It would be fair to say that almost every Irish guy who likes football will have chosen an English team to follow from a young age. Our local league in Northern Ireland has always resided in the gigantic shadow of the English competition, never more so than in these last fifteen years, which has seen the incredible and relentless growth of the Premiership as both a successful brand and highly respected European football league.
Yet it’s not just a recent thing; my father’s loyalties lie with Wolves, while I have uncles that follow Spurs, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. I can truthfully say that I don’t know one friend or family member who actively ‘supports’ a local club the way he follows his beloved English side.
My allegiance with Tottenham began the day of the 1991 F.A. Cup victory. It was the first football match I attentively watched; the spectacle of the Cup Final day was of course an attraction and what with the drama of Gascoigne and big characters like captain Gary Mabbutt and Gary Lineker (not to mention Spurs winning the trophy) my choice was made. My first match was in January 1995 with a 1-0 victory over Man City, as the man signed to (impossibly) fill Jurgen Klinsmann’s boots, Chris Armstrong, bagged the winner.
Living so far from London meant it has always been quite tricky to organise visits to the Lane as flights, accommodation and available tickets always had to be negotiated in advance. Unfortunately, this has only become increasingly more difficult with so many re-arranged and re-scheduled games due to TV coverage or European matches.
Spurs enjoy a strong support in Northern Ireland and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of them having a similar size of following to both Chelsea and Arsenal. School colleagues (like most football fans I’ve met) were predominantly Man Utd or Liverpool followers, so it was hardly a shock to hear of Robbie Keane’s declaration as a boyhood fan of both Liverpool and Celtic.
The reasons for supporting Celtic or Rangers in Northern Ireland have sadly often been more a reflection of a religious or political stance and in a similar fashion, many of the bigger local teams have always been associated with a particular religion of supporters, thus rendering it somewhat risky to reveal a local allegiance if you had one. Growing up in the 1990s as a Spurs supporter tempted no such peril; it merely just provoked ridicule and occasional sympathy!
It’s true that life is never dull as a Tottenham fan and whether you come from England, Ireland or any other country, we’re united in our passion and the continual insistence that one of these days we’re going to make up for the inconsistencies and farcical soap operas of the all-too recent past and become great again.