Sometime in 1882, a group of schoolboys gathered one night under a lamppost on Tottenham High Road in North London. That night (the exact date is unknown) they took a decision that would come to affect the lives of countless people for years to come, including my own.
The boys, most of whom were aged around 13 and 14, formed an institution. They named it ‘The Hotspur Football Club,’ in the process paying tribute to ‘Harry Hotspur,’ a man otherwise known as Sir Henry Percy, a late-medieval-era English nobleman who even pops up in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
According to folklore, the schoolboys – all keen cricketers – were seeking a way to continue to play sport throughout the winter. They committed themselves to their fledgling institution and by September, 11 of them were paying subscriptions of sixpence a year to keep it going. A year later, with their membership now boosted to around 18, the boys asked a local Bible-class teacher and YMCA warden, John Ripsher, to become the club’s president and treasurer, presumably to help oversee the monies coming into club.
Those schoolboys knew little of what was to come in the decades that lie ahead, of course, but it’s safe to say today that Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (the ‘Tottenham’ was added in 1884 to avoid confusion with another local club), as it stands today, is very different indeed the humble institution that preceded it.
Today, Tottenham Hotspur is a global brand, with millions of fans across the world. Playing in the money-laden Premier League, the club recorded revenue of £380.7 million last year, banking “the largest annual profit of any football club in history,” according to the Financial Times. Its players earn millions every year, the going rate for top-class players. In contrast to the schoolboys, who played their first matches on Tottenham Marshes, marking out their own pitches, this year the club moved into a new ambitious 62,000-seater stadium that cost an eye-watering one billion pounds. As the phrase goes, we’ve come a long way, baby.
Some of you again might now ask if what Spurs fans watch today bears any relation to its humble origins. Fair enough, though the same goes for any elite team in any elite league across Europe. In this era of ridiculousness, where the sport’s best players earn well over £500,000 a week for running about a bit every day, can we really continue to link tiny institutions of the past with their older multi-million-pound behemoths?
Well, for me, the answer is yes. I feel that history counts. I feel that history matters. You see, I know that my club was the first non-league side to lift the FA Cup and I know we’ve lifted that trophy another seven times since. I know we’ve won the league title twice, in 1951 and 1961, and I know that it has been a really long time since we last lifted it. I know that that second title, coupled with an FA Cup win the same year, made us the first modern-era team in England to win the double, the first achievement of that ilk in the 20th century. I know the names of club legends who I never even saw in the flesh. I know their stories, their styles of play and why they were so important.
Does this matter to most other people? No. But this stuff matters to me, just as details of other unimportant things matter to others in their own lives. But this shared history, like it or not, unites me with millions of other people who I’ve never even met. This shared history is what makes me smile when I walk past someone wearing our shirt or club badge on an item of clothing. This shared history is what has made me fly halfway across the world to watch 90 (perhaps even 95…) minutes of people running around on a pitch, writing as I am right now from Madrid.
Tomorrow, my team has a chance to write a new part of our club’s storied and (sometimes) gloried history. We are not the most successful team in the world, though we’ve done well at times. But to me we are the best. Other fans can say whatever they like about our team, their team, their own beliefs and, in many cases, their own sense of entitlement (and I’ve heard a fair bit of that from Liverpool fans since I arrived in Spain). We have our own way, our own traditions, and most importantly, our own story. We have our own history.
When the match kicks off tomorrow, and I have every part of my body crossed, I shall think of all that history and suck it up deep once again as my father and I and 17,000 other Spurs fans in a 67,000-capacity stadium begin singing one of my favourite club songs.
“It’s a grand ol’ team to play for, oh it’s a grand ol’ team to see. And if, you know, your history, it’s enough to make your heart go ‘Ohhhhhh.’ We don’t care what the other teams say, what the hell do we care? ‘Cos we only know that there’s gonna be a show and the Tottenham Hotspur will be there!”