A CASE TO CHANGE ALLEGIANCES
By (a somewhat frustrated) Forza Huddlestone
A mate here in Florida supports Fulham, which I've never quite understood and he's never listened to my pleas over the years outlining the futility of such a gesture. Fulham is not a team in the Premier League an American would obviously gravitate toward – for that, see Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, etc. But then, Tottenham isn't a team that has that sort of allure, either.
Or it didn't when I started following them.
That was in the beleaguered last days of Glenn Hoddle, trying to make a team work with players such as Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand and Gus Poyet on their last legs. Make a team work? In those not-so-halcyon days, just not being relegated was a minor feat. I watched my first game in the West Stand, saw Spurs beat West Brom 3-1, heard the Park Lane Stand singing their lungs out and fell in love.
In the time since then, Tottenham found ambition. Or perhaps rediscovered it. We qualified for Europe for the first time in an age, we fired a manager when he looked to be incapable of leading us to the Champions League, we won silverware (the Carling Cup, which to be fair, Birmingham captured this past year so it’s not anything more than a nicety), finished in the top four and finally qualified for the Champions League (where we played in famous glamorous stadia such as the San Siro and Bernabeau). Off the pitch, we shifted our attentions from the NDP across to East London and the OS. Our charming (to us, mostly) White Hart Lane simply isn’t big enough but Stratford will not be our destination with the club looking to make the project in N17 viable.
During this time, the prices of season tickets crept upward. Say this for our chairman, Daniel Levy – he knows how to make a buck (or pound, rather). He also knows we would pay that extra pound(s).
We were sold on the idea we were a big club. We finally broke the hold of the Sky Four and the bank account of Manchester City. Big things are ahead, they claimed, we claimed. Players will clamour to put on a Lilywhite shirt! Glory Glory!
That hasn't quite happened as we drop back into the chasing pack. But then Levy did warns us Champions League would not be a given every single season thanks to the renewed competitiveness of the Prem. But there were more personal reasons for our failure second time round.
The big-time striker never surfaced, whether Harry Redknapp felt we didn't need him, we never seriously tried to land one or we were just inept when the transfer market turned to high stakes. When Tottenham obviously (and desperately) needed a striker last January, Spurs tried to bring in non-striker David Beckham (failed), then in the final days of the window, reportedly threw around big-money bids for players that were never coming to White Hart Lane – Aguero, Rossi, Llorente and the likes.
Rafael Van Der Vaart was our consolation prize.
They say you can't win if you don't try, but...
The season ended with a fifth-place finish, a tiny bit of bitterness after the taste of Champions League ambrosia from the year before. The Europa League beckoned again. Luka Modric, the heart of much of what we do on the pitch, apparently decided he'd rather play for a real “big club.”
We're still no closer to that elusive striker, while trying to convince ourselves that Tottenham is a big club, while the price of my ticket in the East Stand creeps to the four-digit mark. We’re a big club in terms of support. But then one or two others could claim that also.
So my thoughts return to my Fulham-supporting mate. His reason for supporting them are less complicated than mine (his ex-wife's granddad supports them) and he wears his Cottager heart on his sleeve, bless him. (I've offered for years to pay for him to put PANTSIL 4 on the back of one of his shirts and he always refused.)
I have history at Fulham. I remember going to my first game at Craven Cottage and one of my pack sidled up to me as we walked with the supporters through Bishop's Park and said with a grin, “Be prepared to have your breath taken away…with underwhelmedness.” But what the hell, it's a better neighborhood than the N17 to be sure.
I saw the reserves play there when Ledley King was on his way back, after many of us had written him off with arthritic knees (some things will never change).
So why not support Fulham anyway? (Admittedly, I say this from the perspective of a Yank who comes over to see 2-3 games a year, not someone who was brought up watching Hoddle, Lineker and Gazza.) After sitting down and thinking about it, I decided to play around with the idea (not that swapping affiliations is something I’m serious about…but what if for the sake of argument...?).
I found a few reasons that supporting the Cottagers could/would be appealing. No seriously, I did.
There is no illusion that's you'll ever be a big club.
In a 20-team league, how many “big clubs” can there be? Four, maybe five? This puts Fulham in a difficult spot to ever breathe such rarefied air. Even if they hit a purple patch where everything went right, they'd need to hope not only that one of the big boys stumbled, but that one of the chasing pack weren't prepared to catch them as Tottenham and City were the past two years. Sort of like the golfer in the middle of the pack who shoots a 65 on the final day of the Open – you need to hope that nobody in front of you plays well. In Fulham's terms, that pack includes Spurs, Liverpool and Everton – and at least two of them will be spending money to keep them close.
This is not to say there won't be big moments. Remember, Fulham are two years removed from a ‘European’ Cup final – one of five English teams to do so in this decade, whether Fulham's was a Mickey Mouse cup or not. And unlike Spurs, they do seem to be capable of beating Man United when the mood strikes.
But you wouldn't expect to see, say, Chelsea getting nervous over a trip to the Cottage. Or any other team in England, really.
On the other hand, if you don't have the expectations of being a big club, you won't be let down when you don't become one. Surely that's worth something.
Bluntly speaking, your games are in a better part of London.
You walk through a lovely, leafy park to go to Fulham games. To be polite, Tottenham is not a garden spot. Yes, the Chick King is a fixture, but could you see yourself going there on a day when there wasn't a match?
Fulham has the Thames to admire on a sunny day. Tottenham has pubs that are slightly seedy. As a community, it's a Premier League team away from being Hackney. The toughest thing about the area around Craven Cottage is the crush of supporters trying to make the train at Putney Bridge.
But then, Fulham actually does have an Underground station. Point Fulham.
Big Martin Jol is now managing Fulham.
You remember the big man, don't you? The lovable Dutchman that took Tottenham to European football for the first time in years, then was surplus to requirements when Levy's crack football mind decided he wasn't good enough to get us into the top four? (Where did we finish last season, by the way? Damn that Comolli).
You remember the big man squaring up to Wenger on the touchline, then saying afterwards, “He doesn't know how strong I am.” I've never been so proud to be a Yid.
He's now at Fulham. Judging by some comments on various message boards, he might get a bigger cheer than Harry Redknapp when the two teams meet at White Hart Lane next May. Assuming Redknapp is still at Tottenham, of course.
When has Fulham ever lost a tug-of-war over one of its own players?
These battles to keep players seems to occur with Tottenham every other year, at least. It's not as if Modric was the first. He follows a long distinguished line of players who have used Spurs as a training club before moving on to greener pastures. (Note to the more romantic of supporters: Skip to the next paragraph as the next few sentences will stir bitter memories.) Dimitar Berbatov. Robbie Keane. We couldn't even hang onto Stephen Carr, once upon a time. Since then, Carr has proven to be dogsh*t, but did we know that at the time?
(The “big club” Carr went to so he could win trophies? Newcastle United, speaking of dogsh*t. No offence.)
Notice how you don't see Ferguson bigging up Bobby Zamora the week of the Fulham match, talking about how lovely he'd look in a United shirt. Or Roman Abramovich having Clint Dempsey on his yacht for a few cocktails. Or Jonathan Greening telling the press how Levy promised he would let him go to a big club if an offer ever came in. Yes, they're not up to so-called Tottenham standards, but you know they're going to be there next year.
Who was the last player Fulham lost*? Louis Saha? How many teams has Saha played for since then?
*Yes, okay, Smalling. But that doesn’t fit into the standard template akin to the one at Spurs re: losing players.
Lastly, season tickets are half the price of Tottenham's.
Of course, this doesn't mean as much as it should because Tottenham season tickets generally aren't available unless you already have one. According to seasonticketwaitinglist.com (which might be as useful as redtube.com, you never know), the paid waiting list for a season ticket at Tottenham is more than 30,000 strong. In other words, you could fit the entire waiting list in Craven Cottage and still have about 5,000 left over.
On the other hand, you can get a season ticket at Fulham for as little as ₤379. Or ₤415 will get you a seat in the Hammersmith End, where you can “enjoy the fantastic atmosphere created by the Fulham faithful.” (Insert snarky comment here.)
Say what you want, but ₤415 will only get you halfway to a Spurs season ticket, if that. But then, Spurs season tickets aren't widely available, and the waiting list means Levy and Co. don't really give a toss if you renew anyway. That new stadium so imperative to so many waiting patiently in the wings.
Of course, the natural reaction is to say, “Football isn't about money.” Sort of like Levy tells prospective transfer targets during the window, just before, “Yeah, but we won the double in 1961. Isn't that marvelous?”
Football's not about money? Try telling that to Chelsea or Manchester City. I'm not saying you have to like it, but it's as much a part of the game as Jermain Defoe getting caught offside is.
Having said all this, I'm not sure I have it in me to chuck in my Spurs season 'ticket' card and support Fulham. We (Yanks) are not all akin to Bill Simmons, swapping teams like an American football franchise swaps states. I couldn't possibly look elsewhere. Would doing so mean that I had to disavow the memory of a 5-1 victory over Arsenal at the Lane or the lasting memory of watching Edgar Davids score his only Spurs goal at Wigan? Or even Woodgate's game-winner in the Carling Cup against Chelsea?
Well, no. Memories are forever. Great moments are great moments. They stay with you. Whether you stay with a club is another story. And paying Champions League money for a team that balks at going after Champions League talent might make me think twice.
Besides, I still have a shirt or two bearing Jol's likeness. I wouldn't mind wearing them again. And their colours aren't that dissimilar to Spurs, at least when they don't have a red away shirt.
On the downside, I would be watching home games – I shuddered just now typing that – at a ground featuring a statue not of a great player in its history (Fulham does have one of those, right?), but of Michael Jackson.
That's probably the point sending me back to N17. And feeling just a little bit like a sucker in doing so.
But hand on heart…all that emotion, anger, disappointment, déjà vu, the head shaking and the air punching I get watching Spurs, the perpetual ‘almost’ team…is what makes supporting them so impossible not to. I’d rather take the pain with the pockets of glory than sitting by the river.
The quiet life is not for me.
Forza Huddlestone has been a season-ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur since 2006.