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Davinson Sanchez’s abuse is the latest example of how Tottenham fandom is turning toxic

Sanchez played a poor match of football. He didn’t deserve to be booed by his own fans at home.

AFP via Getty Images

Davinson Sanchez had a bad match today. Let’s get that out of the way first. The Colombian defender was an unlikely, but necessary, first half defensive substitute in Tottenham’s match against Bournemouth thanks to an injury to Clement Lenglet.

He was booed by his own home fans when he was brought on.

Sanchez certainly did himself no favors. He was at least partially culpable for two of the three Bournemouth goals in today’s 2-3 home loss, with poor defensive positioning and decision making a huge factor in both incidents. The fans booed him with virtually every touch of the ball. Sanchez then suffered the indignity of being subbed off himself by Cristian Stellini for Arnaut Danjuma after just 35 minutes on the field, as the interim head coach rolled the dice and shifted to a more attacking formation.

The pro-Tottenham crowd cheered ironically as he walked back to his seat on the bench.

Sanchez spent the rest of the match trying to disappear in his chair. There are photos of him with his head in his hands that are, quite honestly, heartbreaking if you have an ounce of human decency. The last-gasp nature of the loss obviously amplified fans’ reaction, and predictably, the torrent of abuse on social media has been awful. I’ve tried to avoid it, but it’s ludicrously easy to find on Twitter or whatever social media platform you prefer. Sanchez wasn’t the only player to get caught up in it — Pedro Porro deleted his social media accounts in the aftermath of this match.

But Sanchez caught the vast majority of the abuse, even when Stellini explained afterwards that the substitution was not performance-based, but tactical.

“I take the responsibility for the decision we made. I thought it was early in the game to use a striker when Lenglet came off, more because it was the first half and we were one up, so I didn’t think it was the moment to change with a striker.

“After, when we were 2-1 down I thought it was the moment. Davinson has to know it was only a tactical decision but we need to support him because it’s a tough moment for him and also for all the team.

“So we have to create unity in our dressing room and in between us, and we will do. It’s rare this happens to replace a substitute, but it can happen, it’s not so rare if you have to recover the game and need more strikers. You have to take a decision.”

That’s small comfort for a player who has, for far too long, been a target for fan abuse. It would be unfair to say that Sanchez hasn’t earned some supporter ire after a series of disappointing performances over the past couple of seasons. That said, it would be equally churlish to disregard the numerous solid performances he’s put in in the six years he’s been at the club, especially under Mauricio Pochettino in the run to the Champions League final. And you can also suggest, kindly, that Sanchez’s skillset is no longer particularly well-suited to tactics that hinge on playing out of the back like those of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and now Stellini. It’s hard to succeed when you’re asked to do things you’re not especially good at.

But it WAS a bad match. That has to be acknowledged too. So does the fact that unfortunately Sanchez is no longer a player who is good enough for where Tottenham want to be right now. He should be moved on, because it’s clear at this point that there’s not much point in keeping him when he’s ostensibly fifth choice CB and a bad fit for the tactics.

That doesn’t excuse the abuse. Davinson played poorly, but he didn’t disrespect the club, or have a bust-up with another player, or a coach. By all accounts he’s an upstanding, kind, friendly guy who has been an excellent servant to the club despite not fulfilling the lofty expectations he had when he was purchased from Ajax. He didn’t deserve what happened to him today.

I understand the fan impulse to boo. You can make a cogent, if not 100% compelling, argument that Tottenham’s match-going fans have earned the right to do so — they are the ones with skin in the game, coming out every match and paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to watch their team somewhat inexplicably underperform. How else are they to express their dissatisfaction and frustration? The most direct way they can use their voice is to, well, use their voice.

Everyone wants their chosen sports team to succeed. Booing is, when directed generally, a negatively-reinforced act of encouragement, a plead to improve, a collective and vocal kick up the backside. Nobody boos their team when things are going well. In that sense, booing your team is, counterfactually, rooted in love.

But that impulse loses me when it is directed towards individual players, and definitely when it becomes a repeated action that persists over time. Tottenham fandom, both at the stadium and online, has in recent years developed a disturbing habit of identifying players who are, for whatever reason, underperforming and turning them into scapegoats, abusing them on social media, even going as far as to boo them while they are playing at home. Davison Sanchez today is the latest example of this, but he’s not the only one. Heck, it’s not even the first time it’s happened this season!

And while I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions from this, there is one characteristic that all three of the above players have in common, and it makes the abuse heaped upon them by Tottenham fans feel especially gross.

Hugo Lloris doesn’t like it either. In comments given to beIN Sports after the match, Spurs’ club captain called what happened to Davinson “sad for the club.”

“It started earlier It’s when he came on the pitch. I’ve never seen this in my career. I feel really bad for Davinson. He’s a team-mate, he’s a friend and he’s been fighting for the club for many, many years now.

“It’s just sad. The story is sad for the club, for the fans, for the player. It’s something you don’t want to see in football.”

I’ve been a Tottenham supporter for 16 years now. I wasn’t around for the nadir of the 1990s, but I’ve seen and been through my share of bad times — Martin Jol’s sacking, two-points-in-eight-matches, finishing fourth and NOT qualifying for the Champions League, the Andre Villas-Boas era, and the subsequent (and increasingly hallucinatory) Tim Sherwood interregnum. I don’t remember Spurs fandom ever feeling so unceasingly and irrepressibly toxic as it has over the past three years.

Before anyone brings it up, look, I’m guilty of this too. I know I am. Just today I impulsively tweeted that Spurs should “fire Davinson Sanchez into the sun” immediately after Bournemouth’s first goal. I have a long, documented dislike of players like Harry Winks, Lucas Moura, and even Moussa Sissoko, primarily because they weren’t as good at football as I would like. You probably wouldn’t have to look very hard to find other examples, possibly worse ones where I have crossed a line into personal attacks against these or other players. And yes, that does make me a hypocrite. I know I can be part of the problem. Nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes and do things in the heat of the moment that we wish we could take back. But I’ve tried to keep those opinions explicitly off the site, because I don’t like trashing players publicly on the blog, even when they’re playing bad or have opinions I disagree with. And if I am part of the problem, then maybe I can also be a part of the solution by calling it out.

I think the root of this toxicity comes in part from how Tottenham’s rapid growth from a mid-table fixture to a club challenging for Champions League has raised fans’ expectations at a time when they were 100% overachieving based on their financial and talent level relative to their competitors. Those peak Pochettino years were a glorious time to be a Spurs fan, and once you’ve tasted that fruit you want it all the time.

Tottenham has also been one of the clubs that has benefitted massively from the Premier League’s increased expansion into new markets, particularly the United States. The club’s profile has risen commensurate with its table position, and with it comes a host of newer, younger fans, many of them who started paying attention when the team were good and haven’t experienced Spurs underachieving, or even regressing. Success breeds entitlement, and entitlement is a quick path to toxicity.

And finally, the club, particularly Daniel Levy, has also made some huge self-inflicted errors, all of which have been documented and discussed to death over the past few years. All of this, plus a social media environment that reinforces and amplifies people’s worst instincts have contributed to a Spurs fanbase that has in recent years felt as angry and malignant as any in professional sports.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset at Tottenham Hotspur at the moment, but once a club’s fandom has reached the point of pillorying its own players and hounding them off of social media for playing a bad game, it has lost all moral standing. As Spurs fans, we look at the actions of the large fanbases like Chelsea, Manchester United, and even Arsenal and deride them for the way they treat their own players. Has Harry Maguire earned the abuse he has garnered from United fans? What about Ciaran Clark and Newcastle? And were either of them booed in their home ground? After today, I don’t think Spurs fans can hold onto that high ground any longer.

I don’t know what can be done to turn this around, apart from the club itself turning its own fortunes around. Nothing, as they say, is as great a salve as winning football matches. And there is a hope that Spurs can begin the process in the near future, with a new manager, a new project, and a squad rebuild. Hope is a powerful thing.

But my fear is that’s only a temporary fix until the next inevitable slide in form and suddenly we’re here all over again. Maybe that’s just the way things go when you make the leap to a “big club” — with the increase in prestige and performance comes the increase in entitlement and decrease in fan behavior. If so, that’s a sad reflection of the modern game, and makes me start to question just how much I want to be a part of this community of “like-minded” fans.