted more on the inter-world-war era but that is not to blame the authors. The voices of football fans from that period are limited to the point of near total anonymity. There were no such things as fanzines, barely any newspaper coverage, and books on football all but ignored the presence of the people who made the whole phenomenon possible.
That seems extraordinary now, but given that supporter perspectives still struggle to gain due attention, it is a problem that persists and has to be confronted. Former FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s committee on the future of the game invited all and sundry but – astonishingly – gave no formal representation to fans.
At Tottenham the campaigning zeal of supporters acting in unison has been a more modern feature of the fanbase, and has shown what can be achieved. In the face of a modern game run by multi-national corporations, and with control out of the financial reach of fans even more than it was a hundred years ago, expectations for what these groups can do have to be realistic.
But it’s a comfort to see, as recounted in this book, that those fans can make a difference. They are not and never have been the passive, silent, unseen masses. Spurs is a club built on ambition, on not taking no for an answer, of a determination to aim high even if success is too often tantalisingly elusive.
A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur illustrates those characteristics brilliantly. Whether you’ve stood on the terraces, sat in the stands, or never even been to White Hart Lane but supported the club in your own way, this is your story. And it’s one that still has a long way to run.