These are my kind of people (not ‘theirs’) so join me in supporting them by Steffan Chirazi
Today, for the first time in my life, MY England football team will compete in a major final, the European Championship. I am only partially speaking about the football here, because in many other ways, this specific England squad is also the first in my lifetime which feels like a squad that represents MY values. They take a knee in support of anti-racism and supporting the fight against black oppression. The captain has proudly worn a rainbow armband. One of the squad veterans wore rainbow boot laces. One of the young superstar forwards was single-handedly behind a campaign which embarrassed the current British government into ensuring that free school meals continued for all children (that same forward has also worked with homeless charities). They speak with media freely, there have been no displays of petulance or superstardom, and they are led by a manager who carries himself with empathy and respect wherever he goes and whatever he speaks of. Hard to imagine saying any of that about the Sven Goran Eriksson Gerrard/Lampard days now isn’t it…
We are emerging from covid19.
Confusion, inconsistency and hypocrisy is starting to run riot.
So many things have remained shut down, or under strict rules, yet Euro 2020 has circumvented it all. That’s a discussion for another time (I think it is insanity personally) but it is a fact.
Some people, well, many, are very, very annoyed about it.
We are also finding our feet in the ‘real’ Brexit world. Again, a discussion for another time (for the record I was full-remain and think Brexit is insanity) but it is a fact.
Those two facts above -added to the further fact that tomorrow’s Euro 2020 final against Italy art Wembley is the first major final/event where there will be a close to capacity crowd since covid19 ‘began’ in early 2020 makes the day a powder keg.
Emotions are already running high, and within minutes of beating Denmark, the internet (and my FB feed) were tripping over themselves to launch a chunk of vitriol or a lump of spite, miserable digs, joy-thievery of the cheapest kind. Such is modern society I suppose, where the internet and it’s trolling is seen as ‘part of the deal.’
Let me make one thing clear to you, the person reading this.
I abhor racism.
I detest homophobia.
I love Europe (I love the world actually).
I despise flag-gammons who blurt on about Brexit and Farage and ‘fuck foreigners’ and ‘our cuntry’ and who spit on Danish children and insult Danish women, I have always despised them and I have always stood up to them, from the days I’d go to England matches and find myself telling morons vomiting ‘no surrender to the IRA’ to shut the fuck up and go somewhere else if they needed to relieve themselves via their mouths.
I know the filthy imperialist history and I am ashamed of it.
Wankers like that ingrate MP who won’t watch because of the knee, or our band-wagon PM do not act in my name.
THAT is not MY England, it is not the England I think of, and it is not the England which represents me ANY MORE than Trump and MAGA-hat Trumpers are not the US.
MY England is one of tolerance.
Standing up to racism and homophobia where I can.
Recognizing everyone’s rights whatever colour they are and however they find themselves wired sexually.
Standing up against misogyny and recognizing the rights, beauty and power of women in our society.
Trying to remember -and do something for- the less unfortunate and homeless people in our society.
Enjoying a bloody good singing session at the football.
Enjoying a laugh.
Enjoying the company of my mates as we strive to win.
Celebrating victories loudly.
Enduring defeats with sadness and frustration which quickly gives way to the reality that life is life, people are people and someone has to lose just as someone has to win.
There will doubtless, sadly, be some stupidity tomorrow. This is not just the nature of life, it is going to be the net result of a nation collectively engaging in such a historic, post-Brexit, post-covid19 event. In victory or defeat I will be what I always am in person – gracious (maybe a bit chatty but gracious!), finding a smile if one needs to be dug up (hopefully it will be a case of cheek-aches on Monday) and more than ready to stand up for ANYONE who is on the receiving end of ANY poor behaviour (this is a life thing).
So if England beat Italy tomorrow and win our first major trophy as a footballing nation since before I was born, I’d like to humbly ask that you feel happy for me. Send congratulations. Recognise that I am someone who does the same in kind. Appreciate that for me, this would be an enormous event in my life, and one which would give me tremendous happiness…ooops, there I am being selfish, because I am NOT just talking about me, I am talking about the MILLIONS of decent, nice and good English people who you don’t hear about on the internet, or read about in the papers.
The first time I ever saw England live in person was in 1980, at Wembley, when Argentina came to town. I have seen them in several different places, but mostly Wembley. This is very real for me.
And when I sing ‘football’s coming home’ or ‘Vindaloo’, it is with fun, hope, joy and that glorious combination of pride and self-deprecation that many of us English have always mastered so well.
It isn’t to wind you up and it isn’t arrogance, OK?
So don’t let a few arseholes take this away from me, or the millions I mentioned.
Don’t empower or enable them.
Please recognize that joy in our country (if we win) this does not mean we feel the same about life or the world as gammon-flag-wavers or the stupid, thick minority who choose these moments to inflict misery on others.
I’d appreciate it, I really would…COME ON ENGLAND!!!!
These past 48 hours in football history have seen the fans, and tradition, given another beating. Don’t, however, think that is a new concept. STEFFAN CHIRAZI explains
AS the story of this proposed European Super League broke, as it circulated like an international tornado, and as it started to fall apart in real-time, with a flood of public outcry against the “disgraceful” plan which would “ruin our game”, “take it from the working class” and “show fans they don’t matter”, I found myself getting increasingly angry. Certain things are a reality; there are a lot of arrogant, rich bastards currently swanning about sans a shred of empathy for anyone, we are all at the whims and mercies of said-bastards to a certain degree, and such bastards don’t look like changing their colours anytime soon. But the cringingly sanctimonious media (and public) rush to be heard proclaiming ‘moral’ virtues was getting impossible to accept quietly.
So I couldn’t.
Thus I decided to sit down and write this for my own therapy as much as anything. I’ll share it with you too. Here goes…
Let me first be very clear. I personally despised the idea of this ESL, like any football supporter with a soul, but I also knew that if it happened, my club needed to be at the same table or else probably go into financial ruin. It was most certainly not the most comfortable of places to be, morally knowing what a great pile of shit the proposal was, yet understanding why my club was left with little option but to buzz around the giant turd for a feed or else be swatted away into oblivion. But this thought that it represented the exact moment “football lost its soul” was ludicrous to me, and surely to anyone with a memory greater than that of a common household gnat.
Was anyone falling for Gary Neville’s rant as he brandished a mic with the SKY logo on it? Was the person who showed up outside Stamford Bridge waving a placard with an image of Drogba and the words ‘NO TO SUPERLEAGUE – DREAMS CAN’T BE BOUGHT’ exercising humour so dry as to make the Sahara look like an oasis? And then we had this, from Gianni Infantino, the President of those charitable humanitarians, FIFA.
“I’ve been working very hard and investing a big part of my life to defend the principles and the values which have given this success to the European football. We hope, of course, that everything will go back to normal, that everything will be settled but always, always with respect. Always acting responsibly and always with solidarity and always in the interest of national, European and global football.”
I’ve italicized certain parts of that quote for greater effect. It is worth remembering the Infantino was suspected of having broken FIFA ethics in 2016, and was interviewed by the FIFA Ethics Committee. Cynic that I can be, this seems to me like a bar manager investigating his friend, and celebrated nightly customer of 20 years, for being a suspected alcoholic.
Let’s not cheat UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin of his moral moment in the sun.
“I cannot stress more strongly at the moment that UEFA and the football world stand together alongside this disgraceful, self-serving project from a select few clubs in Europe fueled by greed above all else,” Ceferin said. “This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers and our society as well. We must not let them take [football] away from us. I have seen many things in my life, I was a criminal lawyer for 24 years. I’ve seen many people. I’ve never seen anyone like that…”
Strange to think he never met the likes of Lennart Johansson, Michel Platini or Sepp Blatter, but hey, I suppose it is possible that one was in the loo as the other was leaving the building. And yes, I know Blatter was FIFA, but I’m sure they all shared brown lunch-saks together.
As if THIS wasn’t Twilight Zone enough, in came the politicians, unable to resist their own moral yearnings and thus desperate to (as ever) show they have the public at heart. Here was that people’s champion Boris Johnson (via Twitter of course):
“Earlier Oliver Dowden and I met with representatives from the FA and Premier League and football fan groups to discuss action against the proposed European Super League. No action is off the table and we are exploring every possibility to ensure these proposals are stopped.”
To cap it all, Dowden (the Culture Secretary) criticized the ‘…the big six English clubs…’ for going ‘…against the very spirit of the game.’
He added that they, “…should remember that they are only temporary custodians of these clubs and that they forget fans at their peril”.
The very same Johnson whose party single-handedly assisted the destruction of football as a working class sport in the ‘80s.
The very same Dowden who seems to have been OK letting grass routes football fight for oxygen and slowly perish as the covid restrictions kept on and on.
The queue for virtue has been quite something these past 48 hours, and of course it has sucked in millions of covid-frustrated, angry and increasingly disillusioned members of the public. They in turn have been flooding all manner of social media and broadcast channels with their vitriol and outrage at how this will ‘ruin the game for the aforementioned working class, and how utterly ‘disrespectful’ it is.
Again, personally I agree that the European Super League was always a disgraceful idea, thankfully however, my memory is slightly better than that of said-household gnat, and I can remember times not too far back when all of these issues were being shoved in our faces in just the same way.
Because it appears that everyone in the UK has forgotten what happened on May 27th 1992, when the ‘new Premier League’ was formed in a breakaway from the Football League (founded in 1888) to ‘take advantage’ of lucrative TV rights deals, with Sky being at the forefront (that is the Sky which is owned by philanthropist Rupert Murdoch). Currently, the TV partners for the Premiership are Sky Sports, BT Sports, Amazon Prime and BBC for highlights only. Those are the UK ones; look up the international rights. It boggles the mind to even consider the amount of money being taken in. Then consider the lengths to which these broadcasters go to preserve your experience as a loyal supporter, you know, normal 3pm kick-offs with mid-weeks at 7.45, the ability to see a few games a week on your own terrestrial TV service, decent ticket pricing, affordable transportation to away games, that sort of thing…if you’ve just read that thinking I have it wrong, you’re right. I have. What I described has long gone. And Because the truth is, domestically, the Premiership has had no more than the required amount of interest in your experience as a supporter, and has incrementally been chipping away at them via absurd kick-off times, bizarre match dates and an upwards spiral of pricing that do not(by any stretch of any imagination) have the ‘fans interests at heart.’ I’ve also heard it all before, back in 1992, and again when the Champions League expanded. Cries of, “I’m done with my club they can fuck themselves!” flooded pubs everywhere, only for these warriors of virtue to show up again a few days, weeks or months later because they are addicts just like me.
UEFA have also done their part, bless.
In 1992 the European Cup was binned off for the Champions League, and in 1997, the whole tournament was expanded further to include more group games over a longer stretch of time. If you want to wade through the qualification criteria, be my guest, but rest assured, financial gain was paramount in all plans. In 2021, there will be further expansion, and the creation of a third tournament -the Europa Conference League- which will ostensibly act as a European tournament for the “third tier” after the Champions League and the Europa League (which was itself created in 2009 with the UEFA Cup getting mothballed and the Cup Winners Cup having received the same treatment a few years earlier). The “magic” of European football seems within the reach of more clubs than ever, but the reality is that the money these tournaments generate continues to create a greater wealth gap between clubs than ever before. If you think the system is going to see Burnley in the Champions League any time soon, then send me your bank information and password so as I can help you make more of your money. By the way, this is the same UEFA that insisted on holding a Europa League Final between Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku and only giving them 6,000 tickets each for a 68,000 seat stadium in . The same UEFA who for our CL Final in 2019, gave both us and Liverpool a derisory total of 33,226 tickets TO SHARE for a 68,000 capacity stadium; fans first always, lifeblood of the game.
As for FIFA, well, there isn’t the page space, so glossing swiftly over the details of the 2015 FIFA corruption case which saw arrests for bribery, fraud and money laundering, just take a few minutes to absorb the details being Qatar 2022. I will give you one. Approximately 6500 migrant workers have died during site construction for the tournament. Since 2010, an average of 10 migrant workers from the likes of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died each week. According to quotes in Sports Illustrated (my source for this information) those numbers are light a few bodies too. Remember though, “…always acting responsibly…”
…Oh I could go on.
Where has football been for the lower and non-league clubs during this pandemic?
How has football helped supporters achieve an affordable day out at a top match?
Hasn’t football been flexing the schedule for international followers for over a decade already?
Hasn’t the Premiership essentially been the same 5 or 6 clubs battling it out thanks to the riches those clubs have amassed?
How did Uefa protect football when it allowed Man City to dance around the Financial Fair Play rules in July 2020?
How has football protected itself when the likes of Chelsea were allowed to sign dozens of young players and loan them simply so as rivals couldn’t have them?
So again, whisper it…the Premier League, the Champions League, UEFA and FIFA do not actually place you or I at the top of their ‘concerns’ list. The ‘sanctity’ of the game is also not their primary driver and hasn’t been for decades. The money grab has been going on for years, and the greed syphons are only getting greater. That this ESL proposal even became a proposal says as much about the arrogance and entitlement of all those bodies as it does the equally clueless and arrogant owners who were behind it. Yet the fallout has left the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA looking like shining lights of normalcy and (shudder) tradition, while the likes of Abramovich and Mansour are suddenly benevolent saviours of the game for withdrawing from the ESL proposal abruptly (they have enough large dollops of filthy lucre between them already). It all reminds me of seeing George W Bush getting a hall-pass into credible guy world simply because he wasn’t Donald Trump. And it disgusts me as much as the ESL proposal.
We are all complicit.
We all look the other way when it suits us.
Nobody’s really doing much to tackle racism beyond some t-shirts and the knee, and nobody’s in the streets raging about dead migrant workers building an air-conditioned World Cup which will drop right in the middle of the 2022 season.
Where’s the anger? Where’s the outrage? Where are all those bastions of football leadership speaking about it, doing something about it? Where’s Boris saying we won’t compete in places which violate human rights so brazenly?
And here’s one you likely don’t know, or think, about. The flood of young men from the African continent who end up mistreated and disused as their families pay exorbitant sums to try and ensure their sons become professionals in Europe’s top leagues. The stories are out there, in publications ranging from The Guardian to Al Jazeera to When Saturday Comes (here’s the link to their excellent piece https://www.wsc.co.uk/stories/14102-player-trafficking-the-dirty-secret-of-football-s-global-transfer-business) yet I haven’t heard Infantino address it any way, shape or form, let alone the Premier League.
So do me a favour.
As you settle back and rejoice that ‘real’ football has ‘won’ and that ‘the greedy’ have not been ‘allowed’ to ‘win’, try to check your hypocrisy.
Try to hold yourself accountable. Try to maintain a grip. And if you really, really give a shit about the game, maintain your vitriol towards the OGs of football greed now that ‘normal service has been resumed’.
It’s OK, we’re all hypocrites to a degree, we’ve all bought into -and gone along with- the increasing shit that these bodies have thrown at us and our clubs. That’s why these vampires love football, because there’s a core of addicts like you and I who enable them to behave as they wish.
My fear is that those vampires will now behave worse, and with more impunity, than ever. Let’s hope I’m wrong and some good for the moral compass of the game will come of all this. Forgive me if I cynically suggest it won’t…
Covid19 has robbed us of going to see Spurs play live. It’s also robbed us of the journeys to games which are mainstays of our lives. Steff laments the loss and counts down the clock to a return.
There’s a wise old phrase, it’s either deep scholastic philosophy or I read it on a fortune cookie, whatever, it is golden; it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. In the case of many of us, never were truer words expressed.
Going to football is quite simply about so much more than the 90-plus minutes watching the team. Of course that’s the main attraction, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (well, more so under Poch but there we go), however that rainbow carries it’s own vital arc in the day.
The alarm goes off early on match-day morning, and getting dressed is a little easier because you spent the previous evening choosing the right clothing combinations. Home games will usually involve some sort of track top, t-shirt or more overt set of colours whilst away games will offer the merest hint of affiliation. Most of us are hopefully too old for anything close to Full Kit Wanker territory, yet most of us still try to remember the t-shirt, socks and underwear we wore last time we saw a live game win. It’s then all about exiting the abode ASAP to catch the train to meet up with your mates.
Said-train journey will always involve a paper or two amidst some low-flying butterflies, and you’ll also be slowly stewing in that wonderful marinade of all-enveloping focus on the forthcoming game and seeing the gang. One thing about matchday; it’s your time to escape the boss, the build-up of work, the commute, the squawking kids, the persistent missus, the grumpy neighbour and that annoying prat from the floor below who always thinks you’ve got time to banter with them about stupid shit. They all vanish as the train, bus, car or whatever wheelage is transporting you arrives at the first destination, which for home games will be your local of choice.
Admittedly the new stadium is a fine place to spend pre-match time, however it is undeniable that nothing beats meeting up with your mates at the local. It doesn’t always have to be in the pub, it can just be at a coffee shop, for some it might even be the Chick-King on the High Road across from the ground, the point is you’re with your people and immediately, the chat is about players, form, positions and a myriad of Spurs-related matters. Smart people have already turned ringers off, switched off any alerts and deactivated the silent buzzer on their smartphones because this is not the time to be interrupted about a dirty dish left by the sofa, or one of the kids ripping their pants on the playground. No. This is your escape, your holiday, your joy and your therapy.
Away games are a little different in so much as you’re either in the car or on a train, which carry their own tremendous joys. I personally love the motorway caff coffee and sandwich enroute, or the buffet car trip, and perhaps the added advantage of away games is that you’re with your mates for a considerably longer amount of time. Either way, by the time kick-off is upon you, squad issues have been solved, managers second-guessed with confidence, a few drinks enjoyed and your throat is in the process of emitting all sorts of choral terrace tunes (you think you sound like Tom Jones but you probably don’t even sound like Tom Thumb).
The game? Of course it is an epicenter, and of course it will dictate how your post-match goes (a bad defeat will lessen the social after-hang, a big win and you’d best be sure that phone stays in silent mode because you won’t want to answer the missus at 11pm from the local Ruby). But the journeys, the social side, the pure joyful ritualistic escape of match-days are every bit as much what we’ve all missed as the pitch and players. Even that tosser two rows down and three seats across who screams globs of nonsensical abuse for 90 minutes is missed at this point.
Still, soon we’ll be vaccinated and this normal service can resume. By God I cannot wait, and I know you can’t either…
It had been a rough couple of years, and these were the final few months as we worked out how to finish it.
I was not in a great place.
I needed something huge to happen, a boost, a bolt of hope from eternally dark grey skies.
On paper, an FA Cup quarter-final at Liverpool was not it…
…I did the journey alone, meeting an old Liverpudlian friend Brian and his Dad on Merseyside. They’d invited me for a pre-match lunch at theirs, and I gratefully accepted.
I needed the away day to start as early as possible.
I needed something.
I got an early train from Euston to Lime St, a bag of nerves both excited and, well, nervous.
About the game.
About my life.
About the game again.
I brought my sports Walkman and loaded it with the Oasis debut Definitely Maybe, an album I was in love with it, in particular the song “Columbia” which had a driving, circular riff of incalculable might. It was, despite the hits, my favourite.
As the train whistled through the likes of Nuneaton and Tamworth, I found myself not just playing the album repeatedly, but specifically “Columbia”. My spine shook. My skin tingled. Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Anderton, I needed them to do it today, I ached for it, I needed light, happiness, a sign that life would be alright, and I needed my lifelong partner Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to deliver it today. And the more I played “Columbia”, the more I became convinced that they would not let me down, despite nearly a decade to the contrary, every spin generating a deeper sense of unfathomable belief.
As the train pulled into Lime St Station, I was literally vibrating with electricity. It was on. It was going to happen. Surely they wouldn’t let me down in my hour of need, surely they’d find a way. I got the taxi to Brian’s, and had a fine lunch with him and his family at a house not too far from Anfield as I remember. Truth be told, I don’t recall a whole lot about the meal because my head was manically focused on getting into the ground.
As is the way in the cup, we had the whole end.
I was half-way up just to the right of centre behind the goal, and for some reason, I found myself engaged in a passionate exchange of sign language with a Liverpool supporter in the main stand to my right, seated a little along the touchline from the corner flag. When they went one up, it was as though the crowd around us both receded to fade, he was 20ft tall and throwing me a finger and wanker sign. My body shook with anger and adrenaline. It was nearly insufferable. My life was a fucking mess and now this, this! I could barely tolerate the swirling sea of Koppites staring back at us, laughing and seemingly taunting, from behind the opposite goal.
On the stroke of half-time, David Howells played a good ball inside to Klinsmann. He seemed to have got the ball caught in his feet, yet turned his back to goal smoothly and saw Sheringham on his left, striding into the right-hand channel. A perfect square pass, into Teddy’s stride, and Sheringham curled a delicious shot from 25 yards around James’ despairing dive, gently kissing the inside of the post as it went in.
Sign-language plus, and a roar of delight at the sheer beauty of Sheringham’s finish. He stood in a near sumo-crouch, pumping his arms, drinking the moment as well he deserved to. It was brilliant! I cannot remember what half-time was about, but I know that my life suddenly seemed a whole lot better again, that maybe it was going to happen after all, that maybe they wouldn’t let me down.
The second-half was tense. I think we were on top but I cannot remember for sure. I do know that as we approached the 89th minute, I thought we’d probably hold out for a draw and replay, not quite what I’d hoped and prayed for, not quite what a dozen plus spins of “Columbia” had said would happen, but at least we wouldn’t lose.
A throw-in got cleared, the ball landed at Anderton’s feet, he threaded a pass to Sheringham who had his back to goal but produced the deftest of flicks to the empty left-hand channel and from nowhere, Klinsmann was onto it, racing into the box, bearing down on James before placing it firmly into the bottom right-hand corner.
PANDEMONIUM! LEAPING! BRUISES ON LEGS BANGING THEM INTO SEATS! JUMPING ON SEATS! TUMBLING DOWN ROWS! HUGGING EVERYONE IN SIGHT! SCREAMING SHOUTING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES, LOOKING TO THE SKIES AND THANKING THANKING THANKING EVERY-FUCKING-THING, but most of all, THANKING TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, JURGEN KLINSMANN, TEDDY SHERINGHAM, GERRY FRANCIS, ALL OF THEM THE BEAUTIFUL BASTARDS, because in my greatest hour of need, at the moment in my life where I genuinely needed their sign, THEY HAD NOT LET ME DOWN!
I remember the Liverpool supporters on the Kop applauding at the end of the match, and soon after I walked, literally shaking, outside to wait across the Anfield Road for Brian and his Dad. I hid my scarf, fearing that any utterance of joy would result in trouble. If I thought I’d been buzzing before, you could’ve wired the city with my energy at that moment.
I saw them both appear through the waves of Liverpool supporters.
Brian’s Dad waved from about 20ft, and loudly said, “Well done the Spurs, well played, go on lad, let it out!”
And I did.
I screamed at the top of my voice, punching the air with both fists, happiness, relief, more joy, so many emotions spewing uncontrollably out.
He smiled broadly.
I write this now, I will never ever forget that most human of gestures.
It remains an utterly unforgettable away day, a deliverance of faith, hope and love which I can still access at any time by listening to “Columbia” and watching those goals again, an instant time machine back to the day I actually prayed for Tottenham Hotspur to deliver, to the day they dutifully did…praise be for that.
…For more than one day. Sometimes the most entertaining players are the more unlikely ones. STEFF discusses the value of a great club cult hero.
I was at Wembley for that night in 1981.
I was on the Shelf for that night in 1984.
However there is a goal which rather perversely stands -if not shoulder to shoulder with those moments- most certainly a couple of bodies along in the same queue.
It was Sunday, April 8th 2001, and it occurred at Old Trafford during the FA Cup semi-final, in the 13th minute. I was seated in the huge main stand, lower tier, about five seats from the fan divide when Steffen Iversen got hold of a loose ball and leathered it goalwards. Well not quite. It was on par to hit some punter in the fifth row about 20 yards from the left-hand post, when suddenly an unlikely ginger head got in the way, deflecting the ball like a missile inside said-left hand post to put us 1-0 up.
It was such an utterly unlikely moment.
We had been under the cosh for the first 10 minutes of the match, and the scorer -Gary Doherty- was, to say the least, an unlikely hero. In fact, he was such an unlikely hero that even he knew it, his celebration being one of total bewilderment, as if to say, “these things don’t come from me because I am at best a cult figure”. It took me five minutes to sit down and stop taunting the Gooners a few seats across, and even as I write, I remember the explosive, volatile eruption of joy Doherty’s goal provided. It was the birth of a superb nickname -The Ginger Pele- and tragically, there is not one supporter I know who believes he meant to cushion that bullet into the net as he did. Instead everyone, to a man, woman and child, knows it simply bounced off his bonce.
Doherty was a classic example of the Spurs cult-hero.
A jack of two trades and master of none (he was deployed at centre-half and centre-forward), Doherty was a willful but not especially skillful trier who went out of his way to throw his body on the line for the club, procuring the odd moment of glory (as above), or more frequently, clownery, as with his incredible own goal chip against Leicester in 2004.
Yet when we look back, a major question arises. Does the cult hero really have to be an average-to-donkey class player, or is it permissible that the cult hero has silky smooth skills with more than a dash of insouciant inconsistency? It isn’t a straight-forward answer.
Take Alfie Conn, that mid-70’s Roy Wood/Billy Connelly hybrid midfield maestro who could light a match with his right foot (as in for your cigarette!) yet was also prone to bouts of outrageous clownery such as sitting on the ball mid-match. On his day, Conn made Michel Platini look like Gary Waddock, but sadly, his day didn’t happen with any consistency whatsoever, thus rendering him memorable as much for that explosion of hair and moustache as skill. John Lacy, a centre-half in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, had a giraffe like presence and was probably unfairly remembered as a gaffe machine, one of those names which elicited a groan when his name was announced over the tannoy and equally, someone who somehow become a comfortable “cult figure” for supporters to whinge on about. For entirely different reasons, you could argue that the rotund rocket Gary Brooke was another cult hero, his ability to super-sub onto the pitch and launch his generous frame into a howitzer which would end up breaking the net, becoming semi-legendary in the Burkinshaw days.
It continues to get tricky as you look through the eras.
Nayim was undoubtably a cult hero, but more for what he did from the halfway line in another shirt against Arsenal than anything he did for us, and then there’s Nicola Berti, who via nothing more than reputation, nationality and good looks became an instant love for us all, and who also had one of the greatest player songs ever with “My name is Nicola Berti…” Thinking about it now, is it possible that Nicola Berti is a golden example of a cult hero despite doing next to nothing of note in our shirt other than looking suave?
Steffen Freund acolytes would fiercely argue that notion.
Unglamorous, determined and grimly physical without any silk (or flairy skills for that matter), Freund was revered for his terrier-like space invader qualities, which saw him flying around pitches with scant regard for anything other than winning the ball. You’d debate that any team needs a Freund-figure -we currently have Hojberg- but compared to Freundy, Pierre looks more like Pele or Pirlo than plodder, and besides, there was something about the way Steff wore his hair and carried himself which just screamed “cult hero”…he also enhanced that legend tenfold by popping up on the terraces with us at away games. Thus was born, “I love Steffen Freund, Steffen Freund loves me.”
I know I’m missing dozens, from the dynamic Jose Dominguez to the indolent Stephane Dalmat, and I haven’t even investigated the notion that to be a cult hero you need to have a song (a mate and I once spent an entire, admittedly drunken, half at Man City away applying every player song from the decades to Clint Dempsey, a cult hero surely). Take Peter Crouch, who delivered another moment of I-was-there ultra-joy for me at Eastlands in 2009 when he nodded us into the Champions League for the first time. I mean, isn’t Crouchy too good to be a cult-hero? Can you be too good? However, when it comes to finding a current example of a universally-agreed, quintessential cult hero par excellence, it’s actually rather easy.
I understand the half cases for Clinton N’Jie and perhaps even more Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, but it is Sissoko who epitomizes everything a true cult hero is. Not especially masterful at anything, yet gloriously committed to the cause, he is a player who has sacrificed himself repeatedly at the altar of versatility in order to serve the team, a player who did not get a sniff of his best position for two years, instead filling in wherever duty called. He endured, to my mind, disgraceful abuse for some time as he gave his all in such situations, yet finally he started to win fans over. It started with the “wake me up before you go go/who needs Bale when you’ve got Sissoko” song of endearment, and continued to mushroom to the point where he ascended to having his own firm, direct song; “Ooooh Moussa Sissoko (repeat)”. And in many ways, just like the Ginger Pele in 2001, it is a Sissoko moment which will forever live in my memory as long as any glory night…
…There I was, on June 1st 2019 in Madrid, minutes before the CL Final kick-off, engaged in a the fullest of fulsome renditions of “Ooooooh Moussa Sissko” which rang out around the Wanda Stadium as the game kicked off. Within 30 second, it was Sissoko who had been (harshly to say the least) dinged for a handball and penalty. I put my arms around my friends, looked to the sky and uttered, “We’re not allowed to have nice things.” I will never, ever forget seeing the evening sky through the wanda outer roof, barely able to watch the penalty being taken, so many emotions coursing through my veins, my pre-match prediction that he would score the winner and thus become immortal suddenly looking as ludicrous as when I’d said it.
If ever a cult hero’s definition, and perhaps dichotomy, was defined, this was surely it. Because remember, had Sissoko not floated that ball 50 yards forward in the 95th minute during the semi-final second leg in Amsterdam, we would not even have been in the Final to start with.
His cult-hero statue outside the new Lane is surely guaranteed.