Time was when a defeat in the north London derby would’ve put me in a foul mood for days, but now I know there are more important things to worry about. But there’s got to be some passion in the game for it to have any soul, especially in these overhyped times. And there seemed to be a bit of a turning point at White Hart Lane for this Carling Cup tie.
No one expected either club to field a full-strength team – although it didn’t stop Spurs charging full-strength prices – and the Carling Cup is ranked least important of the four competitions both Spurs and Arsenal are contesting. As it was, Arsenal put out a stronger weak side than we did, and eventually won thanks to a couple of silly mistakes at the start of extra time. But this is still Spurs v Arsenal we’re talking about – local pride, bragging rights, generations of rivarly and all that. You wouldn’t have thought it.
The atmosphere was flat compared to past games, but the worst came 25 minutes from the end when, at 2-1 down, Spurs conceded another penalty. Cue thousands of Spurs fans heading for the exits. Before the penalty had even been taken. It’s the kind of lily-livered attitude we used to criticise the Arsenal for. Now it appears we are above caring, far more important games to worry about and all that. I thought it was pretty disgraceful, embarrassing even. Of course, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but it is important in this context.
Despite the rivalry I’ve got quite a few Arsenal-supporting mates. I grew up in Haringey so you were either one or the other. I’ve got respect for the Arsenal fans who know their football, and not much for the plastic newbie fans who moan that Wenger hasn’t won a trophy for five minutes, expect constant success and look down on Tottenham because the house prices aren’t as high as they are in Islington. It seems that now Spurs have qualified for the Champions League we could be going the same way.
Strength of support
Back in the day, Spurs fans would never have left a derby that early and at that stage. The word that used to wind us up most was ‘fickle’ because we weren’t. If you looked at the club’s relative lack of success over 20 years, and then the size of the crowd and the passion of the support, we were magnificent. As the players became more distant, and more interchangeable, the sense of pride in the strength of our support filled the gap.
Hopefully Tuesday night was a one-off. A bad night at the football. But I can’t help thinking that when so many Spurs fans seem not to be bothered about losing to the old rivals, and when so many can’t even stay and back their team, we’ve reached a sorry state of affairs.