The history of ‘Spursy,’ and how Ange’s Tottenham can shed the unwanted tag

Most managers are tasked with staying faithful to a club’s long-standing characteristics, but Ange Postecoglou is the latest Tottenham Hotspur boss charged with the responsibility of making the Premier League club less “Spursy.”

It is a curious term, unique to one half of North London — a byword for some of the fallibilities that have prevented Tottenham from winning a trophy since 2008. Rival supporters, pundits and social media critics often rush to deride the club in a single word.

But what does it mean, where did it come from and how can Tottenham consign it to history?

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ESPN has spoken to a number of Tottenham fans, and the specific origin of the term remains disputed. But the consensus suggests it can be traced back to a Spurs fans’ forum known as The Fighting Cock some time in 2013.

A poster calling themselves “Carlito Brigante” was specifically referencing Spurs’ flair players, who were “a bit lightweight but with a touch of class.” The post added that they were the type of individuals who “go missing at Stoke on a cold February evening,” an example of a tricky fixture in difficult conditions that exposes a lack of fight.

An administrator for The Fighting Cock was unable to verify this when contacted by ESPN, but nevertheless, it appears to have been a self-deprecating term started by Spurs fans to express their frustration at their team’s soft underbelly. A search on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, reveals that the first posts to attract notable engagement (minimum 50 retweets) all come from Tottenham supporters.

Some wider context explains why. The idea that a Tottenham team could not stomach a fight ran for years in the Premier League era. Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane’s 2014 autobiography, “The Second Half,” referenced a prematch team talk then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson gave before facing Spurs.

“I thought I knew what the group might need, that we didn’t need a big team talk,” wrote Keane. “It was Tottenham at home. I thought, ‘Please don’t go on about Tottenham, we all know what Tottenham is about: they are nice and tidy but we’ll f—ing do them.’ He came in and said: ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’ and that was it. Brilliant.”

The precise game is not specified but Keane played for Man United between 1993 and 2005. Three years later, Harry Redknapp became Tottenham’s manager and recognised a psychological issue. Redknapp’s assistant, Clive Allen, wrote in his autobiography, “Up Front,” about it: “We definitely got a sense that this perception of us being fragile existed far beyond United. Harry used to say to us: ‘When we go, we really go.’ You might go 1-0 down and before you know it, it was 3-0 or even worse … As a coaching staff we did everything to try and tackle it. You look at the mentality of players and whether they began to disappear in matches.”

Allen added: “We had great players but some with a little kink in them, a soft underbelly. We tried to eliminate it in part by moving some players on — 16 players left at the end of that first season under Harry with only seven coming in. There was a concerted effort to streamline the squad and get rid of the characters at the heart of whatever ‘Spursy’ really was.”

It worked to a significant extent. During Redknapp’s four years in charge between 2008 and 2012, Spurs shattered what had become a glass ceiling for them by climbing into the top four and securing a place in the modern-day Champions League for the first time. A valorous European campaign followed with Gareth Bale emerging as one of his generation’s brightest talents to spearhead a run to the quarterfinals, which was emphatically ended by Real Madrid with a 5-0 aggregate win.

Hardly anyone expected anything different against Real Madrid, but supporters had a taste of the big time, which needed sating even after Redknapp was sacked to the surprise of many in the game. Under his successor, André Villas-Boas, Spurs missed out on the top four by a point to bitter rivals Arsenal. Bale left in the summer of 2013, sparking a spending spree, which may well have triggered the “Spursy” tag.

Bale left for Real Madrid on the final day of the summer window but only after Tottenham used the then world-record £85.3 million fee to sign seven replacements: Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Étienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela. Only Eriksen and, perhaps, Lamela went on to emerge with any credit from their time at Spurs. The rest were widely derided as disappointingly inconsistent. Some might say “lightweight with a touch of class.”

The term “Spursy” was first submitted to Urban Dictionary in May 2014, and analysis of Google Trends data shows that the word emerged as a common search term at around the same time. It has since evolved, however. The more modern meaning is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or to fall short with the prize in sight. This is because, over time, the club’s lack of silverware has come to influence the meaning of “Spursy.”

That original 2014 entry reads: “To consistently and inevitably fail to live up to expectations. To bottle it.” Another made in October 2019 reads: “To capitulate for no apparent reason like Tottenham Hotspur FC in the modern day Premier League seasons between 2015 and 2019. The team was flying high and looked to achieve some notable feat but then before they cross the finish line they start losing for no apparent reason.”

Mauricio Pochettino was in charge for that entire period and established Spurs as top-four regulars, challenging for the Premier League title and reaching the 2019 Champions League final. Yet for all the progress and often glorious football, Spurs did not have a single trophy to show for it.

And that inability to get over the line led chairman Daniel Levy to appoint proven winners Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, believing a steely, ruthless edge was the missing piece. Both managers failed, the latter triggering his sacking by launching into a staggering tirade after throwing away a 3-1 lead in the final 16 minutes to draw at bottom-of-the-table Southampton in March.

While not using the specific word “Spursy,” Conte voiced his anger along a similar theme.

“The players don’t want to play under pressure, they don’t want to play under stress,” said Conte, days before he was sacked. “It is easy in this way. Tottenham’s story is this. Twenty years there is the owner and they never won something but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stay here.”



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Examples of a “Spursy” capitulation are numerous. On the final day of the 2005-06 season, Tottenham needed to match Arsenal’s result at Wigan to secure a top-four finish. But 10 players were struck down by food poisoning on the morning of the game against West Ham. They lost 2-1.

Allen noted a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford in April 2009 only to lose 5-2 as United scored five times in 22 second-half minutes.

Redknapp and Pochettino both appeared to be making headway, but the 2008 League Cup remains the club’s last trophy success. Four years later, the same thing happened in a north London derby as Spurs led 2-0 before Arsenal won 5-2 in February 2012.

The closest Spurs came to winning the Premier League under Pochettino was in 2015-16, but they faltered in the run-in, drawing at home to West Brom before blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at Chelsea in what became known as the “Battle of the Bridge.”

More recently, Spurs were 3-0 up at home to West Ham in October 2020 with 82 minutes played. They conceded three times to draw 3-3.

Postecoglou made a fast start to life as Tottenham boss, winning eight of his first 10 Premier League games. Yet, November’s slump led to “Spursy” accusations resurfacing, given that they conceded twice in stoppage-time to lose 2-1 at Wolves before blowing leads against Aston Villa and West Ham. He was even asked about it during a news conference earlier this month.

“[The ‘Spursy’ tag] is schoolyard stuff,” Postecoglou said in response. “All I need to know is that this club hasn’t won anything for 15 years. That’s the reality. Whatever tags other people want to put on it, that can’t be your motivation. If you want to bring success, you’ve got to have a clear idea of how you’re going to go about it and stick to the process.”

How then do Tottenham finally shed this tag once and for all? There have been several false dawns.

Pochettino undeniably redefined Spurs during his tenure and they have, in truth, struggled for a clear identity since. Postecoglou has offered genuine promise of further progress, so much so that a last-gasp win against Sheffield United and a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Arsenal led midfielder James Maddison to state in September: “When you hear fans and neutrals talk about Tottenham, they often say, ‘Soft, weak, bottle it, Spursy — all that rubbish.’ I think the last couple of weeks shows we might be going in a slightly different direction because we scored in the 98th and 101st minute against Sheffield United to win late on when it looked like it was going to be one of those days.”

Maddison has only been at the club a few months following his summer arrival from Leicester City and may not know how ingrained the tag is — every club has ups and downs, throws away leads or endures disappointment. But there is a weight of history, an expectation of a certain type of failure, that is reinforced every time Spurs fail to win in that manner. A few good results alone cannot break it.

“Spursy” isn’t a term many matchday-going fans use. You rarely hear any chanting about it — the use is almost entirely confined to social media. Arsenal supporters tend to celebrate “St. Totteringham’s Day,” the point at which the Gunners are mathematically guaranteed to finish above Spurs in the Premier League table, with much more relish.

Pochettino put those celebrations on hold during a large part of his tenure, but Mikel Arteta has reestablished Arsenal’s supremacy in recent times, again promoting the idea of some sort of inherent failing in Spurs — especially given that the Gunners have overcome accusations of their own fragility to become a much more robust proposition, challenging Manchester City for the title.

The bottom line is that Postecoglou can only banish the “Spursy” tag for good by winning a major trophy. Fifteen years is too long for a club like Tottenham to wait for the validation that silverware brings. Asked whether the “Spursy” tag was weighing the players down, Postecoglou said: “It shouldn’t weigh the new ones down because they have no history.

“Whether it weighs the ones that have been here, that’s something that is hard for me to gauge. But it’s not something I reflect on or talk about from a historical perspective.

“If you want to change perceptions, there is only one way to do it. People are not going to change what they think about you because you want them to. You’ve got to give them a reason to.

“I’m here because the club wanted to change its course. I said from day one, change means change. If it means changing mindset because people are carrying scars from the past, let’s get rid of them.”

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