In his book “Anarchy, State and Utopia”, Brooklyn born political philosopher, Robert Nozick used a thought experiment called The Experience Machine as a way to refute hedonism, which believes only in pleasure and does not see any value in things that do not increase people’s well-being. Nozick asked his readers to imagine that scientists had figured out a way to plug into their brains and give them a perfect life, a simulated world where the person connected to the machine experiences only pleasure and happiness, without troubles or strife. While they would have to make the decision whether or not to go into this flotation tank, once inside the subject would have no knowledge that what they were experiencing was not real.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking at this point, “What does this have to do with Gareth Bale moving to Real Madrid?”, which is a fair question. I want to consider this Experience Machine from the perspective of a Tottenham fan: imagine if I could have the football supporting part of my brain connected to such a tank (forget the logistics of how that would work, this is just a thought experiment remember!) and in my experience, everything would go right for Spurs. Bale would not want to leave and would link up perfectly with all of the new signings that the club have made, leading Tottenham to their first League championship success since 1961; the success would continue and the club would grow to be one of the most successful in the world, racking up trophies titles. Would this make me happy? Ostensibly, the answer is yes; I’d love to see Spurs win any trophy, let alone the league for the first time in 53 years (and counting) or a European trophy 30 years after their most recent success on the continent.
The conclusion that Nozick reached is that given the choice between a fictional utopia and the issues of everyday life, with all of its intrinsic struggles and rewards, most people would opt not to go into the tank, as we need more than just the experience of pleasure. In the same way, if the options are a fantasy football perfection for Spurs; or reality, with the frustration and disappointment that comes with being a Tottenham fan, but also the joy that comes with a victory over Arsenal, or a good cup run, then I would pick the latter every time. In modern football, this Experience Machine has been more than just a thought device; over the last decade, several teams have been bought by billionaires who have been able to transform them into title-winning teams – in particular, Chelsea, Manchester City and, most recently, Paris Saint-Germain. Now these sides, all of whom have experienced fallow periods over the last thirty years, are suddenly able to pay massive transfer fees for the world’s biggest stars and can now compete not just domestically for major honors, but also in European competition (and in the case of Chelsea, they have won the Champions League and Europa League in the last two seasons). Without doubt, this success is great for the supporters and I am sure they would not change it for anything, but those fans who have been with the team through the thin as well as the thick – those who turned up for Manchester City games at Maine Road when they were in the third tier of English football in 1998/99; or the 7,587 people who were at Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea draw 1-1 with Oxford United in 1988 in the old Second Division – they must look around at the explosion of support and money their clubs now have and feel strange. It is like the Boston Red Sox after they broke their 86 year drought of not winning the World Series in 2004 – it was the moment generations of their fans thought they might never see, but once they did it, there was a fundamental part of their identity that was altered by that success.
As part of NBC’s promotion of their new coverage of the Premier League – which on a side note, has been excellent so far – there was a device on their website to work out which club new followers of the game should follow and Tottenham were the most picked team, with 16% of people selecting them. While new supporters are always welcome, they have to be prepared for all of the disappointments that come with being a fan of the Waffles and they cannot abandon their selection simply because Gareth Bale is doing so. Being a player is not like being a fan, you can pick and choose where your loyalties lie – with your choice altering depending on who is willing to pay the most, who is the most glamorous, or who offers the best chance of silverware. Fans do not get such a luxury and, for the Tottenham faithful, we have been through this before – in fact it has become almost an annual tradition in recent years with Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and now Gareth Bale engineering moves away from White Hart Lane for greener pastures.
Bale’s departure will, of course, have a huge impact on the team: Spurs fans like me are no longer going to get to watch one of the best players in the world turning out every week for our club; but his tendency to dive and act like he has been severely injured every time he gets caught will not be missed (this is not bitterness, I complained about his playacting a long time ago)- nor will the finger-heart goal celebration. If he had stayed for another year, given the other additions to our club this summer (Paulinho, Soldado, Chadli, Capoue, Lamela, Erikesen), would we have been considered genuine title contenders in a year so many other teams are in transition? Perhaps. Would we have won the league? Almost definitely not. What Tottenham supporters will do this campaign, as always, is get behind the players who do want to wear the shirt (for now at least) and console ourselves with the fact that, while Bale was our talisman last year and without him, we would have finished much further down the table, we have probably sold him at the peak of his value. The world record fee of £85.3m (100m Euros) is a huge sum of money for someone who has scored 8 fewer career goals (47) than Cristiano Ronaldo managed for Real Madrid last season alone (55) – he may have won several games almost single-handedly for Spurs last year, but he was already a marked man and the 2012/13 campaign may prove to be the most exceptional one he will ever play. I do hope he succeeds at Real Madrid and continues his remarkable progression, but I also wish that at some point he faces Tottenham once again and ends up on the losing side.