The setting was quintessentially English: the sportsclub lost at the end of a narrow lane, a ground with no stands and a pitch as green as grass in a five year old’s painting. On Saturday afternoon a few hundred Spurs fans gathered to share a minute’s applause for John White, tragically killed in 1964 as he approached his prime in the Tottenham midfield.
I never saw John play and neither had 95% of those present. Yet stories have been told about one of the finest midfielders to grace the white shirt, handed down through generations. People talk of Hoddle, Gazza and Ardiles, of Mackay and Blanchflower, then someone will mention John White and a far-away look comes into their eyes. Wistfully, they shake their heads in wonder. Now there was a player, they say. Proper footballer. If only…
A team of Scots travelled down to play the game. I travelled 60 miles to clap a man I had never seen. But I have heard the tales told and that was enough. It’s what Spurs means to me.
Spurs Legends are the opposition. Some are, frankly, more legendary than others, some are twice the man they used to be. If the Spurs Shop is out of size XXL shirts, there’s a reason. Before the kick-off they pose for photos and do what footballers do, rip the pee out of each other.
The whistle blows, the Scots slide a ball through into the box. Stuart Nethercott takes off, quicker it seems than ever he was in the nineties. Who cares, it’s a friendly? Let it go. But he wins it and clears. He cared. Because he takes pride in being a pro. Because he wants to win. Because he’s wearing the white shirt. Because he is Spurs.
Next day, we have as much of the ball as the Legends did against scratch amateurs but we can’t break through, try as we might. Not everything worked. Not the most fluent performances but we kept at it. Three off the line I counted, one off the post, two good chances spurned. The second came to Gareth Bale and we held our breath as he advanced on the keeper. At last, the ball in the box at the feet of the one man who can make the difference. No magic from our saviour this time. The keeper saved and despite our heavy hearts we forgave the Welshman. After all he has achieved for us this season, how could we be angry?
Yet they pursued the win, knowing that it could all be futile. Despite the false hopes from Newcastle, our fate rested elsewhere. All we could do was win. They did not let up. Parker tried to win the game on his own, harking back to the urgent, compelling determination of last season, his only reward a cruel substitution. It may be his last match but he was Spurs. This is my team.
After the Legends game as we strolled back to the clubhouse, a willowy fresh-faced young American asked us who was signing autographs up ahead. It was Clive Wilson, a Gerry Francis free transfer on his way down the ladder until we gave him an indian summer at left back, cultured, quick and athletic, He’s added a pound or two since then but haven’t we all.
So we talked some more. Mike had come from the States to see his first ever game at the Lane. In the country for three days only, he saw this was on and made it to Chigwell, just to see Spurs legends play. In Georgia, he wanted a team, his flatmate supported Liverpool, he chose Tottenham and here he was because he knows what Tottenham means to him.
So we talked Spurs, with Pete who comments every week, with Daniel Wynne who does the match commentaries, loves this club and gave up his time without a second thought. With Crackers who did the bonkers Spurs fanzone and who puts on meet the legends evenings and laments the fact that this generation of player won’t need or want to take part in these events in twenty years time.
This Spurs team play to the finish. Bale on the right, a pause, a deep breath then away. Left foot, body contorted over the ball to get the point of contact right. I am in line, as I was for the replica versus Southampton except this piece of brilliance flies into the top right hand corner rather than the bottom. The arc of the ball matches the desperate curve of the keeper’s body as he dives in vain. No camera can match an image like that, which will stay with me until I die. A true and worthy Spurs legend at 23.
Back in the car, I turn on 606. Robbie Savage is touting Bale’s transfer. Why stay, he asks, when Champions League football could be his? It’s a reasonable question but there is an answer. Bale is still young, at 23. He has a young family, he’s well-paid and could get more this summer. Also, his income has leapt because of his sudden appearances in several undoubtedly lucrative adverts for the home market.
Perhaps, just maybe, he’s not focussed solely on getting as much money as humanly possible in the shortest possible time, a concept Savage appeared to have a problem grasping. Possibly he wants to be part of something that ultimately could be more fulfilling at this stage of his career than uprooting his life to live abroad (Levy wouldn’t sell to another Premier League side). A team that like him is getting better all the time, that like him has ambition, where he looked after and cared for by teammates, fans and his manager.
Perhaps the most revealing moment of this season was his lastminute goal against West Ham, not the stupendous mind-blogging talent that put the ball in the roof of the net from 25 to win the game but headlong dash to celebrate in the arms of his manager. Perhaps that’s more important than the Champions League, at least for now.
It is to me. I’m disappointed that we didn’t make it and I’ll spit out the dirt as our north London rivals rub our noses in it once more. Neither will I forget the missed opportunities. Points dropped along the way, one from six from Wigan, and looking back a fatal home defeat by Fulham.
However, there’s more to being a fan, more to football than the Champions League. This time next year I may not be as sanguine but I reckon we’ll keep this team together, including Bale, for one more year. Unless Levy spends big, the hard work will be wasted but this is my team and I’m going to enjoy them.
606 and in the queue for the Blackwall Tunnel, three Chel**a fans call in. Never mind third place and the Europa League, all the first is concerned about is the fact Benitez did not come out for a lap of honour. The second thinks Rafa deserves little credit because it’s all down to the players, as if they run out onto the pitch and sort it all out then and there. The third introduced himself as a lifelong Blues fan who vowed not to support them until Benitez left.
If that’s what success does to you, I want no part of it. Caller three is no supporter at all. Supporters don’t lay down conditions, because it’s in the heart. Thick and thin, good times and bad.
Villas-Boas reaches the Shelf on the lap of honour. He’s done a fine job in building this side, encouraging them, getting them to play until the very end. The crowd sang his name and he deserved it. He knows what it means. He is part of Tottenham now, that’s why he has put so much into it. He knows.
Instead of acknowledging the crowd, he turns to his daughter who is little bigger than the flag she is delightedly waving. She probably doesn’t know they are cheering her dad. She looks pleased and bewildered at the same time but she’s willing to go along with it. He pauses, brushes a wisp of hair from her forehead and continues. Priorities right, attention to detail, everything as good as it can be. In the summer, Mr Levy, please back your man. He’s earned it. He’s one of us.
Yesterday there was a job to be done and Spurs did what they had to do. Not in a straightforward manner, of course, why break the habit of my lifetime? After conceding the most pathetic set-piece I have ever seen, which is an accolade in itself given our recent sorry history at corners, Tottenham applied themselves fully and properly. Spurs were well on top even before Adam obligingly got himself sent off, then eventually the pressure paid off.
In many ways this was an unremarkable win in a match where little of note took place. However, this is our Spurs and we don’t confront these must-win games very well. This time, we kept the ball, kept going and came home with a deserved victory.
Possession won this game. All the time we had the ball, Stoke were under pressure. Their regimented defence kept us at bay for a long time but we kept coming. Much of it was ordinary, a game played sideways as we shuttled back and forth across the field in search of an opening. The tempo could have been brighter but mostly it was played in Huddtime, where the clocks seem to run just that little bit slower than the rest of the universe.
But we kept going and the chances came our way. Bale came close two or three times, once from a delicious through-ball from the otherwise ineffective Parker, Dempsey’s reaction miss from a corner, then Vertonghen. In the end, patience found its virtue with Manu alone at the far post to touch in Dempsey’s low, late cross. The American had a good game. Ignore Adebayor’s silly rehearsed jig, as the ball hit the net Deuce turned and raced to our grateful fans in that corner. He has a feel for this club.
Another goal in the last ten minutes. Is that the seventh match running? Villas-Boas has passed on the message that you keep going until the end. They are certainly fit enough to do so. His substitutions were effective too, Dembele coming off the bench fresh when we had to keep up the pressure and pace a better sight than his sorry figure limping off, finished after an hour. That time when we were worried about conceding late on feels like a bygone age. Yesterday we played out the last ten minutes without incident.
Our Andre deserves the credit for this and other aspects of the performance, including Manu’s drifting into good positions from out wide and for standing dutifully in the pouring with a mac that may be smart but clearly isn’t waterproof. However, he hasn’t sorted out the set-pieces. Our pitiful record had Pulis salivating in anticipation. First free-kick, we went zonal in response. It worked. Everyone stayed dutifully within those zones, it was damned unfair of the Stoke players to actually move. We stood still, they didn’t and we were one down in a couple of minutes. It was irredeemably stupid, utterly pathetic defending. We can laugh about it now but at the time the dark clouds blotted out the sun above my house…. And let’s not forget Dempsey needlessly gave away the free-kick in the first place.
Dempsey however found redemption in our equalizer, sharply reacting to a poor clearance and lobbing the ball into an unguarded net from 35 yards. An assist too, a good game indeed.
Charlie Adam helped the cause. Determined to carry on his record of maiming as many Spurs players as possible, he challenged Vertonghen with no hope of winning the ball then stretched too far after the restart and was gone, second bookable offence. He’s a man out of sorts with his game, capable of so much more. I’m not a bitter or vindictive man but had to chuckle at the indignant reaction of many Stoke fans to the referee’s performance, which the TV showed was spot on throughout. Stoke had a rota to foul Bale as he ran at them. Pulis must surely understand why most supporters of Premier League teams have little sympathy for his oft-repeated line that his team don’t get the breaks.
Finally, a reminder of who really runs the game. Last week we kicked off thirty minutes late because of traffic problems. Yesterday, train-loads of Spurs supporters were delayed in or near Rugby because of an incident that closed the line but the match is on Sky so kick-off goes ahead on time. It stinks.
Sometimes a bit of distance helps. Time to breathe. Sense of perspective, which is impossible to achieve in the midst of the white hot heat of a Chelsea derby with Champions League qualification hanging on the result. May the deity who does not exist strike me down but yesterday I had Other Things to do, so no blog. Not a bad thing. Time to pause, disentangle the loose ends of a tension-filled evening. deep breath, take a moment. This sound advice doesn’t apply to Spurs defenders at a corner, by the way.
Performances and results can be both good and bad at the same time. I could press the pause button for a month and still not reach a firm conclusion. A draw was bad – the CL is now out of our hands even if we win the last two games. The draw was good – we twice came back from a goal down, saved a match where at one stage we were being outclassed, notched a point. The draw was bad – I had hoped we would win. The draw was good – it was more than I expected.
That’s a contradiction, but hey, we all know that contradiction, the unity of opposites, is fundamental to society and our full understanding of the nature of reality. Big shout-out to all you Maoists out there. That’s what we saw on Wednesday, the reality of Spurs. Tottenham are in fifth place because we are the fifth best team in the league.
The magnificence of the week where we defeated Arsenal and brushed Inter Milan aside did not as I said at the time herald a new balance of power but was in fact the highpoint of a season that has since declined. We’ve not played well for a while now. The sublime seven minutes versus City, Bale’s sublime seven seconds last week or two ropey goals to salvage a point at Wigan have covered the true extent of our dip in form. You know what, I’m disappointed but not too down about it. That ridiculously wonderful week remains glorious, not because of the immediate consequences but because it showed what we are capable of and what we should aspire to. We’ve overachieved to reach this point, whereas our rivals are uncertain of their future. There’s so much to be proud of.
Let’s take the Chelsea game. That slick midfield trio tore us apart at the Lane earlier this season. They were on top for much of the first half and at times threatened to repeat their trick. However, we dragged ourselves back into the game with a combination of hard work and application plus a few tricks of our own. It was an unequal contest on paper. By my reckoning our starting eleven cost a couple of million more than Fernando Torres, yet in the build-up no pundits mentioned that as an example of the imbalance in terms of the resources available to the respective managers. That’s because we are seen as their equals, which in itself indicates some of what Villas-Boas has achieved in such a short time.
The pundits did reveal the truth after the match however, albeit inadvertently. Souness, one of the few I admire, trotted out the hackneyed line that our Andre was fortunate to inherit the side from Our Glorious Harry Redknapp. Not so. He has had to replace half a team, the best half aside from Bale. Modric and Van der Vaart sold, King, the finest British centre half of his era, retired, Kaboul, our best current centreback, injured all season. Then he’s had to cope with Sandro’s loss, the lynchpin of our side. Against them, Mata, Hazard and Oscar. How many times do we have to say this before it is heard? Yet still Villas-Boas cannot get the credit he deserves for punching above our weight. It’s a backhanded compliment that people now expect Spurs to play so well, that our standards are so high that we are criticised for falling below these rich expectations, but it takes only a moment of perspective to uncover the reality.
With the positives comes frustration at what might have been. Never mind what if we had a striker, what if Adebayor had played for the rest of the season as he did on Wednesday. His goal astonished as much as any of Bale’s this season. Winning a scuffled challenge deep in his own half, on he went, and on, as fast as his spindly pipe-cleaner legs would carry him. Lennon’s shrewd run occupied a couple a defenders just long enough to give Manu some room, by no means the first time this year that Azza the unsung hero has worked hard for his team-mate to take the glory. A gem of a shot, floating into the top corner, the most precious of accolades, a flat-footed keeper helpless in the face of such brilliance.
The frustration of a midfield unable to protect a back four. Analysis of individual goals in blogs has been rendered pointless if Gary Neville is poised by his touchscreen. All I would add is the position of our midfield. Three blues were between them and our back four when they began the move that led abruptly to their second goal.
For a time it looked unequal but we gradually inched our way back into the match, keeping the ball better and playing as a unit further up the pitch. As Chelsea tired or slowed because they thought the game was won, this allowed Vertonghen to push up, gave Parker a fraction more space, which sadly these days he needs, and with the introduction of Siggy and Dempsey we could put more pressure on the centre of their back four. We had an outlet. Nothing was going on down our right but Adebayor was drifting left. (AVB again…). To begin with, this gave us an outlet as we relieved the pressure on our defence. then, gradually, this became part of our attack. For the first time we employed some combinations between our players. We had three, Manu, Benny and Siggy, to their two. Moreover, Manu was thinking quickly as well as moving into the gaps. One touch, Siggy filled one of those gaps and finished with aplomb. The runs from midfield, a goalscoring midfielder, that was why he was bought and he fulfilled his promise.
Mentions in dispatches for Lloris, who stayed calm and did what he had to when he had to do it, and Walker, who takes up some crazy positions but worked tirelessly and defended well. He does what he does because he wants to do well and I can handle that.
Fourth was always between Spurs and Arsenal. Look at what Chelsea have at their disposal, with a manager who knows how to organise a team. We’re ahead of Arsenal in so many ways – I wouldn’t take any of their back five. Yet since the derby they are unbeaten. Our problems are not up front, they are at the back. All this tactics, the hope, the despair, the promise, all the philosophy and words I spew out. No point if we can’t head away a corner. It’s odd how these grand schemes fall in the face of humble problems. Last season, how we bemoaned the fates - the injuries, Fulop, the dip in form, Bayern Munich. I tell you what’s truly ironic. We are the fifth best team over the season because we can’t clear a corner.
SPURS LEGENDS IN ACTION
The John White Memorial Match will take place on Saturday 18 May 2013, with kick-off at 2pm.
The match is being held at Colebrook Royals FC, Grange Farm Lane, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 6DP. (Close to Chigwell tube station)
One of the heroes of Tottenham Hotspur’s all-conquering side of the early 1960s will be remembered in a special memorial game featuring the Spurs Legends team on May 18.
The official Spurs Legends team, which tours the UK regularly to help raise funds for worthy causes, is set to take on FC ScotSpurs, a dedicated team of Scottish fans of Tottenham, in a memorial match for John. Guesting in the FC ScotSpurs side willl also be Flav, Charlie Marks, and Thelonius from TFC podcast.
Poignantly, John’s son Rob is set to captain FC ScotSpurs against the team of ex-White Hart Lane favourites, which regularly features the likes of Mark Falco, Paul Miller, Tony Galvin, Clive Wilson and Darren Anderton.
Please support the event. Rob is a great friend of Tottenham On My Mind. Hope to see you there.
Tickets will be on sale on the day, priced at £5 for adults and £1 for under-16s.
Money raised from the event will go to the Tottenham Tribute Trust, which is an organisation that reaches out to members of the Spurs family who are facing hard times.
Donations can also be made via: http://www.justgiving.com/fcscotspurs
When he does those things, I just stand and gasp. Goal celebration bedlam feels wrong somehow, a vulgar demeaning of greatness. Several times this season, the instant adrenalin rush has propelled me from my seat, then I’ve stood, barely clapping, swaying gently as the wonder of it all flows over me, seeps through the skin, travels along each nerve until I eventually sit, long after the whistle has blown for the restart, in a little world of my own.
It recalls the time when I first heard soul music, I mean proper r’n'b soul, live, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in of all places Canterbury Odeon. I knew their songs but not that feeling, a ten piece soul band battle-hardened through hundreds of gigs in sweaty down-at-heel clubs let loose on an impressionable middle-class English teenager. After three songs I was holding onto the back of the seat in front of me for fear my legs would give way.
Bale’s goals are like that for me. Each as fresh as the first time, a driving horn section, swirling hammond, thumping bass, the crunch of the snare and screeching riff all rolled into one. That feeling.
They are all different. No speculative potshot that happens to fly in. This one began in familiar fashion, a little shuffle to the left, then acceleration and another touch, not beating a defender but simply sliding the ball where he cannot reach it. The final movement protected the ball in the instant of contact, leaning over, distorted body shape to enable the perfect contact. Low and hard this one, right in line I watched it arc into the bottom corner, finding a gap where there had been none for the previous 80 odd minutes.
Empty phrases like “world-class” don’t cut it, even if he is. Gareth Bale is a reason to believe, in the beauty of the game, in the team, in our ability to compete against the very best, to keep the faith. That anything is possible. I urge you never to take this for granted. In my late fifties, I have never seen anything like this. Greaves, Gilzean, Chivers, Hoddle, you name them, Bale is thier peer. This isn’t world-class, this is better than that. This is the fabric of myth and legend.
Until then, Bale’s demeanour and performance could not have been more at odds with this sensational moment. The other great ones strut and preen even if they are not playing well. Bale cut a forlorn figure, lost in midfield as the game went on around him. It was as if playing against his old club cast him back five years to when he was a youth team player finding his way. It was a reminder that even now he’s little more than a kid.
Lost and forlorn sums up this match as far as Spurs were concerned. It was a collective failure of epic proportions, as if the players had been introduced to each other for the first time in the dressing-room before the warm-up. To describe it as disjointed implies they knew what they were doing in the first place, which as the time passed I came to seriously doubt. After an hour, they became incapable of string three passes together, and that was when we were playing better.
The nadir was a little later. We had totally run out of ideas, then rallied with Manu and Holtby providing some much-needed impetus. Still, it was all a bit desperate. Something nearly happened, maybe we got vaguely near the Southampton box (it was that sort of game, even that lifted the crowd) and the ball went out for the throw. To break things up still further, three of their men went down. Benny restarted with three of our side having a drink by the bench, oblivious not only of the fact that the ball was in play but also that some urgency was required to rescue this god-awful mess. Walker was the width of the pitch away from his position. It showed that their minds had gone.
In the case of two key men, Dembele and Lennon, their legs had gone too. Both barely got involved, both went off injured. Neither was fit and neither should have started. Spurs were weak before the game kicked off.
It all adds up. iI the team is paying well, you can carry a man who is slightly unfit or out of position. However, we started with two men unfit and Dempsey vaguely left midfield. That’s fine if we are on top and he has some freedom to cut in. Yesterday, Southampton strangled the space and pushed him back, and the Deuce is no left midfielder. It showed. Benny was no help. Trying too hard, he gave the ball away frequently. He depends on having an outlet, but Dempsey gave him nothing and Defoe’s movement was limited. Collective responsibility. Hud’s long passes can be effective but the Saints did not allow our forwards any room. Also, the team are not used to the long ball game. With Bale denied space too, we looked distinctly uncomfortable for almost the whole match. One shot on target in 90 minutes tells its own story. 100% success rate, though.
Saints were organised and cultured, a fine side who surely won’t go down and will prosper next season. By the time Bale let loose they should have had the game sewed up, spurning two golden chances in the first half.
In an undistinguished afternoon, a little mention for Lloris who in his understated way did everything he had to and on one occasion something very special, hurling himself low to his left to tip a free kick onto the post. A lifesaver – even with Bale, such was the poverty of this performance we may not have come back from that.
Three games left and who knows. We’ve never looked less like a top four team as in the last few matches yet with Bale there’s a reason to believe. As I’ve said for a while, the defence is the key. We may not be scoring heavily but the problem is, we are shipping soft goals. The irony is, this was our first clean sheet for umpteen league games and our worst performance. Enforced changes may mean a more defensive set-up in midfield for Wednesday but Holtby and Siggy may be what we need. His goal covered up a dire effort but let’s worry about that in the close season, because with Bale on the break there’s a reason to hope.