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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On Becoming So Spursy

If they always disappoint you, why don’t you just support another team, like Chelsea or something?”

That was me, back when this New York City gal started crossing the Atlantic with her then new steady boyfriend who happened to be a Tottenham Hotspur supporter (along with two generations of his entire family). We were commiserating over a pint at the Irish Cultural Centre following a disappointing loss at White Hart Lane.

From the glare I got from John (the beau who would eventually forgive me and become my husband) and his first cousin (who still hasn’t forgiven me), I had only begun to realize just how deep support of one’s English Premiership team runs – not to mention the ground I’d have to make up if I wanted to be welcomed into the family fold.

Over the years, I’ve tried my best to support Spurs, sort of following along but not really keeping track of their top players, their managers, their trades, or their standing in the table.  And while I named my first cat after former Tottenham striker Mido (I had witnessed his stunning two goal debut in 2007 at White Hart Lane), I admit that it wasn’t so much because I was a die-hard Spurs supporter, but because I knew that by naming the cat after a Spurs player, John would be more likely to embrace the new orange tabby in my life – and that calling a cat 'Klinsmann' just didn’t have a good ring to it.

Over the past two years of living in Abu Dhabi, I’ve found a whole new love for the 'beautiful game,' mainly due to living in a far more forgiving time zone, combined with what's become of this blossoming young team just hitting its stride.

With many Premier League games starting as early as 8 a.m. in NYC on a weekend, getting up and making my way to a sports bar that showed the Tottenham game felt like too much heavy-lifting.  To say that I’m not a morning person is an understatement. My friends, former work colleagues and even my husband know that there’s an unspoken ‘do not disturb’ sign that hangs over me until ten in the morning. Also, the weekend trains in Manhattan are notoriously slow… or non-existent, making it an hour or more endeavor to get to a spot to watch a game when during the week the same trip might only take 25 minutes. Even further, on the rare occasion that I’d make it to watch a game, the guilt of being in a bar that early and the unwritten obligation to have a beer as a way of thanking the establishment for showing the match, was even to this enthusiastic beer drinker -- a challenge.

So fast-forward four time zones ahead of the UK, and suddenly watching English football has a whole new aura.

Here in the UAE, watching the footy is predominantly an evening activity, which often falls on a Saturday. With our work week starting on Sunday, it has become a nice way of winding down the weekend either at a local sports lounge, or at home with a nice meal.

Even our cats support Spurs.
Also, here in the UAE there are TONS of footy fans.  While ‘back in the day’ supporting English football in New York City was kind of a fringe activity (that has recently become the new hipster thing to do -- along with things like playing shuffleboard), the UAE is kind of like a Little Britain, there are tons of British expats here, and I’ve met gaggles of ManU and other football supporters. Also with local investment in teams like Etihad’s Man City, NBAD’s Real Madrid, and Arse-*al’s Emirates Stadium, there’s always something to talk about when you’re following the footy here -- there are even ‘supporter clubs,’ where you can meet up with like-minded football fans to watch a game together.

Abu Dhabi Spurs Supporter's Gathering, All Two of Them
On another note, the football coverage on BeIN sports (out of Doha) has been great for me. Suddenly I understand the meaning of off-side (okay, I may still be working that out), and I can follow the commentary (“That foul was rubbish!”), and I can even catch a glimpse of my man Mido all grown up and working as a pundit on the Arabic version (and will even tune in on Saturday, to see him shave his head as a result of the Leicester win.)

But also, the confluence of Spurs’ strength that has brought Tottenham to the top end of the table has been the biggest gift of all for this once wishy-washy now die-hard Spurs fan. Last year as I began to awaken my senses to the beauty of football, we saw the beginnings of the brilliance of Harry Kane. This year we watched as he fumbled during the first few games, then literally got his footing to become the highest scoring striker in the league this season. I recently took the time to learn how to pronounce 'Pochettino' correctly, and began researching the Spurs’ manager’s past, seeing where this new style of fast play and not taking crap from the other team has emerged. I began to fall hard for all of the players… following the bromance between Dier and Alli on Twitter, adoring the work of Son, Lloris, Vertonghen and Dembele on the field… and oh, when Lamela pulled off that rabona…!

I even began singing “We’ve got Alli” -- for no reason at all.

I just don't think you understand...

While books by Nick Hornby and movies about Arse-*al are verboten in our household (Hornby's a Gunner, “Never red!”), John had gone out of town this season and I surreptitiously watched the movie Fever Pitch. Not only did I finally ‘get it,’ but I later found myself waking up on Valentine’s Day not wishing for flowers and candy, but hoping for a Spurs win that day against ManCity. (They did. And I was happy.)

What I didn't realize was that I had fallen in love. 

Our passion for Spurs this year got so intense that John and I went to watch the team play in the Europa Cup in Baku. And there wasn't even a question when John had a chance to go watch Spurs versus Dortmund. I sent him packing, it's just what you do.  

Over the past few weeks, Tottenham has felt the pressure, being a young squad and the last team standing a chance to nick the top spot of the Premiership from Leicester. I’ve felt the pressure too. Last week, Dele Alli got a ban after being targeted on the pitch by West Brom. Even though his ban was legit, I was spitting nails at the whole episode, of how he was goaded after just being handed the Player of the Year Award on the field.

And this week, Spurs' chances at winning the league were dashed by Chelsea and the team earned a record nine yellow cards during the game. All deserved, but the Chavs were hardly playing fair… or nice. And me? I was gutted. First cheering and jumping around the living room at the two goal lead, then crushed in the ruins as it all went to hell in the second half. 

Thinking back to that afternoon at the Irish Centre, I knew it all went with the territory, but I had never 'felt all the feels,' about a sports team before. I didn’t cry, but I did grieve at how hard Spurs fought, at how beautifully they played this season, and at how overlooked they have been when everyone keeps talking about the ‘fairy tale’ that is Leicester. 

Because for me, the real fairy tale, the true romance, is with Spurs. 

Me So Spursy.
So even though the last game of the season hasn’t yet been played, and we're still working to hold off another league rival, I’m already counting … just 101 more days until the next season begins.

Come On You Spurs!
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