Is finishing above Spurs like winning a competition? Is it better?
These are the questions I asked myself last Sunday as, along with the rest of the North Bank, I jumped around in total delirium as events unfolded.
As our 2015/16 season drew to a close in such unforeseen fashion, I don’t mind confessing that I probably celebrated the final day this year as much as the 30th May 2015. In fact, I probably celebrated it more, and judging by the unbridled ecstasy of those around me I don’t reckon I was alone.
Of course, it’s not very acceptable to admit that though.
The media tell us it’s not ok, and fans of other clubs jump straight onto the same bandwagon.
By celebrating our rise at the expense of our rivals, we are deemed to set our sights too low.
And of course, finishing above Spurs is not a substitute for winning the league, but that’s not to say it’s a target we shouldn’t celebrate. The two are not mutually exclusive, since by winning a title we automatically have to finish ahead of the chicken chums. You can’t have one without the other.
However, that does not mean we should not and cannot celebrate beating our nearest and dearest.
For me, there’s a simple reason why we all experience such a high in achieving something we’ve more or less taken for granted recently as a result of experience: expectations.
If you think back to the FA Cup Final win in 2014, it was all the better because we’d been made to believe we were going to fall at the final hurdle after the diabolical first few minutes.
Think ahead a year, and the euphoria was a little less really, despite securing a historic 12th FA Cup win, because we were never in any real danger and expected to beat Villa.
Now this year in the league, admittedly we would expect to beat Villa even more comfortably than in last year’s cup final. They’ve finished rock bottom on 17 points this year, compared to scraping to safety last year with 38 points.
They’ve scored six goals less, conceded 25 more and racked up just three wins compared to seven last season.
Basically they’re rubbish.
But if you critically throw in that Spurs – a team we’re all brainwashed to believe has the mental strength of Muhammed Ali, plays better football than Bayern Munich and has the best group in the history of mankind – had to not just drop points, but lose to relegated Newcastle, on the back of failing to win their three previous attempts at guaranteeing second place and London superiority?
It seemed a long shot even for the most optimistic Arsenal fan.
If you add in that complete humiliation then you can start to appreciate quite why Sunday’s result was celebrated with as much vim and vigour as last year’s cup by many.
We’re often accused of bottling things, but there’s something deeply satisfying and reassuring to know that however badly we screw up, Spurs will find a way to do so even more exorbitantly. As Lewis tweeted at the time:
Spurs are the only team in the world to never let me down. What a club.
— Lewis (@LGAmbrose) May 15, 2016
The less likely something is to happen, the more glorious it is when it comes to fruition, and finishing above Tottenham this year felt distinctly less likely than winning the FA Cup last year on the eve of the respective games.
I can’t help thinking that it must be a bit boring to support Bayern Munich or PSG. Barcelona and Real Madrid at least have annual competition with each other, whether or not Atletico join the party, but for the runaway winners of both the German and French leagues – yes, you get some enjoyment out of winning I’m sure, but equally it must change your level of happiness at doing so when there is literally zero competition.
For me it comes down to: why do we like trophies?
It’s not just because we get a shiny pot to parade, although that’s nice.
Nor is it because we bring in a bit of extra cash to supplement the transfer kitty, although again that’s cool.
No, it’s mostly because football is fundamentally about rivalry and winning trophies gives us bragging rights, especially when the success is achieved against all odds.
Winning trophies will always be the pinnacle because you get the pot, the money and the bragging rights. But there’s a certain unmatched satisfaction in attaining those bragging rights by proving people wrong despite that being totally improbable.
Arsenal’s rise or Tottenham’s downfall – however you want to look at the end to this season – is all the funnier for the constant stream of interviews and desperate sentiment about power shifts and negative spirals.
This year, Michael Caley religiously plotted Tottenham’s percentage chances of finishing above us in the final months and weeks of the season.
05 Mar: 59%
02 Apr: 55%
10 Apr: 76%
17 Apr: 87%
18 Apr: 95%
22 Apr: 94%
24 Apr: 97%
25 Apr: 95%
30 Apr: 94%
02 May: 94%
08 May: 87%
15 May: 0%
Happy St Totteringham’s Day!
It’s not quite 5000:1 but it’s not a million miles away.
So don’t be ashamed of celebrating our second place finish – we know, even if words are placed in our mouths, that we’re celebrating superiority over our rivals rather than satisfaction at being the first loser.
It may not be as good as winning the league, but it’s the next best thing.
And at the very least if you can’t cheer Arsenal in these circumstances, if you shamed out of celebrating St Totteringham’s Day as a surrogate for a trophy? At least make sure you enjoy laughing at Spurs.
I know I am.