I recently saw a film about Charles Darwin, author of ‘Origin of Species’. This has a legitimate claim to being the most influential book of all time. One of the themes of the film, was Darwin’s moral struggle with his theory of evolution. He realised it would undermine the church, by suggesting that animals were not created by god. The church was a formidable presence in nineteenth century England and Darwin delayed publication by nearly 20 years. Rarely has the epithet: ‘publish and be damned’ seemed so appropriate. The dilemma reminded me of an article that I wrote for Untold and then didn’t have the courage to submit for publication. Inspired by Darwin, here it is!
I have managed to get myself a bit of a reputation for writing articles that are not very popular. My article suggesting that was rightly greeted with derision by all true Arsenal fans (objectivity is not a proper attribute for a fan after all). Later, I suspect that the ‘abuse filters’ on Untold protected me from the full reaction to my pieces in defence of and . One lovely commenter managed to ensure that every article I wrote after the Mourinho piece was accompanied by a comment rejecting all my work on the grounds that I was a ‘Mourinho-apologist’. I rather admired the determination and consistency of these comments, but sadly he (I presume) has now desisted.
In order to truly cement my status as public enemy no. 1, I have now decided to confess my dirtiest of secrets. If you are reading this, then big credit to Tony for having the courage to publish.
My awful secret is, that I rather like Tottenham Hotspur. This affliction arises from a number of sources, and if you haven’t stopped reading in disgust yet, I would like to explain myself.
The first point to note is that I have never lived in North London, so I have never had to deal with large groups of ‘baiting’ Spurs fans. Defeats in North London derbies are only mildly painful to me, and I am usually only really worried about the points lost.
My second defence is that its all to do with my childhood, and therefore I can’t be blamed for it. I grew up in the era of the post-Brady, pre-Graham Arsenal. I loved Arsenal, but we were a dour and not very successful team under the rather disappointing Terry Neill and then the lovely, late Don Howe. The brief hope attached to the Charlie Nicholas coup soon eroded in whiff of alcohol and general high living. The Spuds, meanwhile, delivered FA cups with swashbuckling teams containing Hoddle, Villa and Ardilles. Even Steve Perryman had a certain panache. They were hard not to like.
The third source of my affection is my love of the name ‘Hotspur’. My other great love in life, besides Arsenal, is history. I particularly enjoy late medieval English history, a time of chivalry, knights and valour, the wars of the Roses, plots, and dynastic intrigue.
The tale of Harry Hotspur
One of the most irresistible characters from this period is Harry Hotspur. Properly known as Si
Henry Percy KG (1364-1403), he comes from an incredible family. The Percies came to England with William the Conqueror and were awarded land in England in gratitude for their contribution to the battle of Hastings. Being a medieval nobleman was a hazardous business. Eventually every family would join the wrong side of a rebellion/civil war, or fail to produce children, so the family name would die out. Incredibly, nearly 1,000 years later, the Percies are still going. The current Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, is the ultimate blueblood, and even still lives in a castle (Alnwick, widely used in the Harry Potter films). He also sat in the House of Lords until the abolition of hereditary peers in 1999. His eldest son George, Earl Percy (heir apparent to the Dukedom), shared a house with the ravishing Pippa Middleton (star of the 2010 Royal wedding) at university, and they remain good friends. The Duke’s daughter, Melissa, is a close friend of Princes William and Harry, and his son-in-law is the godfather of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge.
Shakespeare immortalised Harry Hotspur, in my favourite Shakespeare play, Richard II. (Hotspur also appears in Henry IV part I, but this is not such a good play). Hotspur is one of the rebels who overthrows the tragic old King Richard II and places Henry IV on the throne.
The real Hotspur was a true hero of the battlefield, in an age of knightly legend. He was the eldest son of the Earl of Northumberland, but never became Earl, as he predeceased his father. Like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, David Rocastle and Princess Diana, the passing years never eroded his youthful dash. From Northumberland, Hotspur led the troops that defended England against the constant Scottish menace during the reign of Richard II. He was one of the leading nobles who sided with Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) in his rebellion against Richard II. After Henry became king, Hotspur’s various deeds established him as the leading soldier of his generation. Eventually, he fell out with the new king, the dour and dull Henry IV. Hotspur led a rebellion to overthrow Henry. The rebellion culminated at the Battle of Shrewsbury where Hotspur died a hero’s death at the age of 39.
King Henry, upon being brought Percy’s body after the battle, is said to have wept over the loss of his deadliest enemy. However, when rumours circulated that Hotspur was still alive, the king ‘had the corpse exhumed and displayed it, propped upright between two millstones, in the market place at Shrewsbury’. The king then dispatched Percy’s head to York, where it was displayed on the Micklegate Bar, whereas his four-quarters were sent to London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bristol, and Chester before they were finally delivered to his widow. She reunited the bits and had him buried in York Minster (his memorial can still be seen there). Percy was posthumously declared a traitor, and his lands were forfeited to the Crown. But the Percies survived, and the title and lands were restored to Hotspur’s son, by the next king, Henry V (of Agincourt fame)
By the late nineteenth century, the Percy family owned land all over England, including some marshes north of London, known as Tottenham. The legend of the Hotspur still burned bright, five hundred years after his death. When some locals formed a cricket team, it was perfectly natural for it to be called Hotspur CC. The cricket team then morphed into a football club, Hotspur FC.
The representatives of an ancient and noble religion
I am not Jewish myself, but I am, for various reasons, a great admirer of Judaism (which lies at the heart of the three great monotheistic religions). Although Tottenham is traditionally identified as the ‘Jewish club’, our own Jewish followers are a very important part of our support base. In particular, the club has benefitted enormously, in recent times, from the services of two Jewish men, David Dein and Danny Fiszmann. I always see Arsenal and Tottenham as the Jewish clubs, and I can’t help admiring both clubs on this basis.
Us Gooners are fast building a reputation as the leading online supporters. The interweb is alive with Arsenal slang (Le Coq, BFG, ‘the 50th game’, the boss, etc. etc. etc.). My favourite piece of Arsenal slang is a written one. Many writers refer to Tottenham as ‘Sp*rs’. I don’t really know the origin of this habit, but it does wonderfully echo the Jewish tradition of writing Yahweh as Y*HW*H. The ancient Jewish god was a far more terrifying and vengeful deity than the one recognised by modern Islam, Christianity and Judaism. He was so terrifying that it was sacrilege to speak his name. Ancient writers wrote YHWH, but as the name was not spoken, its pronunciation is lost. It is often presumed to be Yahweh, but in recognition of the uncertainty, and out of respect, some modern Jewish writers use Y*HW*H. Of course, Yahweh, Allah and God are all the same entity, Allah being the Arabic word for God, and modern Jews having largely abandoned the alternative words used for their god (Yahweh, Jehovah, Adoni, etc.)
I suspect that the writing of ‘Sp*rs’ is not intended to convey respect to the club, or to Judaism, but I like to interpret it that way.
So in part one of my article, I have managed to almost totally avoid the subject of football! After Sunday’s game, I hope I have managed to get you thinking about something else. Please read part II of the article before sending me abuse.
You might also enjoy
- The Dark History of Tottenham Hotspur
- 10 March 1919, Arsenal elected. Find the bribery and get the reward
In case you missed it…
And from the anniversaries file today (more on the home page)
- 28 January 1899: Arsenal 0 Derby 6, FA Cup. A reminder that Arsenal were a long way short of the standard in the first division (despite scoring six themselves on three separate occasions in the League).
- 28 January 1931: Arsenal’s biggest win at Highbury. Arsenal 9 Grimsby 1. Four from David Jack and three from Jack Lambert. The crowd was 15,751, the lowest home crowd of the season.