‘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. 

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