Category Archives: Random Stuff

A new generation of Spurs fans craves FA Cup glory

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The trademark magic was in short supply in the FA Cup third round. Weakened teams, poorly chosen televised games, sparse crowds and an unexciting set of match-ups meant for an uninspired weekend of football.

Spurs summed it up with a laboured victory over a defensive Aston Villa side that came for a 0-0, and for 70 minutes looked like they might get one.

But sometimes the most glorious things spring from the humblest of beginnings, and as Spurs finally found their swagger, it was possible to let one’s thoughts drift ahead to Wembley in May, half-covered in Lillywhite, the trophy there for the taking if only the players believe. Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be our year.

Let’s be clear: Spurs are massively, extraordinarily, almost indescribably overdue an FA Cup win.

Our reputation as a “Cup team”, still trotted out dutifully by the BBC commentator as the teams emerged from the tunnel at White Hart Lane, is as hollow as the new structure emerging behind the Paxton Road stand.

Spurs have won the FA Cup just four times since 1966, and it has been 26 years since Spurs last reached the FA Cup final, when we beat Nottingham Forest 2-1. The only longer drought in the club’s history, since the first FA Cup win in 1901, came between 1921 and 1961. The League Cup has been somewhat more successful, with five finals in the intervening period; two victorious, three not.

Since Spurs were last in the FA Cup final, Chelsea have won it six times and Arsenal seven. Hell, Portsmouth and Wigan have both won it. Our eight wins are a distant memory. No Spurs fan under the age of 30 will have any memory of what it feels like to be an FA Cup winner.

Early football memories are snapshots, fleeting moments preserved for eternity while the rest has been washed away. My first Spurs memory was Gary Lineker scoring a winner in the league against Norwich. My second was Gazza, 15 minutes into the Cup final, injured after that tackle. My third was dancing around overexcitedly when Des Walker powered a header past his own keeper. No wonder I’m hooked.

One thing I can’t remember is Gary Mabbutt actually lifting the trophy. My guess is, I was already out in the garden with my brother, playing another game of three-and-in: him as Lineker, and Gazza, and Paul Stewart; me, the squitty little brother, forced to be Forest, but perfectly happy to be Psycho, or Walker, or Nigel Clough.

The FA Cup was such a fundamental part of me becoming a Spurs fan, and for younger Spurs fans to be deprived of what it feels like to win is cruel. It’s a chasm in the footballing experience every Spurs fan should have. It has to be corrected, as an urgent priority of the club.

So why this year? After all, we’ve had plenty of chances before, and found 25 different ways to blow it.

One difference now is that, for the first time, there isn’t a single draw that we fear. That feeling of watching the draw and thinking “please don’t let it be them” — that’s gone, or as is near as possible. Sure, Chelsea and Liverpool away still present psychological barriers to Spurs, but these are barriers this team has to overcome eventually. Now is the time.

If there’s fear, it’s on the other side — no-one wants to be drawn against Spurs at home these days. Just ask Antonio Conte or Pep Guardiola. And possibly Gareth Ainsworth.

Another reason is that, more than any other team, Spurs NEED to win something this season.

The lack of silverware is a cause of embarrassment. Mauricio Pochettino has never won a trophy as a manager, and few of the Spurs players need private trophy rooms in their North London mansions. ENIC’s ownership has been blighted by the trophy drought: just one, in 16 years — constant fuel for the agitators, and the agitated. There’s no trophy for finishing in the top six, and the only prize for finishing in the top four is financial.

What reassures me about this squad, as well as their talent, is their hunger: they get it.

“If in five years’ time we hadn’t won a trophy with this squad, everyone would be disappointed,” said Eric Dier, the future arriving as he donned the captain’s armband on Sunday. “Football is about winning trophies. Look at the players we have now and the basis we have to win things. We have to keep working hard and improving but the whole squad is desperate to win things.”

Desperation is a powerful motivating force.

The Champions League flop means even more reason to focus on the FA Cup. The Europa League is a consolation prize, an afterthought, a plate competition to fill the TV void on Thursday nights. It’s a long, gruelling contest, and extremely hard to win, yet it teases clubs into playing stronger than advised teams as it has the illusion of winnability. Spurs are veterans, and have never remotely threatened — nothing we did in the Champions League suggested we’ve gotten any better at finding midweek performances against technically proficient European opponents with vastly smaller budgets.

In my view, Pochettino should de-prioritize the Europa League, unashamedly. Kids, reserves, unwanteds — a strategic choice to cede ground in Europe, in search for gains on the home front. Poch will say the right things — “we try to win in every competition” — but sometimes hard decisions have to made.

The league this season is shaping to be a brutal slog, with six fairly even teams fighting desperately for four places. It’s no season to be messing around with Thursday trips to Eastern Europe. But the FA Cup is a weekend competition, so long as you win.

As Liverpool showed with their severely weakened team against Plymouth, the tightness of the title race may take attention away from the FA Cup. A little more rotation, a slip here, a slip there; it’s one of those seasons where it might open up, and it pays to be the last man standing. Already the bulk of Premier League’s middle class has slunk out, meaning less chance of that dangerous type of team that has nothing to play for except Cup glory.

The omens are good. Ball 26 in the fourth round draw, 26 years after our last victory, 26 for Ledley, one of our greatest modern players who should have won far more. Wycombe at home — yup, we should win that one.

I’m dreaming of FA Cup glory this season, more than ever before.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

A review of 2016 on The Spurs Report — numbers, analysis, top posts and thanks

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As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to do a quick post summing up the year on The Spurs Report. It’s been quite a year, with new people stumbling upon this curious little corner of the Spurs blogosphere every day.

In total, there have been nearly 200,000 views (197,447 at the time of writing) in the year to date — this compares with less than 20,000 in 2015. That’s significant growth, particularly as I haven’t posted anything new since taking a break in November.

While that’s a drop in the ocean in comparison to the traffic of bigger football blogs, and the clickbait merchants who harvest other people’s content and manufacture audiences in a fraud against advertisers and fans alike, to me this seems like an awful lot of people coming to read my occasional ramblings on Spurs.

The main referrer was Twitter, with 42,098 views, followed by Facebook (28,921), Reddit (17,257) and NewsNow (14,520). I don’t use Facebook, but really should start considering it — my pieces have only been shared a handful of times, but each one brought a large volume of new Spurs fans to my blog. Thank you to those who have shared on Facebook. As you can see from the Top 10 articles below, the biggest driver has been pieces on the stadium — there’s a hunger for information on this project.

This time a year ago, I had around 300 Twitter followers — it’s now over 3,400. Again, it’s nothing compared to the bigger beasts, but growing a readership is hard without influential friends or the backing of a news organisation or other type of network. This blog and my Twitter account now have a healthy following among Spurs fans — I hugely appreciate the help I’ve received in the past year from some of the prominent members of the Spurs community (Alan Fisher, Dan Kilpatrick and Martin Cloake amongst others) in sharing my work.

It makes a profound difference, and I try to follow the same good example when new bloggers ask me for help in turn. I’m not followed by many of the elite football Twitterati, and my blogs don’t get shared around or linked to by bigger sites — this is a resolutely niche Spurs blog. But so long as Spurs fans keep on discovering this blog and joining in the conversation, I’ll keep writing it.

Thank you all for your continued readership, comments, insight and feedback. The blogosphere and Twitter can be a rough place, but 99% of the time I find the conversations I have with other Spurs fans positive, informative and enjoyable. I just love talking (OK, sometimes ranting) about Spurs.

I’ve been working on another writing project in recent months — something utterly un-Spurs related — as well as trying to balance new work commitments. But I plan to resume blogging in 2017: the itch to get back to it is proving almost unendurable.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and happy new year.

Charles

 

The 10 most viewed pieces of 2016 were as follows:

1) Spurs stadium update: New information on capacity, design and other details, plus analysis of timeline and finances (21,759)

A summer news wrap with exclusive information on the stadium design and construction.

2) Big but not ‘big, big’: The football media struggles to come to terms with Tottenham’s narrative-busting success (18,363)

A rant about the football media, in which I said rude things about Jamie Redknapp.

3) The Pochettino Revolution: How Tottenham were transformed from also-rans to title contenders (14,980)

A feature on Mauricio Pochettino and his work at Spurs. A labour of love, and the feedback to this one made it 100% worth the time spent on it. Have a read if you haven’t yet.

4) The £300 million funding question and the dangers of “doing an Arsenal” — New Spurs Stadium Deep Dive (Part 1) (13,757)

My first major stadium piece, examining the financial side of Tottenham’s stadium plans.

5) Deep Dive: Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge redevelopment — Trying to keep the train on the tracks (9,927)

A look at Chelsea’s stadium plans, and the huge headaches our rivals face in securing planning consent.

6) Tottenham’s most expensive signing, relative to revenue (8,428)

A look at the relative cost of signing players in the wake of the Paul Pogba deal. A bit of fun, this one was picked up quite widely on non-Spurs Twitter.

7) New stadium update: ‘More or less’ on time and budget, 500 White Hart Lane, the NFL gamble explained, and more (7,115)

The most recent stadium news piece. I’m hoping to do another one in January or February as there have been one or two new lines since this was published.

8) The balancing act: Can Spurs find a way to remain competitive through the stadium construction phase? (6,684)

An assessment of THFC’s finances and what impact the stadium spend will have. Somewhat technical, but some good numbers in there.

9) Naming rights and wrongs: Tottenham begin the search for stadium sponsorship deals (6,254)

A look at the stadium sponsor market, and a warning for fans not to expect too much.

10) Spurs take a gamble on the NFL — New Stadium Deep Dive (Part 2) (5,886)

A long piece (in hindsight, too long…) on the relationship between Spurs and the NFL. We’ve had more insight into it since this was published.

As you can see from this list, the stadium dominates. But encouragingly, many of these pieces are longer ones that took a lot of time and effort — there’s an appetite for detail.

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs-related chat.

What is behind the great Premier League switch-off?

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Last Sunday, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t watch any football.

I wasn’t busy, it wasn’t an international break, and there wasn’t another major sporting event that I wanted to watch between 2pm and 6pm. Instead, I looked at the two Premier League games that were being shown by Sky Sports — Middlesbrough vs Watford, followed by Southampton vs Burnley — and thought: “Nah, I’ll pass.”

The uninspiring choice of Sunday games came at an awkward moment for Sky, following a report by the Daily Mail’s Charlie Sale that viewing figures were down 19 percent year-on-year. The broadcaster will have pinned hopes on Monday’s game between Liverpool and Manchester United, the clubs with the two biggest fanbases, to quell talk that the Premier League bubble is starting to burst.

So, how real is the dip in Premier League audiences? And what are the factors that could be behind Sky’s audience dropping so dramatically?

First, it should be noted that the season is still young, and normally viewing figures increase as the evenings draw in, particularly in the Sunday 4pm and Saturday 5.30pm slots. But, as someone who tracks audience figures for Spurs matches out of personal interest, there are signs that the numbers tuning in are indeed low.

The most-watched Premier League game so far this season (excluding Liverpool v Man Utd, which isn’t publicly available yet), by BARB’s “average audience” measurement, was the Manchester derby on September 10. This drew 1.18 million in the lunchtime Saturday kick off. The equivalent game last season, a Sunday 2pm kick-off, drew 1.98 million. The reverse fixture in March, in the Sunday 4pm slot, drew 1.82 million.

After the Manchester derby, by my count, the second most-watched match was Spurs vs Manchester City on October 2, which averaged 1.06 million viewers in the Sunday 2pm slot. This just pipped Chelsea vs Liverpool, a Friday night offering that averaged 1.04m.

While 1.06m is more than respectable for Spurs v Man City, it is below the average for televised Spurs matches last season, which was 1.13 million. When Spurs travelled to Manchester City in February last season, that drew 1.78m in the prime Sunday 4pm slot.

One area in particular where Sky is apparently hurting is the Sunday 4pm slot, normally the prime selection of the week. The last four matches — Swansea v Chelsea, Spurs v Sunderland, West Ham v Bournemouth and Burnley v Arsenal — all failed to crack the 1 million mark. In the equivalent fixture block last season, these matches averaged over 1 million.

(BARB’s average audience measure isn’t perfect, and the broadcasters prefer to refer to the “peak” audience figure. However, the average audience is the only one that is made public, and it serves a purpose of enabling comparisons. More explanation in my previous piece on the subject.)

So, what could be behind it?

There have been some interesting explanations raised, from the tedious football being played by some of the Premier League’s lesser lights, to piracy, cost of subscriptions and crap coverage.

These explanations are all, no doubt, true to an extent.

I watched Burnley v Watford a few weeks ago, or rather started watching it and switched off and watched a couple of old episodes of Elementary for the third time instead. The standard was abysmal, but not entertainingly so, and anything was better than watching that.

Piracy continues to advance in terms of quality and accessibility, through streaming services like Kodi and other new technology. I subscribe to both Sky Sports and BT Sport, but last Saturday at 3pm I was forced to find a stream to watch Spurs. I have zero sympathy with the Premier League (and yes, there are a number of parties that would need to agree to a change) on this score. In 2016, there is simply no justification for viewers in the UK not getting the same choice as fans everywhere else in the world. It borders on cruelty and has created a market for piracy.

When the pirated offering is better — or at least, more comprehensive — than the paid offering, it’s going to mean less people pay. How you measure this, however, I don’t know — Sky’s revenues continue to climb, but subscriber growth is growing, per the last quarterly report.

Cost is undoubtedly a factor too, especially given broader economic trends that have seen a divergence in incomes both geographically and generationally. Football on TV is incredibly expensive now. A full subscription to BT and Sky will cost over £1,000 for a household, and this doesn’t even get you 2/3 of the matches. It doesn’t feel like great value now.

I’d add here, an argument gets made that we are experiencing “overkill” due to too much football on UK TV — personally I think it is the opposite, with too many fan bases getting too small a selection of games, meaning limited incentive to subscribe. Leicester, for example, were only shown eight times in total in the season before their miraculous title-winning campaign — hardly a huge incentive to subscribe to both Sky and BT. This season, with many more Premier League games and Champions League football, it is much better value for a Leicester City fan, and you can be sure that Leicester’s audiences have crept up somewhat as a result.

Rising prices, and advances in illegal streaming, may have led to a reduction among rated audiences. But it’s impossible to know how many, and it’s not like streaming sites have only sprung up this season. Also, while it seems like many, many people must be doing this if you judge by Twitter, it’s useful to remember that Twitter is a small sample and generally a terrible reflection of reality.

As for punditry, I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes. While Jamie Redknapp and Thierry Henry are dreadful, Sky still boast three of the best of the business in Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness. Sky’s coverage certainly hasn’t gotten worse compared to last year. But either way, it is fairly inconsequential — most fans tune in for the game, not the talking.

However, there are also some other explanations for Sky’s poor ratings that are worth a mention.

First, swapping their Saturday slot with BT was always going to be bad for Sky’s audience figures.

The Saturday 12.30pm kick-off routinely draws a low audience, as people have, well, life to be getting on with at that time of a weekend, whereas by 5.30pm you are far more likely to be ready to put your feet up and watch a game. The Saturday 12.30pm kick-off, however, is excellent for fans in Asia, so the Premier League will still want its big guns in that slot even if it doesn’t suit Sky.

Second, the Premier League is missing some “big” clubs this season, and this is harming ratings.

When Aston Villa played Newcastle last month, an average of more than 500,000 tuned in — that is the first time that I’ve seen a Championship match on BARB’s Top 30 weekly ranking.

The 2016/17 Premier League must feature the smallest number of “big” clubs of any edition to date.

That’s not to say the likes of Bournemouth, Swansea and Watford don’t deserve to be there, while Leeds, Villa and Newcastle should automatically be in the top flight in some Charlie Stillitano-inspired ratings stitch-up. But when you have big fanbases out of the top flight and not engaged with the Premier League, this may have an impact on TV ratings.

There are a couple of ways to quantify this idea.

Of the Top 30 club stadiums in England, just 13 are hosting Premier League football this season. Huge stadiums like Villa Park, St James’ Park, Elland Road and Hillsborough host Championship football. Stadium size is a historic measure of how big clubs once were, rather than still are, but it’s still a decent gauge. I watched Sheffield Wednesday’s Championship playoff semi-final last May at sold-out, 39,000-capacity Hillsborough. The atmosphere was extraordinary, and it sure as hell felt “big” as a TV viewer.

Further to this, there are demographic factors that may be having an impact on Sky’s ratings. While Greater London (9.8m) and Manchester (2.5m) are well represented, the West Midlands (2.4m) has only one club — and arguably its smallest in West Brom — in the top flight, while West Yorkshire (1.8 million) has none. Tyneside (774,000/7th largest in England, and that it excludes Sunderland), Nottingham (730,000/8th), Sheffield (685,000/9th) and Bristol (617,000/10th) are all major urban areas without a Premier League club.

To make a comparison, this would be like a US major league such as the NFL not having teams in Miami, Houston, Washington, Atlanta and Boston. Ratings would surely suffer.

It doesn’t mean no-one is watching Premier League football in these urban areas, but given the local nature of the majority of football support in England, this may have an impact on how many are tuning in. With all due respect to Burnley (149,000/54th) and Swansea (300,000/27th), they can’t drive the audience numbers in the same way.

(Obviously, football in Yorkshire has been struggling for a long while with Leeds and the Sheffield clubs a long way from the Premier League, but the loss of Newcastle and Aston Villa is sure to have an impact this season.)

More subjectively, how we view teams changes very slowly. I still see Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday as “big” clubs in a way that Swansea or Watford will never be, or at least not be for a long time.

To me, Newcastle, Villa, Leeds, Wednesday, Forest and Wolves still rank ahead of Watford, Burnley, Stoke, Swansea, Hull, West Brom, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. There are too many games that just lack that “big match” aura — and when an early-season encounter between lower-ranked teams like Burnley vs Watford is so abysmal, it hardly encourages you to watch them again.

The final theory, that I’m still collating data for but want to throw out there, is that Manchester United’s audiences aren’t quite what they have been in previous years. Doing my weekly checks last season, the United average audience outside the derbies against City and Liverpool was often somewhat on the low side. Understandable, really, given the dross that was played by Louis van Gaal’s team.

Liverpool still carry massive audiences as a legacy of their two decades of success, and United will continue to be a draw even as a similar dynastic decline sets in. I’m sure, in 20 years, articles will be written about whether Tottenham’s dominance is starting to wain and if broadcasters should start diversifying away to other rising teams.

But seriously, with all six of United’s opening slate of games selected for coverage (by Sky and BT), there is an argument to be made that broadcasters need to be a little more imaginative. Quite how Spurs v Leicester, the two title challengers last season, has escaped live broadcast on October 29 is truly baffling.

The Premier League’s decline comes at the same time as a sharp drop in NFL viewership, bringing the issue to greater relevance. However, trying to connect the two would be yet more conjecture, although US audiences for the Premier League are also down. Here’s a good read on the NFL issue. It should also be noted that this is only Sky’s ratings, we don’t know what is going on at BT Sport. BT Sport’s ratings for live football are routinely so low they fail to crack BARB’s weekly top 30 of non-terrestrial channels, so even though Sky’s ratings are down, at least they aren’t so low they can’t be tracked in this way.

In conclusion, in all likelihood a combination of factors are in play here. More commonly discussed factors such as cost and piracy, combined with poorly chosen matches, the absence of a number of big teams and the loss of the Saturday evening timeslot have combined to harm Sky’s ratings.

Has the bubble burst? It’s way too early to say, but I’ll be keeping an eye out, for sure.

It’s also been a very dry, warm September and October, so you never know, it may just be down to that, no matter how silly it sounds.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more chat about Spurs and other things.

How many people actually watch Spurs on TV? Audience analysis of the 2015/16 season

Through the course of this campaign, I have been tracking the audience figures for Spurs matches.

This was an exercise born out of curiosity: I wanted to know how many people were actually tuning in to watch Premier League matches involving Spurs.

The tables contain the full data (explanatory notes are below) for the 2015/16 Premier League season, and also for the 2014/15 campaign. Green denotes matches with an audience over 1 million, red are matches below the threshold for the precise figure to be reported.

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A few key numbers:

  • Spurs were shown 21 times on UK TV in 2015/16, compared with 18 in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches in 2015/16 was 1.13 million, up from 1.04 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on Sky Sports was 1.23 million in 2015/16, up from 1.05 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on BT Sport was 717,000 in 2015/16, down from 1.02 million in 2014/15. The figure for the home match against Chelsea in November on BT was not available.
  • The highest audience for a Spurs match in 2015/16 was 1.79 million against Arsenal (a). In 2014/15, the highest audience was 1.44 million against Manchester United (a). Not our best match, that one…

A few other thoughts:

*The audience varies greatly depending both on the opposition and the timing, as you would expect. The most watched match is normally the prime Sunday 4pm slot. Manchester United and Liverpool attract far more viewers than other teams — after 20 years of Mauricio Pochettino-inspired domination, Spurs will no doubt have a similar pull.

*The sample size is of course far too small to draw any big conclusions in terms of whether the Spurs audience has “increased” or not. But one thing I would note is that Spurs beat the 2014/15 maximum of 1.44 million on four occasions in 2015/16 — Arsenal (a), Man City (a), Man Utd (h) and Chelsea (a).

*Spurs were shown in the Sunday 4pm slot six times in 2015/16, averaging 1.57 million. In 2014/15, Spurs were shown seven times in the prime spot, averaging 1.07 million. Did the fact that Spurs were challenging for the title, rather than drifting around in Europa League contention, make a difference to neutral fans? Certainly, this average of 1.57 million is impressive and must encourage Sky to increase the number of Spurs games next campaign.

*Spurs were shown 21 times on UK television, up from 18 in 2014/15. Under the old TV deal, every extra match that was shown (above the minimum 10) earned an additional £747,176 in TV money (these facility fees account for 25 percent of the total TV pot). This campaign, Arsenal were shown more than any other team, in total 27 times. So simply for being chosen for broadcast, they earned £4.48 million more than Spurs in TV money. The Europa League hurts here, as it means Spurs can only be selected for the slots on Sunday or Monday after European matches, reducing the chances Spurs can secure additional facility fees.

*There were a couple of audiences that appeared disappointing. For BT to draw just 880,000 for a North London derby in March with title implications, and heralded as one of the biggest ever, seemed poor. Likewise attracting just 660,000 for the home match against Liverpool — Jurgen Klopp’s first in charge. The same channel’s failure to crack 590,000 for Spurs v Man City (this one was so low I don’t have the real number) was also below what may have been expected. Sky’s decision to show Spurs three times in a row on Monday night down the stretch didn’t really work for them any more than it did for Spurs. While the Battle of the Bridge was widely viewed, the matches against Stoke and West Brom did not capture the imagination. I hope Sky reconsiders such an unconventional choice should Spurs be competing for the title again in 2016/17 — it can’t have helped.

*The data doesn’t include pubs. However, this may change soon, if developments in the US are a guide.

*As those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I am a big critic of the TV rights system. I believe it short-changes UK fans of Premier League teams, and gives us a far inferior product to what is available everywhere else around the globe. The final day summed up the farce: The match at Old Trafford was abandoned, and instead of offering British viewers the chance to watch, say, Chelsea v Leicester or Newcastle v Spurs, which were being broadcast around the world, Sky Sports showed Swansea v Man City on two channels. I wrote about this issue extensively here — my feelings on the subject have not changed.

My comrade in audience figure monitoring, @Spurs_US, has shared his data for US viewers.

As you can see, the numbers are impressive and are part of a widely reported upward trend. As an unashamed Yankophile, I am delighted to see the English game making such huge strides. I will respond in kind by, erm, watching even more NFL in seasons to come.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

* I use the seven-day data published by BARB, the body which monitors audience figures. The public data only encompasses the top 30 programmes per week, from ALL channels aside from the five main terrestrial ones, which are counted individually. This means certain matches (mostly European ones) don’t rate. If anyone has access to full BARB data, please get in touch. I use the threshold audience for the week in the averages, but it may be much lower.

This data averages the audience through the length of the programme, rather than the peak. It doesn’t include pubs, but it does include legal streaming. You can find out how it is gathered here. It isn’t perfect but it is the best data that is freely available for people like me without a corporate subscription. It enables consistent comparisons.

The Weekly Max: As well as Spurs, I list the most-watched match in that week among all teams, for purposes of comparison.

Spurs do it on a mild Monday evening in Stoke

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Image: Twitter…

I have watched the highlights of Stoke v Spurs on Spurs TV twice, and on The Times once for good measure, and it is fair to say I am going to watch them a few more times before the week is out.

Monday night was pure footballing heaven for a Spurs fan. I can’t recall our attacking movement being quite so fluid, and our intent so lethal. It wasn’t just the result, but the manner of the performance. The hunt is on.

Some micro-thoughts, in no particular order:

1) What must it have felt like as a Leicester player watching that? If they didn’t know they were in a race, they will now. They will be feeling pressure on Sunday, without question.

2) Mousa Dembele was outstanding. He’s had a couple of tricky games of late, reverting to sideways and backwards movement and passing. Against Stoke, everything was forward. It makes all the difference to this team.

3) Legend has it that Nicola Cortese took an interest in Mauricio Pochettino because of his touchline demeanour. It was in full evidence at the Britannia, as a pumped-up Pochettino prowled the touchline and transmitted his hunger to the team. This guy WANTS it. Admittedly, it all got a bit Basil Fawlty after the Dele Alli miss — but that’s the price you pay for passion.

4) Harry Kane never lets a missed chance get him down, such as when he made a mess of an opportunity in the early stages after a poor first touch. Within minutes, he’d made amends. This ability to “forget” misses and treat every chance the same is invaluable. Who does it remind me of? Jermain Defoe. You wonder if Jermain’s mentality rubbed off on a young Kane.

5) Why were Stoke fans booing Danny Rose? As far as I’m aware, he’s never had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross, or nearly broken by Charlie Adam. Rose responded with a marauding fullback performance, that would thrill Roy Hodgson as much as Pochettino.

6) The narrative around Erik Lamela has finally reached tipping point — his workrate and toughness is widely acknowledged, as is knack of performing in “big” matches. He was an attacking menace last night, and Stoke had no answer to him.

7) Christian Eriksen had a blip in mid-season, but he is on top form now. His assists against Man Utd and Stoke were things of beauty — he had a picture of the play in his head, and the technical skill to execute the passes to perfection.

8) Toby Alderweireld responded to his PFA “snub” with another rock-solid performance. We’ve not seen decision-making of this calibre from a Spurs defender since Ledley King in his prime. It was summed up when Stoke attacked in the first half and Jan Vertonghen drifted slightly out of position as a cross came in, leaving Toby with a 2 on 1 situation at the back post. He wasn’t distracted by the potential overload, and instead made sure he did the simple thing — reach the ball first and get it to safety. This doesn’t win you PFA awards, but it does win you football matches.

9) Before the match, Pochettino revealed that he’d spent Sunday with Daniel Levy watching the Leicester match with a bottle of red wine. This is a club in harmony — a far cry from the House of Cards style political snakepit it has reportedly been under previous regimes. Long may it continue.

10) Sky Sports had Cesc Fabregas as its guest on Monday Night Football, and it is fair to say it didn’t work. He was eloquent, but had little of relevance to say on the title race, beyond his honest admission that he’d hate Spurs to win. Jamie Carragher, on the other hand, was outstanding. His defence of Jon Moss was passioned and backed with strong evidence. After the match he hit on the truth of this Spurs team — this isn’t a “fluke” title challenge as some thought, Spurs could be good for many years to come.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat. Note, I’ve changed the credit for the image to a more generic “Twitter”.

Are Spurs fans starting to hate Arsenal less?

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In Tuesday afternoon’s Football 365 mailbox, an anonymous Arsenal fan made an unusual confession:

“I’m one of at least twenty or so Arsenal fans I know personally who are genuinely happy for Spurs – a really good club, properly run/managed, good young players, great football and with a silent majority of good fans and some fantastic players.”

The letter continued in this vain, and as I read it, it struck a chord.

I wrote about the shifting North London rivalry before the derby in November, and it seemed this fan was expressing something I’ve been feeling for a while now. Simply put: I think I’m starting to hate Arsenal less.

I know this isn’t something we are supposed to ever admit to, but I’m genuinely curious to know if any other Spurs fans think the same way.

Of course, the reflex reaction to such a suggestion will be along the lines of “fuck no, you closet Gooner” — but read what I have to say. You don’t have to acknowledge it if you don’t want to, but be honest now, deep down, are you feeling something similar too?

Now, this sentiment is suspended around North London derbies. In the words of Namond from The Wire, all Spurs fans are ready to saddle up come with it.  But I’m talking about all those other weeks, all that time spent thinking way too much about football, all those hours spent on Twitter or Reddit or actually, what’s the expression, talking to people.

We still take joy in Arsenal losing. But there is less need for this schadenfreude with our results and performances so good. It hurts when we see Arsenal above us (OK, so they aren’t at this very moment) in the table or winning things, but just a little less now it finally appears we are going places. It should be depressing seeing Arsenal landing global megastars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but it isn’t really as we know Arsenal fans would far rather have a Harry Kane of their own.

Part of this changing sentiment is due to our changing fortunes. But there is more to it than that. For starters, there is plenty of dislike to spread around in the Premier League as it stands today,

Take Manchester City, once a fellow traveller with an even stronger nihilistic streak than we ever had, now transformed into a vacuous global mega brand toadying to the whims of an Abu Dhabi sheikh with nothing better to occupy his money or time. Then there is Manchester United, flinging money about in grotesque fashion without an original thought in whoever is supposed to be running the club’s head.

Worse, though, are Chelsea and West Ham. Chelsea have long been odious — that dirty Russian money, Jose Mourinho setting the tone of the club either in body or in spirit, everything about John Terry. But West Ham, whose Olympic Stadium deal with the British taxpayer is the type of hardcore shafting normally reserved for Sullivan and Gold’s publishing days, are coming up hard on the rails.

The rivalries with Chelsea and West Ham have always been asymmetric — they’ve hated us more than we hate them, if only because we need to save something special for Arsenal. But now, I wonder if this is starting to change just a little.

At this point you may try to argue that part of the dynamic is that Arsenal fans lack passion — this is certainly a charge that gets leveled at them. I disagree with this assessment of Goonerism: they may lack songs, but there is still plenty of passion.

It is just that the passion is expressed in often hilarious ways. Arsenal Fan TV is unparalleled, despite the efforts of others to piggyback off it. Things like this happen when Arsenal fans appear on radio phone-in shows, repeatedly. This guy exists. Even Arsene Wenger has taken to mocking the fans over their obsession with online polls.

Can you imagine what it must be like supporting Arsenal with Piers Moron’s attention-seeking tweets reverberating around your timeline every match? You can mock Goonerism, but it is hard to hate it because it is just too funny. And it is far less offensive than what passes for banter elsewhere.

Much of the Arsenal outpourings are centered on Wenger, and as Spurs fans we can at least understand where these feelings are coming from. Where Arsenal have Wenger, we have Daniel Levy. There is something similar about these two men — such obsessives, and so blinkered, dominating their respective clubs for so long. We understand that internal conflict that Wenger creates — the frustration that he may be holding the club back, the fear of what may have happened without him. It’s a sort of footballing Stockholm Syndrome we know all too well as Spurs fans.

There are similarities between how the clubs are going about their business beyond these two individuals. Like Arsenal, Spurs are having to self-fund a vast stadium project — no taxpayer freebies for us, or vanity investment from our resident oligarch. We are both doing things the hard way off the pitch, and the right way on it with two of the most prolific academies (even if Arsenal have struggled to generate first-team calibre talent in recent years) and a commitment to attacking football. Compared to what is happening elsewhere, again it is hard to hate.

We need to start finishing above Arsenal, mind. On Tuesday night, while I understand the reflexive sentiment, there was something a little embarrassing about all those league tables being tweeted about showing Spurs ahead on goal difference. Like the Gooners can’t respond with any final table from the past 20 years and win that argument.

I’m not counting any chickens this season, especially with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin returning soon. St Totteringham’s Day may well come again, but it won’t grate as much as it used to.

For me, the nadir will always be that moment Arsenal’s soon-to-be “Invincibles” celebrated winning the title at White Hart Lane in 2004. There will be never be a more sickening moment than that, and Arsenal fans will always have it over us. The only thing that will change it is Harry Kane and Co doing the same at The Emirates.

But memories fade. Thierry Henry is now an embarrassingly bad pundit on Sky Sports, Patrick Viera has taken Abu Dhabi City’s oil money, Sol Campbell is still Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole is still Ashley Cole. Twelve years on and Arsenal haven’t won a title since.

Arsenal and Spurs — we’re cats and dogs. We’ll always be mortal enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are constantly at each other’s throats, or that our interests don’t occasionally overlap.

The way things stand, I’m hating Arsenal less at the moment. Just a little, but nonetheless it is noticeable. There’s nothing to say it won’t come roaring back.

I know this is dangerous territory, even giving voice to it, but it’s something I’ve been feeling lately and this is my blog. Be honest now, isn’t there a little part of you that feels the same way?

Thanks for reading, I welcome any thoughts either below the comment line or through Twitter.

A psychological study of Spurs fans ahead of transfer deadline day

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Via Google Images

In the field of psychology there is a phenomenon called “attitude polarization”, in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as different parties consider new evidence on the issue in question.

What happens is that, when new evidence is introduced, it is interpreted in such a way as to reinforce existing biases towards the issue. So instead of narrowing a disagreement, or at least moving the disagreement along, as one may expect new evidence to do, it instead just jacks up the level of disagreement yet further.

If any shrinks out there are looking for a new case study, they may want to look at Spurs fans whenever the issue of signing a striker comes up.

In one corner is the school of thought that Spurs desperately need to sign a striker this January. Failing to do so leaves us exposed if Harry Kane gets injured, and could fatally undermine our chances of a top four place, or even a title run.*

Here is one tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this side of the argument:

In the other corner, is the school of thought that Spurs already have excellent cover for Kane in the form of Son Heung-min, and buying a striker for the sake of it could harm the balance of the squad and waste money that could be used better in another way.

Here is another tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this:

(Harry is my source of Arsenal Fan TV cuts, Caley needs no recommendation from such a minor blog as this one).

I don’t think, short of a serious injury to Kane in the FA Cup or in training, that any new evidence could emerge between now and the end of January that is significant enough to change minds. A man-of-the-match performance by Son against Leicester in the FA Cup, for example, or the inability to break down Leicester in the Premier League clash, were both not enough.

More likely, the small pieces of news that emerge from the camp, plus the drip-drip of gossip and speculation spewed out by the assorted footballing media, will simply serve to reinforce existing views further as February 1 draws near.

This same dynamic was in place in September, and the club hierarchy was so taken aback by the outpouring of frustration that Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino needed to issue a statement to try and explain their views.

A lot has gone right for Spurs since then, and Pochettino in particular has won the admiration and trust of the fanbase. But this success has only served to heighten the demand, from some, to bring in another striker, given the opportunities this weird season is presenting.

Even as the views of us fans have evolved, albeit only further in one particular direction or the other, it is worth remembering that Pochettino’s view hasn’t changed at all. Every time the question is asked, and it is asked a lot, he says that he believes Spurs have sufficient options up front, he won’t buy a striker just for the sake of it, but if the right player was available he would like to add to the squad.

We don’t know Levy’s views — but the fact, as of the publishing date of this article, that the sum total of the club’s incoming business this window has been an 18-year-old midfielder from Ebbsfleet Town, makes his stance pretty clear.

My two cents is that Spurs need to sign another striker. But it’s not because Son isn’t able to cover for Kane, it is that when he plays up top he is too similar. We need a “different” option, especially off the bench. There have been a number of tight games — against Everton at home, West Brom away, Leicester at home for example — where a striker who likes to play in behind a defence, rather than from side-to-side, may have made the difference.

At the right price, I’m all for bringing in someone like Saido Berahino, although this appears increasingly unlikely. A loan, if the right player was available, would make a lot of sense if Spurs don’t want to take the risk of a big outlay on someone they are not completely convinced by. Moussa Dembele from Fulham sounds an interesting prospect, although he would appear very much at the development stage.

But that is just my opinion. Nothing will change my view at this point, just as nothing I say will change your view. It’s going to be a long seven days.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and I greatly appreciate your help sharing this article.

* Quick update: To make clear, a lot more fans think Spurs should sign another striker than stick with current options.