Every club has them, those players who aren’t particularly fancy, aren’t particularly skillful, aren’t even particularly good but we still love them. These players worm their way into fans’ affections because they show that certain attitude that fans truly appreciate – hard-work. Commitment, persistence, drive – we love a trier – because we have an empathy with these players. We as fans are limited footballers, but we’re sure if we were lucky enough to play for our clubs, the least (and probably the most) we would do is put a real shift in.
If these hard-working individuals have the right characteristics and a little bit of luck they could rise to the club footballer’s highest echelon – the cult hero. One such man is ‘Football Genius’ Steffen Freund, Spurs’ erstwhile wannabe defensive enforcer in midfield. The German hot-head came to England from Borussia Dortmund in 1998 to join George ‘the Man in the Overcoat’ Graham’s Tottenham side. Despite his reputation as a limited player, Freund had won Euro 96 with Germany and the Champions League and Bundesliga in his time with Dortmund, so came to Spurs with a decent reputation.
Freund huffed and puffed his way into the fans affections and went on to play for Tottenham to little acclaim outside of White Hart Lane until 2003, after which he played briefly for Kaiserslautern and Leicester City before retiring in 2004. But how did Freund become such a legend at Tottenham? How did he secure his status as a favourite of the fans? Here are 5 reasons why Steffen Freund was and remains a cult hero.
It seems odd that failing to do the one thing that wins games for your whole career with a club can make you popular – but it does. Freund came as close as the woodwork for Spurs, but never could send the ball over that white line. He became so famous, or indeed infamous, for failing to billow the onion-bag that every time he got the ball, no matter where on the pitch the cry came up from around the ground, ‘SHOOOOOOOOT!’ – the classic sign of a striking no-hoper.
Aggravated opponents constantly
A tenacious midfielder, Freund would wind up opposing players incessantly – the sort of trait that makes him a hero for Spurs fans and a pariah to others. He was like Robbie Savage in that sense, except the hatred reserved for the Afghan-hound impersonating Welshman was never really directed at Freund in the same way by opposing fans – probably in the same way that ‘Mad’ Jens Lehman at Arsenal was so over-the-top and ridiculous in his belligerence, that you found yourself laughing at him rather than just hating him.
Penchant for unnecessary histrionics
This attitude brings an element of comedy to proceedings which marks out the true cult hero – flinging himself to the floor, petulantly pushing and shoving whenever possible and flinging volleys of abuse at the referee in the fashion of a particularly salty-tongued scolded child. The tendency to produce these flamboyant reactions off-the-ball is made funnier when you consider the contrast with Freund’s dour, agricultural playing style.
Sat in the stands with the fans when suspended
What better way to ingratiate yourself with the fans than by joining them for a spectator’s-eye view of your team-mates’ game. This is exactly what Freund did in the 1999-2000 season for the home game against Arsenal. The German bawler was suspended for the game, but instead of taking his place with other pros not in the squad, he decided to join the Spurs faithful by sitting in the Lower East stand for the Arsenal game. He must have had a positive effect on his team-mates as he joined in with the terrace chants – Spurs went on to win 2-1.
Having retired, sat with the traveling fans during an away match
Already a legend by the time he left White Hart Lane, Freund cemented his status as true Cult Hero with this unexpected appearance. The zany Teutonic maestro turned up with his son for Spurs away game with Manchester United in 2005, and sat right at the front of the Tottenham end at Old Trafford, decked out in a Spurs cap and the shirt he wore in the 1999 Worthington Cup Final victory over Leicester. Scarcely believable but entirely true, Steffen Freund truly is a Tottenham Cult Hero.
For more Cult Heroes and general football chatter, thoughts & theories follow me on Twitter: stuartcfootball