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Spurs v Middlesbrough Revisited: Looking back on watching Spurs for the first time

It is very rare that a person can look back to the specific moment that they became a fan of a team. For many of us, we are born into a fandom from family or start supporting a team at a young age. My dad was born in Detroit, Michigan, so it was really easy for me to become a fan of teams like the Detroit Lions and the University of Michigan. I cannot remember a Thanksgiving without watching the Lions kick off at 11:30 central time. I have never known what it is like to not despise the garnet and gray of a certain university from the heap of a city that is Columbus, Ohio (to anyone reading this from the Columbus area, I know you have a lovely city but rivalry trumps all things). For many fans of our beloved Tottenham Hotspur, supporting this club has been a lifelong journey that has been impressed onto them from friends, fathers, siblings, grandparents, or uncles alike. 

For me, that was not the case. Growing up, the only time I paid attention to the sport we know as soccer here in the United States was during the World Cup. It all started in 2006 when I can vividly remember Zinidine Zidane’s red card in a World Cup final that would eventually see Italy lift the trophy. As a 14 year-old of Italian descent, that was my first real introduction to the sport other than the sporadic MLS match or highlight that I would see on ESPN. 2010 and 2014 saw my interest grow slightly with strong finishes from the USMNT in the South Africa and Brazil World Cups. I was firmly a casual fan. Would I have imagined that one day I was destined to be recording a podcast about a London-based team and writing a blog about the moment I became a fan… not a chance, but here we are.

So what led up to this moment? What led to you reading an article about a guy who has only been a Spurs fan since 2016? Well that story officially kicked off exactly six years ago to the day this was published. (If you are a Podspur regular, you have heard a lot of this story before, so I apologize if it seems like I am rehashing old tales).

It was Saturday, September 24th, 2016. That day had been marked on my calendar for a long time. It would mark the first time that… my alma mater, Western Kentucky University, would welcome a SEC school, Vanderbilt University, to Houchens-Smith Stadium for an American football game. I was extremely excited. The year prior, my wife and our best friends had been there in person to see our Hilltoppers upset Vanderbilt, and we were so excited to see them play again. That was not the only thing that had my attention on this day. That “other thing” would lead us to this point right now where you are reading this piece.

You see, the year before, I started teaching at Warren Central High School in my hometown of Bowling Green, KY. It was just my second year teaching, and it felt like a coming home as I had attended this school at the start of freshman year, but I was forced to transfer as my family moved into a new district after the birth of my brother. One of the things that I looked forward to at this school was the diverse student population. You see, despite being a small college town of right around 70,000 people, Bowling Green is an international refugee center for the US. Countless people from all over the world have settled in my hometown in search of a new home from areas of extreme poverty, war, and even (in some extreme cases) genocide. Our school has students from 30+ countries and, on a given day, you can hear upwards of 40 languages spoken in our building. From Bosnia to Turkey to Burma to Rwanda to Honduras to Serbia to Guatemala to Iran to Jordan to Palestine to El Salvador to Somalia to Iraq to Vietnam and all kinds of countries in between, our school could lay claim to one to one of the top five most widely represented public schools in the US. What is one of the unifying factors of all of these kids:  soccer. 

While I was able to resist the sport for the 2015-16 school year, I felt the desire to give the sport a chance in 2016-17, and the Premier League would be the place for this trial. Now all I needed was a team. I was recommended by my next door teacher neighbor to do some research and find a team that stands out to me, which is exactly how he became an Arsenal fan. So, I did just that. I wanted a team who was not a juggernaut. I did not want to be a bandwagon, but I also wanted to find a team that has been successful before and was on the come up for the years to come. Then my attention was drawn to the logo of a cockriel atop an old soccer ball. That’s an interesting logo, let me find more about this team. Tottenham Hotspur Football Club immediately stood out to me. They checked all my boxes. I loved the connections they have to the Tottenham area of London. I loved that the team had been playing in the same place since the club’s inception in 1882. I loved that people like Adele, Finn Balor, Rupert Grint, and Jude Law were supporters of this team. Now I just needed to see them with my own eyes.

So now we have arrived at the morning of September 24th, 2016. Kickoff was at 9:00 AM. I was locked and loaded. Spurs came striding out in that sweet gold Under Armor kit with the navy pinstripes. Side note, that 2016-17 season saw one of the most cohesive and strongest sets of kits Spurs have had in my time watching the club. If I could get my hands on the away kit and the third kit, I would love it. Back to the game. Looking at the starting line-up, I literally knew no one. Names like Kyle Walker, Vincent Jannsen, Victor Wanyama, and Dele Alli were so far off my radar that I knew I was going to catch-up and catch-up quickly as Spurs came flying out of the gate. I quickly learned about the passing ability of Christian Eriksen and the young talent of Dele Alli, but it was another player who caught my eye. 

In the 7th minute, Christian Eriksen found Vincent Jannsen posting up in the box. His post up allowed this left winger named Son Heung-min to cut through the box and fire home a low shot past the Middlesbrough keeper. Hey, first game in, and this team has a 1-0 lead. I think I like this. I was hooked. Things picked up in the 23rd minute. It was that left winger again, Son Heung-min. This time he dribbled down to the touch line and cut back to the open space. It looked like he was going to lose the ball, but he found his next gear, grabbed the loose ball and sent a screamer into the upper right corner of the net to double Spurs’ advantage. It was in that 23 minutes that I knew Spurs were my team. 

Did I know about things like “spursy,” lasagna gate, Gareth Bale, or “Dr. Tottenham?” Did I know that my friend who encouraged me to give the Premier League a chance would be a supporter of this team’s biggest rival? Did I know that I would have to hear all kinds of junk from my students about how my club is “trash?” Did I know what the expression “COYS” meant? No, and frankly, I did not care. I was so locked in from this first game, that I knew this was my club.  Something about this club resonated with me. What I did know was that next Sunday, Spurs had a match at 10:30 against Manchester City, and I would be watching it. That’s all that mattered to me. When Spurs were on, I was going to watch. When Son Heung-min was on the field, I was going to cheer for him. I honestly knew as much about this great club as Barstool President Dave Portnoy did when he became a Spurs supporter this summer, and he is fully Tottenham just as I am. I am still working on getting Portnoy on the pod, so Dave (if you are reading this), shoot me a DM on twitter, and we will get it lined up.

I find a lot of beauty in being able to know the exact moment I became a Spurs supporter. There is just something really cool about remembering what it was like to see my team play for the first time. When I was seven years old, I went to my first Nashville Predators game with my 10U hockey team. It was November of 1999, and the Predators were taking on the Vancouver Canucks. I remember parking in what is now the Country Music Hall of Fame and walking down Broadway into the arena; I remember the smell of the fresh cut ice and the cool air in the arena; I can remember how fast the game was to someone watching a professional hockey game for the first time. I hope that I never forget those feelings. 

The funny thing is, I have those same feelings when I think back to watching Spurs play Middlesbrough. I remember waking up before kickoff to make cinnamon rolls. I remember looking at that team sheet and not knowing a single person. I remember that bit of nervousness I felt when Middlesbrough scored in the second half to make it 2-1 (you know that feeling all of us feel when Spurs are up and concede a goal). I remember that deep feeling of relief when the final whistle blew. All of those memories are there, and I was thousands of miles away from the stadium on a couch in south central Kentucky. The fact that I can remember all those details as vividly as I do tells me that there is something special about supporting this team. That special feeling is what I think binds us together as Spurs supporters. 

In closing let me ask you a question:  what is your first memory of Tottenham Hotspur FC? If you cannot remember your first memory, what is your oldest memory? Are you a life-long fan living in North London whose family has supported the club for as long as you remember? Are you an American who fell in love with the club when the likes of Brad Friedel and Clint Dempsey donned the lilywhite? Let us know in the comments below how you fell in love with this great club. As someone who is still relatively new to this club, I always love hearing how people found the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking here. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. You can also follow Tottenham Podspur across all of our social media platforms here. Be sure to follow along as we bring you all things Tottenham Hotspur. We hope to interact with you all in a variety of ways and hope you tune into our weekly podcast on whatever platform you get your podcasts from. COME ON YOU SPURS!

-Dustin Gentile

Published by dgentile25

Follower of Christ. Husband. WKU Alum. Teacher/Asst. Athletic Director. Let's Go Preds. Go Tops. Go Blue. Come on You Spurs. Let’s Go Reds. Psalm 105:4

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