My dad was always more of a football fan than me; it came naturally to him – it was in his blood. He grew up playing on the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout his teens and twenties he and his brother Cacho would go to la Bombonera to watch Boca Juniors in every home game.
When he met my mum and moved to London he married into a family of Spurs fans. He kept alive his links to Argentine football by helping Spurs new-boys Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa settle in London (a story I will save for another day). Even after his marriage to my mum ended and he moved back to Buenos Aires, he would drag us on tours of La Bombonera every time we visited him. Often when I called him from London on a Sunday evening, he’d be listening to a Boca match on the radio.
Football didn’t come as naturally for me. I loved playing in the school playground and on a Saturday morning with school, but as a kid I never went to matches and I wasn’t bothered about club football; I never had that romantic scene of father and son cheering together on the terraces – I was too shy and too middle-class; I was happier tucked up in bed with a stack of comics. It was only when I started university life in Leeds in the mid 90s that I started following Spurs on a weekly basis. I began to realise that football was a way to make new friends and pad out flagging smalltalk – the cliché of football as a universal language is true.
And then over time, week after week, Spurs got under my skin. Managers came and went, we flirted with relegation and consistently underachieved. Bad results would ruin my weekends; last minute winners would have me swearing at the telly. And every so often we’d sign a Ginola or a Berbatov or a Bale and we’d behold… magic. (I should also point out that in 2003 I applied to be Spurs manager. I still have the rejection letter).
My dad was back in Buenos Aires and I was in London. For much of the last 20 years, before Facebook and Skype erased the distance, our relationship was restricted to a letter every few months, but football remained a small, tentative island of common ground. Over the years we rebuilt our relationship, and football was part of that. I remember talking excitedly to him when Spurs appointed Pochettino as manager; there was something so right about my club bringing in an Argentine, as though the stars were working for me and my dad. And Poch was great: warm, handsome, suave, clever and a brilliant manager. He made Spurs unSpursy. At least for a while.
And then in December 2015 my dad died. It was a sudden, violent death, and in that moment of trauma, everything in my life was smashed together. And in the weeks and months that followed, his death became fused with the fortunes of Spurs and Pochettino. It wasn’t quite as simple as me transferring my affections from one Argentine man to another, but it was hard not to cling onto Poch as I flailed around.
It was good timing: in the season after my dad died, Spurs threatened to win the title for the first time in 50-odd years (well, we never really looked like winning, but it was exciting to be leading the chasing pack) and when we finally blew it in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea I felt unexpectedly emotional. I hadn’t realised how much I wanted them to win it for my dad. But next season Spurs didn’t collapse. We just got better and better, and to my pleasure we added more Argentines to the squad. Here was the team that my dad and I supported (and my mum, bless her, who embodies the natural pessimism of the lifelong Spurs fan), full of Argentine players, playing magnificent football and tearing up the league. We didn’t actually win anything, but we were qualifying for the Champions League year after year and playing thrilling attacking football. We made it all the way to the Champions League final, but it wasn’t to be.
And then two days ago Pochettino was sacked. The team hadn’t played well for nearly a year, and Poch had looked irritable and distracted for some time but I was still gutted. It was the end of an era that felt like it had only just begun. And that’s a lesson life teaches you, I suppose: that the story doesn’t always work out the way it should. That you don’t always get the ending you deserve. My dad didn’t.
Spurs already have a new manager, and all eyes are on the next game. But right now, this feels less about football and more about a certain sadness. Another connection with the past is gone, and all those memories feel a little more distant.