revealed: USL in Cincinnati

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WSOTP - Blog - Cincinnati USL.fw

Late last night — or early this morning, depending on how you want to look at it — some seismic news shook the Cincinnati soccer scene. As revealed by good friend Chad Hollingsworth from Scratching the Pitch, a full-fledged professional soccer would be returning to the Queen City in the form of a new USL franchise.

No, this isn’t the long rumored move of the Dayton Dutch Lions to Cincinnati. Nor is it the USL PDL’s Cincinnati Dutch Lions stepping up a level in the ladder, either. I’ve also received confirmation that there is zero involvement from the already established Cincinnati Saints of the NPSL. This is a brand, spanking new club — admittedly with some loose ties to the Dutch Lions organization.

So who is this new club, where did they come from, and how this all come to be?

Word of a new USL franchise first came across my desk back in December of 2014, and I’ve been chasing information on it ever since. Admittedly, extruding any sort of information on the topic proved extremely difficult. Wrong paths were followed. Dead ends were discovered. Red herrings were hooked. But the wet weather of the last month has finally yielded spring flowers.

Let’s start with what we already know.

As Chad disclosed, the new Cincinnati USL club will be feature an ownership group fronted by Jeff Berding. He’s spent the last 17 years working for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, currently holding the title of Director of Sales and Public Affairs.

Jeff’s ties to Cincinnati run deeper than just his role with the Bengals. He attended the same high school as myself, graduating from Cincinnati St. Xavier in 1985. Afterward, he attended Xavier University shortly thereafter. Berding also spent nearly five years as an elected official, serving as a Cincinnati City Councilman from 2005 to 20011.

As for his ties to soccer, Mr. Berding currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors of local youth soccer power, Kings-Hammer FC. For those who have followed the USL for some time, that club name may ring a very interesting bell. It’s the lovechild of a “joint-venture” between local youth side Hammer FC and former local USL Second Division franchise, the Cincinnati Kings. While that professional club may have gone belly up in 2009, the youth club has continued to thrive. Additionally, Berding’s LinkedIn profile indicated he’s also spent a spell on the sidelines as a youth coach for local parochial school St. Ursula Villa, too.

Also mentioned in the Scratching the Pitch article was another interesting soccer relationship: Berding served on the board of the Cincinnati Dutch Lions. More on that later.

While my sources confirmed the exact same information as what Chad wrote, aside from knowing that the team plans to begin play in Spring of 2016, that’s all we knew definitively about the prospects of USL coming to Cincinnati.

That wasn’t enough for me. So I, along with WSOTP Podcast partner Jeremy Lance, dug a bit deeper.

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breaking new ground

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WSOTP - Blog - Louisville City Opener.fwGoing into the 2015 season, there was a lot of buzz about a new American soccer team being forced to play in a facility that didn’t exactly suit their needs.

Soccer — after a decade of preaching that soccer specific stadiums was the way forward for the professional game here — would be returning to the baseball diamond for competitive matches once again, and there have predictably been calls for concerns on both sides of the equation.

Baseball stadiums, of course, aren’t really built with soccer in mind. They’re rarely long enough for a standard sized pitch and are just as likely to offer insufficient width at the length they can offer. And while some fans are fairly close to the action, usually down one of the baselines, others — like much of the outfield and behind home plate — are really far away from much of the action. And that’s not even dealing with the need to develop a feasible method for dealing with the infield. Playing on the dirt isn’t an option, and the pitcher’s mound has to be moved in some fashion.

All of that is just from the soccer perspective. Think of what how baseball teams feel about sharing their field.

A player’s need for a clean, perfect playing surface is nearly equal between soccer and baseball, and for the seam reasons too. Imperfections in the surface can drastically affect the direction a ground ball or pass will take. And a season of soccer does arguably chew up the turf far more than your average season of baseball would, even though there are normally three to four times the number of home baseball dates per season than there are soccer ones. And speaking of scheduling games, finding a way to fit soccer into the already packed baseball season schedule can be an arduous task, too.

Now to be fair, those issues alone are more than enough motivation for a club to go looking for a more suitable home. And luckily, the baseball stadium solution has been deemed a temporary one.

If you’re nodding along thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve heard about all of this New York City FC playing at Yankee Stadium mumbo jumbo before”… hold your horses, just a minute. I’m not talking about NYCFC.

I’m talking about Louisville City FC.

You know: the other, other City team that’s new to American soccer this year.

It’s a little confusing, so hang with me here. Louisville City FC wear purple, white and gold just like the other new City, Orlando City SC. And technically, Louisville City took over Orlando City’s franchise rights in the third division USL when Orlando City moved up to MLS this season. Further muddying the waters is the fact that there are further ties between the clubs, including Orlando City using Louisville City as their MLS-mandated minor league affiliate in USL this season. 

So now that we’ve caught you up to speed, many were not aware that the maiden voyage for Louisville City FC is taking place in a baseball stadium much like New York City FC.

But unlike NYCFC — who are playing at arguably the most famous stadium in all of baseball —  the new USL club are setting up shop at Louisville Slugger Field. For those not familiar with it, it’s the home of the Louisville Bats, the AAA minor league affiliate for the Cincinnati Reds.

I’ve had the privilege of taking in a baseball game at Louisville Slugger Field before — I lived in Louisville for two years, which is also when I founded this site — and it’s a fabulous, intimate, little stadium. The 13,000-seater stadium is a far cry from the cavernous 49,642-seat stadium the new New York team calls home in the Bronx, but still features many of the modern comforts we’ve grown accustomed too without losing its cozy feel. It’s in a great spot in Louisville, with easy access to ample food and entertainment options. And it’s easily accessible… well, it will be once the famed “Spaghetti Junction” of I-71, I-64 and I-65 is finally no longer under construction.

When it was first announced that Louisville might get a team at Slugger Field, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad home ground. So long as it was only a temporary one, that is.

But just the same, the concerns voiced about NYCFC’s use of Yankee Stadium were concerns that I shared about this arrangement, too. And just like the Yankees stars that voiced their own apprehensions about a ground-share agreement, the Bats have voiced their worries, too.

However, none of those concerns proved strong enough to deter Louisville being selected as the landing spot for Orlando’s former USL franchise, and plans proceeded forward with Slugger Field being the eventual home of the club.

So how did the opening day go, at least for the soccer club that is?

Pondcast co-host Jeremy and I made the 125-mile trip down I-71 from Cincinnati to catch the game against fellow USL debutant Saint Louis FC, and I can say with 100% confidence that it went “pretty damn well”.

First off, full credit must be given to the supporters for making opening day for soccer in Louisville the success that it was. Announced attendance stood at an impressive 6067. Although an extremely beautiful looking game with clear, sunny skies, the temperatures hovered in the low 50’s in the sun and a chilling wind blew across the length of the pitch. So it’s possible the weather kept that number from climbing higher than it already was.

The Louisville Coopers — a supporters group that predated the decision to give Louisville the USL franchise — were out in full force, numbering in the hundreds. Sat behind the third baseline goal, they chanted loudly, waved flags and bellowed dark purple smoke. They were further aided by a 80-member-strong contingent from St. Louis, a similarly founded supporters group that goes by the name of St. Louligans. Together, they injected a special buzz and energy that could be felt throughout the crowd.

For the home side at least, that crowd energy filtered down onto the pitch. Though Saint Louis FC looked sharp in the opening half, they never really troubled the home side’s goal. And thanks to a pair of goals on either side of halftime, City sealed the victory in their first ever match with emphatic, backheel-assisted, curling winner from 20-year-old Brit, Charlie Adams.

Did any of my or anyone else’s fears about the surface and small size of pitch play a role at all?

The pitch was certainly small; my guess is it was no more than 105 yards long and 70 yards wide. However, play didn’t look overly rushed or too crowded. So the impact there was minimal, but no different from other small pitches around the country. The surface obstacles, however, seemed a bigger concern.

The largest of those was the pitcher’s mound, which was modified prior to the start of the season to be lowered into the ground and covered with a smooth surface. It falls just outside the third base line penalty area, and is slightly raised when compared against the grass around it. I watched it like a hawk throughout the match, and didn’t once notice it interfering with play. The rest of the infield was surprisingly covered with old-school, traditional Astroturf. It looked decent enough from a distance, and didn’t seem to affect play either. I even pressed man-of-the-match Charlie Adams and Louisville manager James O’Connor after the match to see if either thought the field surface or smaller pitch size was a factor in the game, and both believed it wasn’t.

With a clear win in the stands and a win on the pitch, it’s hard to declare the inaugural professional soccer match in Louisville anything other than a success.

So where exactly does that leave my thoughts on playing in a baseball park?

Much like what we saw with New York City’s debut at Yankee Stadium a few weeks before, it seems that the venue is what the fans and clubs make of it. If you can fill it with impassioned supporters and put a decent product on the field, the limitations of the facility will be minimized. Sure, neither wants (or can) live there forever. But it will do for now.

What’s more important, particularly in the case in Louisville, is that new ground is being broken. There’s never been professional soccer in Kentucky before. Ever.

And even though the home that professional soccer plays out in isn’t ideal, I’m pretty sure the fans in Kentucky will take less than ideal over nothing at all.

promotion & relegation survey: personal reflections

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This is the third and final article in a three part series based on the results from a survey that ran on the site in December and January that looked to gauge the actual fan and owner interest in the implementation of Promotion & Relegation in the US and Canadian professional soccer pyramids. 

Read part one: Supporter Results  |  Read part two: Owner Results

I have to admit that making the decision on whether or not to write these series of articles was not any easy one. The debate I’ve held with myself over writing about the subject of promotion and relegation stretches back for the better part of a year.

Deep down, I knew that doing so would bring me a windfall of grief.

My words would be twisted, my intentions distorted and my mind numbed by the incessant drumming of some of the debate’s largest figureheads. All that happened well before I’d ever written a word on the topic in this space, so it was destined to be worse once I voluntarily jumped in with the sharks. It has been.

But if I could imagine a world in a vacuum where one could talk about pro/rel in the US and Canada without igniting a firestorm and one’s name being dragged through the mud, it’s a fascinating topic to discuss.

Why?

Set aside the incendiary nature of the debate as it currently stands. A comparison of the positives and the negatives of promotion and relegation’s implementation against the pros and cons of the current system requires so many different layers of thought. Logistics, finances, structure, migration path, legalities, desires — all of these are key elements in the conversation. And when one system appears to be beneficial for one of those factors, it could be a huge detriment to one of the others.

I love reasonable, level-headed and cordial debates like these. And it’s for that reason that I considered writing about promotion and relegation long before I ever knew of anyone named Ted — I just never got around to it, other than stringing together the occasional set of 140 character opinions on Twitter.

But it’s probably for the best that I didn’t. Because the reality is, it’s morphed into a ridiculously combustible topic here.

It’s a conversation that features extremely passionate group(s) of supporters and opponents. Both sets seem to be growing, but so too are those that have grown annoyed with the discussion and its tone. The mere mention of the phrase “pro/rel” on Twitter can literally set off a never-ending stream of notifications on your cell phone for the rest of the night. It’s hard to not get caught up in it — particularly for someone like me whose passion for the game pretty much defines their existence.

Unfortunately, in all of the mudslinging that goes down, there’s lots of hyperbole and opinion that’s tossed in alongside it like they’re undisputed facts.

That drives me bonkers.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But if you’re going to broadcast yours and attack others unsolicited for theirs, you damn well better have more than a “belief” to back it up. To be honest, soccer is too important to me as a human being to allow potentially incredibly influential popular opinion to be established without it having some solid data to lean against.

That’s the reason I ran these surveys in the first place: to establish the most comprehensive data set on the opinions and desires of two of North American soccer’s biggest constituents. I didn’t care where the numbers fell one way or another — I just want something to refer back to other than hunches and speculation.

So with all that said, what is my opinion on the topic of promotion and relegation here in the US and Canada? What are my reasons for those thoughts? And did my thoughts change after seeing the results of the surveys?

Continue reading

an interview with professional soccer social worker lawrence cann

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Street Soccer USAIt’s not an infrequent occurrence to hear someone describe soccer as their life.

For many that I know — myself included — that’s a fairly accurate statement. I run a soccer website and spend a majority of my free time watching and taking in the beautiful game. My sister and her husband are both college soccer coaches. A fair few of my friends make their livings training and working for youth clubs. And a privileged few of my acquaintances actually pay their bills by playing the beautiful game.

But it’s a rarity that you ever hear someone talk about how soccer has saved their life. Unless, that is, your name is Lawrence Cann.

Lawrence Cann is president and founder of Street Soccer USA, a non-profit that aims to “improve health, education, and employment outcomes for the most disadvantaged Americans by using sports”. Working most frequently with homeless youth and adults, the program currently operates soccer-based programs in sixteen cities around the country.

Probably best known for the team they send to the annual Homeless World Cup, SSUSA’s biggest project every year is actually the domestic Street Soccer USA Cup. At that, all sixteen cities in the program send a representative squad of program participants to take part in a national tournament.

And as it just so happens, the 2014 edition of the Street Soccer USA Cup kicks off this weekend in San Francisco.

So to help get a better understanding of everything that the SSUSA program and their annual big event does to help the disadvantaged across the country, I spoke with the Lawrence Cann to get the low down on how they’ve managed to use soccer as a vehicle for social change.

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ten words or less #110

Well, it’s fair to say a bombshell was dropped on world soccer yesterday. I’d hoped to get out a full-length piece on it last night or today, but the rapid developments with regards to the FIFA corruption scandal has made it difficult to stay on top of and write accurately. So I’m giving it another day or so to fester before unleashing the dragon. And while you wait, there have been hundreds of miles worth of online column space already written on the topic — so you won’t be wanting for reading material.

To hold you over, as usual, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite links from the past week or so. The first four of which are directly related to the ongoing firestorm. So enjoy reading the selections below while the world outside burns.

FIFA meets the long, bad ass arm of American law. – justice.gov

How to boycott FIFA without hurting soccer. – independent.co.uk

Sponsoring the World Cup is an endorsement of their practices. – theverge.com

The NASL is in some serious shit. – northernpitch.com

Adidas “smart ball” teaches you to bend it like Beckham. – androidpolice.com

The Minnesota MLS stadium situation is… tricky. – vice.com

Snow skiing plus soccer? Super impressed… if this is real. – youtube.com

An insurance plan to protect against missing the Champions League? – bloomberg.com

Beer and soccer. You don’t need to know more. – soccerbible.com
Thanks to my man @MPFaessler for pointing this out.

Wambach’s turf war paying dividends, just not how you’d expect. – soccerwire.com

#forcincy match poster 2: saints vs fort pitt

WSOTP - Cincinnati Saints Matchday Poster 2

As detailed a month ago, I’m creating individual match posters for each of the Cincinnati Saints home NPSL matches during the 2015 season. And with the Saints’ second home match of the campaign fast approaching this Sunday — a 2pm affair against the Fort Pitt Regiment — it’s high time I drop my next poster.

The inspiration for the design draws on the long-running relationship between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and the similarities they share. They were some of the first in-land megacities, both of which found a home on the mighty Ohio River. Each also featured a well-known military fort that played an integral in shaping their respective regions. There’s a natural rivalry that exists between Cincy and the ‘Burgh, one that has probably been nudged along a bit by the supporters and fans of the professional pigskin football and baseball teams in each metropolitan area, too.

So with all that in mind, the design I went with was one that’s meant to emulate the old river maps that used to be utilized to navigate the wild waters of the Ohio. I also hoped to invoke the spirit of calls for local militias, which often fought alongside the regiments stationed at their local forts. And with a “Regiment” actually “invading” when Fort Pitt comes to town, what better way is there to support your local club than to take up arms against them?

As always, you can tune into the “battle” waged for Fort Washington and listen to the live match commentary provided by WSOTP by navigating to our Match Commentary page.

WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 40

WSOTP Podcast - Season 2 Episode 40

Congratulations listeners: you’ve survived another season of the WSOTP Podcast! With the conclusion of the Premier League season this past weekend, this week’s episode will serve as the “finale” of Season 2 of the #Pondcast. Though worry not, we’ll be back sporadically throughout the summer to provide updates on the Champions League, Women’s World Cup, MLS and who knows what else.

So now that your fears have been allayed, what’s on deck for the pseudo-last pod of the year? Plenty.

In addition to picking our Winners & Wankers of the season and anointing our Fantasy EPL Champion — the indomitable Jay Slack and #WarPig United —  the guys reviewed their pre-season predictions and named their own superlative winners for the 2014/2015 campaign. A team by team breakdowns for all 20 of the Premier League sides are also included, and we enlisted the help of our listeners to help eulogize their clubs’ seasons too. A big thanks to the following listeners for their contributions:

David Keim (Arsenal)                     Bill May (Manchester United)
Reeves Thompson (Everton)        Josh Patterson (Southampton)
Melissa Briski (Liverpool)               Christopher Boyd (Swansea)
Jared Hale (Manchester City)

And of course, don’t forget to subscribe below to automatically receive new episodes on your favorite mobile device when we drop new episodes of the summer and at the start of Season 3 in August!.

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the mixed emotions of the premier league finale

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This is a short excerpt from my first featured post for the blog of Over-the-Rhine’s original sports bar, Rhinehaus, located in my hometown of Cincinnati and home to many WSOTP Watch Parties and Events. To read it in it’s entirety, please click here or click the link at the end of the post.

The end of the Premier League season is finally upon us. For the last 280 days, most of the world’s soccer loving eyes have been squarely focused in on the English top flight. Weekend after weekend, we pried ourselves out of our beds at ungodly hours to make a trek down to our favorite pubs — like Rhinehaus — to watch our favorite clubs through squinted eyes. Tomorrow, that routine ends.

For some of us, the end is welcomed. Underwhelming and disappointing seasons abound, particularly if you’re a Tottenham fan such as myself. For those with me in that crestfallen camp — such as my Manchester City counterparts — we look forward to the summer silly season of transfers and far flung exhibition matches to give us hope that next season will go better.

Others of us will wave goodbye with tears in our eyes, sad that such a memorable season’s time has come to pass. Chelsea supporters might feel that way, but they’ll surely find comfort staring at their reflections in the shiny new cups in their trophy cabinet. Too, fans of Southampton will have enjoyed a successful campaign that earned them a place in Europe next season. Manchester United devotees will be pleased that Van Gaal hauled them back to Europe as well. And I’m sure Arsenal fans will be content with yet another Champions League place trophy, too.

Continue reading “The Mixed Emotions of the Premier League Finale” on the Rhinehaus blog. →

WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 39

WSOTP - Blog - Season 2 Episode 39.fw

With no side relegated during the next to last round of the season in the Premier League, that means the race for the final drop spot remains a big talking point on this week’s #Pondcast. Listen in as D.J. and Jeremy go through the scenarios each of Hull, Sunderland and Newcastle need to stave off, as well as wax poetic on Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield. Also on this week’s episode are reflections on USL’s return to Cincinnati — from not only ourselves, but also listeners too — a look back at the second legs of the Champions League semifinals, and off the field issues overshadowing much needed wins for two MLS sides, and much more.

ALSO A FAVOR TO ASK: On next week’s podcast, the guys will be eulogizing their respective clubs’ seasons… and we want to hear your eulogies for your own clubs! Just as with any questions or topics you want us to cover next week, shoot your’s to contact[at]wrongsideofthepond[dot]com or hit us up on social media via links at the bottom of the page.

And of course, don’t forget to subscribe below to automatically receive new episodes on your favorite mobile device.

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WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 38

WSOTP Podcast - Season 2 Episode 38

The fates of two Premier League sides were decided this past weekend, with Burnley and QPR both officially relegated. And a similar fate awaits one more, but who that is — Sunderland, Hull City, maybe even Newcastle? — remains to be seen. And in Episode 38 of the #Pondcast, the guys delve into those sides and their remaining fixtures. Also on this week, our thoughts on the first legs of the Champions League semifinals, the upcoming FIFA elections, the first ever MLS New York City Derby (or whatever you want to call it), and much much more.

Have a question that you want to ask on next week’s podcast, reach out to us by email at contact[at]wrongsideofthepond[dot]com or hit the social media links at the bottom of the page. And subscribe below to automatically receive new episodes on your favorite mobile device.

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flying under the radar

Juventus striker Carlos TevezIt didn’t always used to be this way, Serie A.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the Italian top flight was legit. The ish, even. Many of the world’s best players — to name a handful, Maradona, Baggio, Weah, Maldini… even a quite young Totti — plied their trade in Italy. They played with clubs who were truly giants at the time, like Milan, Juventus, Inter, Lazio, Napoli and even Sampdoria. Starting with the 88/89 season, the league had at least one participant in the UEFA Cup/Champions League final in nine of the next 10 seasons. The Milan Derby was probably the most anticipated rivalry in the world footballing calendar. Serie A was rife with high wages, a wide following, glitz and glam — all the perks that came with being the recognized “best league in the world”.

But two decades on, we find a league that’s a shadow of its former self.

Pinpointing a single reason for its downfall would be impossible. Calciopoli, the match fixing scandal that rocked Italian football in 2006, is often pinned with much of the blame. That certainly didn’t help, but blaming it alone would be overly simplistic. Doing so ignores factors like crumbling stadia, a series of poor TV deals, decreasing fan interest, an increase in hooliganism, and even a (perhaps incorrect) stigma of an unattractive style of play — just to name a few.

And because of all of that, today we’re left with a league that gets a fraction of the attention that it once did, and plays out in a relative obscurity given its rich history.

And that’s a huge shame.

For one, things aren’t near as bad in Serie A as advertised. But secondly, a lack of attention on the league means that some really interesting stories are unfolding without getting the notice they should be due.

And one of those stories is Carlos Tevez. Continue reading

WSOTP pod: season 2 episode 37

WSOTP Podcast - Season 2 Episode 37

Since we last recorded, league champions have been crowned in the upper two levels of the English pyramid, and we took time in this week’s episode of the #Pondcast to discuss the incredible seasons by both favorites’ Chelsea and the underdogs’ AFC Bournemouth. But while the tops of the tables were interesting, the bottoms of them are even more fascinating. And while the bottom three may be locked in the Championship, there’s a lot left to be settled in the Premier League. There was, of course, still plenty of time left for the domestic side of things too — including a Crew collapse on the road, Montreal’s collapse in the CONCACAF Champions League — and our usual weekly segments.

Have a question that you want to ask on next week’s podcast, reach out to us by email at contact[at]wrongsideofthepond[dot]com or hit the social media links at the bottom of the page. And subscribe below to automatically receive new episodes on your favorite mobile device.

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the feast of insecurities

My friends over at the brand new Sixth Day Soccer are mostly Arsenal fans, and they wrote a detailed look into one of their supporters’ favorite annual traditions. As a Tottenham supporter, I felt the need to script my own reply after some banter-inspired prodding on Facebook. 

As a longtime Spurs fan, I’ve been conditioned to expecting the close of the season to be a bit uncomfortable.

Most of the time it’s depressing feelings that swell up due to the finality of Spurs again failing to meet our foolishly high expectations. And even when they do seem capable of actually reaching those lofty goals, a gut-wrenching fall from grace always seems to await just before the finish line. It’s tough not to be a realist in those situations, especially after seeing things play out following a similar pattern for majority of the last 20 years.

Luckily, I’ve always been an optimist, too. As such, I actively search out the bright spots in the dark clouds of each season’s close. Last year, it was Eriksen looking a capable creator. This season, it’s been Kane. And so long as I manage to plant those seeds of positivity during the gloomy stretch, it will normally yields hope for the following season in the early weeks of summer.

Unfortunately, Spurs’ easily-overlooked habit of under performing isn’t the only thing that makes the end of each season so aggravating for Tottenham supporters.

If there’s one thing that I truly loathe more than any other aspect of the end of each season, it’s “Saint Totteringham’s Day”.

Continue reading