Sound of the Crowd

Sound of the Crowd 1882 Book Cover

Martin Cloake’s latest book on Tottenham Hotspur, Sound of the Crowd, takes in the sub-culture of the football fan, from fanzines, independent organisation and protest, while giving a first-hand insight into past battles from the late eighties with the club he loves to the parallels of a new Spurs supporter movement.

The story of ‘Left on the Shelf’ is one worth telling. Martin sets the scene of his formative experiences at White Hart Lane, standing on the elevated terrace on the East Stand commonly known as The Shelf, which while being a target for rival fans looking for trouble, had the combination of allowing a great view of the game and a brilliant atmosphere, the description of which in the book brings past match-days to life. When the club clumsily went about knocking it down with a disposition of disregard and arrogance Martin was involved in the resistance, demanding the club to be accountable for its actions.

It brings back memories of financial mismanagement, a less than independent Football League and the wonderful Tottenham fanzine of the time, The Spur. Fast forward to the present and it is the modern day equivalent of the fanzine in the digital age, the excellent Dear Mr Levy blog, that spawned first the podcast The Fighting Cock and then the collective that gave itself the title 1882; 1882 has no such apparent ambitions of challenging the workings of The Man it funds, but instead gave itself a self-appointed mission of creating a colourful communal sing-song for 90 minutes.

Spurs have long had a great away following, famously travelling in thousands in the one-season in the second division in the seventies and as touched on by more than one book (including my own) constantly taking great numbers over land and sea. Martin points out that sometimes this has involved organization, with Aubrey Morris, a veteran of the Battle of Cable Street, getting a mention for arranging independent away travel in Europe, but largely it has been organic, with small groups or individuals making their own plans before congregating in an away end and passionately representing the club in fine voice.

It hasn’t been all bad at home either. As Martin points out, just in 2006, the Bolton Evening News described White Hart Lane as “by far the best stage in the Premiership” and said: “Watching a game there is like taking a step back in time in a good way. The noise is constant and electric and the passion is tangible.”

And while Martin notes Spurs season ticket prices have risen by 105% in a decade of the current owners, the supporter base has survived and there have been many memorable nights in the last 15 years when the ground has been rocking, including the league cup quarter final win against Manchester United on 1999, the long-awaited league win against Chelsea in 2006, the two 5-1 second-leg semi-final wins against Arsenal and Chelsea, the week in 2010 when they were both beaten en-route to Champions League qualification and the famous win against European Cup reigning champions Internazionale in that competition a few months later, to name a few.

But by the very nature of sport, it can’t be like that every week, because it is all the disappointments that make the good times better and more celebrated. And there have been many disappointments since The Shelf was no more. During the dire Gerry Francis years White Hart Lane was still full but there was little to inspire on the pitch and away from home “I Can’t Smile Without You” was more than a sing-a-long, but a statement to a club where the ambition had become mediocrity styled with long-ball and negativity in mind.

The best Spurs side in twenty-five years, a fluent, winning team for the first six months of the 2011-12 season meant not only was the ground full, but it was also full of song without a need for choir masters as there was genuine joy and pleasure at what was being played out in the eyes that feared it may never see the glory again. After three consecutive league defeats in February and March that changed as nerves set-in, naturally, as there was a fear, that turned out to be reality, of under-achievement, as fourth place in the league was rightly regarded as a failure.

At the start of last season (2012-13) too much long-ball, a negativity in holding on to narrow leads, a tendency to rely on offside, a lack of creativity (Bale and Lennon aside) and the natural hangover after the season of what could have been a title challenge, meant there were more quieter days at the Lane from many hardened fans who had suffered the Francis years and travelled around the country watching a side of Wimbledon rejects assembled by the man in the raincoat before suddenly sensing the return of the real Tottenham for moments between 2009-2012 only to see it all taken away. Having put in the time and the money when things were less rosy, these fans have the right to be disappointed (and have a right to hold on to their loyalty points which the club took away) as well as have their quieter, reflective moments when there is little to sing about.

There is always room for improvement in how a club treats its fans. The best example now would be ditching the legitimised touting partner StubHub. History teaches us organisation and unity have always been key in counter-movements but all supporters are individuals and it is now easier than before for everyone to express their own opinion. The digital age means there is lots of room for debate and dissent that old fanzines had as well as a means to organize en masse.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere inside the ground will always be at its best when things are going well for the club. A strong squad, a challenge for honours and stylish football in the tradition of the club, and the noise and colour will take care of itself. Sound of the Crowd tells another small chapter in that rich history.

MG

Sound of the Crowd is available here for just £2.99. One third of the royalty goes to CALM, a charity that deals with suicide among teenage men.

Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents Tottenham’s return to the European Cup. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.

Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

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