BOOK REVIEW: A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOOTBALL CLUB: HOW SPURS FANS SHAPED THE IDENTITY OF ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS CLUBS
MARTIN CLOAKE & ALAN FISHER (PITCH PUBLISHING, 2016) ISBN 978-1-78531-188-8
HARDBACK; 256 PAGES; £17.99
Rather than produce a history of the team and their exploits, authors Martin Cloake and Alan Fisher have instead turned their attention to a history of Tottenham Hotspur through the fans. In doing so they explore the questions of community, identity and the concept of what “the idea” of Tottenham Hotspur means.
‘A People’s History’ is that cliché of a game of two halves. The first half of the book explores how the local community was important in the formation and development of the club and how this has evolved through until modern times. Today, the suburb of Tottenham is a largely run down area with much deprivation, while many of the fans have migrated outwards to areas such as Hertfordshire and Essex, often visiting on match days only. This, however, is a transformation of the last 30 years or so and through until the 1960s local industry was vibrant (notably the Gestetner factory) and the club was an integral part of the fabric of that local area.
The 1980s proved a significant dividing point in modern history and football began to change in significant ways. While the Thatcher government is usually remembered for its destruction of working class communities in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, we are reminded that football fans were also a target. It was even proposed that fans would need an identity card to attend any Football League match. That ‘greed is good’ mentality that began with Thatcherism has unfortunately taken over the game in the 30 years or so that have since passed, most obviously with the introduction of the mega brand of the Premier League.
The second half of the book comprises a detailed account of that transition and how fans have responded to it. The voice of the fans, once restricted to the generally supine supporters’ clubs, could now be heard through the advent of the fanzine and more recently blogs and social media. There has also been a growth in organised supporter groups, representing the views of fans, often campaigning for their rights – at White Hart Lane this has developed from the Left on the Shelf group of the 1980s, through the Tottenham Independent Supporters’ Association and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust to the more recent 1882 movement. The need for such outlets and organisations is quite clear: financially the club no longer needs the paying fans as it did in the period up to the 1970s, when money taken at the gate was the prime source of income. They are no longer the key stakeholders they once were.
In many ways what has happened at Tottenham mirrors developments elsewhere in English football. Premier League stadiums are invariably filled to capacity enabling clubs to price matches out of the reach of their traditional fans. Indeed Tottenham has become a global brand in which the fans who pay to attend matches are seen largely as an irrelevance, as marketing is directed to Los Angeles, India or Thailand. Here the matchday experience consists of assembling in a local bar to watch the match on a large screen television. The distance the club has travelled since its formation is further epitomised by the revelation that by 2007 it was claimed that 30% of the club’s fans earned more than £50,000 (presumably per annum).
The great strength of this book lies in the detailed account of how the club has become distanced from its fans over the last 30 years or so and how those fans have organised so that their voices can be heard. It is unfortunately a rather sad tale but one that needs to be told. Although very much focussed on Tottenham the authors carefully avoid the tribalism that has invaded the modern game. The result is a book which is very readable and deserves a much wider audience than just Spurs’ fans.