Vertigo: Spurs, Bale and One Fan’s Fear of Success
By John Crace
We’re approaching a quarter of a century since the publication of Fever Pitch, and yet it remains virtually unchallenged as the benchmark for football fan literature. In the decades since, authors have tended to tread lightly or skirt the genre altogether, as if this central, highly subjective and ever-changing aspect of the sporting experience already has its definitive description. Thankfully, some do dare to disagree and who better to challenge Hornby’s tales of Arsenal than a supporter of their North London foes? In Vertigo, Guardian journalist John Crace has written an entertaining account of what it is to be 1) a football fan and 2) a Tottenham fan. Over the course of the club’s 2010-11 season, we’re treated to several highs (Gareth Bale vs Inter Milan), a few lows (away trips to the Midlands) and a hell of a lot of the irrational inbetween: anxiety, paranoia, pessimism.
Like Fever Pitch, Vertigo is in many respects one long, valiant response to that age-old question, here posed by long-suffering wife Jill – ‘How come you get so much pleasure out of something that gives you so much pain?’ Crace’s answer has two main strands: one universal, the other very individual. The first is the sociable aspect of football fandom, that much-eulogised sense of ‘belonging’. Vertigo is as much about the characters in the stands as it is about ‘Crouchie’, ‘Pav’ and ‘Hudd the Thudd’ on the field. Robbie, the self-conscious, teenage son finding his terrace voice; Justin and Amici the ‘football next-door neighbours’; Trevor and Simon, advisors on all things memorabilia; and best of all Matthew, optimist and narcoleptic father of twins with an unfailing love of Journey and ‘Yacht Rock’. This is Crace’s football gang, the friends with whom he shares every eventuality, and with whom he shares the Tottenham psyche: sceptical of success, welcoming of bitter disappointment.
Speaking of psyche, the second strand of the author’s answer is more unusual and more interesting for that very reason. ‘For those four hours Spurs have my undivided neurosis’ – Crace is very candid and eloquent when discussing his history of mental health issues, and describes the beautiful game as an ‘escape from myself’ as well as a ‘constant endurance test of proving to myself that I can stick with something through both good and bad’. Football also touches on several key relationships in his life – with Robbie, but also with his daughter Anna and his sister Veronica. As Crace concludes with a rare and touching ray of positivity, supporting Tottenham ‘helps me navigate my life.’
As you’d expect from the author of Digested Read, a wry, cutting humour prevails. Crace is a master of pithy one-liners – football is ‘like going to a health spa. Only without the pampering’, ‘Any day when Spurs are playing is better than one when they aren’t. Until kick off’. He is spot-on when it comes to the players – my personal favourite is ‘banker for the catastrophic’ Younes Kaboul – and spot-on when it comes to the club, ‘a team whose fans grandiosely talk of ‘The Spurs Way’ as a metaphor for attacking, stylish football as we slide to yet another 4-3 defeat’. Thankfully, Crace is also ever-willing to poke fun at himself; the chapters on his souvenir collecting (tickets, shirts, programmes, cup celebration banquet menus) are self-mockery at its best.
My one gripe with Vertigo relates to the paperback update. Richard Swarbrick’s brilliant cover illustration can’t hide the fact that a book published in late 2014 has a preface from 2013. So where you might hope for Crace’s considered views on the sale of Bale and Sherwood’s tenure, instead you find ‘When AVB moves on or is moved on…’ This small grumble aside, Vertigo offers up a well-written and highly enjoyable blend of personal and sporting narrative that should find a much wider audience than just the Spurs faithful. Gooners might not like it but Fever Pitch now has a worthy, contemporary bookshelf rival.