Saturday, 30 April 2011
It's completely understandable that Harry is maintaining his public, unconvincing protestations that the race for fourth isn't over yet.
What's more significant, though is his attitude to the supposedly hypothetical scenario of us missing out; knowing full well that it is going to happen, he nonchalantly shrugs it off – not in the sense of dismissing the prospect, but actually accepting it and instantaneously dealing with it.
He refuses to be cowed or depressed by it. He doesn't accept that it will kill the club, derail our progress or prompt significant departures.
He's preparing us for the worst, whilst stressing that the worst isn't actually that bad.
This is different, of course, to when he derisively laughs at Spurs fans for daring to be disappointed with the run of results that has lead us to miss out on the Champions League. That, as discussed elsewhere, really grates. But this positivity, more chipper than chippy, I can certainly buy into.
To paraphrase, he says: "If we don't, we'll try again next year, and then if we don't next year we'll try the year after that. And we won't just try and qualify for the Champions League, we'll try and win the title. We'll get better, not worse, and see how far we can go."
Quite right, Harold.
A top four finish was seen as the key to Spurs future in some quarters; the hinge on which the entire future of the club would swing. But in reality, if we had made it, who says we'd have made it next year? Or the year after?
And, same argument in reverse: If/when we don't make it this year, who says we won't make it next year? Or the year after?
There's a plausible line about qualification becoming self-perpetuating, because we hang onto our best players and attract new ones with the lure of Champions League football. But, we didn't exactly go nuts in the transfer market last summer, and pretty much all our best players, the ones we will hang onto, were signed when we had the Europa League, at best, to offer them.
If we had finished fourth this year, we wouldn't have become a permanent part of a new elite. And now we've missed out, we shouldn't just crawl back under a rock.
We won't be part of a new Big Four, but we can be part of a process that screws with the old hierarchy and adjusts everyone's expectations.
Harry's right, let's just keep giving it a go. Let's be one of five, six or seven teams that compete for Champions League slots year after year, sometimes making it, sometimes not. Because that's actually the best we can hope for anyway. And I'd take it, in a heartbeat. It would be good for Spurs and, actually, good for football.
We will not finish 4th, we may even finish 6th. But it will not be a disaster. And the Spurs will go marching on.
On a much more gloomy note, if it's a Chelsea match preview you're after, click here.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
A preview of Spurs away to Chelsea is like one of those accidentally amusing Protect and Survive leaflets from the '80s - and about as much use: you know that there will be carnage and devastation, so why worry about whether or not you've got tin foil covering the windows/who's at right back.
Better to do what I usually do for visits to Stamford Bridge: curl up on the floor, put your hands over your head and sob until the pain hits and death follows. This is in the privacy of my own home, incidentally, not in the middle of the the away end. I'm not mental.
I was actually at Chelsea the last time we won, in 1783. Gary Lineker grabbed us a late winner. It went in off his horse's right fetlock. Back then the game was still played on horseback, with a goose's head for a ball. If I'd known it would be our last ever win there I'd have maybe grabbed a souvenir. Or killed myself.
Stamford Bridge was also the only place I ever saw the late great Spurs fan and occasional comic revolutionary Peter Cook. I'm pretty sure we'd won that day as well. Certainly E.L. Wisty seemed well-refreshed and happy with life, plus I'm sure we shouted something celebratory at him, to which he replied with a louche if unsteady wave of the hand and a slightly slurred, 'Ah, hello boys. Up the Spurs!'.
I've more chance of seeing him again on Saturday than we have of winning.
In their last eight games, Chelsea have won seven and drawn one. In our last eight we've won two, drawn five and lost one. That's 22 points compared to 11.
At the start of that run, we were neck and neck with them. It was us, Chelsea and Man City in a heavyweight clash for third, fourth and fifth.
Somehow, since then, after playing almost the entire bottom eight, we've ended up in an unseemly scrap for sixth. ('The Unseemly Scrap For Sixth' is, incidentally, a title I've offered Sky to use as billing for any of their live games involving us and/or Liverpool. I've yet to hear back).
The one bright spot about Saturday is that Torres has already scored. Prior to that I'd established half a dozen false identities in order to secure a string of loans, thereby raising £342,000 to bet on him breaking his duck against us. It was such a sure thing. I mean he'll still score, obviously, but it won't be quite such a big deal.
Anyway, enjoy the game, but make sure your standing under the frame of a doorway at kick off.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
My discussions with @charlieparrish (who I thoroughly recommend following) continue. This time we're assessing the best and worst of Spurs' current crop...
Dave (Such Small Portions),
Right, a Player of the Season. I might just plump for William Gallas. He sometimes looks like he’s running on fumes, he’s the mercenary’s mercenary and those nose-bleed, crazy-legged advances into enemy territory always make me giggle/gasp, but he’s dragged us through games this season. And in the absence of Ledley, Gallas has given Michael Dawson his requisite hand-holder.
Our captain’s an odd one. Imperious against storied opposition and defiant when his back’s firmly against wall, yet occasionally mindless in less glitzy arenas and always culpable versus nippy strikers. I feel like I’m bad mouthing the faithful family dog, but there are times (in fact, I can be explicit about those times: a.) whenever he’s sailed a Hollywood cross field ball needlessly into Row 9 of the East Stand b.) he chugs through treacle after a disappearing forward and c.) each occasion he allows himself a penalty box lunge) where Daws is essentially a Rich Man’s Roger Johnson. I also can’t help but feel he remains forever the junior partner longing for a calm, senior head to guide him through choppy waters, despite now being a 27-year-old international.
To their right, well, it’s been a bit of a shambles. Vedran Corluka began the season with Kaboul panting down his stubbly neck, before Scots thug Alan Hutton lucked out on a dual injury, swung us a game against Wolves and turned in several months of 6/10 performances despite Harry loathing him. All the while, we were harbouring grass-is-greeners over at our own Kyle Walker, who most of us now presume will return to usurp his trio of middling rivals. (Funny how it’s always the less fancied half of our double deals who seem to flourish at Spurs. Davies over Etherington. Dawson, and not Reid. And now seemingly Walker instead of Championship-doomed Kyle Naughton).
Since Alan Hansen’s vindictive and beautifully ignorant attack on Benoit Assou-Ekotto (although he was pretty rubbish that night against Everton), our left-back’s consistently impressed. The derby was the perfect Benny performance: tenacious when challenged, unruffled and cocky in possession and mentally tuned in for 90 whole minutes. Yes, he then hobbled off with a dubious looking knock after gifting West Brom their opener and I doubt he’d confident identifying what “WBA” stood for if challenged, but I do sort of love him.
Now, I know you love Luka as strongly as I nurture a misguided torch for Rafa. And don’t get me wrong, he’s probably been our best player this year. His departure would be catastrophic and I’d forever miss seeing him dance past burly henchman. But as you bravely stated in your post-Arsenal report, Dave, he doesn’t score enough. And we’ve needed goals from him his season.
Meanwhile, Rafa’s gaudy goal record masks a lot of mid-season issues. He has looked unfit, he matches Modric in the deceptively slow stakes and owes us an almighty last few games to apologise for waddling around, petulantly wasting possession since Christmas. But, had we landed Harry’s chief target – a prolific striker capable of leading the line solo – then I believe 4-2-3-1, with Van der Vaart, Bale and Lennon buzzing about behind said £30m man (with Modric and Thud/Sando in central midfield) presents zero problems. That formation soured when our strikers hardened in their perverse collective goal strike. Suddenly, should our attacking midfielders not score, we were doomed.
And it’s the forwards who deserve our loudest tutting. Defoe’s now third choice and, for me, bound for another prolific stint somewhere more austere than London. Domestically, Crouch has been rumbled. Games of unplayable dominance like Stoke endured the other week are far, far too rare. Instead, we groan as he drags another shot feebly past the post and like lovely Abbey, struggle to forgive him for dicking about in Madrid.
The whole ‘Super Pav’ thing has been always a cult hero too far for me and I’d like him returned this summer. I never liked how the woefully limited Steffen Freund was always championed for charging around like a WWE moron, but at least he cared. Too often, Roman fails to get beyond a canter, has a maddening habit of reminding you just good he can be when games are irredeemable and simply isn’t prolific enough to warrant any further patience. Same for Gomes. I can’t stand him for a season longer. Just give me a bog-standard stopper who won’t humiliate me at work on a Monday, please.
During last summer, I would grow giddy imagining Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon hurtling down their respective wings. Which is why their injuries and inconsistency have been so disappointing. You see, Dave, I was expecting the pair of them to carve up the Premier League. Instead, they’ve just given Europe a fright and each have a handful of league moments to cherish. I know I sound incredibly harsh on the pair of them. Bale is Europe’s most wanted prospect, the Player’s Player of the Year, and doesn’t require me bleating on about his abilities. And Lennon has enjoyed patches of fully-realised productivity and won us several huge, clutch and exciting points in the final minutes. But I’m greedy, I want more.
And that probably sums it all up. No one’s played particularly poorly this season, really. Watching Spurs in the second half of the derby, I realised just how good we are now. But then we stink the place up in games against West Broms and West Hams and I realise I want more. And this lot can give us more. They can all just be incredibly annoying.
Dave (Such Small Portions):
It has been an odd season in terms of heroes and villains.
Especially odd when you consider that Gareth Bale was voted PFA Player of the Year and yet most Spurs fans would say he’s not even Tottenham’s player of the year, and that little Luka has actually been our most outstanding and consistent performer (AND IF THEY DON’T SAY THAT THEN THEY ARE IDIOTS AND SHOULDN’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL).
I think your run-through of the line-up is pretty spot-on – and extra kudos for the phrase ‘gaudy goal tally’ in reference to the sometimes maddening Mr VdV.
I’m not prepared to go quite as far as you re. Billy G, though. Yes, he’s played well and can be an especially reassuring presence in big games, but I still tend to check my phone, or tie up a shoelace when his name’s read out before the match. He’s still William fucking Gallas for God sake. And I can’t shift that image of him staging that sulky sit-in at whatever northern graveyard Arsenal found for their title hopes a few years back.
Sorry, to keep to some sort of order, let’s dart back to the Gomes conundrum. He costs more points than he saves and he pisses me off with that stupid jumping up and down touching the crossbar thing when he comes out for the second half. So, whilst it’s not as important as sorting out the striking problem, we should at least have a scout around for someone better.
In defence I’d pick out Kaboul as a beacon of hope. And I’d insist that all discussions discount the possibility of King and Woodgate ever playing for us again. That’s the mindset we need when assessing our CB options. Totally agree with your point re. Dawson; he needs to be the main man, not second banana. If he can make that psychological leap then I’d have no problem with him and Younes being our first choice pairing next year.
In midfield, Modric is clearly a superstar. Our best player, one of the Premier League’s best players and, if he keeps progressing as he is, soon to be one of the world’s best players. We must keep him. Fuck it, make him captain if we think it’ll help. He’s not a gritted teeth, clenched fist kind of player, but he never shirks either the responsibility of possession or the crunch of a 50/50. Who wouldn’t follow and respect him?
The emergence of Sandro has been a bonus – and as far as I’m concerned a wholly unexpected bonus. I just didn’t think someone with that haircut would ever really, pardon the pun, cut it. I mean it’s just so awkward and graceless. He’s overcome it, though, and Palacious, I think (hope) will now be surplus to requirements.
Bale, Lennon and Thud have all stalled to some extent. That might sound odd in relation to our Welsh winger and his peer-approved prize, but we knew he was this good last season, and apart from a golden period in and around those two Inter games, he hasn’t really kicked on in 10/11. In fact, in the last couple of months he’s seemed subdued, distracted and hesitant.
If those three can develop next year (and stay fit) like we hoped they would this year, then that will be a huge bonus. With Lennon and Thud, though, you do start to worry that we’ve been talking about ‘potential’ for rather too long.
Up front? Fuck knows. The problem with our three is that they’re not completely hopeless. There’s no obvious one to chuck or one to keep. Defoe can still shift the ball half a yard and slam it in the corner; Crouch has undoubtedly proven a handful in Europe and worked well with VdV; and Pav, our enigmatic if not exactly energetic Russian cult, well he has the physical presence and finishing technique to be a real handful on his day. He just doesn’t have many days.
So, we need a change, we need more quality and we need goals. But do we need one big buy? Wholesale change? Personally, I’d keep Pav and Defoe and buy one more big name (Redknapp will be off soon, and isn’t there a chance that someone else might fancy Pav a bit more and subsequently get more out of him?). Oh, and if Man U offered a straight swap, VdV for Berba, I’d probably take that – providing he came with the right attitude. Yeah, you’re right, unlikely.
Or, we make a smart, informed punt, like we did with Berba, in fact, spend £15-£20m on someone who’s on the radar but not yet a superstar. I’d rather do that than go for Drogba, anyway. Just couldn’t learn to love that man.
So, yeah, agreed, no one’s been awful. The strikers have been disappointing, the midfield hasn’t lived up to its stellar potential and the defence, shorn of its two best performers, has been largely admirable whilst prone to meltdowns. And Gomes is a clown, a clown who can sometimes pull off a worldy. And now, having slipped into the vernacular of Paul Merson, it must be time to sign off. COYS!
That's it for this week. I'll be trying to temper Charlie's optimism again real soon, but in the meantime, check out his excellent A Spurs Blog. It's a blog. About Spurs. Doesn't fuck about, our Charlie.
Sunday, 24 April 2011
The race for fourth has now become the slump to sixth.
It wasn't an awful performance - it just wasn't good enough. Not good enough to beat West Brom and not good enough for a side that wants to claim a Champions League spot.
We're officially on a pretty appalling run now. We've won one of our last seven league games. If you take the Arsenal game out of the line-up, we've played Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham, Wigan, Stoke and West Brom. And we've got seven points out of 18. The minimum we should expect out of that is 12. It's not wildly unreasonable to look for 14 or 15.
Yes, Harry, I said 'expect'. Harry seems to have a problem with expectation. Expectation, you see, leads to disappointment, possibly even disgruntlement. And Harry doesn't like that. He considers it an uninformed and ungrateful affront.
He thinks we're kidding ourselves if we expect to beat Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham, Wigan, Stoke and West Brom. And yes, maybe beating all of them in the space of six weeks is a tall order (although fuck knows it shouldn't be impossible), but surely we're allowed to expect to beat more than one of them?
But no, Harry gets all churlish and snippy when the fans dare to grumble. You can tell he wants to mention that eight games/two points thing, but even he knows the statute of limitation has passed on that one now. We should still be grateful, though; we must never forget...
After the West Brom game he said that when we were 2-1 up the crowd were all singing and enjoying themselves, then when they equalised it was like the end of the world - his voice heavy with sarcasm and judgement.
Well you know what, Harry? Fuck off. When we were 2-1 up, the mood lifted slightly, yes. That's kind of what happens in football, you must be aware of this. But there was still tension, still a nagging belief that we'd need a third, and an acute awareness that we didn't look like getting it.
And when they equalised it wasn't the end of the world, but it was something close to the end of our season. And we care, you see. We probably care far too much, but you're just gonna have to learn to live with that. Or fuck off.
What you can't do is keep deflecting criticism onto the fans with all this bollocks about 'Yeah, cos they were always qualifying for the Champions League before I got here, weren't they?'.
What you're saying is that it's okay for you to fail, because we shouldn't expect success. And that, actually, if we express disappointment at dropping points against immensely beatable sides, then the fault isn't with you and the team for dropping the points, it's with us for not understanding the true nature of the situation. It's with us having the audacity to expect more than a point against West Ham, or Wigan, or to not be the only club that fails to beat Blackpool over the course of a couple of months.
It's becoming as annoying as all these dropped points. And that's really fucking annoying.
The game itself? As ever, I'm going to assume you saw it and will be either reading or, like me, avoiding plenty of lovely linear reports elsewhere.
I think we could have just about scraped three points from it, but I'm not sure we deserved three points. Their equaliser was a brilliant strike which we all know that fucker will never repeat, but, sometimes, the first thing you've gotta say is 'yep, good goal, well done son'. (And is it true, as most of us on Twitter espoused last night, that players save their once-in-a-lifetime thunderbolts for us? It's probably not, but it feels like it).
On the plus side, our two centre forwards scored two good goals from open play. Then again, those two centre forwards did exactly that a few weeks back against Wolves - and it didn't mark a turnaround in form and it didn't result in three points.
We're not playing well, we're not picking up points, we're not going to finish fourth and I, like many of you, will be pissed off. Just don't tell Harry.
Saturday, 23 April 2011
Fixtures don't come much friendlier than West Bromwich Albion at home. It's a labrador of a match.
They're not properly northern, not especially industrial, not gritty, not chippy or spiky. Say their name out loud. It even sounds nice, doesn't it? Barely a hard consonant to be heard. A mellifluous whisper like a lovely cool breeze on this sultry spring day.
They have no particularly nasty bastard players to fear, no all-elbows centre forwards to snatch something from a set-piece and no ankle-biting midfielders to disrupt our pretty patterns. Even their manager seems a nice old codger.
But if West Brom are Gizmo, then Spurs are water. Add us and the cuddly little gremlin bares its teeth and becomes a right menacing little bastard. Just when you think a team's going to roll over and let us tickle its tummy, it sinks its teeth into our ankle, or, more appositely, our Achilles heel
After the blood and thunder of Wednesday night (which we're now officially labeling two points dropped), I would estimate that around 68 per cent of all Spurs fans, at some time in the next 24 hours, texted a fellow sufferer with the message, 'Of course, we'll lose to West Brom'.
But here's an idea, let's not. If Bale is injured, let's play Lennon on the right (please God, the right), ask Van der Vaart to play left (I would say 'tell Van der Vaart to play left', but I think ask/hope is probably all we can do) and stick two up front. And let's make one of them Defoe.
Otherwise, if it's, say, VdV and Crouch, there's a danger we end up actually playing with one big lad up front and knocking it long. And this is West Brom at home, for fuck sake.
C'mon, the sun is shining, we're playing a team called Albion on St George's day. We could actually enjoy this. This could be.... what's the word I'm searching for.... fun!
Let's ruffle their hair, thank them for coming, tell them they did ever so well and say we hope that fifth goal didn't hurt too much because, well, we didn't want to make a fuss at the time but we thought we saw a little tear in their eye at that point. Never mind, they've really very brave and their coach/mum will be along to pick them up in a minute. Bye! Bye!
* Oh come on, that's a pretty fucking good headline, right?
Thursday, 21 April 2011
In honour of a quite astonishing game (and in keeping with the assumption that you'll have seen it yourselves and read plenty of linear reports elsewhere) here are six paras, one for each goal.
As with last night, they follow no particular pattern - and will probably leave you feeling strangely disappointed.
Oh, and apologies if they get slightly worse towards the end, I wrote some words at the weekend and it took a real toll on me. This blogging fixture list is so, so unfair...
1) If Luka Modric could finish he'd be the best player in the world. And we'd probably have won 4-3. His flakiness in front of goal is quite inexplicable. Everywhere else he's so assured, so complete... yet seven yards out when a good contact = a goal, he scuffs it. Maybe the Gods burdened him with this flaw to pull him back from the brink of perfection, to give him at least one frailty to overcome. Perhaps we'll find that the WHL crowd is actually a Greek chorus as part of an epic quest. Or, knowing Spurs, a tragedy. That said, whilst on the night I thought his chance was easiest, watching the TV highlights later I thought Crouch should have done much, much better with his header from a perfect ball by BAE
2) Like many Spurs fans, I had a schizophrenic reaction to the result. When you're 3-1 down against an Arsenal team playing some pretty decent stuff, you wouldn't just take a draw, you'd adopt it, buy it a pony and change your will just to make it stay. But last night it felt a bit anti-climactic. Once we'd equalised, Spurs of old - fans and players - would immediately have turned their attention to hanging on. We'd have reached the zenith of our ambition. Last night it seemed more like a stepping stone to a win. We pressed on, believed we could get it and even looked like we would get it. It's not important that it didn't come (I'm lying, it is), what's really important is that it seemed totally natural to go for it - and to feel something akin to disappointment at the final whistle. Sea change. Possibly.
3) Fabregas' attempts at leadership seemed more like showmanship to me. When Szczesny (astonishing paucity of vowels, there) clattered Bale (two out of four letters!) and they'd just gone 3-1 up, he high-fived the keeper (questionable in itself as our man lay prone and clearly in a lot of pain) then went from player to player, geeing them up, clapping his hands together, gesticulating towards their fans. That's the easy bit, Cesc. Thing is, when it went 3-2 and then 3-3, you weren't quite as much to the fore, were you? Not quite so vocal and also a bit depleted on the high-five front. Easy to 'lead' a team that's steaming forward anyway. Harder to galvanise a side on the ropes.
4) Dear Alan Hansen, please give us your analysis of Benoit Assou-Ekotto's performance. That is all.
5) I have previously questioned the worth of Van der Vaart in a team context. I think he has a disproportionate effect on our shape and tactics. I also think he's unfit. Last night, however, was a virtuoso performance. His first goal was a tremendous strike and I wouldn't have wanted anyone but him to take that pen. Long-term, I still think his assimilation into our line-up and style needs working on, but on a big night, against quality opposition, when he feels the spotlight on him, the boy sure can play.
6) When Arsenal came out for the second half, they'd clearly been told by Wenger that this time would be different. This time they would re-emerge and dominate by being physical, imposing themselves and generally standing up to the challenge. Bully us, maybe. Djourou and Song, confused by these warrior words, interpreted them as an instruction to make crude tackles on Luka Modric and get themselves booked - nullifying their own effectiveness for the rest of the game and giving away free kicks in dangerous positions in the process. And that was the end of that. Arsenal knew what they wanted to do, they'd seen other teams do it. But it's just not in them. And when they try it, it just looks phony. They've got an abundance of other qualities, but, with their current personnel and philosophy, this isn't one of them. Thank goodness.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
I don't dread any game like I dread the North London derby. I don't dread death or the return of Davina McCall's chat show like I dread the North London derby.
I have heard other Spurs supporters say that they look forward to it. I can only assume that they are mentally unwell.
What's to look forward to? Even when we win it's torture. Apart from the sweet release of the final whistle, it's pure agony. I mean it's actually physically painful. It makes me ill.
In the last 25 years I reckon Arsenal have taken nearly as many years off my life as they have points off Spurs. No, that can't be right. I'd be dead, wouldn't I? No one lives to 197, do they?
This year's hurt is being ratcheted up by Arsenal fans shaking their heads, sighing heavily and intoning as sincerely as they can: 'I honestly think you'll win'.
I see what they're doing. I know their game. Sly bastards. Think we'll win... yeah, right. Utter bollocks. What they mean is, for the first time since 1863, the gap between the two teams isn't the length of an ocean liner, and for the first time since 1924 we've had the better of the last couple of league encounters.
And what they're actually saying is: 'Blimey, if you don't win this, you've fucked up. Come on, let's see how you deal with expectation. Let's see if we can trick you into feeling confident, thereby increasing the pain levels when we eventually do win - and throwing in a whole heap of making you look foolish into the equation.'
When I picture the game itself I see them passing their way round and through our midfield, making more triangles than a Dairy Lea factory. It looks like their players have been imported from the new FIFA game on PS3 and ours have been ripped from a rickety old table football set.
There is wave after wave of red attack. Sometimes I think I see Paolo Tramezzani back in defence.
These are the waking nightmares that stalk and cripple me for days before the derby.
And that's why this isn't much of a match preview. I can't bear to look directly at it for fear of the consequences. It's like the gaping eternity of death in a Godless universe (as Ray Wilkins will almost certainly point out just before kick off): if you actually stop to consider the mind-blowing reality of it, if you stare right into the very maws of doom then it will overwhelm and ultimately destroy you.
That's how people end up dribbling and gibbering in asylums, sat on the floor, hugging their knees to their chests, manic terror seared into their eyes. They're not mad, these people, far from it. They see things too clearly. They're not confused by life, they understand it perfectly. They know (and feel) the horrible hopelessness of existence. They suffer constantly and their tormentor is the truth. Oh, and they've got a Spurs season ticket.
What I'm saying is, I'd take a draw.
Follow that, Lawro.
Our strikers' recent form may have forced you to question the value of Sir Lesley Ferdinand, but don't question his commitment to Spurs. The above picture shows him about to start a charity bike ride in the company of some elderly and befuddled ex Arsenal players. But, note, our man has cunningly covered up The Other Lot's despised club badge with gaffer tape, thereby retaining not just his high sartorial standards but, God damn it, his dignity. Sir Les, we salute you. The charity, by the way, is The Willow Foundation.
Monday, 18 April 2011
It's part two of an ongoing conversation with @charlieparrish. And this time the question is:
If we do finish fifth, how big a disaster is it? And who will leave?
Such Small Portions:
The fact that the words ‘fifth’ and ‘disaster’ are in such close proximity in a conversation between two relatively sane and almost completely sober Spurs fans is, in itself, quite extraordinary.
Until very recently the words most closely linked with Spurs and fifth would have been ‘miracle’ or ‘from bottom’.
That said, I know what you mean. It would feel like a disappointment. For a start, I think the top four was within our range this year. City remain wholly unconvincing, Chelsea wobbled badly and Liverpool never got their arses in gear.
But this is about the consequences of finishing fifth, not the reasons for finishing fifth. And what it all comes down to is trust. We have to trust that Levy and Redknapp (with Levy in the driving seat, of course) are true to their word and that we will not sell our biggest players to bigger clubs.
‘Sell’ is probably the wrong word. I don’t think we are, or even were, a club that sees its stars as commodities to be cashed in. We don’t tout them out unless we want rid or they’re obviously running down their contract with a view to a ‘free’.
The problem has been more to do with resisting bids from big clubs, clubs that turn the heads of our best players, players who then make it clear that they fancy the move. We ‘fail to keep’ rather than ‘sell’.
So this summer, if Man Utd, Barca, Inter or whoever make it clear they want Bale or Modric, then, even if we say no, what happens if the player wants to go? Are we big enough and convincing enough, without Champions League football, to make them believe they’ll win things with us? And that this season’s tilt at Big Cup wasn’t a one-off?
Personally, I think we have a year’s grace. Bale’s sensible enough to know that (at least) another season at Spurs would do him good. And I believe Modric when he says he wants this squad to stay together because he believes we’re capable of great things. I’d also believe Modric if he told me the tooth fairy is real and Jack Whitehall is a genuinely funny guy.
But, if (when) we finish fifth, then the next 12 months become the most important in our recent history. We have to spend the summer keeping the key players and adding, say, two more quality (not ‘squad’) players. Then the next season we need to put in a better league campaign than this year’s, or even last year’s.
Because Man U, Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea aren’t going away, and Liverpool are/will be back. We have to get used to and be part of a Premier League elite that sometimes qualifies for the CL and sometimes doesn’t – and when they don’t, they don’t panic, they don’t sell, they just redouble their efforts and get back the year after, and it’s someone else’s turn to miss out.
So, in a remarkably upbeat conclusion: no, I don’t think finishing fifth will be a disaster, and I do think we’ll hang on to all our major players. But I think what happens after that defines our short-mid term future
(Oh, and if anyone offered us £12-£15m for Van der Vaart, I take it, just by the by)
My biggest concern about (potentially) finishing fifth? Manchester Ciy. I was at Wembley this weekend for the semi-final, and while nouveau-riche City haven't usurped their snobby neighbours just yet, it's coming.
And as an aside, they boast the nosiest, most intimidating fan base I may have ever heard. Give that fearsome lot something proper to cheer about, and even Mario Balotelli might be inspired to jig about a bit. In short: allow City to park themselves up in the the Top Four bay this season and they may be immovable tennants.
Add Champions League football to their potential signing sales pitch and suddnely Gareth Barry becomes Bastian Schweinsteiger and Pablo Zabaleta is Dani Alves. And as you rightly say, United won't be vacating the Top Four on Fergie's watch, Chelsea will reload next year and Arsenal will most likely remain, as Henry Winter said this weekend, the Premier League's "prettiest bridesmaid". It's imperiative we barricade our door from City.
Dig deep for these coming seven fixtures and we stave off the inevitable for another year. A stay of execution we'll desperately need with Harry's England desertion a shoo-in next summer and half his stars surely eyeing his departure the perfect excuse for theirs. Big Cup re-qualification (not entirely sure this is a word...) means Levy touring Europe with his dog-eared cheque for £30million and lassoing a worthy striking prey.
But should we lose out this May, I'd love to share your optmisim for the intentions of our loveliest assets. And maybe you're right. After all, Bale may recognise one more year is required to hammer home his gigastar credentials in comfortable environs. Modric is trotting out encouraging quotes. We're split on Mr Van der Vaart's effectiveness, but give him a proper pre-season and a capable striker and he'll happily stop for another year. He loves being the big fish in the medium sized pond. Unless Fergie decides he requires another barrel-chested drifter who scores in bunches.
Instead, the danger might be the quality of the reinforcements. We lucked out on Rafa this past summer, Sandro was signed as a project, Gallas proved a trademark 'Arry transfer manouvere that came off and Pienaar's simply rekindled fan love for our wronged Nico. That's been the level our Champions League-bolstered recruitment drive. Lose Top Four status and will that standard dip? Probably not, but for Tottenham to progress, the fresh legs have to be a marked upgrade on our current standard.
Because one false move, and our membership to this new extended elite suddenly looks perilous. Should Bale actually decide he simply must rub Champions League shoulders with his elite peers each year, his starrier teammates will get twitchy.
And without Bale, or Modric, we're a different proposition. We're one of those upstart sides systematically dismantled after a season in the sun. A gateway club for fledgling world-beaters. But batten down the hatches this summer and keep our toes crossed for serious Levy investment and we've got our extended elite VIP wristbands for another season.
A 2011/12 Tottenham led by Bale, Modric, Rafa and Mr £30million Striker is a Premier League dark horse. It's a season that - as you say, Dave - holds incredible value for our future.
I'm still unsure quite how loyal our stars will prove to a Spurs shorn of Champions League football. But I'm entirely certain this summer will define what sort of club we support for the next five years. Christ, we've made it all sound rather important, haven't we?
Coming soon: more big issues tackled by a couple of geezers who may well know less than you. Meanwhile, check out Charlie's excellent blog here.
Sunday, 17 April 2011
2) Tottenham 2 Chelsea 1 (aet)
League Cup Final
Spurs scorers: Berbatov (pen), Woodgate
The first leg of my journey to watch our Carling Cup final against Chelsea was a solitary walk from my house to the station.
The first song that came on my iPod was 'Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?' by ostentatiously bookish indie stalwarts Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.
It was a good question. I was certainly expecting to be heartbroken. But was I ready? Would I be able to cope in anything like an adult or manful capacity? Unlikely.
Our relationship with Chelsea had only just started to change. We'd recently beaten them in the league for the first time in forever, but we hadn't nullified the dread that had been drummed into the fixture through years of humiliation.
The monkey was off our back, but we'd yet to beat it to death with a shovel.
The last leg of my journey was not to Wembley, sadly, but to The Beehive on Tottenham High Road. For some reason this pub just opposite Bruce Grove tube had become part of our match day ritual, so we decided to pile in early, get a good seat, a bit pissed, and prepare for the worst - cheeseburger and chips in the Beehive.
We got through it, however, and the match itself started really well for us. We looked bright, we nearly scored and, most importantly we didn't look over-awed.
Then we gave a free kick away about 25 yards out. Drogba took it and didn't miss by much. Five minutes later we gave away another one in the same place and he didn't miss by anything at all.
It looked like being a typical Spurs performance against a big side: match if not outplay them in the opening 15, 20, 30 or even 45 minutes, fail to score, then concede, crumple and take a regulation defeat.
We were still playing pretty well, but just couldn't get a break. Then, we got a break. A Chelsea player committed a needless but obvious handball and the ref pointed to the spot.
Berbatov's penalty was the coolest thing I've ever seen. We're talking Fonzie in a freezer.
I mean I didn't actually see it, obviously, not as he took it. I never watch penalties. At the ground, when everyone else stands up to watch, I remain seated and stare at the ground. Then, hopefully, when I hear the cheer, I stand up to join in the celebration and ask m'colleague to tell me exactly how the pen was slotted. (He pretty much always says 'perfect pen', now I think about it.)
In the Beehive, I went to the toilet. I was in mid-stream when I heard the cheer. I couldn't celebrate too wildly so just clenched my fist - and immediately regretted it. Wrong fist.
Back in the pub there was pandemonium. I could only assume this was most of these people's first game. They clearly didn't know that what Spurs were actually doing was finding new ways to torture us. They'd now very cleverly set up the perfect last minute loser scenario. And if I had to bet I'd say the culprit would be.... Lampard.
As it turns out, it was Spurs that nearly won it in 90 minutes. Didier Zokora was put clean through and was about to make it 2-1.... when he suddenly remembered he was Didier Zokora. Actually, he hit it pretty well, and it just smacked Peter Cech in the face. Normally, a result. But, on this occasion, not quite what we were looking for.
So, extra time, and, almost straight away, that silly, lucky, wonderful pinball goal from Jonathan Woodgate. Way too early, of course. Having blown the 'last minute heartbreak' option, Spurs were now going to stick us with the pain of a penalty shoot out. Cunning bastards.
Time ticked by. Robbo made one great save and Chelsea should probably have had a penalty of their own.
By now I had turned away from the screen and had buried my face in the thankfully cushioned back of my seat. My plan, my ingenious, brilliant plan, was not to watch the game (Are you mad? That would be asking for trouble), but to just listen to the Spurs fans singing, because they only sang when there was nothing really happening. When we or, as was happening more and more, they were in a properly dangerous position, the singing stopped. And then maybe I'd have a peek. Or a coronary. Maybe both.
So, as long as they kept singing we'd be fine. Keep singing boys, please just keep singing (I was actually saying this over and over in my head).
(By now, one of our number had abandoned any sort of interaction with the match and was pacing up and down in the garden, waiting for the sound of celebrations to signify the final whistle. He tells me it was packed out there).
I knew time was up now, and the singing was louder than ever. Then suddenly, it stopped, replaced not by a euphoric roar but by horrible, horrible silence.
Please God no. I actually felt a bit sick. But as I turned to look at the screen, the first thing I saw was the wondrous sight of Ledley King raising his hands in celebration and letting a Chelsea player run past him (he actually went on to hit the post).
The singing had stopped because a flick on from Chelsea had looked like setting up a late, late chance. That was the moment I turned round. But before that chance materialised, the whistle had blown and then there, finally, was that euphoric roar.
It was 'only' the League Cup, but it was a huge and special win for us:
* We'd beaten Chelsea, a completely full strength and fired up Chelsea.
* We'd beaten Chelsea after going a goal down.
* We'd beaten Arsenal (6-2 on aggregate, just FYI) to get to this final and so finishing the job was doubly important.
* We'd won the one that mattered. Chelsea's record against us had been staggering. Embarrassing, actually. But when it came to Wembley, when it came to a cup final, when it came to 'it', whatever 'it' is, we'd won.
* That was now two finals and two wins against them.
* It was about to be 10 years without a trophy. Now it was O minutes without a trophy.
* The last manager to bring silverware to Tottenham wasn't George fucking Graham anymore.
So, we stayed in The Beehive and, to misappropriate another song from Mr Cole and his Commotions, we had a perfect skinful.
Watch some extended highlights here.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
Fellow Spurs fan and Twitter friend @charlieparrish (who writes the excellent A Spurs Blog) recently suggested we kick a few issues back and forth between us on email and post the results on our respective blogs.
I thought that sounded like a splendid idea. So we've done it. We're doing it. We may well continue to do it for some time.
And the first question is...
Will we qualify for the Champions League? And if we don't, do we even want to qualify for the Europa League?
Charlie: So, as José prepares for a El Clásico mini-series, Harry must sober up from his Champions League hedonism and focus on this little lot: Arsenal (H), West Brom (H), Chelsea (A), Blackpool (H), Man City (A), Liverpool (A) and Birmingham (H).
Get a point more than City take off Blackburn (A), West Ham (H), Everton (A), us (H), Stoke (H) and Bolton (A) and we’ll have another beautiful summer fearing another band of plastic-pitched chancers in the Qualifier. Oh, and we get to keep our lovely stars.
But can we do it? Well, much like last season, it all hinges on a post-disappointment North London derby. Twelve months ago, we were hoodwinked by a no fear, no future and no-regular pay Pompey and all looked bleak and Europa League-shaped. This time – my cresting hatred for Heurelho Gomes aside – we face Arsenal all proud of our brave little European soldiers. Trump our neighbours for the third time on the spin, and suddenly: it’s on.
Yes, we have an away day triangle of doom with Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool looming, irrespective of derby delights. But it’s about drumming up some momentum. Now distraction-shy and with Bale galloping back into full flight, there’s again every chance (shut up about Gomes, our strikers, and Rafa’s malaise, voices in my head…) we can extract one last run from this lovely Spurs vintage.
Now for the depressing bit. Their away games are a lot easier than ours (“Come on, um, Junior Hoillet!”) and even without Tevez (although popping on the confidence cap again briefly: his potential month long absence is terrific news) they could joylessly dismantle everyone like they did those tumbling Mackems. Or wither à la Anfield. Our mutual inconsistency simply hammers home how important it is for us to thunder on and only worry about them when we square of for Battle For Fourth II: Mancini’s Revenge.
Personally, I think we’re going to do it. Enough players are returning to fitness and owe us some form. My favourite panto villain (and player of the season) Billy Gallas will drag the defence through the season’s business end. Big Tom and Luka are finally reunited for their crafty little ‘n’ large schtick. Bale owes his reputation (and us) a run of barnstormers. Van der Vaart needs just something – a goal, outrageous piece of arrogance, free-kick, anything – to come off for this funk to be lifted. And surely one of our meandering strikers will realise they’ll be in Moscow, Birmingham and the North East respectively should they not start milking our creative teat. Three out of four of these happen and we’re golden.
And if we don’t? Then I refuse to be snooty about a year of Europa League purgatory. The monumental collapse required to allow Liverpool to vault us would be more damaging to confidence than travelling to Gent for a 4:45pm kick off live (ish) on ITV4+1*
* Please don't allow this pay-off to haunt me come August, Tottenham.
Me: Charlie, you won’t be surprised that I don’t share your optimism.
I do share some sentiments: your increasing annoyance at Gormless, your begrudging but burgeoning admiration for Mr Gallas, your bafflement at the travails of VdV, and your belief that the Mod/Thud combo could be as good as any midfield pairing in the country. But the optimism? Nah, we’re fifth. We are, to slip into the vernacular of my daughters and their friends, so fifth.
We actually haven’t been playing very well for an alarmingly long time. After that FA Cup humbling by Fulham, we won three games in a row: Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland. A decent run of results, but far from sparkling performances. We scraped home in every single one.
Then we took three points from Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham and Wigan. That’s where we blew fourth. We won’t miss out by more than four points. And we should have got a bare minimum of seven from those fixtures. Instead, we got three. You’re a Partridge fan, I know (what right-thinking individual isn’t), so let me put it like this: that was our driving to Dundee in our socks moment.
The best we can hope for against Arsenal, I think, is a draw. And I tell you what, I’d absolutely take that if it was on offer. When was the last time we beat them three times in a row? Were numbers even invented then?
We also just look a bit tired. Key players, especially: Bale (first big season and pressure of sudden triple-A fame for a young lad), VdV (never looked fit from day one), Modric (carrying a whole team must quite a drain on such a slight frame).
I thought the Stoke game was interesting. We managed to splutter into life now and again and remind ourselves how good we can be, without actually sustaining it – not over 90 minutes and certainly not over the remainder of the season.
So, it’s fifth. In which case, and here I do agree with you, bring on the Europa League. It’s the Champions League’s ugly little sister, sure, but we genuinely haven’t got the right to be fussy about exactly which major European trophy we deign to pick up, have we?
Chelsea and Arsenal fans would sneer, but fuck ‘em. They’ve won two European trophies apiece in their history. And do you think we’d care about them when we’re dancing through the streets of Bucharest (yep, I looked it up) next May?
Oh and yes, obviously, I thought exactly the same thing after our semi-final defeat to Portsmouth last year...
For more of Charlie's frankly ridiculous but beautifully expressed optimism, check out his really rather good blog here
Joking aside (we were only joking, right?) a good performance and a decent result were the best we could have got out of last night. Sadly in the end we couldn't quite manage either.
We did, however, avoid the sort of thumping that would have been a horribly ignoble end to a mainly thrilling campaign - and would have sent us into our remaining league fixtures with fuck all confidence.
Apart from a couple of decent penalty shouts and one neat interchange between VdV and Lennon that set Pav up to side foot over the bar, our first half 'onslaught' never really looked like reaping dividends. And their goal just after the break knocked what little fight we had left clean out of us - although Pav, again, should have done better with a header late on.
Harry is, understandably, defending Gomes in the press this morning, saying it was just one of the those things. The key word there is 'one', though, isn't it?
He gave away the last goal over in Madrid (I would say 'the crucial fourth goal', but it sounds a bit deluded). And last night he got an early corner all wrong and was lucky to get away with it, then contrived to let another feeble effort from outside the box squirm under him and dribble just past the post. So, that's just four of those things...
Despite the hopelessness of the cause from the outset, and the utter meaninglessness of the last 40 minutes in particular, there was some fun to be had from the crowd's unvanquishable boisterousness. There was the ironic "ole"-ing, the "We're gonna win 6-1", the "Champions League, we're having a laugh" and the "Shit Barcelona, you're just a shit Barcelona".
But, admirable and enjoyable though it all was, we were also a bit like the last drunk at the party. Too far gone to realise that it's actually all over and too determined to have one last sing song to notice that some bugger's turned the lights out.
Ultimately, we went out quite tamely to a better (and much more expensive) team lead by a better (and much more expensive) manager.
But that, of course, was just the limp coda to what has been a stirring campaign, full of goals and glory, capitulations and comebacks. There's a lot of self-regarding guff talked about "the Spurs way", but it's hard to imagine any other club charging into their debut Champions League season like we did.
When will we get our second tilt at it? Next season? Never? They're both possible - although you'd have to say sometime between those two points is favourite.
As I've said for many months, I think we'll finish fifth and that, like Blanche and Stanley, we've had that date from the beginning.
Which means that after the sexy black undies of our this year's mistress, it'll be back to the baggy grey knickers of the Europa League. But, to stretch the metaphor into unsavoury territory, we should still get ourselves up for it.
It's harder to love, of course, and you don't feel over inclined to show off about it in front of your mates, but a shag's a sha... no, hang on, a trophy's a trophy, and if we're closing in on a semi this time next... oh I fucking give up. You know what I'm trying to say: Let's go for it in these last few league games, but if we fall short it won't be a disaster and we'll have plenty to play for next year.
Right now, though, it seems the right time to reach for the words of two great men, two men of letters and substance, two men who, between them, perhaps, can sum up what we're all feeling about the Champions League at this difficult time. I refer, of course, to those tiresome Aussie twats in the Fosters ads who dispense blokeish advice to moronic poms. Specifically, I mean: Toodles.
Take it away, Sidney...
P.S. Bale, cut out the diving.
P.P.S. ITV, when covering Real Madrid, please employ a director that doesn't have a debilitating crush on Jose Mourinho.
P.P.P.S. Please don't employ Gareth Southgate or Andy Townsend.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
When Luka Modric beat 27 players (strictly speaking, 10, but he beat some several times simply because he was bored by the inevitability of his own brilliance) to score Spurs fifth goal in the third minute of injury time it capped not just the greatest night in the club's history, but the greatest night in football's history. Actually, fuck it, just the greatest night in history.
Perhaps the most memorable sight of an astonishing evening, however, wasn't the Spurs players mobbing the midfield genius in celebration, or of the crowd erupting with joy unconfined at the final whistle a few seconds later. Rather it was the bizarre and frankly disturbing spectacle of Jose Mourhino's mental and emotional disintegration that followed.
Inconsolable and hysterical, he raged and wept against the brutal dismantling of his myth. He shook his fists at the North London sky, beat the cursed turf and lashed out at anyone who tried to calm or comfort him. When he ran to centre circle and whipped off his wig he revealed not just a shiny pate, but a deeply troubled, broken man whose world had crumbled. Suddenly he looked special for all the wrong reasons.
One can only hope that the nurses in his secure wing will protect him from this morning's media. If he sees it he will read breathless, endless coverage of the match of the century and a performance for the ages - enough to topple him into the abyss, but nowhere near enough to convey the sheer magnificence of what took place at White Hart Lane last night.
The opening seconds of the game set the tone. Thanks to his stint with the club, Rafael van der Vaart knew that Real's strict catholic goalkeeper, Casillas, would be on his knees crossing himself at kick-off so, without looking up, he belted Pavlyuchenko's little back flick right over his head and into the back of the net. A brilliant goal and an even better argument for atheism.
There were less than three seconds on the clock, but already you could sense something special was in the offing; and that the balance of power had, unbelievably, shifted.
Pav got two himself before half-time, both from outside the box. Both thunderbolts. He usually scores one every six months. Here he got two in 20 minutes. Truly the stars were aligned. Except Real Madrid's stars. They were all over the fucking place.
In a stroke of management genius, Harry Redknapp elected to leave the entire team out on the pitch for the duration of half time, just casually kicking a ball around between them He revealed afterwards that he was scared of saying something that might put them off, or break the spell. Instead, he played a few rounds of Chase the Ace with Joe Jordan and Kevin Bond occasionally checking the results from the evening meeting at Kempton Park.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and, if possible, avoid talking to it.
Early in the second half Gareth Bale finally shrugged off the weight of his own burgeoning reputation and went on the sort of run that had earned him it in the first place. He finished it by sliding the ball under Casillas, whose game was, to be fair, being hampered by an existential crisis of faith by this point.
The tie was level and there was still over half an hour to go. A Spurs win had gone from looking from implausible to possible to probable to seemingly inevitable.
At which point, of course, the goals dried up. Having already scaled impossible heights, Spurs suddenly began to wobble. There were still chances, but everything was going agonisingly wide or high, or being stopped by Casillas, who had cheered himself up no end by fully embracing paganism and donning a pair of horns.
Harry brought on Jermain Defoe to finish the job off. Then someone noticed he was wearing a T-shirt with 5-0 written on it and he was hauled off immediately for gross stupidity.
And so it was left to little Luka to seal the deal, with a run and finish that, ironically, actually made Casillas believe in God again.
There was a dicey moment in the showers when Bobby Ewing nearly woke up, but it passed and the jubilant Spurs players all got on their unicorns, flew to the little seaside town in Suffolk where I used to go on holiday as a child, bumped into my old gym teacher and suddenly realised they were naked just before all their teeth started falling out.
(Oh, and if you're new here, please follow Such Small Portions on Twitter. It's all sorts of fun)
Monday, 11 April 2011
I wasn't overjoyed when Harry was appointed.
I wasn't dismayed, but I didn't see it as a great choice or huge step forward.
I considered his managerial record (one very streaky cup win in 30-odd years) to be far from stellar - and thought his kudos was based as much on a likeable persona and media smarts as much as footballing achievements.
I also thought that his behaviour at Portsmouth and Southampton was pretty shabby. I'd suggest that if he'd done the same thing to more metropolitan clubs, with higher profiles, then he'd have been more widely and vehemently castigated. And been a more toxic proposition.
But, in his first four games, we got 10 points out of 12, including wins against Liverpool and Man City and that draw at the Emirates.
Having made my indifference clear from the start, I was asked/told that I must now be convinced. I wasn't.
Then, after a spate of signings in December, he took us to the League Cup final and eighth in the league. So, I must be convinced. I wasn't.
And then last year, Champions League qualification. The holy grail (to some). Nope, sorry, still not convinced.
This year's frantic and stirring European campaign? God, this is embarrassing, but no, not really.
It's odd. And, like I say, complicated. Because I'm not one of those intransigent fixed position fans who has his favourites, has his views and won't let actual evidence change any of them.
So I know I probably should be onside by now, and say that he's been great for the club. I actually want to. But, well, I'm just not convinced.
He has done great things, I won't deny that. Well, he's got us into the Champions League, anyway. But, then again, we weren't exactly miles off before, with a worse squad. Jol was an extra 30 seconds in the microwave from cracking it. And Ramos, well, the league form went to shit, but he did deliver a trophy, and I'm pretty sure that still means something.
So let's maybe not overplay his achievements. Although, if we don't bend a knee in gratitude, we are likely to cop a bit of flack from Harry himself.
And that's one of the reasons why I'm still not convinced: he just seems so consistently and suspiciously defensive when he talks about fans: Spurs fans, Portsmouth fans, Southampton fans, West Ham fans...
He shakes his head and incredulously asks what 'they' expect, insinuating that 'they' should think themselves lucky he was/is there at all - and implying that what went before and/or after was pretty paltry compared to the riches he's delivered.
In Spurs case, of course, when he's in this mode, he always refers to the club, not just the fans, as 'they'. As in his sarcastic, 'Yeah, cos they were always qualifying for the Champions League before I got here weren't they?'
It's the type of refrain we've heard a few times this season, usually when someone dares to question whether or not this talented squad is fulfilling its potential. It's a legitimate question and, equally, Redknapp's line of defence has some merit. But the tone and tenor of his delivery really grate.
He doesn't seem 'a Spurs man' at times like this, and certainly doesn't seem simpatico with the views and, indeed, spirit of the fans.
Outsiders see Spurs fans as arrogant and deluded, warped by a weird and inexplicable sense of entitlement. Impatient for success and angry about 'under-achievement'. Unaware, basically, of their actual position in the modern game and, therefore, unable to gauge what is and isn't success - unable, in fact, to recognise it let alone enjoy it when it comes along. Because it's not the sort of success we think we deserve.
But that's not my view or my experience of fellow fans at all. All that bollocks about the Carling Cup being Mickey Mouse? Strap some big ol' ears on me and tell Minnie I'm coming home drunk. I fucking loved winning it.
I think most of us know what level we're at, how easy it would be to sink considerably lower and how hard (but not impossible) it's going to be to inch up just a little higher.
Harry, I think, sees us like outsiders see us, believes in the slack-jawed, loud-mouthed, arrogant and ignorant cliche. And that's pretty insulting.
(And, yes, we do have those types, so does ever club. But the majority of 'us' are realistic, sanguine and generally pretty stoic after decades of, largely, disappointment).
Then there's the almost obnoxiously cosy relationship he has with the football media. It seems to be based largely on Harry being 'old school' and 'a proper football man'. These two phrases are, of course, almost entirely meaningless and certainly worthless. He's been around a long time? Great. He still pretends to forget to remember to call linesmen 'referee's assistants'? Brilliant.
There's nothing wrong with him being experienced, of course, and it's fine that his style and demeanour, on a personal level, reflect the age in which he grew up. It's equally fine that this chimes quite conveniently with the manners and mores of the majority of the press. It's just this 'Good ol' Harry' thing can really stick in the craw after a while, and it might, just might, shield him from a level of, shall we say, more phorensic analysis and crticism than the indulgent codswallop they often serve up on his behalf.
If I was to deconstruct this, I might say that I'm not convinced by Harry because he refuses to pretend all our fans are wonderful (the managerial equivalent of not kissing the badge, which absolutely should be applauded) and that he's matey with the media. And that I'm an idiot.
Maybe that's it. And maybe I am just being willful about this.
He has, after all, taken us to our highest ever PREMIER league position (caps for benefit of those who get confused about when football was invented) and delivered some cracking performances against big sides at home and abroad. But, yeah, sorry, I'm still not convinced.
I don't know if we'd do better without him and I don't know if this is as far as he can take us. I don't know if this is fair or ridiculous. But I do know it's complicated.
And I do know that if we beat Real Madrid 5-0 on Wednesday night then I will delete this post, abandon this blog and divert my energies instead into learning the art of sculpture so that I can build a statue of the great man with my own bare hands.
Sunday, 10 April 2011
We won't know whether or not this was an important result until Monday night, when Liverpool play City.
Actually, we do already know it was an important result, we just don't know why. If Liverpool win, it just about gets us back in the race for fourth. If City win, it just about secures fifth. Is that important?
I heard two conflicting views yesterday. A friend I went to the match with said he was angered and amused by Spurs fans dismissing the Europa league as somehow below us. His view is that we can win it - and that winning it would be a great achievement. And that the Champions League is above us.
Later, someone on Twitter expressed the view that if we weren't going to get fourth, he hoped we'd miss fifth as well; finish sixth and 'concentrate on qualifying for the Champions League'.
You could interpret that as 'let's not enter a competition we can win so we can put all our efforts into (probably not) qualifying for a competition we'll never win'. Especially if you're pathologically pessimistic.
Anyway, we're going to be in it next year. So let's be in it to win it. It's not like English sides have been nonchalantly dominating the competition in recent years. Rather they've been losing to European sides who they've probably underestimated by dint of them not being Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Yesterday's game was a schizophrenic affair. In attack we occasionally looked as good as we have for months. In defence we were sloppy first half and then pretty resolute second half.
This was a strange Spurs side, a Spurs side that showed glimpses of all that is good and bad about us, but never for any sustained period. It was like a Spurs tribute side.
There were flickers and flashes of brilliance, but not enough to really bury a poor and predictable side that have lost there last six away games.
The minute we looked like we were on full power, our circuitry fizzed, spat, buzzed and blinked, as the connections just couldn't hold for 90 minutes.
On the plus side, Kaboul looked good in his first match back. I wonder if, in the post King and Woodgate age, he will become our first choice centre back.
Thud looked remarkably good and showed some of the passing and prompting we miss when the more dynamic and combative Sandro plays next to Luca. It was also gratifying that he hadn't come back weighting 19 stone. Six months off for a lad who doesn't look naturally the fittest could have been a disaster...
It was also Pav's best performance of the season. Surely he'll start on Wednesday. (Like it matters)
Crouch, of course, won't. It was easy to be wound up by Tuesday's debacle at Real Madrid. But harder to be vehemently pissed off with Peter Crouch. Bewildered, maybe, but not much more.
This was proved when, about 20 minutes in, he sized up a 50/50 ball, took the first few steps towards a crunching challenge with a defender - and then thought better off it.
White Hart Lane didn't hold back with the ironic cheers. That's not the sort of reaction he'd have got if it wasn't for the crowd's underlying affection.
Listen, if we sell him in the summer, I won't mourn his departure, but he's hard to hate.
We're still going to finish fifth. We've been finishing fifth since the season started. But good old Spurs have got us hoping and dreaming of more. If the UN got involved that would be labeled cruel and unusual punishment.
* Stoke sounds a bit like steak. Fuck you.
Saturday, 9 April 2011
Friday, 8 April 2011
Spurs charged at the Champions League like a drunk in a fight. We went in swinging and seemed blissfully unaware of any possible damage coming the other way, or, perhaps, were simply unable to defend ourselves. It was fun. Crowds gathered and cheered the flailing newcomer.
On Tuesday, we sobered up and ran straight into the hard right hand of a heavyweight champion. It was horribly jarring. We saw stars. Some of them scored against us. And Crouch’s sending off shouldn’t mask the fact that we’d have been all but knocked out anyway.
What we need to do now, of course, is clear our heads and somehow get back in the race for fourth. This time last year we lost an FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth – a defeat that, in a very different way, was as traumatic as this week’s. After that, however, we went on a bit of a run and then won at Eastlands.
Same again would be nice, starting on Saturday with Stoke.
It’s a decent fixture to face. A bread and butter fixture. Only without the butter. If any team will bring you down to earth it’s Stoke – ironic, really, considering how much time the ball spends in the air.
The trouble is, Tuesday night wasn’t just a bloody great tonking by a bloody great side, it was also part of our ongoing malaise.
We took the form that’s brought us three points against Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham and Wigan into the Bernabeu. That was never going to end well. At one point I simply thought it was never going to end.
Our striking problems are well documented and, statistically, scarcely credible.
Our defence has been weakened through injury (apart from in Alan Hutton’s case, where it’s been strengthened through injury).
Even our usually excellent midfield is jaded and misfiring.
Bale looks caught in the headlights of his own fame, Lennon is ill or unfit and clearly pissed off with how his withdrawal from Tuesday’s game was handled.
Van der Vaart is a shadow of the player that everyone initially regarded as the transfer coup of the year. Even our little genius, Modric, is struggling to sparkle.
So unless we pick ourselves off the floor in the sort of comeback that would look far-fetched in a Rocky movie, we won’t finish fourth. Which will make this summer and next season the most important period in our recent history.
We are currently caught in a strange limbo between mediocrity and success. Too good for one, not quite able to grasp the other. And what we do in that time, from May 2011 to May 2012, will determine whether we fall back down to where we were, or somehow haul ourselves up to the next level.
Which, in turn, means that after next week’s limp looking second leg, we will either never play Real Madrid again, or, next time we meet them it will be on (more) even terms. There will be no patronising from them and no giddy, grateful excitement from us. We may even give them a bloody nose. We may, just may, even have their manager.
Thursday, 7 April 2011
A piece I wrote for the good people at When Saturday Comes is here
I'll stick the full version up on the blog in a day or so.
Oh, and if you've actually wound up here via When Saturday Comes, hello! Stay a while, have a look around, follow me on Twitter - @spurs_ssp
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
In a pub packed with passionate and biased Spurs fans, only one pissed idiot gave the ref some stick for sending off Peter Crouch.
The rest of us knew exactly where the blame lay and accepted his/our fate with a mixture of bafflement and frustration. And swearing, absolutely top drawer swearing.
But why, Peter? Why? You cunt.
Well, let's rule a couple of things out. Firstly, Crouch isn't an aggressive player. He doesn't charge about like Rooney, nostrils flared, fists clenched, brain empty and cheeks crimson, picking bits of defender out of his unbrushed teeth.
He gives away free kicks by being awkward, angular or just plain tall, sure, but not through malice.
Secondly, he hadn't been wronged or wound up. He wasn't exacting revenge or feeling aggrieved. Besides, he was constantly provoked in the away leg at Milan and didn't react.
Nevertheless, he committed two stupid, reckless and, most annoyingly of all, pointless challenges that both warranted a yellow card. Why, Peter? Why?
Well maybe, just maybe, the problem lies in this season's performances and subsequent insecurities.
He knows he's not been playing well, he knows he hasn't been scoring and he knows his relationship with the crowd is iffy.
He knows that some wouldn't have been pleased to see him start yesterday. He knows but (like many of us) probably doesn't know why Pav enjoys a weird and indulgent cult status amongst the more vocal element of the crowd.
So he was desperate to impress and prove himself. And the earliest and easiest way to do that was to go flying into challenges. The crowd like that, right? They want to see commitment, right? So, have some of that.
Truly confident players, players like Dimitar Berbatov, once of this parish, don't resort to that. They 'know' the crowd is actually wrong and, when the time comes, they'll show them how wrong they are by doing what they're supposed to do - being brilliant and scoring goals.
Crouch was unlikely to do either of those things, so he went for option C) Kick someone.
A good analogy is a batsmen who is pinned down by a spell of accurate bowling: starved of runs, playing and missing, getting a bit of chirrup from fielders and spectators.
Eventually, he's had enough, he takes an agricultural swing and is clean bowled. He's out because of the build of pressure as much as the ball.
Crouch was under pressure yesterday, he took two big swings and knocked our Champions League chances for six.
Tuesday, 5 April 2011
I'd love to say 0-0, I really would. And as I've said in the preview it can't be ruled out.
But, as the hour approaches, so the dark clouds close in, and I'm thinking... 2-0.
Which would be at least one nail in our coffin. They'd be confident of scoring at WHL, which would mean we'd need four.
Monday, 4 April 2011
There are plenty of sound arguments for saying that the game against Stoke on Saturday is bigger than the quarter final against Real Madrid tomorrow.
Be honest though, five minutes before kick off this weekend you're not going to feel quite like you're going to at 7:40 tomorrow. Which, in my case, means sick with nerves.
And there are plenty of sound arguments for saying that Saturday's game against Wigan was bigger than the quarter final against Real Madrid tomorrow.
But if we play as poorly as we did against Wigan, do you think any journalist is going to say: 'Harry, was part of the problem that the players' minds were already on the Stoke game?'
And, finally, when Lineker pulled out Real Madrid and then us, you felt a bit funny, didn't you? Like when you used to slide down the rope in gym class? And you didn't feel like that when the Premier League fixtures computer churned out Stoke at home on April 9th, did you?
So, all points taken onboard about league position, about next year and about the race for fourth/struggle for fifth. They're probably valid and you're probably right. But, for fuck sake, IT'S REAL MADRID, PEOPLE!
Encouragingly, we should have something like a first choice side out there - not counting our central defenders. And it is genuinely quite hard to count our central defenders. Depending how you look at it, we could have six, maybe even eight, but at the moment we're struggling to find two.
As ever, I'm not going to bang on about possible formations or patterns of play. I'll leave that to real scholars of the game like Steve Claridge and David Pleat.
I will, however, say that there must be some glimmer of hope for a 0-0, right? Mourhino might be terrified of conceding an away goal, yet confident of picking us off at WHL. And if they get their nil, then I'm pretty sure our strikers can be relied upon to fulfill their side of the bargain.
Or it could be 7-3. Fuck knows.
Consider this though, gloom fans. What it could also be is the last time we're here. The last time we're here in the Bernabeu, the last time we play an away leg in this competition.
I hope not, obviously. I'm just saying, this could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know. Oh no.
Saturday, 2 April 2011
The game itself isn't worth an extended discussion. We never looked like scoring, but rarely looked like conceding. A draw was a fair result, although if either team deserved to nick it, it would have been Wigan. Bollocks, basically.
What was more interesting than the game was... well, pretty much fucking anything and everything. I've been to some of my children's school plays that were more interesting than that - and I regularly self harm at those things.
But what was more specifically and relevantly interesting was the afternoon's dynamic between positive and negative attitudes. It manifested itself on the macro level of Spurs as a whole via Twitter, and on the micro level of Jermaine Jenas in the pub where I watched an illegal feed.
Let's deal with JJ first. He's not the most popular, we all know that, even if some of us find his pariah status a bit baffling.
I'm a fan. Okay, maybe not a fan, but certainly a supporter. Okay, maybe not a supporter, but definitely a defender. Okay, maybe not a defender, but unashamedly an apologist.
Okay, how's this: basically, if the average Spurs fan's regard for Jenas is here (I'm holding my hand out flat at about the level of my belly button), then my view of him is here (I'm holding my hand at the top of my chest/bottom of my neck).
On Saturday though, I found myself in the same pub as a few lads who clearly didn't give a fuck how Jenas played, they'd already decided he was shit. It didn't help terrifically that, on this particular afternoon, he was actually pretty shit. But I was still kind of narked by it.
Because whilst I can groan and grumble about our collective performance with the best/worst of them, I do take umbrage at giving stick to individual players - at least on a blinkered, relentless and vitriolic basis. I've sat with friends and strangers over many years who you just know, however certain individuals play, are going to lay into them.
It becomes incredibly tiresome. They ignore nine instances of perfectly fine or even pretty damn good play, and then, when the player under the spotlight fucks up on instance number 10, they find their voice. 'Typical fucking xxxxxx!' they suddenly pipe up. And by pipe up I mean bellow like morons. Well, yeah, but statistically it's not, is it? It's more: 'At last, an example of play that backs up my pre-determined view of xxxxx'.
I'm not going to analyse the pros and cons of JJ himself, because that's not what this is about. It's about the difference between saying 'Fuck me Corluka, that was a shit pass' and deciding, before every game, that Corluka is a useless waste of space, no matter what he does, and heaping pretty personal abuse on him from start to finish.
Okay, next up, the more general, more understandable and more subtly nuanced conflict between those who got fucked off/frustrated with yesterday's result and those who tried to look on the bright side: no easy games, we were away, kept a clean sheet, not bad when you look at what rivals did, etc.
There was a tiny bit of push and pull between the two camps yesterday on Twitter.
But I think it's perfectly valid to hold both views simultaneously. To some extent I think we all do.
I never expected us to win and I was massively disappointed that we drew. This makes no sense, I realise that. It is, in fact, DoubleSpeak of the highest order.
I can point out Spurs' failings for hours on end. I can explain in great detail, using Powerpoint where necessary, why we'll never qualify for the Champions League again. But if anyone else suggests that maybe we're punching above our weight at the moment, then I'll immediately start sticking up for us.
We may be simple folk, but our relationship with Spurs is complicated. It is multi-layered and it is contradictory.
On a recent podcast, Word founder and Spurs fan David Hepworth said something along the lines of: 'Before every game I always mentally rehearse every worst case scenario. I think that by doing so I can make myself immune from it when it actually happens. But of course it doesn't work. The pain still pierces.'
The pain still pierces. It really does.
These positive and negative feelings of hope, adoration, despair, dejection, anger, frustration co-exist within all of us simultaneously. (The subtitle of this blog, of course, is : Nobody loves Spurs more than me. Nobody hates Spurs more than me). Never mind Mourhino or Ferguson, it's football fans who are the masters of mind games. We play them on ourselves all the time.
It's our state of normalcy.
Football isn't rational, logical, predictable or, let's face it, much of the time, enjoyable. Our relationship with it is bound to be volatile.
Those who are constantly negative or relentlessly positive are the weird, deluded or, let's be honest, stupid ones.
If our relationship with Spurs was with another person then, yes, we'd need counseling. Actually, we'd probably need to split up. As it is, all we need is a win.