If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that, having failed last year to take their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England, they are about to repeat that failure. And that is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.
This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remains a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, when Spurs capitulated last season, was ample illustration of this.
I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.
Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie’s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. “Keep Fighting” was and remains the motto. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again.
There is none of this with Spurs, not last season and not this one either. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester City of last season being an excellent example – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out.
On the evidence of social media reaction, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trilled last season (they actually finished third in a two-horse race, surrendering runners-up spot meekly to Arsenal with a thrashing at relegated Newcastle). We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal, they simpered (maybe this season then, lads). We’ll be favourites next year, they crooned, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys can be counted on to wake up from their one season slumber.
Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt.
The Spurs fans by contrast, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, betrayed their club and showed themselves, as well as their beloved club, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. It was a sickening sight to see, a betrayal of that competitive spirit that gives a vital edge to proper contenders.
In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or Chelsea calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown again why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Chelsea, with their juggernaut self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of Antonio Conte, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be deserving Champions, by far the best team in the land.
Leicester City, Chelsea, Leeds United – Champions of England. Each has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited when it’s come about. Whereas “Champions Spurs”? – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead faintly ridiculous, like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain.