Updated: May 10, 2020
I knew a bit about Crace. I’d read his stuff in The Guardian and heard him on The Spurs Show podcast. We’d exchanged a few emails and met briefly at the Fulham v Spurs game last season. All very incestuously Spurs media bloke. So I was relieved I liked the book for all manner of reasons.
What quickly became apparent is that I didn’t know very much about Crace at all – certainly not about the depression with which he has suffered for much of his life. It sounds like a joke – did you hear the one about the clinically-depressed Spurs fan? – and Crace does see the funny side. There’s an extremely funny sequence about his competitive edge coming to the fore during a quiz at a psychiatric hospital – we’re talking black humour here. And Crace writes about his battle with depression in a moving and empathetic way which never descends into self-pity – setting the book apart from other football memoirs.
I’ve said before that the best writing about football is often really writing about life, and Vertigo proves the point. It’s about obsession and depression and about how managing and making sense of both those things shapes a life. There will be parts of the book in which most fans, maybe even most people, will recognise a little of themselves. All of those daft, contradictory, ridiculous and involved contortions we indulge in are the things which make us human and there is a real humanity which comes through in this book.
Like Fever Pitch, with which any account of football obsession will inevitably be compared, it can be read and appreciated by people not particularly into football, because at its heart this book is about how Crace makes sense of the world he inhabits. But there is an awful lot of football, and from a season when a lot of Spurs’ football was not particularly awful. So if I’ve made this sound like a cross between a self-help manual and a deep spiritual meditation, it’s not. This is a footballing tale.
One of the pleasures of the book is reliving last season’s marvellous adventures in the Champions League, and Crace’s accounts of the trips themselves vividly illustrate the fact that it is the paraphernalia of support as much as the actual watching of the game that is what appeals to so many of us. And many a fan will recognise the wheedling employed in attempting to convince sceptical family members that ‘this really is a season-defining game’ to justify the amount of time, effort and money spent on supporting, or to get out of a clash of events.
Crace’s long-suffering wife is almost a co-star of the book. A few of my close Spurs-supporting friends also have partners who just don’t get the whole football thing, and Crace’s account of how he and his non-football fan wife deal with this third body in the marriage is often funny and always well-observed.
At this point I’m moved to big up my own missus, though. She likes her football, and although she’s perfectly happy to leave wet Wednesday nights in Wigan to obsessives such as me, the fact that she ‘gets it’ has proved a considerable advantage. So much so, in fact, that when I was teeing up my best wheedle offensive to smooth my journey to Madrid for the quarter final, she simply said – “You’ve got to go, it’s the biggest game for years”. That’s one of the many reasons why I love her (and if any publishers want this angle, you know where to get hold of me!).
When Danny Kelly reviewed the book he said he found Crace “a bit of a misery” and that the relentless negativism prevented the book from “being truly loveable”. It’s true that Crace’s glass is permanently half-empty, and I thought the intensity of the criticism of Peter Crouch was a bit much – for the record my view is that while the elongated front man was never a legend, he did enough to deserve the respect of Spurs fans. But this book is so much more than one long moan.
It is in turns moving, funny and insightful and there is enough perspective and sense of the ridiculous to prevent it becoming self-indulgent. Importantly in this hyped-up, homogenised, media-managed modern world of football it demonstrates the value of a highly individual view. Essential reading.