You’ve been a Spurs supporter for a long time. Tell me about it?
I started supporting Spurs around 1958. In those days there was no TV in South Africa, so we didn’t get to see the matches. So whenever there was a radio commentary we would struggle to listen – reception was not very good in those days. Then, of course, within a couple of years we’d become the first team to win the double in the 20th century. There were rumours that the great Spurs team would tour South Africa in 1961, but it wasn’t to be. Instead we got Leicester.
At the time I hated Arsenal, and winning the Double allowed me to lord it over my Arsenal supporting friends. In the 60’s my favourite player was Jimmy Greaves and I was disappointed that he didn’t play in the ‘66 final (laughs). That was the first clear radio broadcast of a game that I heard, and I was very disappointed to hear that Greaves was not playing. Geoff Hurst did instead – and won it for England! So I was actually very happy in the end.
But … gasp (the blasphemy!)….you now support Arsenal as well? Why?
It’s easy for me as a Spurs fan to also support Arsenal. The reason is the football that Wenger has brought to England. He’s competitive and full of passion for his team. Passion is one of the things that makes a club– to the point of wanting to fight-– him pushing Mourinho– he was provoked and it may not have looked right, but he showed he was defending his team and to me that is important. He is passionate about his team and his players.
In 1964 they were in Durban and they had the biggest following in Durban of all the clubs in England. All my friends supported them but I hated them.
It was when Wenger came that I started really supporting them. Whenever I got a chance to read something I would read about them, so I knew they played good soccer. But I recall way back when they needed to beat Liverpool to get the League in 1989. Alan Smith headed the ball from an indirect free kick and people said he didn’t touch the ball so it shouldn’t be allowed; I was so excited because it was clear to me that it was a goal. I think I began softening towards them even back then.
But it was when Arsene came, and they got Henry, Viera, Petit, Bergkamp (bought by Bruce Rioch, according to my brother), Pires– those people played football and that made it easy for me as a Tottenham supporter to enjoy their football. And the type of football they play now– everyone knows they play beautiful football.
What are your thoughts on Arsene Wenger?
I’ve defended him many times; I defend him when his own supporters complain. If you look at what he’s done for Arsenal: he built a new stadium, and didn’t have money to buy new players, yet he was still able to be in the Champions League every year. Only a good manager can do that and still consistently keep his team right up there at the top. So, he has to be admired; I think he must be really in touch with his players.
Can you recall a favourite moment in Arsenal’s history?
The goal that Bergkamp scored where he flipped and turned and shot, against Newcastle in 2002. And also Adams scoring a goal against Everton that won them the League in 1998 – that was a wonderful moment (“Fantastic moment,” my brother adds, “but to be fair, we thrashed them 4-0”).
Who is your favourite Arsenal player of all time and why?
Dennis Bergkamp; but Henry was very close. They were neck and neck in my estimation until recently, when (laughs) Henry robbed Ireland of its place in the World Cup.
What do you think is Arsenal’s biggest challenge right now? And how can it be fixed?
Pressure from some of the fans… and if Cazorla returns it will solve the problem, because they are missing someone who holds the ball and doesn’t panic. He’s been injured for a long time.
We may need more security in defense, but the young defender you bought now – Holding – he’s going to be another Tony Adams, but in a different way. He’ll be a brilliant player I think. He’s still young now and you need more security than just him.
Arsenal’s supporters are their biggest challenge. For me, with Tottenham, the supporters don’t quickly turn against their players. Arsenal supporters don’t appreciate how good you are because you’ve been spoilt. Arsenal supporters expect to always be on top, but don’t always realize how good the club is.
A personal note
My beloved father’s passion for football was inherited by my two brothers, my nephew and I. When he was much younger, he used to manage local teams in the rural areas where we lived, bringing together the young boys who couldn’t fit into the bigger teams. Wherever he started a club he’d invariably call them “The Rebels”, who would often end up being more than a match for the bigger teams they were rejected by. My dad believes in “enjoying your game”, much like Arsene Wenger. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I love Wenger so much.
We didn’t have television in South Africa until 1976, and even then, we usually didn’t get much football. I remember a holiday we took to Swaziland (just across the border, close to where we lived). My poor mother! This was a footie holiday, there was no denying it, as it was carefully crafted to coincide with the 1978 World Cup. Swazi TV showed all the games and we watched incessantly. One of my favourite family memories is of Dad with my older brother in the crook of one arm and I in the other, lying on the bed watching the games in our hotel room. I fell in love with soccer then and I’m so grateful for a dad with a huge heart and an indomitable spirit. Thanks my Papa!