By: David Graniewitz
The news that Tottenham Hotspur, the team that I have followed for the past half century, were going to come to play in Israel this coming Saturday night didn’t really arouse the excitement in me that I suppose it should have done.
I still remember that day back in the autumn of 2007, when I found out that Spurs had been drawn to play against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup. This was something that I had longed for ever since we had become a regular qualifier for European competitions after a long period in the Wilderness of mid-table obscurity that lasted throughout the 90s and into the Noughties. Finally, I was to get to see my beloved team playing here in the Holy Land. By the way, the chances of Spurs getting drawn against an Israeli team were not that great; Israeli teams didn’t always make it through the qualifying rounds.
But apart from getting a chance to cheer on North London’s Finest in Tel Aviv, what I was really looking forward to back then was the chance to take my two boys who were aged 15 and 11 then to see the team I had indoctrinated them into supporting ever since they were born. Bringing them up as “Yiddos” — as Spurs fans controversially dub themselves because of the club’s many Jewish followers due to the fact that the area of London in which the team is situated used to have a large Jewish population – was no easy thing. Most Israeli kids went for the successful teams of the time such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool (Manchester City were yet to be bankrolled by an oil-rich sheikh). However, I persisted, and I was certainly helped by the fact that I had become friendly with a bunch of other Spurs fans who lived locally, and we would get together on a weekly basis to watch Spurs games. We call ourselves the South Jerusalem THFC Fan Club and we have been celebrating and suffering together (well mostly suffering) for over twenty years. Like me, they had also made sure that their offspring would be inflicted with the curse of being a Spurs fan.
When we found out that Spurs were coming to Israel, we arranged a minibus from Jerusalem which took over twenty of us to Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv to watch our team beat Hapoel 2-0. Yet the crowning moment for us was the chance to hang around at the end and meet some of the players. This was something that my boys would never forget. And it was extremely poignant for me as I had never gone to football matches with my own father when I was a lad. He was not interested in football at all and looked upon my obsession with the game rather unfavourably.
I don’t know how I became a Tottenham fan, but I do remember that it started around the age of 7 or eight. It probably began when I realised that I needed an answer to the question “Which team do you support?” and living in the centre of London close to Tottenham Court Road (which is nowhere near the neighbourhood of Tottenham in North London), I may have taken a liking to the team’s name. Whatever the case, my love for Spurs was enhanced by my friendship with Mike a boy several years older than me who was a big fan of the club and whose father was dating my grandmother (no really, it’s a long story.) I looked up to him as the big brother that I never had.
My problem was that I came from a Shabbat-observant family and that the vast majority of games were played on Saturday afternoons. There were some mid-week games, but they took place during term time and my mum would not let me travel across the city to watch them on a school night. League games were not televised live back then I had to make do with hoping that a Spurs match would be one of the featured games on one of the two football TV programmes that would show highlights of some of the weekend’s matches. In my later teens, another source I relied on was my mate, Brian, who was a regular attender of Spurs games. He would follow them up and down the country and I was able to live the life of a proper fan vicariously through the stories with which he would regale me before the history lesson on Monday mornings. As this was the time when football hooliganism was rife, before the Premier League came along and gentrified the sport (and, as a consequence, ripped the soul out of the Beautiful Game,) his tales could get quite juicy.
I came on Aliyah after finishing high school yet my support for Spurs never waned. For years my major source of information was listening to the football results on a Saturday night on the crackly BBC World Service. Occasionally, I was lucky enough to catch the second half radio commentary of a game. This all changed when cable and satellite TV came along and the Internet began, but for years watching a whole Spurs game live was a pipe dream for me.
So why the lack of enthusiasm for Saturday night’s game against the Italian team, Roma, who are, a tad ironically managed by former Tottenham coach, Jose Mourrinho? Well firstly, there is my own personal laziness; getting up to Haifa is a bit of a schlepp from Jerusalem. In addition, the game has been scheduled to begin at 9.15pm which is about 55 minutes after Shabbat goes out. It had originally been set to begin at 9.00pm but was delayed for 15 minutes as a concession for the Shabbat-observant fans (of which there are, surprisingly, quite a few.) Luckily, my brother-in-law quite conveniently decided to come on Aliyah and live in Haifa, so I have found a solution to my problem.
Then there is the price of the tickets, the cheapest of which were sold for NIS 300 (although I did manage to get a discount through my credit card.) Compare that to the tickets for Spurs’ previous friendly game against Glasgow Rangers in Scotland last week which were sold for £21 which comes to less than a third of the price of this weekend’s game. The point is that this match is being billed as an exhibition game not as an official club friendly. (“Friendlies” are normally games played against local teams on a foreign tour.) This means that a commercial enterprise has footed the bill of bringing two of Europe’s biggest clubs to Israel and needs to recuperate its outlay. Actually, it won’t be the first exhibition game that I have attended.
Almost 40 years ago when I was in my first year as a student at Hebrew U, Spurs came to Israel to play against the German side, Borussia Monchengladbach. A couple of friends and I bunked off lessons and travelled to Tel Aviv to watch a 0-3 defeat for our beloved team. But it was different back then as Israel was not part of UEFA, the European football governing body and its teams could not take part in the prestigious European competitions. The only way to see top sides back then was when they came to Israel to play friendlies and exhibition games. This means, of course, that the result is fairly meaningless and that the chances are that neither side will be trying too hard for fear of getting players injured just before their domestic seasons are due to begin. Whilst they are contractually obliged to feature their best players, the teams will, no doubt make multiple substitutions throughout the game to protect them. Officially, they are playing for something called the Itech Cup, but I don’t imagine that the Spurs players will be as cut up if they miss out on this trophy as they were when they lost the Champions’ League Final to Liverpool in 2019.
But perhaps the main reason for my being underwhelmed by this game is the fact that this time my boys will not be accompanying me (I was never able to enthuse my daughters with any love for football, I’m afraid). I will be going with my mates, but it won’t be the same without them there. They are now adults with lives and families of their own. I have made sure though that all of my grandchildren have Tottenham merchandise. They all have their own little shirts already and I have been preparing them for a life of frustration and disappointment that supporting Tottenham Hotspur FC will bring.
I am sure though that once I take my seat at the Sammy Offer Stadium surrounded by thousands of other Spurs fans and see the Boys in Blue and White make their way onto the pitch, I will forget everything I have written here and join in the chants. So COME ON YOU SPURS!!