Most people don't chose their teams. Instead they're inherited by fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, or pushy ex-boyfriends. Usually it's down to something as simple as location, but even that can yield unexpected results: my college friend Chris was a Yankees fan despite growing up in New England precisely in order to rebel (rightly) against the horrible, horrible Red Sox fans he grew up surrounded by.
So how, dear lord, did I end up so (un)lucky to be Tottenham?
I'll tell you right up front it's NOT because they're the "Jewish team" though I will admit to a little thrill upon learning of the song sung for Jurgen Klinsmann:
Chim Chiminee, Chim Chiminee, Chim Chim Cheroo, Jurgen was a Nazi but now he's a Jew.
But that has more to do with my love of dark humor than some weird sort of ethnic pride.
After all, if I had wanted a "Jewish" team I could support Ajax, where the crowd sings "Hava Nagila" and waves Israeli flags. Or, I could spend my days willing HaPoel Tel Aviv into the Champions League so I could watch them get spanked by Paok Thessaloniki or some such. Indeed, there are many "Jewish" clubs (including Bayern Munich, by the way) to chose from.
No, in fact, when my good friend Adam introduced me to Tottenham as "the Jewish Club" it turned me off a little. It's not that I'm self-hating, I'm just not oriented towards loving things just because they're "Jewish." If I did, I'd have to stand up for dry cookies, chicken fat on toast, and the simply barbaric custom of not eating bacon.
So when Adam said, "come see them, they're the Jews of the premier league" I almost pulled a muscle rolling my eyes.
No, for me it had to do with location.
Up until six months ago I lived down the block from two bars: ChipShop and Floyd. Two bars nestled between bodegas, wine stores, and artesinal cheese mongers in Brooklyn. Two bars that have NOTHING in common other than that they're right next to each other and that ChipShop is an Arsenal Bar and Floyd is Tottenham.
I grew up a Yankee fan. It's hard to be a Yankee fan in New York or, you know, anywhere in the world. Everything that anyone says about the team is correct and everything that anyone says about the fans is true as well. We’re stupid, we’re fair-weather, and worst of all we tend to be entirely ignorant of our history. I have a Yankees hat I like to wear on mornings that I’m feeling too tired to shower and every time I walk past a girl in a pink NY hat with her puffed up boyfriend trying to figure out “which direction gonna get me to 9/11 park” a part of me wants to step in front of a bus.
The first thing I noticed upon stepping into my first Spurs game at Floyd was that every eyeball in the bar was focused on the screen. Sips of alcohol and coffee required a neck stretching thrust to keep the screen in view as fuel was added to whatever sort of fire was brewing in the crowd.
I loved it. I loved the attention to detail of these fans. These people that would rather spill on their shoes than miss a single pass, a single well-timed tackle, a single run at goal that brought the collective pulse of the crowd up, and dissipated it simultaneously.
It was and still is the antithesis of Yankee stadium where people tweet and text and wander about looking at girls, allowing for a long afternoon to wash over them, and wondering where they found that really good steak sandwich. This is dark and dirty, it’s early, we’re tired, we’re focused, and we didn’t make our way here to miss a second of play.
But it wasn't until I heard the song that I knew I was in trouble.
It started as a lone mournful voice singing at a dirge-like pace, a single voice singing among the joyous chatter that erupted following a won corner kick. “Oh when the spurs…” He sang to the tune of the classic Dixieland song, but with every syllable stretched to within inches of its life. “Go marching in…” as though a warning to the opposing team and fans that something terrible came their way. “Oh how I want to be in that number…” then the rest joined in hauntingly like a funeral procession, filling the room with this song. When I first heard it then, goosebumps erupted all over my arms. They still do. Every single goddam time.
But it was a loss that cemented my fandom. A loss of the worst kind... to the dreaded Arsenal. I'll go into details some other time, but at the end of a heart breaking 4-2 loss away at the Emirates, a game that followed a 5-nil drubbing of Newcastle, a game that hung around our necks like an albatross, a game that defined the slow crushing end of a season with so much promise, I heard a new song:
A stranger threw his arm around me and sang:
“Tottenham ’til I die, Tottenham ’til I die, I know I am I’m sure I am Tottenham ’til I die.”
And as the end of the match was sounded the crowd joined in singing "Tottenham when I'm dead, Tottenham when I'm dead..."
We have a song that we sing only when we lose. We have songs that unite us in victory, songs that rile us up in the heat of battle, and songs that we sing to commemorate a valiant effort but one that came up short. And that, for me, is life in a nutshell.
Outside, the crowd dissipated and as I crossed Atlantic Avenue, feeling almost jetlagged by how bright and early it still was in Brooklyn, a lone voice in red sang out: "There's only one team in London!"
And I knew that he was right, but just wrong about which team. But more importantly, I also knew that I was finally, without a shadow of a doubt, Spurs for life.