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All football fans are different so wanting to lose – or have massive tattoos – is fine | Max Rushden


Son Heung-min is running through in the 87th minute at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. A draw does virtually nothing for Spurs, but it hands Arsenal a great advantage in the title race. Did I, a Spurs supporter, want him to score? The honest answer is – with apologies to Ange Postecoglou – that I’m not totally sure.

Most of my natural instincts were willing him to slot it into the gaping chasm to Stefan Ortega’s left. But it wasn’t categoric, and after the Manchester City substitute keeper blocked Son’s effort, I didn’t have that empty sensation normally reserved for missed one-on-ones.

This leads us to one of football’s most infuriating questions: what makes you a “proper football fan”? Can you be a proper fan if you don’t want your team to win? Can you be a proper fan if you don’t mind if your rivals win the league?

Critics will write off this article, and me, because I follow more than one team. We’ve been through this before. My childhood experience – like that of many others – was one of following my dad. That meant going to watch Cambridge United week in, week out at the Abbey, and through Glenn Hoddle, Teddy Sheringham and stories of Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean, the world stopping whenever Spurs were on TV. I cried in 1987 when Spurs lost the FA Cup final. I cried in 2022 when Cambridge won at St James’ Park in the third round of the FA Cup. That’s just my experience.

Many fans are told from the year dot that you can’t support two teams, which is equally legitimate. But support is virtually entirely subconscious. Often you sit down to watch a game as a neutral and soon realise for reasons you may not even know that you are willing one side to win. Granted, this probably tempers my feelings towards Arsenal compared with diehard Spurs fans and the objective, football-loving part of me doesn’t want Manchester City to win four in a row. Nation-state ownership and 115 charges don’t scream romance.

Tottenham fans had mixed feelings about the match against Manchester City. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Mikel Arteta and Arsenal have done so well to push City for two seasons running. They play wonderful football. The way Martin Ødegaard passes a ball, Declan Rice galloping about like Best Mate, Bukayo Saka is such a good-vibes guy. And who doesn’t love Ian Wright? Who doesn’t watch the genius of Dennis Bergkamp without making involuntary noises of bewilderment at his ability?

The above will be anathema to a huge number of Tottenham supporters. That’s the point. Fans are not some homogenous block. The idea that any one fanbase has a completely singular view on any aspect of the game is one of football’s great oversimplifications. Yes, wanting your team to win is normally the one unifying aspect. But there were almost 60,000 Spurs fans at the ground on Tuesday, hundreds of thousands watching elsewhere – it seems improbable to be able to define the will of them all in one sentence.

Are the Spurs fans doing the Poznan when City scored really an embarrassment to their club or just three guys trying to make the best of their evening? It is a completely legitimate position to not want your rivals to win anything. Arsenal winning the title lasts for ever. Spurs giving themselves a tiny chance of qualifying for the Champions League might be worth a few quid, which could get spent on the next Tanguy Ndombele, and you’re back where you started. Part of me couldn’t have handled the memes of Sonny in an Arsenal shirt, Photoshopped on to the open top bus around Islington.

Postecoglou rages at ‘fragile foundations’ after Spurs fans cheer loss to Manchester City – video

Different fans care different amounts. Years ago, I met a Manchester United fan who had Sir Alex Ferguson’s face tattooed across his entire back. He proudly lifted his shirt to show me. A ginormous Sir Alex, must have been bigger than three normal-sized Sir Alex heads, just there, permanently etched into this guy. He is someone for whom football matters more than it matters to me. It might sadden John Beck to know you can’t find his face on my body. There isn’t a right or wrong. There’s just different.

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So we are left with angry Ange yelling at a fan behind the dugout who’d apparently been telling him to try to lose for the entire game before the biannual sight of a Spurs manager in a post-match press conference questioning the mentality of everyone around him. “The last 48 hours has revealed to me that the foundations are fairly fragile, mate.”

But can’t these things coexist and it not be a problem? That an elite manager wants to win is a given. It’s almost impossible to articulate how ambitious Postecoglou is. Talk to fans in Australia and this is a guy who thinks the Socceroos should be trying to win the World Cup. Ludicrous as it sounds to almost everyone, he believes Spurs can win the title and wants everyone on board with that.

Indirectly calling out fans for the slightly subdued atmosphere has been criticised for failing to read the room. Had Spurs played with the discipline of Tuesday night over the past couple of months, they might well still be in the hunt for the Champions League. But even the most conflicted fan will want a manager and a set of players who want to win. It’s just fine for this very rare occurrence to occur, for people to not quite be on the same page, and then for it to be done.

Fortunately for those who couldn’t face Arsenal lifting the trophy, it turns out it is really easy to lose to Manchester City, even if you play pretty well. Barring the Spursiest of final days, City will beat West Ham and Ange will take Tottenham into the Europa League, which is something they could just about win. And winning something is the only way “lads, it’s Spurs” will ever stop – even for just a fleeting moment.

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