From Dean Saunders to Diogo Jota: Three decades of being ‘Spursy’

The world was a different place in 1994. New Labour was a twinkle in Tony Blair’s eye, Mr Blobby topped the charts and Mystic Meg was about to front the launch of the National Lottery. It’s reassuring, then, to find something which steadfastly refuses to reform. A concept unmoved by change. For almost three decades, it’s something which I  – among Tottenham fans and football supporters at large – have come to know as ‘Spursiness’.

I was introduced to the phenomenon with a punch to the stomach a little under three decades ago, in the early part of the 1994-95 season. The heady optimism of a summer which had welcomed Jurgen Klinsmann and Ossie Ardiles’ front five had given way to realism. The Argentinian was sacked. Gerry Francis was installed as manager. I was given tickets to his first game, a home match against what (I was told) was a reliably incompetent, mid-table Aston Villa team.

Thirty minutes into the game, Tottenham were losing 3-0. A goal from Dalian Atkinson and a brace from Graham Fenton, a striker who over the course of the following seven years would go on to score a mighty 11 times in the Premier League, left me close to tears. I was 10. This wasn’t, I assumed at the time, in the script.

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And then, as Jermaine Jenas might say, things started to happen. Teddy Sheringham scored. Klinsmann pulled another goal back from the penalty spot, before scrambling in a left-footed finish (scandalously credited as a Mark Bosnich own goal) to draw Tottenham level. Around me, despair had given way to joy. Lured in by the expressions of seasoned Spurs observers, I began to believe. If they were dreaming of a win, so should I, surely?

Then, in the 90th minute, the sucker punch, one of the defining characteristics of what it is to be ‘Spursy’. Dean Saunders broke free in the area and, as time seemed to stand still, rifled the ball into the far corner of the net. Victory, seemingly grasped from the jaws of defeat, was handed back to its old sparring partner. From disappointment to hope to dejection, all in the space of 90 minutes.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the game, before events unfolded at Anfield, for years. It was a baptism of fire, but no more than that. Games like this arrived every few years.

Now, every fan’s side play in matches which seem to defy belief, where leads are thrown away with disdain, where opposition teams pluck last-minute winners from nowhere. It’s what makes football such an enduring spectacle. Shorn of the jeopardy of a potential last-minute Dean Saunders winner, the game would be neutered of the uncertainty which makes it so appealing.

But Spurs do things slightly differently. Instant recall brings back the 4-3 defeat against Manchester City in the fourth round of the 2004 FA Cup, where even the advantage of having a three-goal half-time lead against 10 men wasn’t enough. I remember laughing when City brought on Jon Macken. Macken, of course, would score the now-obligatory extra-time winner.

And so, to Liverpool. I’m now 38-years-old. I should know better. And yet. As Richarlison’s header looped over Alisson, I punched the air in the front room as gleefully as I’d jumped up when Klinsmann’s shot (and it was his goal, whatever the reports say) crossed the line almost 29 years ago.

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How was I to know that Lucas Moura, a player who Tottenham are willingly letting go for free at the end of the season and whose last appearance saw him sent off within six minutes of entering the pitch, would take leave of his senses? How was I to know that his back pass would fall into the path of Diogo Jota, who could (perhaps should, bias acknowledged) have been sent off just 15 minutes previously?

The answer, of course, is Spursiness.

Managers, from Christian Gross to Antonio Conte, have arrived brandishing Tube tickets and departed spouting viral monologues. Transfer fee records have been broken for, among others, Sergei Rebrov, Moussa Sissoko and Davinson Sanchez. One ridiculed chairman (I was there for the ‘Sugar, get your cheque book out’ chants in the late 90s) has given way to another. Spursiness has remained.

Of course, there have been bumps in the road, times when being Spursy seemed to be a thing of the past. During Mauricio Pochettino’s time in charge, the team seemed to be trolling the term itself, drawing on incomprehensible acts of escapology to beat Manchester City and Ajax on the way to the Champions League final in 2019. I was in Amsterdam for the latter match, a game so doused in narrative – so un-Spursy – that it felt like a two decade-long mirage had vanished.

But, here we are. At least Sunday’s game evoked feelings of some description, I’ve read. At least this isn’t the numbness most fans felt while watching Jacob Murphy saunter through Tottenham’s midfield at will, as Newcastle scored five in 20 minutes at St James’ Park. But while there’s something to be said for casting off apathy and inertia, yesterday was a stark reminder – if any were needed – that being Spursy hurts.

It hurts because, however much the narrative is railed against (and, whatever Giorgio Chiellini’s interpretation of history, Tottenham do have a couple of UEFA Cup trophies resting alongside their Carling Cup replicas), there is more than a grain of truth in it. Spursiness is a thing. I’ve known it for 29 years, from when Saunders hit the back of the net to the moment Jota was sent clear on Sunday. And, I suspect, I’ll know it for a good while longer.

To read more from John Nassoori, visit his football psychology Substack at https://themindroom.substack.com 

From Dean Saunders to Diogo Jota: Three decades of being ‘Spursy’
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