By Tony Attwood
There is something of a problem with the way both football fans and those who write about football have expectations about football clubs, and what success they might see each year.
And I begin to wonder if I have not been suckered into this problem too, in the way that I have tended to see seven teams (Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in London, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle in the north) as the Big Seven teams of English football.
Take Tottenham for example. They are currently in their most successful run in the league (including the Football League as well as the Premier League) in that they have been in the top division since 1978. And in the last 14 years they have finished between second and eighth in the league each season: that is their best run ever.
But even in that period, they have only made it into the Champions League five times. By way of comparison, Arsenal qualified for the Champions League across 19 successive seasons – a total only exceeded by Real Madrid. Chelsea have only missed out on Champs League football a couple of times since 2003.
And during this time Tottenham have been runners-up in the Champions League once and the Premier League once. Otherwise, it has been a couple of Champs League quarter-finals and a couple of third-place finishes in the Premier League and, well not to put too fine a point on it, no trophies.
Tottenham have course won trophies in the past (the League Divison 1 in 1950 and 1951 and again in 1961 for example) but that’s about it apart from a couple of league cup wins.
So in fact when journalists speak of the Big Six, or Top Four or anything else like that, they are not talking about clubs that win things, but actually about the size of the stadium and the amount of coverage the media give to the club (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one). For there is nothing else in Tottenham’s profile that can lead to it being called a big club (apart perhaps from its debt).
This raises the question, should Tottenham be called a big club just based on the size of its ground, the money it owes, and the noise level of the media? Or should a “big club” be one that wins some of the main competitions, such as the European trophies, the Premier League and the FA Cup (and if you really want to be generous the League Cup) in say the last quarter century?
On that basis, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are big clubs.
But including Tottenham as a “big club” gives them a problem, because their only recent trophies have been the League Cup in 1999 and 2008.
Indeed if Tottenham’s perception as one of the big clubs is because of League Cup success, then do we also include Swansea, Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Blackburn Rovers?
Or what about Leicester City who since the Premier League era began have won the League Cup, the FA Cup and the Premier League once each during the PL era. Are they a Big Club? Indeed are they bigger than Tottenham? No, that seems silly.
So calling Tottenham a “big club” but not Leicester City a big club seems to be based not on achievement at all but simply on a) the size of the ground and b) the level of talking up of the club by journalists and fans – even though neither of these are measures of success or stature.
Yet probably because of this insistence that Tottenham is one of the “big clubs” all the mainstream media (and I really mean “all”) predicted Tottenham would finish above Arsenal this season, and be in the top four. And yes they are fourth, although both Liverpool and Newcastle will overtake them if they win their games in hand. And across their last 10 games Tottenham are actually lying 10th in the league (five wins, five defeats), while being out of all the other competitions that they entered.
But is measuring a club’s “bigness” by the size of the ground, reasonable and right? If it is then Tottenham are the second biggest club in the country behind Manchester United. And yes Arsenal are third, but then in fourth place is West Ham whose last triumph was the Intertoto Cup in 2000. It doesn’t seem a good measure of things.
In the end, whether a club is called “big” or not seems to be down to journalistic and fan noise, and I think this is probably Tottenham’s biggest problem. For, because of this noise, the fan base is constantly disappointed.
Now as an Arsenal supporter, I really don’t mind that too much, but I would point out that the bigness of the club is not the ground, not a pitch that can host American football, nor beer that is pumped up from below nor the level of media coverage. It is about one thing only.
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