When I was growing up, soccer was a sport I only followed during the World Cups. My interest started to plant its seeds when the United States unexpectedly advanced to the Quarterfinal round in the 2002 World Cup. That they got there over their chief regional rival, Mexico, made it all the better. In the next World Cup, they fizzled out in 2006, which might make some turn away from the sport because of disappointment. Being a supporter of the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Bengals at that time showed I can put up with waiting forever and ever for a title to get there. The Cubs last participated in a World Series during the Truman Administration in 1945. My dad hasn't seen that happen in his lifetime, much less my own life. The Bengals were twice victim to Joe Montana being dominant in the 1980's before I was born. My brief 23 year spell of life has yet to witness one of my favorite sports teams finish on top at season's end. No soup for Louisville [football or basketball], the Bengals, the Ottawa Senators, or Tottenham. [Tottenham did win the 1991 FA Cup and the 2008 Carling Cup, but I'm referring to league titles or European trophies in this case.] That meant that I could handle having to wait on whatever Premier League Team that I decided to support after the 2006 World Cup.
I automatically eliminated anyone that had won recently, as I abhor bandwagon jumping for the sake of being a glory hunting front-runner. That meant Manchester United and Chelsea were automatically off my radar. There's no chance to relish the victory with the same vigor as for a team that thirsts to quench a title drought, even if the short term pains are frustrating at times. Though I have lived in the US of A my entire life and have yet to travel abroad, I wanted to pick a team to support as though I lived in that country. This meant that I would be picking an underdog of sorts.
I couldn't pick Arsenal, as they were too trendy at the time of my choosing. Liverpool were ruled out for similar reasons, even before they became the beloved LOLverpool that embodies the team today. My final three choices at the time boiled down to Newcastle, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur. I ruled out Newcastle due to their Cubs-ian history [no title since the 1920s]; rooting for the Cubs is stressful enough. Manchester City seemed to be a decent idea for a team to root for at the time, as I equated rooting for them like rooting against the Yankees [Manchester United at the time]. They weren't quite the annoying new kid on the block back in 2006, but they weren't too far removed from being outside the Premier League then, either. I didn't want to chance trying to find Championship football on the telly, as it was hard enough to watch non-powerhouse teams from the States on cable.
That led me to Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham hadn't seen relegation since the 1970s, and never in the Premier League era, so it was a relatively safe bet that they'd keep playing at the top level. They won 2 titles [1951, 1961], much like the Chicago Cubs, only far more recently. They had a chief rival in Arsenal that reminded me of the St. Louis Cardinals right down to the color scheme, having one of the star players in the sport [Thierry Henry for Arsenal; Albert Pujols for St. Louis], and always seeming to finish ahead of the team that I support, even when an epic fail is the only way that success can elude my club. In 2004, St. Louis won going away in the National League Central as Arsenal happened to have their Invincibles run. Somehow that doesn’t seem coincidental to me. In 2004, the Cubs were well clear of the wild card berth with 1 month to go in the season. The wild card berth is like finishing 4th in the Premier League in that it allows teams to play in the postseason. Tottenham just needed to win the last match to clinch 4th--their "Wild Card"--of the 2005-06 season before lasagna happened and got leapfrogged by Arsenal on Match Day 38. That sounded like something that would happen to my Cubs, which made me identify with Spurs even more.
During my high school days [2006-08], other than the Carling Cup trophy, there wasn't too much to write home about for Tottenham in my early fan days. With the Chicago Cubs in contention in baseball and not having Fox Soccer Channel at the house, I didn't see too much of their matches. I only saw them in passing, if at all. The same applied for the 2008-09 season, especially being away at the University of Louisville for college. GO CARDS!
My sophomore year, I started to follow Tottenham full on for the season in 2009-10. My first match I watched of theirs first minute to last would be the season opener against Liverpool. It was the one where Benny laser-shot a goal into the top left corner. Spurs were on fire to start that season--I think they won the first 4 matches. Then things started to even out a bit more. Mid-April was the nadir of a swoon that was similar to one the Cubs tended to have most years. Losing to Portsmouth in the FA Cup Semis was a bit embarrassing. Arsenal and Chelsea were the next two fixtures staring Spurs in the face. It looked like 5th was on the cards...again, on paper. Sometimes you have to bottom out before you can pick yourself up to succeed against the odds. That's exactly what happened. Spurs beat them both thanks to Rose ON HIS DEBUT, Bale starting to become a boss, and Defoe from the spot. Tottenham also had the non-derp version of Gomes. I was deliriously happy when Crouch headed in that 4th-place clinching goal to secure a Champions League berth. It felt like the Cubs advancing to the World Series to me—something I thought would never happen…did.
The next year started with lots of promise. Not least of all, the CL playoff against Young Boys. It reminded me of the 1998 Wild Card play-in game the Cubs had with the San Francisco Giants, only each team got 1 home match each. The first leg away couldn't have started any worse. It was a full-fledged pasting at 3-nil down--things looked pretty bleak. Then Spurs got 2 goals back to give the tie at the Lane a shout. Win the tie outright without giving up a ton of goals--go through to the group stage. Luckily, Spurs gave Young Boys a hiding and moved on to the group stage. Then they dominated Inter at the Lane. Taxi for Maicon for the LOLs. Then the lads beat Arsenal away for the first time since before I was in preschool. At the group stage’s end, Tottenham won their group against the odds. Though it had been 48 years since Spurs were in the European Cup and their first crack at the Champions League in its current form, they played as if they’d always been there all along. Then the AC Milan tie [CROUCH!], then the fight to try and get back there for 2011-12. That fell short, but I knew I had made the right choice after the first two seasons of full on supporting Tottenham.
2011-12 looked like a season from heaven for the first 20 matches of the season. It looked for a brief moment that winning the league, or at least top 3, was a distinct possibility. Then the wheels came off, starting at Arsenal in February. Up 2-nil, lose 2-5. Sounded like a Cubs game in the 9th inning to me. Luckily, I was on retreat and just took part in the sacrament of Reconciliation [Confession] and found out the result upon returning from said retreat. If I were I near a TV set at the time, I'd have needed to go back to confession for the waterfall of profanities that would have come out of my mouth at such an epic collapse.
Little did I know that Tottenham were capable of stomach punching me even worse later that season. I graduated from the University of Louisville last year in May on the 12th. The next day was the last match day of the 2011-12 campaign. I hoped that Tottenham would clinch third as a graduation present to me, but expected them to hold on to fourth. I didn't want to be right about the fact that Arsenal would hold on, but of course we know how that works. It's like seeing the Bengals lose in the playoffs or the Cubs fall short of the playoffs in their respective sports. The conditioning deadened the surprise, but not the sting. Sure, Spurs were fourth, but if Chelsea won the Champions League, that meant no Champions League for Tottenham. No prizes for guessing what happened next. Nothing is worse than watching a sporting event that is completely out of your favorite team/club's hands. Those 120 minutes plus penalties were agonizing. The match was even more draining by the fact that Bayern took an early lead in regulation and in the PK shootout. I was forlorn when Didier Drogba sealed Tottenham's fate for that year. Luckily, an hour later, I'll Have Another won the Preakness Stakes to seal the first two races of American Horse Racing's Triple Crown. I've been a horse racing pundit pretty much since I've been able to read because of my father. That helped heal the wound in the short term, though I'll Have Another got hurt before he could win the Triple Crown. How Spursian of I’ll Have Another. How fitting that was for that year that started with a bang and ended with a whimper.
In the long term, it makes Spurs stronger, no matter how much of a gut punch last year was. As I said earlier, sometimes you have to bottom out to experience the elation of what it is like to be on top of the world. This season's incarnation of Tottenham is probably the most determined that I have seen in my short span supporting them. Beating Manchester United away was amazing and utterly shocking. After seeing that match, I held out hope that this year could be different than the others. I believed that the glass ceiling of fourth could be shattered. So far, Tottenham are leaning towards making that shattering of the glass ceiling a reality.
Right now, Tottenham lie third in the table, just 5 points behind Manchester City, 2 ahead of Chelsea, and 7 ahead of Arsenal. My support of teams that like to crush my hopes have made me prepared for anything. Once you're a Cubs and Bengals fan, you can pretty much deal with anything other teams you support throw your way. Tottenham could very well falter down the stretch run of the final 10 Premier League games and/or in the Europa League. They could also bring the Europa League trophy to White Hart Lane along with Champions League football for 2013-14. We'll just have to see what happens in these next 2+ months. However the results fall, I'll be ready, I'll be there for Tottenham Hotspur, and I couldn't be prouder or happier to choose them as my club for football. COYS!