After finishing 4th in 2010, I'm sure John Crace was not alone in losing himself in a new dimension of anxiety thanks to the fear that accompanies renewed hope and progression. You know, rather than be joyful and live in the moment you think of all the negatives and how they might play out. That's the fear of success. Some struggle to be content at the best of times and I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of Spurs fans are cut from a similar template; incapable of controlling the emotional spikes between happiness and sadness.
For those fans that always anchor themselves to the darkness, then Crace will speak directly to your tormented heart. His book 'Vertigo' chronicles the comedy that consumes us from one game to the next as we simply accept the reality that you just never quite know what direction our wonderful club will turn towards. His journey begins from the point of qualifying for the CL, travelling through last seasons adventure on the continent along with our domestic headaches and his family/friends.
I'm quite optimistic these days, but I still found myself drawing parallels with the way Crace and his life inter-connect with Tottenham. Especially the way his wife is completely disassociated with his love for Spurs (my missus just doesn't get it).
It's essential reading. I'm past the half-way mark and its fairly evident that regardless of the mannerisms associated to you and the way you follow and behave as a Spurs fan...because of how the club manages to shape us all, we pretty much share the same ilk of experience. It's the way we handle said experience that is so unique from one fan to the next.
Enjoy this wonderful Champions League extract from the book as a way of a teaser (details on how to win a copy below the extract):
It had been a simple reflex response to decide to go to Madrid. Though not to tell my wife. As Matthew pointed out, ‘What kind of weird world would it be where you had to ask permission to go to the Bernabeu for the Champions League quarter-final?’
Getting to Madrid was more of a problem. Within seconds of UEFA finally deciding which day the game was to be played, direct flights had leapt in price from £40 to £600. There gain, the route we ended up taking probably didn’twork out much cheaper: British Airways from Gatwick to Barcelona and then a high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid. Factor in the hotel and match tickets and we could have had ten
days in a four-star hotel in Majorca for the same money.
‘Did she want to know how much it was costing?’ I asked Matthew after he had finally revealed his travel plans to his wife a week before the game.
‘This time I told her we’d got a really good deal on the hotel,’ he said.
‘Did that work?’
‘No. She just said “I suppose you’re overpaying for everything else again, as usual”.’
‘Phew,’ said Theo, as we cleared a queueless airport security. ‘Thank fuck you made us arrive three hours early for a 6.30 a.m. flight.’
‘I know what you mean,’ Matthew agreed. ‘I’d have hated to cut it any finer.’
Personally, I thought my travel arrangements were working out just fine. And so they were when we arrived in Barcelona with four hours to kill before our train. It
proved to be only just enough time as, when we got to the barrier at the station, it turned out that the tickets Theo had bought in advance were for the day before.
‘ Um, sorry guys,’ he said, leaving Matthew and me hovering near the platform entrance. ‘My fault. I’ll go off and see what I can do about it.’
‘The good news is that I’ve managed to get us on the train,’ he said when he reappeared just a few minutes before it was due to depart. ‘The bad news is they wouldn’t exchange the tickets and I had to get new ones. And as second-class is fully booked, we’re in first-class. Still, apparently we get lunch included in the price.’
This wasn’t quite as wonderful as it sounded as we’d just had a big meal while we were hanging around. An expensive trip had just got that bit more expensive.
When we reached the hotel, Matthew announced he was exhausted and needed a snooze, Theo had some urgent twittering to do, and I managed to find a Spanish TV station showing highlights of the Wigan versus Spurs game the previous weekend. They didn’t last very long.
The inside of the Bernabeu was breathtaking: unquestionably the best stadium I’ve ever visited. Where the San Siro had a grandeur that was crumbling beneath your feet, the Bernabeu was a temple to inherited wealth; even the toilets had attendants and individual urinals. Inside it was more magnificent, with the stands steepling into a night sky that itself appeared newly painted. It was an amphitheatre of dreams. Though not one where dreams came true.
I’m not sure at what point Matthew, Theo and I had decided Real were beatable, but we weren’t alone. Every other Spurs fan I had talked to over the previous week had come to a similar conclusion: that it was our destiny to win. This delusion lasted until kick-off.
It felt as if we were playing with ten men when nobody bothered to mark Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs’ arch nemesis when he used to play for Arsenal, at a corner and Real went a goal up after three minutes. Within fifteen minutes we really were playing with ten men as Crouchie got himself sent off for a second yellow-card offence. He hadn’t attempted a tackle all season but now he had made two hopeless, unnecessary lunges in Real’s half of the pitch, and his sending-off was a formality. A friend texted me to say he reckoned Crouchie must have had an early date with Monica Mint. She did live in Madrid.
‘If we can keep the score down to one or two, we’ll still be in with a shout for the return leg,’ I said at half-time.
We couldn’t. Madrid ran us ragged and romped home 4-0 winners. Long after most of the crowd had left, we remained in our seats, each of us lost in a private grief.
The very worst had happened. We had been outclassed on and off the pitch. The Real supporters even had their own cheerleader, who orchestrated their singing and kept his back to the action the whole time. Worst of all, Jose Mourinho had been really, really nice about us – something he only ever does when he doesn’t respect you.
The extent of our humiliation was brought home by the absence of any crowing texts from Kevin. Normally he can’t resist, but this night he was abnormally respectful, as if he understood this was a bereavement more than a loss. Though I’m sure he couldn’t resist having a laugh with his Chelsea mates. I did with my Spurs mates when Chelsea got beaten by Manchester United the following night.
Eventually Theo broke the silence. ‘How did we ever come to imagine we would win?’ he asked. ‘Look at their substitutes. Kaka, Higuain, Benzema . . . Most of our team wouldn’t make it on to their bench.’
We nodded, saying nothing.
‘Never mind,’ Theo continued. ‘I’m being taken out to a flash restaurant by a client. Enjoy some tapas and the rest of your miserable evening, and I’ll see you both at 9 a.m. in the hotel for breakfast.’
‘Think nothing of it.’
The next morning I woke up feeling as if someone had been kicking me all night. All plans to combine the match with a bit of cultural tourism were instantly shelved. Madrid was a tainted city. The streets that had felt so interesting and welcoming when we arrived now felt hostile. I just wanted to get away as soon
as possible, which wasn’t as big a problem as it might have been as Theo had also bought our return tickets for the wrong day, so we were now free to get any train we wanted. So long as we paid for it again.
Going to Barcelona proved a wise choice as we did feel less oppressed by defeat, though I could have done without Spurs showing their usual exquisite sense of timing by sending me an email inviting me to renew my season ticket while I was on the train. Getting to the airport four hours early was no bad thing either, though it cost Theo £60. He had a guilt attack in duty free, and rang his wife to see if there was anything special she wanted. There was. I bought chocolate for Jill, Anna and Robbie, though I had eaten half of it before we took off. Matthew bought his family nothing, nada. I’m only saying.
There were several other Spurs fans travelling back from Madrid on the same flight. In the row in front of us were Tony and Jared who we’d talked to on the way out. But there was no sign of their mate Ross.
‘Where’s Ross?’ I asked.
‘He’s moved to the row in front,’ Tony said. ‘He’s chatting up a Spanish woman.’
‘Does he do that often?’
‘Always. He can’t help himself. The man is a legend. He’s got huge ears and is the ugliest man alive; yet women find him irresistible because he’s interested in whatever they’ve got to say.’
Four days later I got an email from Tony. Ross had been out on a date with the Spanish woman. It was the closest any Spurs fan came to a result in Spain.
Extract taken from Vertigo – One Football Fan’s Fear of Success by John Crace, Published by Constable at £12.99 pbk.
Got 2 copies to give away here on DML. Share a story/anecdote of how Spurs and life intertwined together resulting in disaster (or joy). Best two stories win.
PS. I'm out of office until 29th September, so will announce winners when I'm back. Also listen out for Ep 9 of The Fighting Cock podcast as we have more Vertigo copies to give away.