It's the query that loudly follows us around social media after another excellent performance. Tom Hayward wonders if this is the question they should be asking though.
Social media is a cesspit.
Any blue-tick account on Twitter that dares to praise Tottenham Hotspur – the impressive, evolving monster of North London – will now invariably have double-figure responses from a range of people, from the anonymous ‘Football Twitter’ accounts like @MagicalMesut or @PxulPxgba to the Union Jack waving, camera held slightly-too-close-for-a-selfie middle aged grumbler. They almost all scream the same thing:
‘But what have they won?’
It’s the hottest new meme in football. Like Man City and their oil money. Liverpool and their history lessons. Chelsea and their… well, anything that’s generally unpleasant. Spurs have had their share since Pochettino took over. ‘Third in a two-horse race’, ‘bottlers’, ‘The Harry Kane Team’, and the like. The trophies line is just the latest one.
There is no naivety on my part that this is what you are supposed to do as rival fans. We caveat. We excuse. We leave reason at the door. But this is a pointed question, and the more impressive the result, the louder they ask.
The answer, as we know, is nothing. Spurs, for all the good we have done in the last 4 years, have no silverware to show for it yet. Dare you go on social media to share your appreciation of Kane’s goals, Eriksen’s floating feet or Dembele’s graceful dominance in midfield, without being reminded that it apparently doesn’t matter, as it hasn’t led to them holding a cup above their heads.
The more impressive the result, the louder they ask
There is no doubt that silverware is important, and has crossed our palms far too infrequently in the last three decades. But for fans to hold it as the yardstick is – willingly or not – myopic in the extreme.
There is no greater example of how trophies can make little difference to a mood than the FA Cups Arsenal have stumbled to in the last few years. They still despise their manager. They despise 90% of their players. They despise their board. They despise that what little soul they had as a fanbase was stripped from them when they walked out of Highbury for the last time. They despise that their rivals have become better, more relevant and more entertaining than them.
Sure, they can still point to their trophy cabinet. Those are the bare facts, the statistics they can stick on the boards around the Emirates. When your house is burning down around you, you save the things that matter the most. All that’s left, though, is a smoking pile of ash and rubble, and it was them who sparked the match.
Spurs were once the team that couldn’t. Then they were the team that could, but didn’t. Now we are the team that can, but haven’t. To watch us play, to see us dominate a North London Derby, to see us respond to going 2-0 down away to Juventus in the Champions League knockout stage by standing up and roaring back to 2-2, tells us what we should expect next: we are becoming the team that will.
In Turin, you could hear ‘Oh When the Spurs’ being sung by the away hoards before the 10th minute had even passed, and after their two goals had whistled past us. That’s borne of something deeper than demanding trophies and success. That’s borne of knowing what it means to be on the journey; to read the book, not skip to the end.
That’s borne of something deeper than demanding trophies and success
To celebrate it is not to celebrate one result, it’s to contextualise what Pochettino and his team have done to us. They’ve allowed us the ludicrous notion that we shouldn’t be surprised to see us come back and draw at a place where teams seldom breach their defence for a corner, let alone two goals of the highest quality. We’re celebrating moments, plot points in the novel. We’re adding chapters to what could be the greatest story we ever see.
But what have they won? Nothing. And they might never win anything. But we’ve spent too long protecting ourselves against failure, and investing in this team as we do is an explosion of emotion. We aren’t going to stop ourselves falling in love just in case we get our hearts broken anymore.
Like anything on the internet, the question has a shelf life. The obvious way to kill it is to win something, anything. But look a bit deeper, and you can see the cracks already, and they’re being caused by the very same people: rival fans. ‘I wish it was us’, they’ve begun to say. They’re taking each other’s blindfolds off.
And this is the crux. It’s fear, jealousy, and hardship. If your neighbour is building a mansion, you complain about the noise. Nevermind your roof caving in. While we enjoy it, we have our own answer to the question, and we don’t need to share it. So perhaps what they should be asking isn’t ‘what have they won?’, but: ‘why do I care?’