Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
- From Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Being a Tottenham Hotspur fan, the best part of every year is inevitably those few weeks before the season kicks off. It's a time fraught with hope, a time when the possibility of the unknown still holds reality in its thrall. Every new manager, every transfer rumor, every new signing and academy prospect holds the answer to glory.
Being a Tottenham Hotspur fan, the rest of the year is inevitably spent becoming bedfellows with the slow creeping death of hope.
In the past fifteen years, Spurs have found legitimate success only twice -- a League Cup victory in 2008 and a Champions League qualification two years hence. While other seasons have carried the thrill of a top four chase or a stirring cup run, that exhilarating wave consistently crashes in disappointment.
Even so, these disappointments are the kind of failure other teams would kill to suffer. We aren't Aston Villa, our erstwhile top four competitors now regularly battling the drop. We aren't plagued by the poverty of Everton or the capricious whims of a mad dictator like Newcastle. As Bill Nick famously said, "we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory."
Though we continue to fail, we fail in a pursuit other clubs can only dream of. We may have lost two cup finals in the past few years, but in the past few years we reached two cup finals. Few other clubs ever fail so gloriously.
Yet despite my attempts to inject a tragic nobility in our doomed existence, these "failures" have left us no closer to our goals. We struggle year after year as we boldly maintain the status quo. Since Chelsea's Champions League victory robbed us of our second chance to compete among the elite, the past three seasons have seen an endless cycle of rebuilding years. Transition seasons that leave us treading water without forward progress.
While these failures may carry an "echo of glory," how can one shake off the fact that they're still failures?
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat."
In Casey at the Bat, our cousins in Mudville watch their team in desperate hope, teetering on the precipice of success. They know that all it takes is one shining moment from the mighty Casey and their glorious failure will become true glory. But in a manner the Spurs faithful are woefully familiar with, the man they pin their hopes on cannot save them.
Spurs fans have had a bevy of Caseys in the past few years. Andre Villas-Boas. Gareth Bale. Roberto Soldado. Erik Lamela. Mauricio Pochettino. Men whom we have counted on to take us to the next level who have fallen short and let us down. We even have Caseys who have never put on a lilywhite shirt. Leandro Damiao. Joao Moutinho. Morgan Schneiderlin. If only we had Casey. But again and again, they strike out.
But there's something those Mudvillians overlook amid their cries of despair. Before Casey even steps to the plate, there are two more batters with only one out to go.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Before Casey even has the chance to fail, two maligned no-hopers achieve the impossible. But in the face of Casey's epic failure, these small glories are quickly forgotten. These fleeting moments, these minor miracles, become swallowed up in the grand tragedy.
And it's crucial that they don't.
As a sports fan in this day and age, we have the ability to pour ourselves into a team well beyond the 90 minutes Spurs are on the pitch. As soon as the match is over, we take to Twitter and Spurs forums. We spend the rest of the week reading countless think pieces. We bloviate and pontificate. We analyze and dissect every detail, every minutia. By the time the next match rolls around, the match itself has faded into the background, crushed beneath the weight of discussion and analysis.
And in doing so, those fleeting moments of magic fade away. The miracles become mundane. We get so caught up in Casey striking out that we forgot to find joy where we can. Every last-minute Christian Eriksen winner, every Harry Kane strike, every absurd save from Hugo Lloris. These are the easily overlooked pleasures in a season that's struck out.
We fixate and obsess over our failure to reach greatness. Every win is marred by an expected goals map that reminds us how undeserving our victory was. Every horrible backpass makes us forget that for an injury-plagued 23 year-old who spent last season in League One, even playing in the Premier League is a minor miracle.
This is not to say don't analyse, don't think deeper, don't critique. We're sports fans. That's what we do. That's all we can do. We hope for better, we demand better, and we spend hour upon hour dreaming of ways it could be so. But between every breakdown of Ryan Mason's wayward positioning, or debate over Nacer Chadli's disappearing act, remember that Mason made his EPL debut in a heroic display against Arsenal and Chadli's 10 crucial goals make Spurs the only team in the league with three double-digit goalscorers.
And we have more than moments. The victory over Arsenal, the destruction of Chelsea, the rise of Harry Kane. While the vast sea of discourse we immerse ourselves in may reduce them to mere footnotes along the way, these small glories are there to be savored. Take pride and pleasure in what we achieve, even if we fall short of our ultimate goal.
While we all anxiously await a Casey to step up and knock one out of the park, in the meantime remember Flynn and Jimmy Blake. The impossible miracles that came along the way.
(With thanks to @Rosa_la for reminding me that the trees are beautiful as I cut down the forest)