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Tim Sherwood and Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Cognitive dissonance is tearing us apart

Everything is in conflict and it's driving us insane.

Gareth Copley

In an interview today, Tim Sherwood was asked if he wants to see Arsenal beat Liverpool tomorrow. But the answer he gave left many Spurs fans furious.

Tim Sherwood is a Gooner! Tim Sherwood doesn't get it what it means to be Tottenham!

It should be obvious that an Arsenal win means a Liverpool loss, which makes it easier for Spurs to finish in the top four. It should be a no-brainer. But for many fans, it's not.

Being a Spurs fan means wanting Spurs to do well, but it also means hating Arsenal. If you're a Spurs fan, you cheer for Spurs to succeed and Arsenal to fail. Full stop. But what do you do when those positions are in conflict?

Earlier this week on Twitter, Mike Goodman did an excellent job looking at the fractured psyche of the average Spurs fan. If you can't be bothered to click on the link, I'll summarize. Everything that's made Spurs a top four challenging club has come on the back of ENIC embracing the spirit of modern football: global branding, growing value, sound business ownership. But at the same time, fans feel like the ownership has cast aside the very things that made the club worth loving in the first place. Spurs have become better precisely because we're becoming less like the thing we fell in love with.

And we can't reconcile these tensions.

Cognitive dissonance is the psychology term for the mental stress felt by someone who experiences two or more contradictory beliefs or ideas at the same time. Right now, everything about this team screams cognitive dissonance, and the mental stress is killing us.

We undeniably want the team to get better. We demand investment, we demand a bigger stadium, we demand world class players. But these things have a cost: higher ticket prices, StubHub, Sainsbury's. We can't reconcile what we want on the pitch with what we want for the club. Two things that should go hand in hand have somehow found themselves in opposition, and it's leading to madness.

Tim Sherwood's quotes represent a microcosm of this very problem. An Arsenal win directly benefits Spurs the team, but cheering for an Arsenal win runs completely counter to what it means to be a Spurs fan.

Hell, Tim Sherwood himself embodies the problem. He's a Gooner, but he's our manager. We should fire him, but we think Levy is too quick to sack managers and is incapable of stability. Nine (9) managers since he's been in charge! But also, Sherwood's maybe not good enough and we should probably get someone better.

When we're faced with cognitive dissonance like this, people tend to do what they can to reduce the dissonance. The classic parable is the fable about the fox and the grapes. The fox wants the grapes, but they're too high to reach so he can't have them. So to reduce the brain-destroying conflict of wanting grapes and not getting grapes, he decides fuck grapes. Grapes are for assholes.

And that's exactly how Spurs fans are responding. When our reality and our expectations are in conflict, we do what we can to minimize the conflict.

We want to win, and we know we need money to do it. But we also don't want the club to become a business instead of a football club. But we see the results on the pitch, so we grudgingly accept higher ticket prices, because it's working. But now we're not winning so obviously we were right all along, the money is evil and the money grubbers in charge are evil, and these monsters are destroying the club from within. That's a simple answer that makes the world a simpler place.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Now I'm not saying you're all idiots (even though you probably are), but the point is that we have to recognize that the world is a complex place where sometimes things won't fit into the neat little boxes we expect for them.

It's undeniable that Spurs are in a bad place right now. Our project under AVB went up in smoke. Our record signings aren't delivering on the pitch. We're struggling to compete for fourth place. Our manager is tactically Amish. We don't have a new stadium. Our Real Madrid partnership looks like it might just be a conspiracy to make Arsenal the best team in England.

But Spurs are also in a wonderful place. We're earning points per game at an unprecedented rate. We've finished 5th or better for five straight seasons, the most successful and stable period in our history. Stadiums take a rather long time to build, and ours is slowly getting underway. We're the sixth richest team in the country, poorer by some margin than those ahead of us, and we routinely make their lives difficult. We're an incredibly well-run organization that will continue to push on from any setback.

All of these things are true, even though they're completely opposite. And that's ok. We just have to learn to accept it.