As you probably know, West Ham face Tottenham away next week. It’s almost pointless telling you, because you probably have it marked out on your calendar in red ink with numerous circles around the date to emphasise its importance.
You will have done so because beating Spurs is important. For most West Ham fans, beating Spurs is about bragging rights. Going into work/uni/college/school on a Monday having lost to your fierce rivals at the weekend is, after all, a painful experience for any football fan. Especially because you always get that cocky idiot who barely knows a thing about football but knows exactly what buttons of yours to press.
Strangely for me though, beating Spurs has never been about bragging rights, purely because, in my part of the world, there’s nobody to brag to – there aren’t many Tottenham fans knocking about in Birmingham.
No, I didn’t start supporting West Ham because my mum mistakenly bought me their claret and blue shirt thinking it was Aston Villa. I was born in Essex and lived there until I was seven, when my family upped sticks to Brum. Had I adhered more strictly to the ‘support your local team’ rule, I probably should’ve supported Southend, but there is only so much one person can take.
So I currently reside over 120 miles away from Upton Park, and yet, in the list of things that delight me in football, seeing Tottenham lose is third only to seeing West Ham win and seeing England win. Then why do I hate Spurs so much? I have considered this question many times.
Part of me believes I hate them simply because I’m just supposed to, you know, as a West Ham fan. But then I don’t dislike Chelsea or Millwall nearly as much as I hate the Lilywhites – a terrible nickname for a terrible club. When I delve into my overall experience of football, Tottenham figure as a panto villain constantly doing their utmost to undermine our claret and blue heroes.
Our brave warriors actually came out on top in encounters with the sinful Spurs when I was growing up. When my passion for football took hold in the midto-late nineties, we won six of our 11 encounters with Tottenham, the other results being two draws and three wins for our north London rivals.
However, that all began to change as West Ham caught a Millennium Bug at the turn of the century. In fact, we had to wait until March 2003 until we next saw West Ham defeat Spurs – a 2-0 win at Upton Park courtesy of goals from Les Ferdinand and Michael Carrick. I’m sure the irony of those two scoring in that game will not be lost on you. West Ham were relegated that season, and it was then that my animosity towards Spurs really started to develop.
As soon as we were down, Tottenham were joined by Chelsea and other clubs in circling around Upton Park like vultures, trying to prise our best players away as if they were pieces of meat to be torn from a dead animal. Carrick nobly stayed and fought to get West Ham back in the Premier League. However, when that failed at the first attempt with the defeat to Crystal Palace in the 2004 play-off final, he left for Tottenham. He was sold for a reported fee of £3.5m.
In doing so, Carrick followed in the footsteps of Jermain Defoe. The diminutive striker didn’t even have the valour to stay and give West Ham a full season in the England’s second-tier, instead transferring to Spurs in the January transfer window of the 2003/2004 season. But that came as no surprise given that he handed in a transfer request less than 24 hours after we had been relegated. Trying to justify rubbing salt in our fresh wounds, Defoe said: “As much as I love West Ham United I feel that now is the right time for me to move on in my career.
“This is very much a career decision. I am very ambitious and hungry to achieve at the highest levels of the game for both club and country.” At least he wasn’t just being selfish. This “career decision” made it so much sweeter as a West Ham fan when Defoe missed that last minute penalty at Upton Park in 2007, which would have won them the game. That really was a wonderful moment brimming with poetic justice, much like when we defeated Tottenham 2-1 the year before to prevent them from getting into the Champions League.
After that penalty miss, Defoe soon found himself out of favour at White Hart Lane and was subsequently shipped out to Portsmouth, where he teamed up with old gaffer and (former) West Ham favourite, Harry Redknapp. There the pair formed a bond special enough to see Redknapp re-sign Defoe for Spurs in January 2009 having taken over from Juande Ramos in October 2008. And that is where Defoe still resides. ‘Arry, however, got the boot on 13 June this year when he got on the wrong side of Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy.
I say ‘however’, but I don’t mean for that to portray any notion of sympathy whatsoever. It can be nothing other than a good thing for West Ham that Harry Redknapp is no longer Spurs manager. During his reign in north London, Redknapp ceremoniously destroyed his positive relationship with West Ham fans by picking apart any plans the club put in place to improve its fragile state – from destroying our chances of landing Eidur Gudjohnsen when on the brink of securing his signature in a loan deal, to being relentless in his pursuit of Scott Parker.
Redknapp signed both of those players when we would rather have had them turning out in a West Ham shirt. And, with both cases, it seemed as if he only did so because he just wanted to make West Ham suffer. Another thing that occurred during Redknapp’s time at Tottenham to make me hate them even more was their childish behaviour in ruining West Ham’s chances of owning the Olympic Stadium, although I doubt very much that the manager had much to do with that.
Last summer, Spurs buddied up with Leyton Orient and petulantly threw a huge spanner in the works after we had won the bid to take over the Olympic Stadium. Their joint application for a judicial review, and subsequent appeal when that got rejected, caused the whole bidding process to be restarted. Now West Ham will only ever be able to get a rental on our planned new home in Stratford.
Spurs’ ‘if we can’t have it no one can’ mentality really showed them to be the embarrassment we Hammers fans have believed them to be for a long time. I, for one, hope they embarrass themselves again at White Hart Lane next week.