From Thailand to Morocco and a few places in-between, Karl Harrington has called a few countries home. The love for football and the mighty Spurs have helped him form many friendships along the way.
You walk by an army of people on the street every day. No real connection exists between you and each nameless face you pass, nor do you feel the need to make one. But then in the midst of the crowd you spot something. To anyone else it would just be another anonymous stranger, but to you it is a brother in arms. Without the need for words they have already won your respect, and you theirs. All that is communicated is a simple nod of the head, before they disappear among the masses…
Over the past four years I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in as many continents. At times it can be challenging to fit into such diverse cultures, but no matter what environment you find yourself in football always offers a universal language and your club a mutual bond. I’ve no doubt that supporting Tottenham has influenced many of the experiences I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made along the way.
My first destination was a village in central Thailand. English was sparsely spoken, but if it is the land of a thousand smiles then it is the land of a billion knock-off jerseys: a great combination to break down some seemingly impenetrable barriers. Thai’s have an obsession with the Premier League, eclipsing that for any other European competitor. The tenacity of the English game first seduced the population and recent investments from English clubs in the Thai market and from Thai businesses in English clubs has helped to further fuel their love for the greatest show on earth.
On a whole Spurs are well supported. Many train rides across the country were spent observing the colours worn, with Lilywhite being a clear winner over the red or blue of our London rivals. The owner of the local shack was also a Yid meaning we received screening preference on match days and an extra incentive to splash out on the Sam Song. Despite being over 5 thousand miles away from any British ground an impassioned, albeit whiskey influenced, atmosphere always existed on Saturday evenings. One thing that surprised me on such occasions was the varied affiliation shown by locals. Growing up in Ireland I was used to 90% of the population supporting either Liverpool or Man United. But even in a small village in Thailand it would not be unusual to find a few supporting either side in a Palace v Southampton clash.
I’ve no doubt that supporting Tottenham has influenced many of the experiences I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made along the way.
The owner’s son even looked to deviate from his own path and showed more interest in Chelsea games rather than our own. However, I could not sit back and allow him to cross over to the dark side and presented him with his first ever Spurs shirt, just as my own father had branded me. He did laps of the bar celebrating this rite of passage like the Scousers after a home draw against West Brom. An hour later we ended up losing 3-0 to Stoke. The short lived elation followed by crippling disappointment a good lesson for what is to come as a lifelong Spurs fan, and rather similar to my first experience with one of the local ladies.
Next it was another remote area, this time in Haiti. English was pretty much non-existent as was my Creole. In my early days I would wander around attracting a lot of attention as the only ‘blan’ (white person) of the area. One sweltering afternoon I took shelter in a disused school bus in the centre of the village. The inside of the tattered vehicle quickly filled, with locals also peering in through the gaps where windows used to be. I had become accustomed to politely nodding in response to a blitz of questions I couldn’t comprehend. But finally, they started talking a language I largely understood: ‘Messi oswa Ronaldo? Madrid pi bon Barca!’ They seemed to be evenly divided on the two sided argument; until, one boy muttered two words from a far bench. I instantly rose to my feet, as stunned as when Sissoko found the back of the net against Huddersfield. ‘Harry Kane,’ the boy repeated more loudly, reading the delight on my face. Before long the whole village joined in chanting our striker’s name, palming the walls, floor, and roof of the bus like an old heathen ritual.
From then on I was no longer known as ‘blan’, but as Harry Kane. It was certainly not a nickname justified by my on-field performances; the Haitians bare feet must more adapt to the bobbly dirt field and ball as deflated as a Spurs backup striker’s confidence. However, it was another challenge of living in such an environment that almost proved too much: the lack of Premier League games. It was the year we looked destined to pip Leicester to the title and a bitter sweet feeling knowing I would have barely viewed a single game throughout the campaign. In the end I needn’t have worried; the only logical explanation to our end of season collapse was the work of some of the voodoo I’d been warned about.
I then headed south to Medellin, better known as Escobar’s old hometown. A totally transformed city these days, but if any remnant of his reign still remains it is the influence he had on the region’s football. With more cash than a Middle East consortium one of his favourite pastimes was to build football stadiums in the impoverished comunas of the city. Many of the country’s future stars developed on these pitches, such as René Higuita and Leonel Álvarez. Another hobby was to pump his money into the local team, Atlético Nacional. This helped them capture Colombia’s first ever Copa Libertadores title and subsequently become the pride and joy of Colombian football. When I arrived they were basking in the aftermath of having just captured their second. I’d seen reels of match highlights from the Narco era and the passion that I witnessed in the stadium certainly did not disappoint. Although these days translated through a raucous vocal backing rather than referee massacres.
Such is the Colombian national pride that their interest in foreign leagues solely revolves around the destinations of homegrown players, perfectly depicted by Wayne Shaw stealing the country’s main news headline earlier this year. The ex Sutton United pie eating goalie managed to generate more interest than the country’s own peace negotiations due to countryman David Ospina lining up as his opposite number. It was tiring to repeatedly see so much love and support shown to our rivals, simply for a backup keeper. But to quote El Patron: ‘everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out what it is.’ And in this case it happened to be somewhere in the region of 42 million. I’m sure Levy carried out mass proselytism with the signing of our first ever Colombian. There’s no doubt that the Nacional graduate will be idolised in a country so passionate about their football and with that bring a new generation of Spurs faithful.
The only logical explanation to our end of season collapse was the work of some of the voodoo I’d been warned about.
Most recently I have called Morocco home. The streets are not filled with people donning their team’s latest jerseys nor do rowdy cheers echo from bars on Saturday afternoons. But sit down with a Moroccan and you will find they have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, easily able to recite how many appearances Noureddine Naybet made in a Spurs shirt among many other absurd facts. The country is predominantly divided between Barcelona and Madrid supporters, which undeniably made our recent European exploits even sweeter. Since those heroics there has been an increased number at the local cafés for Spurs games. The tea flows, cigarettes chain smoked, and, for some, games interrupted due to prayer times. But, although portrayed in a different manner, the interest and dedication to the game is as present here as anywhere I have witnessed.
A final observation that has stuck with me over these years is a recurring and mocking reaction to my referral to Spurs as we. Ingrained in my speech I would certainly never change the habit but it made me ponder the age old debate: do fans have the right to class themselves under the same pronoun as the players? After some deliberation the answer seemed clear, and now I never hesitate to shut them down in a similar manner as AVB did Neil Ashton – we is us.
We is us stemming from those who make the pilgrimage to act as our twelfth man every week to the young Indian boy who has chosen Tottenham to cheer on above all others. Spurs is something we carry with us everywhere we go, a way in which we identify ourselves, the reason we can feel an instant connection with that one stranger among the crowd. Because regardless of our race or religion we are bound together by that same cockerel stitched on our shirt or proudly perched upon our woolly hat.