Salut! Sunderland seeks out all manner of people for the ‘Who are You?’ series. It’s great to attract household names but some of the best interviews have been with ordinary fans, home-and-away regulars or armchair supporters. Richard Littlejohn* fits into the first category, familiar to most people from his TV series and strident Daily Mail columns. Monsieur Salut knew him when he was just one of the mob of hacks covering industrial relations. He’s a good lad, whatever you think of his views, he’s a real football supporter and he came third in our HAWAY awards. Here is the interview we ran before the 1-0 home defeat to Spurs in September …
Richard wins a mug. He may not need one, but that’s what he’s getting. See the full HAWAY Awards announcement at https://safc.blog/2016/06/haway-awards-1-west-bromwich-albion-2-norwich-city-3-tottenhams-littlejohn/
Salut! Sunderland’s ‘Who are You?’ series, in which we interview supporters of SAFC opponents, has had some notable catches, including actors, writers, broadcasters, footballers and managers as well as a great procession of ‘ordinary’ fans, often extraordinary people who follow their teams with passion and commitment. As a broad church, we’ve had senior clerics, too.
But we return to journalism for the first of this season’s Tottenham Hotspur editions of ‘Who are You?’ and hear from the tub-thumping columnist and broadcaster Richard Littlejohn*, who rebelled against his family’s West Ham-supporting tradition when the double-winning Spurs side of 1961 captivated him as a boy of seven. Littlejohn, scourge of the politically correct and anyone who says ‘hey Little John, so where’s Robin Hood, then?’, will be relieved to hear the interview has been approved by ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ …
Salut! Sunderland: Things could easily change (we said, posing the question just ahead of the last games). You could wallop Everton – they didn’t – and we might snatch something at Villa – we did – but you’ve made a dreary start and Sunderland a calamitous one. Easy explanation of either?
Richard Littlejohn: Spurs have looked pretty, but fragile this season. Like Wayne Bobbitt, they lack penetration. And this is the worst start since Daniel Levy shot Wendy Ramos and brought in Harry Redknapp. I wouldn’t bet against Defoe scoring a late winner.
Daniel Levy, not greatly liked beyond White Hart Lane but clearly a canny businessman, and Mauricio Pochettino, highly regarded by many but still to achieve much as a manager. Dream team or underwhelming duo?
I’ve never been convinced by Daniel’s legendary business acumen. Look at the squandering of the Bale legacy; the last-minute cave-in over Berbatov to Man Utd, without a suitable replacement; the long delay over the new stadium; and the recent Berahino fiasco. I can’t remember the last time the heart leapt over the surprise signing of a top-drawer player. Van der Vaart, probably. Spurs have traditionally pulled big names out the hat, from Greavesie to Gazza, Ginola, Klinsman, Lineker and Waddle, to name but a few. Not any more.
As for MoPo, the jury’s still out. Like most of our previous managers, he hasn’t been given the players we are told he wanted. Last season, he got lucky with Harry Kane, who didn’t appear to be in his plans until Soldado failed time and again and Adebayor did his predictable vanishing act.
Our best manager since Keith Burkinshaw was Harry Redknapp, who understood exactly what Spurs are for.
As Danny Blanchflower said: the game is about glory.
At the start of past seasons, Spurs have wondered whether this might be the time for a big breakthrough, but you always seem to stumble. Can the glory days be reclaimed – say with the boost of a big new stadium – or are you destined to be a nearly team for the foreseeable future, restricted to occasional cup finals?
Most of us long-suffering season ticket holders would settle for a cup every other year. There was a time when Wembley was our second home. Who knows whether the cost of the stadium will be a hindrance in the transfer market, as it was with Arsenal.
Where do Arsenal fit into your view of the present pecking order in Premier football and would you say North London tribalism is less toxic than its North-eastern equivalent?
Arsenal are demonstrably a better side than Spurs and should finish top four again, especially with Cech in goal. Wenger’s being monstered for “only” winning two FA Cups on the trot and qualifying for the Champions League every year. Spurs fans would kill for that. I’ve never experienced a North East derby first-hand, but the North London derby is far more toxic than it was in the past, poisoned by Sol Campbell crossing the Seven Sisters Road.
And with what emotions do you approach the end of the Lane as it is, obviously too small these days but not a bad ground to attend?
The Lane is cramped and squalid by modern standards, but it’s the only place to be on a European night (even if it’s only the also-rans’ Wafer Cup, or whatever it calls itself this week.)
How does the present squad compare with Bill Nicholson’s Double team, even if your memories are handed-down (I was surprised to note quote a few forgotten names along with Mackay, Cliff Jones, John White and Danny Blanchflower)?
It doesn’t. Proper Spurs fans can chant the Double Side roll call like a nursery rhyme. Only Lloris would get into the 1961 team. And don’t forget that at the end of that season, Bill Nick went out and brought Greavsie home from Italy.
Same question re later times with Hoddle and then Lineker, Waddle and Gazza?
Those players you mention would have walked into most sides in any era. I’m not looking through rose-tinted glasses, though, and generally, no matter how good the stars were, Spurs have always had a soft underbelly. What I’d give to see Miller, Roberts and Stevie Perryman on the park today. They took no prisoners.
If not already covered, who are the finest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d been around to see – in Spurs colours?
Cliff Jones, Mackay, Mullery, Gilzean, Perryman, those I’ve mentioned above (see Greavsie to Gazza etc), Ardiles, Hoddle and, of course, Bale. I’ve also got a soft spot for Tony Galvin. Older supporters cite John White and Ronnie Burgess.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
How long have you got? Do the names Jason Dozell, Timothee Atouba and Paulo Tramazzani mean anything to you? Nope thought not.
Your own highs and lows following Spurs?
Standing behind the goal when Ricky Villa scored in the 81 Cup Final replay. Watching my mate Paul Miller score a glorious header in Belgium against Anderlecht in 84 and the atmosphere at the Lane for the second leg, when we actually won the Wafer Cup. I can remember dancing in the car park with Graham Roberts after the game.
What thoughts do you have of Sunderland – the club, the manager, the city, supporters and region?
The last time I was at Sunderland was for Bruce Springsteen. It p***ed down for about 48 hours. I’ve always admired the passion of Sunderland fans and the old Roker roar, although I’ve never understood why a team which plays in red and white stripes is called the Black Cats. And which real football-lover can ever forget the Bob Stokoe side? Advocaat is a fine manager but he may have been wiser to call it a day at the end of last season.
Is there a single player in Advocaat’s squad who might do a job for Spurs?
Can we have Defoe back?
Give us this season’s top four, bottom three and – if not mentioned – finishing positions for our clubs.
Manchester City, Manchester City and Manchester City. After them, Chelsea can’t be as bad as they’ve looked so far and the Arsenal will be there or thereabouts.
Bottom three? Watford, Bournemouth and, I hate to say it, Sunderland if you’re not careful. Early days, though. Things will sort themselves out after the international break, now that the bloody stupid transfer window’s shut.
How active a supporter have you been, from younger days to the present?
My whole family were West Ham fans, but I was seven in 1961 and that was me hooked on Spurs. I first went to the Lane in 68 and I’ve had season tickets since the early 80s. For the past 20-odd years I’ve had two seats on the halfway line in the West Upper, which is probably the grumpiest stand in football. I’ve followed Spurs all over Europe and just booked my flights to Monaco for the Wafer Cup match on October 1. Even when Spurs are rubbish, I still go to the Lane to catch up with old mates.
Do people really say ‘where’s Robin Hood?’ when introduced? How do football supporters – fellow Tottenham ones or opposing – react when recognising you?
Not so much these days. But if I’d had a quid for every time they had I’d be able to afford to buy Gareth Bale back. I’ve had the same seats and same mates for donkey’s years. Never had any hostility at Spurs (except from Alan Sugar) and I don’t go to many away games these days. When I was doing a lot of TV, I got recognised, but even away from home, people might take the piss but they were never nasty. (Apart from Leeds, naturally, where they hate everyone.)
What single step should the FA or your club take to improve the lot of supporters?
Use the TV money to cut the price of everything from rip-off ticket prices to rip-off replica kits and rip-off pies and pints.
And do we just give up on diving and other forms of cheating and get them written up in coaching manuals? If not, what’s your remedy?
Diving, shirt-pulling, trying to get opponents sent off should be immediate red cards, followed by a six week ban. That would stop it overnight.
How will you keep tabs on SAFC vs THFC (Sunday Sept 13) and what do reckon the score will be?
On TV (from behind the settee!) I’ve given up predicting scores. At the Lane, we always say there’s only one thing worse than going one-up after five minutes, that’s going two-up five minutes later. It normally ends in tears….
* Richard Littlejohn is a Daily Mail columnist, best-selling author and former host of Six-O-Six on Radio 5.
Interview: Colin Randall