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It’s been emotional (Olympics, part 2)

A photo of Vinny Jones from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

On the 20th February 1982, my dad and I travelled to White Hart Lane for the very first time. I was eight years old. We watched Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 2-0. My hero Glenn Hoddle scored both goals and a young blistering Scottish talent, Alistair Dick, made his debut as a 16 year old.

I had watched Spurs famous 1981 Cup Final win the year before and been mesmerised by Ricky Villa’s mazy dribble for the winning goal. Badgering my Dad to attend a game, he finally relented and we stood at the back of the Shelf, me on his shoulders, in the pre-Heysel days of the terraces.

I was hooked. We went regularly (in those days, Spurs was affordable to a dad and his son). I was there when we won the UEFA cup in 1984. I cried whenever we scored. I cried for different reasons when we lost the FA Cup to Coventry in 1987 and kicked a hole in my bedroom furniture. Me and Spurs has always been, to use Big Chris‘ phrase ’emotional’.

Dick’s career was eventually and very sadly cut short by injury. My association with Tottenham Hotspur has survived thirty years. The golden era, for me, was always that 1980s team of Hoddle, Ardiles and co. Later, Waddle and Gascoigne and Lineker. Despite Irving Scholar, Christian Gross, George Graham and the dark years, even our unerring ability to shoot ourselves in the foot with lasagne-gate and even this most recent season with Harry Redknapp’s flirtation with England and Chelsea winning the Champions League, I have remained and will always be a Yid.

So why is it, in the wake of Olympics, that I couldn’t care less about the return of the Premiership?

I find myself conflicted. I still care what happens to Tottenham Hotspur. But the league they play in, moreover the atmosphere of the sport they play leave me distinctly non-plussed.

I feel like our nation has been the equivalent of a toddler weaned on chocolate, crisps and coke for the last ten or more years. It tasted good, we didn’t know any different and so we took what we were given… gladly. We grew fat. We grew unhealthy. We didn’t know any different. It started to seem perfectly reasonable that someone might get paid £100,000 a week to kick a ball. We even swallowed the excuses when such a golden generation of footballers found themselves impotent (yet again) on the biggest stage of a four-yearly-event, the World Cup.

Football culture in 21st Century Britain has been like a toxic poison to our sporting souls. It’s only when someone has come along and offered an alternative, that we realise that crisps and coke aren’t all you can eat. That actually some other things taste pretty good too, and I feel better and more healthier for them as well.

Gemma Gibbons looks heavenward and says "I love you Mum"

It’s been a long time since Tottenham Hotspur made me cry (for good reason or bad). But over the last month, I cried when Gemma Gibbons, a judoka who lost her mum to leukaemia eight years ago, guaranteed herself a medal with an upset win and looked heavenward mouthing “I love you Mum”. I start to cry even as I write these words now.

With my wife and kids clustered around the TV, I was shouting and screaming as Mo Farah won the second of his Olympic gold medals at 5,000 metres.

I was transfixed by Peter Wilson’s incredible accuracy with a shotgun in the double trap final and when he cried, so did I.

I was willing Andy Murray on with every single shot at Wimbledon and, again, cheered and shouted and cried when he won his gold medal. Oh now for a Grandslam, Andy.

The list goes on and on. Jess Ennis, Tom Daley, the cyclists, the boxers, the gymnasts. Even the ones who didn’t do as we might have hoped – particularly the swimmers; even they made me emotional.

I feel like my tears have been one enormous detox.

When you realise, once again, that sport should be played just for the joy of playing. When you realise that seeing someone prepare and train and sacrifice, and their families sacrifice so much, for the once in a four year chance to be the elite in their given sport, that makes me both enormously respectful of their talent and endeavour, but also their achievement when they then make their dream a reality and win a medal.

I love sport, I love playing. I’m not very good at most of them. To see something done really well, sometimes the privilege to see a world record fall, when we see someone do things no-one has ever done before. I think that’s worth getting emotional about.

So pardon me, English Premiership, if I’m really not that bothered about whether Wayne Rooney visits prostitutes, whether John Terry racially abuses opponents, whether Emmanuel Adebayor ought to take a paycut from his reported £175,000 a week at Manchester City to play for my own Tottenham Hotspur, whether Scott Sinclair should move clubs because his WAG is bored of life in Wales, or indeed whether the next England football team stands the remotest chance of winning the World Cup.

I’ve now seen athletes prepare for once in a four year competition and do really well when they got there, carry themselves with enormous dignity and play for all the right reasons. Compared to them, Premiership footballers, you are not even close. I doubt you even deserve to carry their bags.

Still gutted that we lost to Newcastle on Saturday though.

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