‘We’ve Never Had It So Bad’ – The Effect Of Recency Bias

It is ironic that having written this article between Wednesday and Sunday last week about the impact of Recency Bias I now feel that the football world is a much happier place having beaten Leicester and finished above Arsenal. With this concept in mind I invite you back into my mind pre-Sunday……

In my Spurs supporting lifetime I can’t remember feeling any lower than I have since Wednesday night. I know I am not alone but the definitive conclusion of ‘never have felt more disconnected’ is likely to be the result of recency bias.

Let me firstly just try, for cathartic purposes, explain why I feel in such a loveless relationship.  It was my first visit to watch a game since December and only the second in 15 months. Something that has been a routine in my life, certainly since buying my first season ticket in 2002, should have got me chomping at the bit to return. Yet, somehow has kick off approached I felt so little enthusiasm and excitement. Perhaps it was the terrible drive through rush hour traffic that didn’t help? No, the feeling of apathy had set in long before that. 

Tim Sherwood

My feelings of lethargy seemed to be matched by the players. From 15 minutes we became a more inferior team – confidence and energy sapped. There was a will to reverse the score but the palpable emotions on and off the pitch were of frustration and resentment. The chorus of boos at full-time I felt were not directly primarily at the players and not exclusively at Daniel Levy – it was an outpouring of helplessness and utter frustration. 

I have expressed to many people since then my extreme feelings of disconnect with the club. The ESL decision is amongst that but it more the complete lack of proactive communication  and the inability once again for ENIC to ‘read the room’ that hurts me. I am what is becoming known as a ‘legacy fan’  – I don’t feel that I am their target market segment and If I’m honest I haven’t done for as much as I can remember. However, this has never stopped me coming back and I’m embarrassed to admit that I renewed my season ticket the day applications opened.

However, it is the disconnect with the team that is my predominant emotional trigger. I am not pointing out anything that has not been observed and discussed by anyone else. The lack of intensity, the lack of a plan, the lack of confidence, the lack of belief. Subjectively we have a good but not outstanding group of players but a squad that with the right motivation and direction be challenging in and around 4th place. I think 5th is par and there is no disgrace in this though it is undoubtedly a regression on where we have been since 2017.   

If we’re honest the bar that was set in 2017 was incredibly high and it was always going to be a challenge to maintain the standards of winning 86 points in a season. Sunday 13 May 2017 was the high point – both for on the field success but for a general feeling of togetherness between fans, players and manager and owners.

 If ever there was going to be a breakout of “Daniel Levy he’s one of our own’ it would have been at this point. The send-off to White Hart Lane was a poignant one that had been planned and executed beautifully; it was ostensibly a send off to an iconic venue that for many of us had been a second home and one that provided cherished memories for both what we had seen on the pitch and more importantly the relationships we formed off it. 

Part of me wonders what those celebrations would have looked and felt like had the timing been different – what if we’d finished 2016/17 season as we had this year? It is mostly a coincidence that the send off to our cherished home occurred in our most successful season on it. 

Fast forward 4 years – the global pandemic has created several very obvious nuances that affected the feel of the final home game of the season just as they did in 2020 when a 3-0 victory over Leicester took place in front of an empty stadium – but the feeling around the club could not be at a more polar opposite. The ongoing speculation around Harry Kane creates another black cloud that circles above us and until a new manager is appointed it is hard to develop any excitement for what might come next.

However, my point is that we’ve been here before – that feeling of staleness and hopelessness. Unless you started following Spurs in 2015 you’ve definitely been through what you’re feeling now and whilst the memory of how good it was in 2017 is a stark reminder of the failures on and off the pitch since also remember that it didn’t take much to get us to that point. 

Using the final home game of the season as a consistent time marker of despondency let me just share some of the bleak times that I have experienced and please use this list to reflect and finally just to remember that as a club we suffer peaks and troughs that unlike many of our contemporaries (Villa, West Ham, Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham Forest) only ever seem to flatline in midtable. 

2014 – Aston Villa home 3-0

‘The Sherwood season’ – this was a depressing season that, again using recency bias, tends to be the most we benchmark the current season against. We’d actually started 2013/14 in the post Bale era under AVB relatively well on the pitch winning most games but in an undefined and unspectacular manner until several heavy defeats pre-Christmas saw Sherwood take over. Despite an initial bounce it soon became clear Sherwood was as much of a buffoon as feared and his self-aggrandisement and limited tactical approach meant that the second half meandered on with players and fans in a similar state of malaise. The introduction of young players Nabil Bentaleb and the clumsy looking forward Harry Kane provided some hope for the future but the season really couldn’t end quick enough. 

The final day of the season did provide a comprehensive victory – in fact we had won our 4 final home games of the season (Southampton, Sunderland, Fulham and Villa) and maintained a top 6 finish. 

6Tottenham Hotspur3821611555169
7Manchester United3819712644364
9Stoke City38131114455250
10Newcastle United3815419435949
2014 – Final Premier League table

2004 – Blackburn 1-0

What an endurance 2003/4 had become. It started with the Hoddle era running on fumes and then under the stewardship of David Pleat as a Caretaker manager widely ridiculed by players and fans alike the season. Daniel Levy, then in his embryonic period as Chairman, promised a big-name manager but that the appointment could wait until the end of the season (which coming in September meant that the season was effectively a write-off). That Woolwich would record their Invincible season made matters even worse but we were in serious danger of being sucked into a relegation battle as late as April. Therefore, the very end of the season provided enough feeling of genuine relief that the final game of the season against mid-table Blackburn provided a feeling of happy mediocrity. 


2003 – Blackburn 0-4

The Hoddle era was beginning to unravel quickly. The 2002-3 season had begun positively but a series of injuries and a lack of intensity and physical condition amongst an ageing group of players (Sheringham and Poyet) meant that Keane and King aside 2003 became a real endurance. Were it not for Hoddle’s status feelings could have turned sourer even more quickly, The end of the season saw us go into our penultimate home game of the season actually wanting to lose at home to Manchester Utd in order to deny Woolwich a league title. Naturally United won comfortably 2-0. The final two games of the season resulted in a 5-1 defeat at Middlesbrough and then an ugly 0-4 reversal at home to Blackburn which included Poyet receiving a red card and young winder Matt Etherington involved in a verbal dispute with a fan in the East Lower. I’m sure this must have happened in other years but the touchline was littered with season ticket books at full-time  – always a futile gesture when the book had already become superfluous by nature of it being the final game.


1997 – Coventry 1-2

This moment had parallels to now as well. Teddy Sheringham had been our talisman though he had missed much of this season through injury and had also found himself in a dysfunctional attacking system that even when on form was undone by some gormless defending and a lack of structure in midfield. Teddy’s demeanour during the latter half of the season was that of a player who felt he had outgrown the rest of the team around him and justifiably saw that his ambitions were more likely to be achieved elsewhere. For me the 1996/7 season was the benchmark for Spurs mediocrity during the period. There was no ability to string 3 results together, rarely did we show up outside of the M25 and the inevitable exit from the FA Cup signalled the end of the season. The team looked tired and uninspired and Coventry City, who almost 10 years to the day previous had enjoyed their most famous day at Spurs expense, came to White Hart lane knowing that even a win may not be enough to keep them in the division. If Social Media memes had been a thing in 1997 then Dr Tottenham would have trended in the days immediately prior and after the final match of the season. Coventry roared into a 2-0 lead for Paul McVeigh to score his one and only Spurs goal in response. There was little riding on the game for Spurs other than absent pride – another feature of the era. 

Sheringham did depart the club that summer and went on to do rather well at Old Trafford before returning 4 years later. 

On each occasion the manager at the time, if in place at all, has failed to turn around a sinking ship. It has taken an appointment like Redknapp, Jol or Poch to breathe life back into the team, but also to give the fans a hope and belief again. In all the latter examples (of the ENIC era) the darkest hour has always been followed a stark improvement not just to the results – though they undeniably have a knock-on effect – but to a wider positive feeling and we must hope that for all of us supporting Spurs will become fun again very soon.  

What we are feeling now is not a new feeling and I challenge you reach the conclusion that you’ve had it worse in the past……and the reminder that football is cyclical. We’re all in for the long haul so we’ll feel it again too. 

What Was Spurs Ultimate Humiliation?

Thursday night’s result in Zagreb was very much a ‘humiliation’ – there are several ingredients to a ‘humiliation’ – its invariably a self-inflicted result and generally one that makes you feel as though you’ve just been spotted naked meaning you want to lock yourself away for days to avoid the mocking eyes of your contemporaries. To be a humiliation it’s not just your standard regulation defeat – it’s either:

  • a spectacular collapse, 
  • a heavy defeat that would see the opponents score written in letters not numbers or 
  • a defeat created through hubris against a team of undoubted inferior ability
  • a particularly upsetting defeat at hands of our biggest rivals. 

….or perhaps a combination of all four.

Have no doubt Thursday night’s collapse that seemed inevitable the moment Zagreb scored their first goal was a humiliation. I have the luxury of being able to work from home and I stay off social media but even on my lunchtime walk around The Lea Valley Park yesterday I was paranoid that other pedestrians may have known I was a Spurs fan and been pointing at me laughing.

Let’s not forget that every club has to deal with its share of humiliations – we’ve even been the ones to dish them out – think 6-1 at Old Trafford, pegging back the Goons to 4-4 after an incredible display of hubris even by their standards.

The post mortem that has followed the defeat in Zagreb is about more than just a defeat on the night; it is the nadir of what has been largely a rotten two and a half years; it’s the wholly unexpected early departure from a competition that only 24 hours ago we were considered as tournament favourites; it was a realistic route to ‘glory’ through the tangible means of a trophy. It was perhaps a lifeline for Jose Mourinho’s diminishing reputation.

To lose 3-0 was a statistical achievement in itself – in over 200 games since the start of the 2017/18 season we have only lost by three goals on 5 occasions (twice at Emirates Marketing Project, against Bayern and Leipzig and then the infamous defeat at Brighton in 2019). It felt, in retrospect like one of those nights that Spurs would find a way to be humiliated – had the first leg finished 4-0 I have a feeling we’d have managed to lose 5-0 last night.

But where will tis rank amongst other humiliations? I’ve categorised some my Spurs supporting lifetime (hence no reference of the 1987 FA Cup Final) them so you can pick one from each. Zegreb could easily fit into any of the first three categories. 

Type A: The Spectacular Collapses:

Spurs 3-5 Man Utd Sept 2001 – Premiership
3-0 up at half time in one of the best Spurs 45 minute performances. This was the birth of the ‘Lads it’s Tottenham’ meme. Well at least we’d learned our lesson and couldn’t possibly lose a 3-0 half-time lead against a team from Manchester again….

Spurs 3-4 Man City Feb 2004 FA Cup 4th Round Replay
Well at least this wasn’t the same as that United game 3 years earlier…no City were mediocre at best and were reduced to 10 men at half time already 3 goals behind. Remember the name Jon Macken?

Spurs 3-3 West Ham October 2020 – Premier League
The only non-defeat listed here. We broke all league records by surrendering a 3-goal lead after 83 minutes! This makes the list principally because of the opposition.

Dishonourable mention for the ‘Mind the Gap’ 2-0 up to 2-5 defeat at The Emirates in 2012. 

Type B: CupSets and Hubris

Notts County 3-0 Spurs October 1994League Cup 3rd Round

We swaggered into this game with Klinsmann, Teddy et al against a team bottom of the second tier. At this point the league cup was our only route to a trophy that season. 2-0 down in 20 minutes and then Dumitrescu sent off before half time. The result ultimately cost Ossie Ardiles his job.

Everton 4-1 Spurs April 1995 – FA Cup Semi Final

Having been reinstated to the FA Cup and then having won at Anfield in the Quarter Final ‘our name was on the Cup’ this year. At least Everton, as a name, are a formidable opponent even if their league position and the fact that there best player Duncan Ferguson was injured. Any Spurs fan who had the misfortune to travel to Elland Road will clearly remember the smell of shit on and off the pitch. 

Blackburn 2-1 Spurs Feb 2002 – League Cup Final
Having beaten Chelsea in a highly emotional semi-final surely they’ll just give us the trophy and the Hoddle era will blast off into the stratosphere right? We’ll be able to overcome a team with 37 year old Mark Hughes in midfield right? Chelsea fans wont sing “5-1 and you won fudge all” whilst going on to beat us 4-0 twice in 4 days within 3 weeks of the final right?

Portsmouth 2-0 Spurs April 2010 FA Cup Semi-Final

This was particularly humiliating because of the supreme confidence we had coming into the game. There are some mitigating factors here – namely the Wembley pitch surface was a shocker and it was this that caused Dawson to slip allowing Picquionne to score the first goal in Extra Time. Then Crouch had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed before Portsmouth hit us on the break to score a second late on. That we would then go on to beat Arsenal and Chelsea within 6 days and then qualify for the Champions League for the first time a few weeks later somewhat softened the blow. 

Dishonourable mentions also for the 1-0 League Cup defeat at Grimsby (Sept 2005), losing 3-2 at second division Leicester in the 2006 Fa Cup 3rd round having been 2-0 up and the Everton FA Cup Semi-Final of 1995.

Type C: The Heavy defeats

Newcastle 5-1 Spurs Final Day of the 2015/16 season
I still maintain that had any team other than Woolwich leapfrogged us into second place this result would have been far more palatable. It is the combination of losing against an already relegated team; the size of the score, the fact that they had 10 men for the final 30 minutes of the game with the score just 1-2; giving Woolwich an unexpected St Wankerfest Day; that it was just after the emotionally charged Battle of the Bridge and that goody goody Leicester had become the darlings of the nation at our expense.

Spurs 2-7 (seven) Bayern Munich October 2019 Champions League
First time we’d conceded seven in a home game. Perhaps unfair to list this game – after all we were bloody good for 43 minutes and this was the free scoring Bayern team that would go on to score 8 against Barcelona. Still, you lose 7-2 at home and you’re gonna be the subject of a few memes.

Dishonourable mention for the 1-6 home defeat to Chelsea in Christian Gross’ first home game. Our record Premier League defeats  – losing 6-0 at Sheffield United in 1993 and 7-1 at Newcastle in 1996. The 6-1 loss at Bolton (then of the second tier) in 1996 could fit into either of the last two categories. I’m not old enough to have seen the 0-5 home defeat to Woolwich in 1978 nor the 7-0 hammering at Anfield the same season. 

Type D: Local Pride

Lasagnegate – West Ham 2-1 Spurs May 2006

This is actually a very different type of humiliation for a couple of reasons. It really wasn’t self inflicted. We should never have been made to play that game at that time; it was the perfect storm of it being the final weekend of the season (and therefore had to be played at exactly the same time as all the others) and that the two perpretrators and beneficiaries were our most immediate rivals. Also worth throwing into the mix that in the home fixture West Ham equalised with a 95th minute goal. 2 extra points that day and Lasagnegate would have been irrelevant. 

Chelsea 1-1 Bayern Munich May 2012 Champions League Final

Again, this was only somewhat a self inflicted humiliation. Had we held on to 3rd place this would have been irrelevant. That again the two beneficiaries of our misfortune were two hated rivalries rankled even more. I’m sure no-one had it harder than Harry Redknapp (perhaps the architect of ours and his own downfall) who had to endure walking around pitchside in Munich to be greeted with ‘Thursday Night Channel 5 chants’ from the gleeful Chelsea fans.

Spurs 0-4 Chelsea 4-0 Spurs March 2002 (FA Cup and Premiership)

Having beaten Chelsea 5-1 in the 2002 League Cup Semi-final we had not only reached a final against Blackburn that we were huge favourites for but we’d beaten Chelsea for the first time in 12 years and 25 games. To be drawn against them in the FA Cup QF just 3 weeks after the humiliation in Cardiff raised alarm bells. Not only did we lose the FA Cup tie 4-0 but we then went and lost by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge 72 hours later. Chelsea fans were very quick to remind us that ‘Normal Service had resumed”. 

In conclusion I do hope that this reflection exercise has acted as a cathartic activity for you and just a reminder that these seem to occur quite a bit more often than they should…Zagreb is now 12 major ones in just over 30 years for me -christ that’s one every 2 ½ years. If we reach September 2023 without an other one we should be relieved!