Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a very different article wrapping up the 2021-22 season than the one you’re reading now. Tottenham Hotspur went through some hard times in that season, starting with the Nuno Espirito Santo “interregnum” that culminated in Antonio Conte assuming his role as head coach in November of 2021. That season ended with a bang — a few final months of exciting football (and a corresponding Arsenal collapse), culminating with a 5-0 thumping of Norwich, that saw Spurs squeak into the Champions League ahead of their bitter rivals.
That article remains one of my all-time favorite pieces that I’ve written for this website. It was an optimistic piece, because the entire club was suffused with optimism for the future — Spurs were ready to kick on to new heights under one of the best managers in the world, and Champions League football. The sky was the limit. The world was our oyster. What could possibly go wrong?
Flash forward a year and I’ve never seen the mood at Spurs so low in the 16 years I’ve been a fan. Tottenham, having fired Conte in March, are floundering. Despite a 4-1 final day win that relegated Leeds United, Spurs finished the season eighth in the Premier League, missing European competition entirely for the first time since 2009-10. The club has no permanent manager, or director of football. The squad is bloated, underachieving and overage. Its homegrown, world-class superstar striker could agitate to leave the club.
And the vibes? Poisonous. Every time you think that this club has reached a nadir, they seem to find yet another sub-basement to fall backwards into. The attitude among the fanbase is beyond toxic, it’s nearing superfund status. Even on this blog, which I consider to be one of the most levelheaded and contemplative pockets of Tottenham fandom on the internet, comments have degraded past gallows humor to just flat-out doomerism.
I get it. I feel it too! I’m not going to pretend that things are going well — they absolutely aren’t. Mistakes have been made, and it’d be hard for me to say based on current evidence that Tottenham and its leadership deserves the benefit of the doubt. It hurts to be a Tottenham Hotspur fan right now. I’m not here to tell people how to feel, or to say that your feelings aren’t valid, or earned.
But I am here to ask you to do something that may feel contrafactual.
I’m asking you to have hope.
It’s easy to simply give up as fans after a season like what we just went through. This was painful to watch and to witness, and the pain is real! When bad outcomes about our chosen club seem to exude like waves with every news cycle, the dark feels like it’s pressing in from every side. It’s tempting to rage at whoever will listen, to explain why things are bad and are unlikely to get better, or even to stop caring at all, to numb yourself to everything that’s going on. But there are reasons to be hopeful, if one chooses to be so.
Aristotle wrote about hopefulness on a number of occasions in his writings. But where the ancient Greeks typically spoke of hope in terms of “expectation of a good (or bad) outcome” (ἐλπίς - elpis), Aristotle tied his conceptualization of hope to courage (εύελπις - euelpis) — the expectation of a positive future. However, that path presupposes that the hopeful person experiences fear as well. That expectation requires courage to overcome fear, because to expect positive outcomes means one must understand at a fundamental level that it may not happen. To Aristotle, you cannot have hope if you do not have courage in the face of the unknown.
What is sport if not the unknown? Sport is a roiling cauldron of outcomes, emotions, expectations, successes, and failures. That’s the whole point of it. Why else do we watch? Sport demands our attention and earns our loyalty because of the inherent instability. The best team doesn’t always win, and the course of a season has so many variables that it is impossible to anticipate every outcome, and sometimes unexpected things happen. The Miracle on Ice. UMBC beats Virginia. Leicester wins the Premier League. Fans of underdog sides show up to sports games every day because they hope for a positive outcome, while they fear that it will not come. But just as often, it happens the other way, including the grim failure of a lost season where bad results piles upon bad result, and it feels like nothing good will ever happen again.
Aristotle’s articulation of courage really resonates with me after this season. There doesn’t feel like there’s much of a reason to be hopeful that Tottenham can turn this slide around. They certainly haven’t given us much evidence to think it! Daniel Levy is rightfully getting excoriated on all sides due to his numerous and notable public failures over the past five years. The more time goes by, the less likely it is that Spurs can put together a coherent strategy for the club, along with a new head coach, to maximize the potential of the offseason.
Along with that comes the existential hopelessness that fans of their teams experience in situations where they can only exert the tiniest influence on events. We don’t play the games. We don’t sign the players. We have, at best, periodic and minimal influence over what happens at the top level of our teams. Our interaction is essentially limited to expressions of praise or dissatisfaction — we have no real control. All we have is how what is happening around us makes us feel.
But also, it’s not as though there weren’t moments of joy in this past season. Harry Kane, improbably, scored 30 league goals and became Tottenham’s all-time leading goal scorer, eclipsing Jimmy Greaves’ record that some said would never be broken. Spurs took this team of underachieving players through the group stage and to the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Another win over Manchester City. There were numerous times when this club put a smile on my face over the course of a pretty depressing season.
For Aristotle, those who fear are faced with a choice — to have “courageous confidence” in its face and begin the path towards hope (euelpis), or to continue to feel despair or — worse — to abandon feeling altogether to live in a state of self-sabotaging apathy (elpis). Aristotle would extoll the virtuousness of courage when faced with this choice, to acknowledge vulnerability, and to move through it to a belief in something better.
To have hope doesn’t mean you abandon the feelings of anger, rage, or disappointment. It doesn’t even mean you have to put a smile on your face or exude a false sense of optimism. But it is a choice. All it requires is for you to find that burning ember inside you that yearns for something better, and when things get really dark, blow on that coal every so often to make it glow a little brighter in anticipation of the day when it will reignite.
I have no confidence that Daniel Levy can put together a coherent strategy for success going forward... but maybe he can. This process is broken and can’t possibly lead to an aligned manager and director of football that plays good football... but maybe they stumble into something good and that’d be cool! I can’t imagine Tottenham Hotspur will finish in a Champions League position next season... but perhaps they will. Why in the world would Harry Kane want to stay at this club... but maybe he loves it as much as I do.
It takes courage to keep that ember of hope alive in the face of so much disappointment, but football fans are courageous. We fear for the decline in our club, and to Aristotle, that fear is a direct path to hopefulness, should we have the courage to overcome it.
The offseason is one of my favorite times in the football year. It is one of limitless potential. The old season is finished, and what comes ahead is something entirely new. The summer is full of infinite possibilities: new players, new coaches, new structures, new opponents, new matches. There’s undoubtedly going to be a lot of change this summer, and change is hard, and scary, and exciting.
Maybe things won’t improve... but perhaps they will. When the new season kicks off, Spurs could have a slimmed down squad and a few new faces to go along with a young and talented core. The lack of European football means fewer matches, and more time to focus on the league and the cups, a situation exploited in the past by teams like Chelsea and Liverpool. Spurs might start the summer leaner, younger, and hungrier with a new manager that they believe in, and who believes in them. Harry Kane, new contract in hand, could even be a part of it. Or maybe not. But that provides new opportunities, and new reasons to be hopeful.
So I ask you, my community of fellow fans, to have hope for Tottenham Hotspur. Be courageous in your belief that better times are ahead. Do it for no other reason than this — that to hope feels better than the alternative. Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.
Aristotle would be proud.
Works cited: Gravlee, Scott. “Aristotle on Hope” — Journal of the History of Philosophy, 2000.
Bock, Cherise. “Hope in Ancient Greek: Aristotle on hope, optimism and courage” — blog post, cherisebock.com, 2016.