The title of this post will no doubt surprise many people who know me. This is because I was brought up in a family that supports the other “tribe” in North London and are supposed to have a continuing animosity towards everything related to the Arsenal.
On the whole, I have always enjoyed Arsenal discomfort as in the recent 4-0 thrashing that they received at Anfield.
As may be imagined when two teams “co-exist” (if that is the real term) as do Arsenal and Spurs in a small but densely populated part of a teeming city such as London, if you come from that area as I do (I was born in Stoke Newington, about two miles from what used to be the Arsenal ground of Highbury and three miles from the now demolished Spurs ground White Hart Lane, you come into everyday contact with supporters of the other “tribe”.
I have friends who are Arsenal season ticket holders and we have interesting “banter” at each other’s misfortunes (recently I have had more to say to them than the other way around but this follows many years when the reverse was the case!).
The fact that I have used the term “tribes” liberally throughout this post is because football support does have an ancient throwback to a time when our ancestors lived in close tribal communities that gave you identity in the way you dressed, acted and lived but which strengthened these identities through the setting up of barriers to others coming into the tribe and indeed a hatred towards anyone who had different ways of dressing, interacting or living.
The origins of our inbuilt biases and prejudices lie in this tribal past. We have since moved on in terms of the organisation of our society and nowadays it is sport that allows us to rekindle our tribal passions.
Tottenham Hotspur followers are black, white, Asian, Jewish, Christian, Moslem, tall, small, thin, fat, gay. straight, male and female. Many of them come from the immediate catchment area of the team but there is support from many parts of the U.K. as well as a large international following.
All of the above can be said of Tottenham’s deadly rivals, Arsenal F.C.
I recently saw a Youtube video about great football rivalries. It was one episode in a number that covered Rangers v Celtic, Roma v Lazio, Manchester United v Liverpool and other fierce rivalries.
I am including this video in this post because, if you have the time, it is really insightful into the real passions and indeed hatred that our tribal throwback brain mechanisms can bring us to.
If though, we try to sit down and forget the banter, the chants, the anger that leads to real fighting (these days mercifully mostly outside the football grounds). If we try and switch off our tribal identity for a while, we can begin to see that they are, in the end, just two professional football teams.
Over the years I have come to admire the skills of some great players who happened to play for Arsenal. I always liked George Armstrong, Chippie Liam Brady, I loved the skills of Denis Bergkamp and the sheer striking ability of Thierry Henry.
I would be fascinated to see if there are Arsenal fans who could do a similar switch off as I did and see the brilliance of Jimmy Greaves, the occasional genius of Glen Hoddle, the audacity of Paul Gascoyne and the development of Gareth Bale into one of Europe’s greatest footballers.
It takes a lot to overcome our tribal instincts and in a wider context, we need to switch off other examples of this unfortunate trait in respect to race and religion in our multicultural society.
I will still banter with my Arsenal friends and they no doubt with me but I hope it can be without the hatred and violence that has so often been seen in our team’s histories.