(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
The day before he died was Palm Sunday. Mr. and Mrs. Howard, their two children and their cousin Charles Johnson strolled to the second Presbyterian Church to attend the 10:00 service. Bob remained at the cottage and slyly migrated from room to room. He walked into the Master bedroom and inventoried the clothes on the hangers and hooks. He sipped from the water glass on the vanity. He smelled the talcum and lilacs on Jesse's pillowcase. His fingers skittered over his ribs to construe the scars where Jesse was twice shot. He manufactured a middle finger that was missing the top two knuckles. He imagined himself at 34. He imagined himself in a coffin. He considered possibilities and everything wonderful that could come true.
It's the same story every season, in every league, in every sport. From the world beaters to the minnows, every team, every player, sets out at the beginning of the season seeking a title. The determination and tenacity does not, and never does reconcile with the concept of pragmatism and realism. No matter the odds, you begin the season wanting the trophy, and to start the season otherwise is an admittance that your season is already over, and for a player, that the game has passed you by. 20 teams will play this week in the Barclays Premier League. When the whistle blows they'll all be in first place. Without a doubt, they'll seek to remain there, whether they be Manchester United or Reading F.C.
Competitive sport is the ultimate exercise in tabula rasa. Despite the history, despite everything that has ever happened, once a year everything is reset. When the weekend is over there will not be a title holder. Permanence does not exist except in the fond memories of fans and spectators. Leeds' achievements mean nothing, they're in the Championship. Manchester City's league title last year means nothing, they're awarded no bonus points. No starting lineup in the league will look like it did at season kick off last year. Victory is an illusion, and seasons across time are not similar to any other. All that exists now is what happens on twenty fields in England over the next nine months. After that the fields, the players, the coaches, the fans, everything will be different. Nothing stays the same.
Tottenham Hotspur play by the same rules. Harry Redknapp will no longer be stalking the sidelines. Luka Modric shall no longer be the centerpiece of the team. Ledley King, the biggest illusion of continuity and similarity, is no longer a professional footballer. Tottenham Hotspur in 2012 are not the same as Tottenham Hotspur in 2011. Everything is different, and everything will continue to change through to 2014, 2015, and beyond. We still play at White Hart Lane, but the time is ticking to the day when that is no longer true. Daniel Levy is chairman, but no man lives forever. Joe Lewis owns the team, but that will likely be a page in history soon enough. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we root for the same team each and every season, the fact is we root for a new team every single year.
Each season also has its heroes and villains. Manchester United has been a common villain for two decades now. Manchester City, with all their oil money and instant gratification, are viewed with a tinge of jealousy and the idea that they have corrupted the system. Chelsea F.C. are largely detestable due to their shady Russian owner, and the fact that they were Manchester City before City ever dreamed of having the ability to pay and sign whoever they wanted. In contrast, Newcastle United became a hero in a classic redemption story, coming back from relegation to be relevant once again. Swansea were a hero for showing that with the right attitude, even promoted clubs can become a respected and dangerous league foe. Yet, the heroes and villains never stay the same either.
Arsenal used to be a villain. Removed from the local rivalry of North London I avoid the bit of permanence that Arsenal has as a villain. As a result, all I see of Arsenal is a team that used to be a villain. A team that used to champion the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, and the assorted youngsters that should have, but never did grow into world beaters is gone.
Liverpool were for a long time the mightiest club in England, and it took Manchester United to have a title streak the likes of which has never been seen for the Reds' throne to even be threatened. But the boys from the Merseyside are no longer the storied footballers and titans of old. Liverpool are simply another contender for a European spot, a tough opponent but one that does not inspire fear. The heroes and villains change. Their status changes from season to season. Manchester City became like Chelsea. Manchester United became Liverpool. Sometimes the villains and heroes look like some of them heroes and villains of old. And sometimes they simply become what the others once were.
Like these teams, Tottenham is on the cusp of a decision. With the possibility of rich foreign investment, a flurry of signings, and a positioning that will place the team among the few clubs able to operate with full capabilities when FFP and EPP come into effect, Tottenham are at a crossroad. We need to decide our identity going into this new era of football. We've striven to have our own identity and attempt to compete, but it has not resulted in a title winning season in half a century. With the idea of rich, foreign investors coming in and changing the capabilities of the team, our identity will already be decided by our opponents: an oil club, or something of the sort.
The question then becomes, do we want to be Manchester City, or Chelsea? Do we want to sign so many players that we have international players in the reserves? Rotating coaches at the slightest hint of weakness? Or do we want to be like them. Buoyed by the ability to fail without financial repercussion, but carving our own identity, as a team that simply signs what he needs, regardless of what we pay that player per week. A team that doesn't sign surplus Brazilian internationals, Bosnian internationals, simply to rot on our bench half of the time?
We're a Tottenham Hotspur unlike any other before this season. Nothing is permanent, the heroes, the villains, and the players all change. A Tottenham team like this has never been seen last year or any year before. Who are we going to be next year, and beyond?
Chelsea and Manchester City: Can't figure it out: do you want to be like me or do you want to be me?
Tottenham Hotspur: I'm just making fun is all.