(or is it the other way round? I can’t decide)
Let me start this with a confession.
For two whole weeks in the spring of 1988, I became a Nottingham Forest supporter. My ten-year old fickleness was seduced by the charisma of Brian Clough in the dwindling twilight of his managerial pomp and the general attractiveness of their football. Thankfully though, the flirtation was a brief one. Common sense naturally prevailed. What business did I have supporting a team from a town I had never (and still haven’t) visited when there was one that played within earshot of my house? And what would my mum have made of it, having scrimped and saved for my first proper Spurs kit that wasn’t bought off some wheeling and dealing Del Boy clone from the local market?
I’d managed to successfully consign this particular shameful dalliance with another club to the outbox of memory for the last twenty years until very recently. It only resurfaced after yet another report on the subject of the ubiquitous species of voter known to us as “floating”.
Whilst my betrayal of Spurs can easily be justified as childish naivety, I’ve never quite understood why so much attention is given to fairweather voters who swap/abandon ideology and personal belief in favour of the Politics of the Self. If Apple were inclined to wade into branding the election (whilst avoiding their tax bill), the headline in The Daily Mail would scream something like “RISE OF THE I-VOTER!” followed by another hilarious column poking fun at Ed Milliband’s nose.
I look upon floaters with the same detached bemusement I afford to people who tell me they like football but don’t support anyone in particular. Whether or not it’s an advisable practice, supporting a football club requires commitment and a dose of faith in the old maxim that the good will eventually out. Because the truth is that it invariably doesn’t.
I don’t just mean the humdrum disappointments your team routinely dolls out to you, season upon season. I mean the bigger things. Like having the soul ripped out of your club as Blackpool fans are discovering. Before them it was Cardiff. Then Coventry. Portsmouth. Leeds. The list is ever expanding in the Russian roulette wheel of neo-liberal football. Let’s not forget also, the perennial issue of exorbitant ticket prices that flies in the face of the austerity we’ve all been told to swallow. Workers’ rights? Tell that to the migrant slaves of Qatar busily dying to fill FIFA’s World Cup trough. And twenty-six years on the bereaved families of Hillsborough still await the justice that has been denied them in the smokescreen of institutional malpractice.
And then I look at my club. The one that so wholeheartedly embraced the free market principles of Thatcherism, turning supporters into shareholders, that inevitably led us down the road to the football we now call Modern. This is the club that saw its chairman prostrate himself before Rupert Murdoch in order to secure a deal to sell satellites and broken dreams. My club, Tottenham Hotspur, currently owned by a non-domicile creaming off the profits as we turn up year after year, holding tickets bought at rates massively beyond face value.
The same applies to the Labour Party. The party that my family has staunchly and proudly voted for since it arrived on these shores in 1953. This is the party whose government stood aside and reneged on its promise of being a guarantor power whilst Turkish troops invaded my grandparents’ homeland. It was Labour that ignored two million marching protestors and wrenched open the Pandora’s box that the Middle East currently finds itself in. The Crash? Tuition fees? That was Labour too.
Despite all the disappointments, the dashed promises, the outright lies, there’s something deep inside me that continues to believe that yes, the good will eventually out.
I believe in the club I support because it’s part of who I am, so intricately linked within my sense of identity that I know that I can never turn my back and walk away. When I walk up that High Road and I see the thousands converging from so many disparate and diverse backgrounds, my heart still surges with the sense of belonging that I seldom feel elsewhere. The traditions, mythologies and folk tales ranging from the Double Team all the way through to Gazza and everything prior and beyond, instill me with the sense of continuity that is something that can never be diminished by the whims of those who are merely passing through.
Tony Blair and his acolytes, in that sense, were also passing through. These days, Socialism may be used as a means to dismiss left-wingers as idealistic fantasists but isn’t that what we should all be? Is it so wrong to aspire to live in a society that is just and fair and beholden to basic goodness in human beings? Where people are rewarded for their abilities and are looked after when times are tough. That’s why despite my well-worn pessimism and default sneer setting, I cannot and will never abandon a set of principles inspired and instilled in me by the legacy of Clement Atlee, the words of Tony Benn and the homespun decency of my immigrant family.
I tried voting tactically last time. It didn’t work. I don’t even know that voting Labour this time around will make any difference in the long run; I live in a distinctly Tory/UKIP part of the world – you can tell by the Barbour jackets, Hunter wellies and the faint whiff of xenophobia. That’s not the point.
The point is that by voting for what you believe in, you remain true to yourself. Forget the politicians. It’s not about them or who they claim to support. And it’s not about football club owners. If we truly want things to get better (yes, yes, I can see the irony), then we have to hold them to account. Don’t believe the platitudes. Demand results. Don’t let’s do the dance again until 2020. We have to be ever vigilant and persistent, annoying and loud. Clubs are there for people to congregate. To be together. Democracy is there for you to participate. Don’t let them be the playthings of the greedy and the heartless. Because if we sit back and gorge ourselves on the soothing hypnotism of apathy, then what is the alternative? Never, never, never give up.
And to think I could have been dining on the history of two European Cups for the last quarter century. Instead, I’ve got Harry Kane. Until Madrid come in and take him. The evil, capitalist bastards!
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