It’s 10:40 AM on a Sunday in December, and though the sidewalk is icy and my left foot is frozen, I am on my way to the bar. On the T, I see a man wearing a scarf and I smile. His scarf reads “Boston Spurs,” which tells me that he’s going to the same bar, for the same reason.
We are not alcoholics; our shared disease is that we are fans of Tottenham Hotspur. Depending on whom you ask, this ailment might be worse for our health. One of the symptoms of being an American fan of European soccer is waking up early on the weekends; the time difference means English afternoon games kick off in the morning on this side of the Atlantic. The T pulls into Government Center about three minutes before an 11 AM kickoff, and across the street at the Kinsale, a couple dozen fans are already inside, wearing white.
I’ve been doing this since September, when on my first day back in Boston I lacked a TV on which to watch Tottenham’s game against Arsenal. Tottenham lost that day, but I’ve been back at nearly every opportunity since. Boston’s Tottenham fans have been meeting up for games at one bar or another since 2006, when the channels were harder to find. Among the regulars at the bar are the expected expatriates, those who have presumably been rooting for Spurs since they were children, whose voices are accented to various extents. But the people you’d expect are outnumbered by Americans, who for one reason or another adopted a team from London as their own, who willingly subject themselves to stressful weekend mornings.
On this day, Tottenham played Liverpool. Across the Charles at The Phoenix Landing in Cambridge’s Central Square, red-clad Liverpool fans occasionally fill the bar to capacity on match days. Things started off better for them. Luis Suarez scored for Liverpool in the 18th minute, and the Kinsale grew quiet. Catastrophic defending made it 2-0 before halftime, and frankly it could have been much worse.
I have seen this movie before, against Manchester City and West Ham, and I know how it ends. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that it ends with Tottenham losing, and losing badly. The final results: 6-0 against City, and 3-0 at home vs. lowly West Ham. After 75 minutes, Liverpool led 3-0 and any hope of a positive result had evaporated. Gone was the energy that had filled the Kinsale earlier, and most of us silently tried to avoid eye contact both with each other and with the televisions.
The sane among you might ask, “why?” Why spend my weekends waking up early, going to Government Center, and being disappointed by a team thousands of miles away? Why would anyone, let alone so many people, do this?
This is the best answer I can think of: because in the 85th minute, when the game was 4-0, we sang. At a funereal pace, those in the bar joined together for two verses of “When the Spurs Go Marching in.” It did not affect the result, of course. Liverpool actually scored a fifth goal just minutes later. The next day, Tottenham fired the manager whose face was on many of our t-shirts. But in that moment, sentiment trumped reality. In fewer words, what that song said was: “for better or worse, no matter how far away we are, and perhaps against our better interests, we are stuck with and to this team. And no embarrassing loss is going to keep us from coming back.”