Kicking the Football Habit

With the community-based bond between football clubs and their fans having long since disintegrated, why do the fans of hopeless teams remain addicted?

Counterpoints Modern Life Sport

I have an addiction – to football. More specifically to Tottenham Hotspur, a club that unfailingly falls short of expectations. Consequently, I am one among thousands of querulous pessimists. If only I could kick the habit – “kick”, of course, being le mot injuste.

The Tottenham players’ performances are of deep personal significance. I speak of them in the first person: “We won the cup”. As an addict, you can no more abandon allegiance to the team than you can change your parents. Yet the connection between supporters and clubs, especially the big clubs, grows more remote with each passing season. So, correspondingly, does one’s hold on reality.

Football clubs were once community-based. Fifty years ago, the players and those who paid to watch them came from the same areas and social backgrounds. The directors were local worthies and businessmen. Even a world-class player such as Tom Finney would play for his local club, Preston North End, for his entire career. No wonder that fans identified so deeply with their teams.

It is inconceivable now for fans to identify with those on the pitch or in the boardroom. The plutocrats of the Premier League are overpaid mercenaries with sharp suits and sharper agents. Clubs are owned by billionaires with scant connection to the national, let alone the local community. After a game, spectators depart by train or bus, players by limo and owners by private jet. Finney’s legendary loyalty is passé. Robbie Keane’s six years with Tottenham were said to indicate undying loyalty.

When Hamlet asked of the strolling player, “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?”, one could answer that she was at least an indirect source of the player’s bread and butter. For me and my fellow addicts, that situation is reversed. We are the weepers, and the modern player’s bread and butter – or rather champagne and lobster – is derived from us. But what’s Tottenham Hotspur to me, that I should weep for it?

Does anyone know of a Soccerholics Anonymous group in north London?