Soccer is not, to paraphrase Bill Shankly more important than life and death. I understand this. I try to preach this fact to my players. And yet when I become a fan the rational coach in me disappears. Dr. Jekyll very much becomes Mr. Hyde. I become a passionate, emotional and irrational fan of Tottenham Hotspur.
I grew up supporting Spurs mainly because my dad was a fan from the first time he saw the Lilywhites play in London in the late 1940’s. My childhood support of Spurs turned into teenage love and as in life that love turned into adult passion. The passion I have for Spurs also ignites in me an intense dislike for all things Arsenal, or Woolwich Arsenal to call them by their true and proper name. I know there is a prevailing opinion in soccer that Arsenal is a purist’s dream. Not to this purist. I only see the red and white shirt and have no appreciation for the manner in which they play. To be honest, I don’t dislike Arsenal, I hate them. Yes, there I said it. I hate Arsenal.
I don’t hate them in the sense that I would commit an act of violence towards them. I don’t hate Arsenal fans. In fact, I have a grudging admiration and respect for those among them that survived the George Graham years and still support the club.
Why do I hate Arsenal? I have no idea. It makes no sense for a supposedly rational and respected football person to feel the way I do. Hate is a strong emotion and is not supposed to be used in an everyday context. I am supposed to be able to rise above the rivalry of a mere soccer game and put my support into its proper perspective. That is what I am supposed to do, but that is not what I do. I hate Arsenal with a passion. I am sure fans of Manchester City and Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton and Celtic and Rangers to name a few could all relate.
A Spurs win will change my mood on any given day and when it is a 3-2 win against Arsenal at the Emirates Library the boost in mood is electric. It is akin to the high a drug addict gets from his latest fix. Losing to them has the opposite effect. It ruins my day, my weekend, or my week.
Watching Arsenal lose can be just as enjoyable and fulfilling as watching Spurs win. And when they lose in dramatic, frustrating, or painful circumstances then even better. The more dramatic; the more frustrating; and the more painful the loss to Arsenal the better I feel. Schadenfreude is a German word that means ‘pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.’ Soccer fans everywhere will experience this to some degree with at least one opposition team. It might not be a very pleasant side of human nature, but does anyone really consider this when they are watching their fiercest rivals concede a goal in injury time to cost them a cup, a title, or even a run-of-the-mill league game? No. Me neither.
From Roger Osbourne for Ipswich Town in 1978 to Obafemi Martins for Birmingham City at Wembley last month I have loudly celebrated goals scored by players wearing the shirts of clubs other than Spurs. The calamitous nature of Mohammed Ali Amar’s goal for Real Zaragoza against Arsenal in the 1995 European Cup Winners Cup Final was great. The fact that Amar, or ‘Nayim from the half way line’ as he is now known, was a former Spurs player was a bonus. Only my hero, Henrik Larsson’s cameo appearance in the 2006 Champions League Final to help Barcelona to victory can match Nayim’s stunner for importance. The look on Stewart Houston’s and Arsene Wenger’s respective faces on each occasion added to the sheer joy felt by this Spurs fan and millions of others around the world. Schadenfreude indeed.
Arsenal may be second in the Barclay’s English Premier League right now, but they have plenty of time to implode and win nothing. I hope so! I will be cheering against them in their remaining 10 league games. I will be cheering for Manchester United to dump them unceremoniously out of the FA Cup. I hope Barcelona give them another football lesson at the Camp Nou and shatter their dreams of winning the Champions League. I hope Arsenal’s six year wait for a trophy goes on indefinitely. Schadenfreude!
Come on Barcelona! And Man United, West Brom, Blackburn, Blackpool, Liverpool, Spurs, Bolton, Man United, Stoke, Aston Villa, and Fulham in that order.