Firstly, thanks for everything. There’s no way you won’t be a huge loss to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. As a fan, I would have much preferred you to go to Real Madrid, the true cream of European football where you deserve to play and win the big trophies, perhaps alongside an England starlet in Jude Bellingham. But I suppose Bayern Munich is still a better destination than any Premier League rival.
I am no longer a die-hard Tottenham fan. Mediocre to poor performances and Daniel Levy’s control of the club does not consume me or dictate my mood, as it might have at other periods of my life. Your epic transfer saga this summer has not been a major stressor. Still, though, I am a fan with an inescapable long term emotional investment.
In recent days I couldn’t help being sucked into the transfer saga, constantly searching on Twitter for the latest, and wondering what must be going on inside your head. There were weeks of protracted negotiations, bids, financial discussions. You stayed with the squad during the pre-season tour, played matches, appeared relaxed and unworried. If your departure was 100% certain, surely you wouldn’t have been quite as involved? You scored four goals in a home friendly last weekend, the weekend before the Premier League kick-off, which was the unofficial transfer deadline.
Then, finally this week, a fee was finally agreed between Tottenham and Bayern Munich. That’s it then. No, wait, hang on: sudden strong rumours that you might decide to stay. Could the club really afford that? After all this effort? All that lost value if you stayed to fulfil the final year of your contract before leaving for free. That would be like an insult which Mr Financial Prudence Levy wouldn’t entertain for a second, surely.
Were you pressured? It’s not hard to imagine: “If you really have the best interests of the club at heart, Harry. Now’s not the time for cold feet.” Still, no formal announcements. The next day you were heading to Munich for a medical so, presumably, it was finally happening.
I watched your career unfold on screens and through camera viewfinders. Never, sadly, from the stands as a supporter. There was a series of otherwise unconnected games when I photographed you during the 2010s, at Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County, Aston Villa, Wembley, the old White Hart Lane, and the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. And one England match at Wembley, probably the most forgettable of England’s Euro 2020 matches, played in 2021.
That first time at Villa Park in 2014 felt like a coming-of-age moment. There sitting on the turf, pulling up his socks was a demotivated main striker in Emmanuel Adebayor, struggling for form. You came on from the substitute’s bench in the final quarter of the game and scored a wildly deflected goal from a free-kick in the last minute to give us an unlikely and arguably undeserved victory. It was your seventh goal in seventh games.
The 2017 match at White Hart Lane was personally memorable for me. It was the only game I photographed there, a stadium I had visited countless times as a fan. It came at a time when we had built impressive home form, and we cruised to a win over AFC Bournemouth. There were just two more home games before the old stadium was fully demolished.
[View the Composed piece: Final Whistle At White Hart Lane]
The 2018 match at Wembley epitomised the agonising ‘Spursy’ struggle for silverware, an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. So near and yet so far, once again.
[View the Composed piece: Wembley woe for Tottenham]
My only trip to the new stadium in October 2019 came during the final days of the Pochettino reign. Strangely enough, the visitors were your new side, Bayern Munich. You scored a second half penalty in the group stage Champions League match but we were ripped apart, losing 2-7 to the eventual tournament winners. They’ll be hoping to repeat the achievement this coming season, with you in their number.
You flirted strongly with leaving Tottenham before. Manchester City was the strongly indicated destination, and maybe you wanted to go. But Mr Levy said no, the transfer expectations were not met. All the same, you retained your professionalism and won the fans back.
You gave Tottenham Hotspur so much over the course of 19 years with the club, starting as a schoolboy. A record-breaking number goals, in fact. A perfectly directed header against Arsenal tops many highlights reels. I remember watching that one from the press room at Swansea City before a match. Like many fans, I headed that ball too, was unable to stay fully seated, unable to resist an air punch. I remember, also at Swansea City on the pitch, a comedic own goal you scored. Defending a corner kick at the near post, you magnificently sliced the ball into your own net during a 2-2 draw.
Your achievements and incredible goals will rightly be highlighted as you leave. But it’s worth remembering tougher moments that you had to get through as well, as all players who stay at your level for so long must do. In mental health work with Prince William, the President-Delegate of the Football Association, you have spoken about not feeling too up or too down after games, of maintaining that steady middle ground of professionalism. I sometimes wonder if results matter significantly more to fans than players, when players reach a certain level and consistency, and if they are settled and comfortable in other domestic areas of their lives. There has to be some pragmatic acceptance of occasional defeat, whatever side you are playing for. Successful footballers at your level play every single day, and they play countless games. Part of being a professional athlete is accepting that you will sometimes lose, and you have to stay focused on your own performance. Sometimes everyone has a crap day.
A young generation of Tottenham fans will never have known the club without you. To them, you are as emblematic of the club as the cockerel. You are their idol and their hero and there will be tears in bedrooms, torn down posters. You are their Lineker, Klinsmann, Sheringham, Berbatov, Defoe, Bale, and so much more. You are the England captain as well, so there is not a complete divorce. In your goodbye video message, you said it wasn’t goodbye, because you never know. You dangled the hope of a reunion and we remembered the returns of Klinsmann, Sheringham, and Bale.
Still, this is going to hurt, especially if Tottenham struggle in these opening weeks of the season. It hurts already, even though we knew it was coming, even though I am a middle-aged man. It’s a strange grief that feels faintly embarrassing and sort of childish in the wider context of global events. But it is the mourning of a period of time that seemed endless, and has now ended. We have to remember the good times, all the amazing goals. We have to take a deep breath and move on. It just makes us feel that bit more wearied, weathered, silverware-starved, and generally old once again.
Now, Harry, you are newly thirty and still without meaningful trophies and medals. It is beyond time to add some, and nobody would begrudge a player of your level. A footballer’s career is short. If you don’t win the Champions League this season, I suspect many Tottenham fans will be disappointed. Viewed from England, that’s the only one that really matters. So, no pressure.
Best of luck over there, H. Thanks again.
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