Please Cry For Me, Tottenham Hotspur

In the aftermath of Chel**’s Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night, the cameras lingered with voyeuristic glee on John Terry as the pain of defeat caused his tears to flow. And to think that ITV’s football coverage has been criticised.

Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the alleged racist and leave it at that. Whatever my opinion of the man, there’s no doubt that he was genuinely affected by losing. Although he didn’t play in his club’s winning final and therefore missed out on a chance to win a medal by taking part rather than for bringing his kit along, this emotional reaction went beyond the personal. He deeply cared about his club and the result.

It made me wonder. Of our current squad, in the frankly preposterous eventuality that we had reached a CL semi-final, would anyone cry for Spurs?

In contemporary football discourse, any mitigating empathy is interpreted as an excuse for disreputable behaviour and in Terry’s case there’s plenty to choose from, never mind scenes at White Hart Lane where he has taken great delight in letting us know what he thinks of Spurs fans. Therefore let me say – this is not an excuse for him or his past, it has not altered my opinion of him one jot.

So this is about Spurs. Terry cares about his team – who of our lot feels the same, and does it matter? Michael Dawson comes to mind first, interestingly like Terry a tough centre half who makes up for a lack of top-level on-the-ball skill with physical presence and unswerving commitment. Daws feels like one of ours after so long at the club, although of course Terry has been with his club all his life.

He has always had something to prove. Originally the junior partner in a deal that brought Andy Reid to Tottenham, he’s had to fight hard to be first choice regardless of several managers who had notably different preconceptions of his worth. AVB, for example, nearly sold him because (again like Terry) he didn’t suit the manager’s preferred high defensive line, yet was compelled to revise his opinion.

My contact book is as thin as a sheet of rice paper rolled through a mangle but I’ve been told by journalists who have met him that his passion and honesty is completely genuine. He really feels the heritage of the white shirt with the cockerel-on-the-ball badge.

Tissues on standby for anyone else? Kyle Walker is unfairly maligned because, one, he’s better player than many give him credit for, and two, if we are behind in a game he will fight with determination to put it right. Kaboul and Lennon too for that matter. And a surprise late entry, no one has put more into the second half of this season than Adebayor. Holtby, if we ever see him again.

A caveat again – I’m not saying that they do this well every time or that it works. For example, Spurs conceded a third against West Brom a couple of weeks ago because of Kaboul’s recklessness in surging up the field. Walker was all over the place late on versus Chel**a.

All I’m saying is that I reckon they care. From a combination of what they do and looking into their eyes, they care. But to the point of being heartbroken at defeat in a big match? Not sure. Whereas Paulinho and Chadli, two skilful players, don’t feel it, and haven’t contributed enough this season.

The real question is, does it matter? Supporters and players will always be separated by this great divide. We support the shirt and expect players to do the same, but players are professionals, with professional pride but not necessarily an emotional attachment to whatever club they happen to play for.

This may not affect their performance. Lloris and latterly Eriksen are playing extremely well, giving everything, but there’s no evidence of an undying emotional commitment to the club. In response to the accusation that modern players are so cushioned and cosseted by their inflated salaries, my response is that I don’t mind provided that they give everything when they play for my club.

The Lane has felt like a passion-free zone since Sherwood was appointed. Not his fault – that’s an uncomfortable consequence of Levy’s short-termism both in dumping managers before they have a real chance and in creating his second caretaker role. We’re marking time until the summer. The players can’t play for their place or their manager because the new guy will rate them all differently.

Playing for something more than professional pride therefore does matter in my view. For a few, Ledley King being the shining light here, it means everything and sustains a level of performance and dedication against all the odds. Others come and go. For the majority, that extra commitment to the club provides just that little bit more of an incentive, and it’s that edge that makes in the difference in a league where margins between success and failure are narrow.

Good players can be made as well as born. This is yet another reason why any summer appointment must look to the medium and long term, to build continuity that includes a strong attachment with the club. Don’t just tell them their future is with Spurs, keep them and build a team where their talents can blossom. Explain the heritage. Let them come into contact with the fans regularly and in relaxed, ‘real’ situations not a Q&A, where they can absorb what it means for us.

There’s nothing of John Terry’s that I envy, he can even keep his money, but I wish for a few Tottenham players who feel the pain of defeat as much as he does.

 

Two intrepid Spurs fans are trekking in Wales this summer to raise funds for the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust. Go on, give them a couple of bob, good lads both. Click here for more info

 

 

It’s Three Point Tim! Spurs Win Again In End Of Season Stodge

Once again Spurs have waded through a stodgy game and come away with three points without playing well. Let’s enjoy it. Not the football itself – flashes of brilliance from Eriksen, Adebayor and Chadli stood out because they were so rare in a staggeringly ordinary match. But we’re winning so let’s freewheel to the end of the season, whistling a happy tune.

Not much happiness at the Britannia, oh dear me no. Both teams struggled to get going, working hard but lacking cohesion. I checked my stream – thought it must be running slow but that was just the players trudging through treacle. Then in a flash of inspiration, Adebayor touched the ball past the defender and Danny Rose, um, rose at the far post to decisively head home his inviting cross. Shouldn’t have been so far forward – disgraceful!

Then Rose was victim in an incident that exposes another element of watching Premier League football these days. Prem fans are cosseted and privileged yet apparently carry a massive sense of simmering injustice. Fans of many clubs seem to think their players (Spurs are like this sometimes too) are never in the wrong. It’s always the opposition and the ref, usually both. It’s part of the culture of criticism that has enveloped the modern game. The real game, watching in the flesh, is faster than ever but not on television where everything is slowed down and analysed into oblivion. Refs make mistakes. Players go over the top. Players dive. But they don’t always do that. Nevertheless there’s now an element of doubt in every tackle, every time a player touches another.

Late in the first half, Shawcross went in high on Rose. The ball was bouncing a foot or so off the ground. Both players were entitled to go for it. Rose got there first, Shawcross was late. He was rightly booked but because he had been yellow-carded already, he was sent off. Ref completely right.

Cue Stoke apoplexy and Spurs ineptitude. Not a hint of blame for a defender’s daft challenge? Not a jot. I think Rose, my player, was extremely stupid with what he did next. Not a question of bias. He stupidly pushed a defender in the chest having been cynically late-tackled. Ref booked him. I’ve not seen a player dismissed this season for raising his hands to chest height. Head height is different. Players often push each other and get booked. Ref was right but in this case Rose was foolish as he had been successfully wound up by Stoke players and crowd.

Now a liability, Rose was rightly substituted by Sherwood. I can’t be arsed to listen to either manager post-match but as Hughes is in a state of permanent indignation, I guess there was no room for doubt in his mind.

Stoke with 10 men were a far more formidable proposition than Stoke with 11. At least, they were because of our reaction. It’s a measure of our fragile collective team psyche and lack of on-field leadership that we played poorly from this point onwards, until the final minutes when finally we grasped the fact that if we hold on to the ball and don’t constantly give it away, we might hang on for the points. We sat back, looked dismal in possession and generally waited for Stoke to score.

Obligingly they missed the chances they made. Lloris was admirably solid, a tonic as gaps opened up in front of him. Dawson and Kaboul helped out with a couple of finely timed interventions. Hughes did the right thing in boldly attacking when he went to three up front but his forwards let him down.

Last week I severely criticised Nacer Chadli’s lack of application and effort. So it is only fair that I compliment him this week because at last he realised that his central midfield role involves working back as well as starring on the ball. He overcame a niggling knee problem and often appeared in between the two centre backs to help out at the back. Credit where it is due – well played sir.

At the end we could have had another – Kaboul irresponsibly charged upfield – if only we knew where the keys to that bus are, if only – but in the event his cross could have been turned in by Kane, while Paulinho, who was poor throughout, missed another opportunity.

Sherwood can’t find the bus either so we’re unable to park it even if we want to. We could have done with some solidity at the back but we turned out winners in a forgettable end of season stodge memorable only for the reaction to two bookings. See – I’ve reached the end without mentioning Charlie Adam.

Here’s To You, Christian Eriksen

Before yesterday’s match against Fulham, Spurs manager Tim Sherwood described his players as “much of a muchness”. Hardly a Churchillian call to arms as Tottenham aim to complete the season on a high. However, he rightly identified three players as rising above the average: Hugo Lloris and Manu Adebayor with Christian Eriksen the rising star. They proved to be the difference, making vital contributions at both ends of the field that made up for the deficiencies elsewhere on the pitch.

For much of a lacklustre first half, Spurs were disjointed and flat, devoid of confidence and shape. This has been a familiar aspect not just over the last few games but across the season. One big difference between AVB’s half and Tim’s half is that under Sherwood we are scoring goals. We made few chances in this one but took them. Two came from set-pieces, masterminded by the deadly Eriksen. At the other end, Lloris is finishing the season and perhaps his time at White Hart Lane in style. An athletic leap to reach up under the bar to tip over Rodellaga’s thumping header was followed by a penalty save. Just as valuable was an ungainly but vital block in the first half when Fulham were attacking vigorously.

Adebayor’s contribution wasn’t in assists or goal attempts – several shots were frankly rubbish. However, from the start he worked tirelessly, trying to lift the team. His team-mates should have done more to follow his example. Paulinho and Chadli both had good touches but never tried to seize the initiative in midfield. Parker is past his best and was injured early on but we missed his purpose and application.

At full-back Naughton and Rose were uncertain. Paulinho hung back but again without a designated DM or any intent to provide much cover, our already weakened back four with Fryers in alongside Kaboul were always exposed and vulnerable. The two centre halves did reasonably well but it was far too easy for a limited Fulham attack to get at us.

An early example was a long ball that caught our centrebacks dozing. Rodellega missed. We didn’t adjust despite that escape. Spurs went through the motions but lacked inspiration or energy. Flat as a pancake run over by a steamroller. Kaboul headed over, Lennon hit the post – think the keeper tipped it onto the woodwork – but that was it until Eriksen’s curling free-kick fizzed between a befuddled keeper and defenders facing their goal who feared taking a touch. It went all the way to Paulinho at the back post who touched it in from about an inch.

Rather than consolidating, Spurs immediately caved in. Sidwell shook off a couple of effete challenges, played a one-two with Fryers who laid the ball perfectly at his feet. The half drifted to a close. Attention wavered – vacant expressions in the stand, time to count the many empty seats. At this stage of the season we often hear of players halfway to the beach. At the Lane, that applies to the crowd. If the chairman has written off the season and the players can’t be bothered, neither are we.

If Sherwood is saying that we have too many players in certain positions, he has a point. There’s no room for all our attacking central midfielders while we are short in cover up front and at full-back. However, Sherwood’s role is to motivate the players, not to be a pundit. Not the right approach to criticise players in public before a game. Clearly there is dissention in the ranks – I was shown a tweet at halftime where Sandro announced he was fit. The undignified spectacle of a twitter and press conference spat continued after the final whistle. Rose and Tony Parks appeared to have words as they left the field.

However, Sherwood must be doing something right at half-time. The second half began inauspiciously with the team coming out late, hesitant as to who should lead them, Rose eventually taking the initiative while captain Kaboul was last out, talking animatedly to Adebayor. They were lifted by an early goal. Lennon had a good second half, working hard up and down the field. He curled in a deep left-footed cross from the right. Kane had a quiet game but showed his value as a man playing off the striker who has experience up front as opposed to an advanced midfielder. He headed home for his third goal in three Premier League starts.

You will have sussed by now that Fulham don’t like the ball in the six yard box. Eriksen took his next opportunity to whip in a carbon copy of his first half effort, only this time from the left. Kaboul was at the far post this time.

Fulham were well-drilled but rather rigid. They failed to adapt to having to come back into the game despite being gifted a penalty when Eriksen lost concentration and needlessly handled the ball. Sidwell’s penalty was too close to Lloris and the keeper pushed it away.

A goal then could have induced a typical Spurs wobble but instead we took control. Our possession football wasn’t exciting but just what was needed to close this one out. Much of our play was uninspiring and insipid, especially in the first half, but let’s be grateful for a few moments of class in an otherwise ordinary performance that gave us three more points.

The caretaker effect created by Levy seems to have engendered lethargy and cynicism in players, manager and fans alike. At least we are together in something. Sherwood seems to feel justified in criticising players – he’s off so what the hell. Many players don’t have the incentive to do well because the new man whoever he is may or may not have different ideas. Just a reminder, if any were necessary, that despite Sherwood’s limitations, this sorry situation was set up by the chairman.

A couple of days ago I pondered on the nature of one aspect of modern fandom, the vehement rejection of any player who leaves us if they accept a transfer. It’s not something I feel, preferring a haphazard, not necessarily logical balance sheet that factors in their previous commitment and contribution to the Tottenham cause. In January, Nacer Chadli was allegedly thinking about a move but decided to stay. Sherwood has rewarded him with regular starts, most recently in a central midfield. I’d suggest the Belgian has not repaid his manager’s faith in him. He’s good on the ball but is reluctant to work hard enough. Alert and active when he gets possession, suddenly his enthusiasm dissipates when he has to do something that he doesn’t want to. It’s unforgivable to see him jogging back when we need him goalside. Apparently he’s quite happy for his team-mates to put in the sweat and toil that is beneath him. In a midfield four, without a dedicated DM, it’s a derelication of duty. On my personal balance sheet, he’s so far in the red no amount of top corner swervers are going make up for it.

Bale’s Goal A Cause For Celebration? Thoughts On Watching Modern Football

On Wednesday night former Spurs player Gareth Bale scored the late goal that won the Copa Del Rey for his current club, Real Madrid. If you haven’t seen it, congratulations – your willpower to stay away from social media and the press is far greater than mine.

By any standards it was a jaw-droppingly remarkable piece of football. Picking up a pass from defence on the halfway line, Bale couldn’t get past the defender in front of him so he decided to go round him. He knocked the ball past his man and ran. However, the defender wasn’t to be beaten so easily. Turning quickly, he had the inside track. The ball was his.

That logic would have defeated most players. If not, the nudge he received as he came close would have done the trick. Most would have gone down in an imploring heap, bleating to the ref as they plunged to the turf. But Bale kept going. No way through so like Lewis Hamilton on a fast corner at Silverstone he left the defender on the racing line and put the pedal to the metal. To get round he went a couple of metres off the pitch, through the technical areas and when he was back on the field, the ball was his.

Full-pelt he carried on with the ball at his feet, the full-back forlorn, desperate and beaten. He bore down on the keeper then with the ball perfectly in his stride went from power to delicacy in an instant and touched it home.

There’s more. Here’s the context. This full-tilt 50 metres in 8 seconds with a ball at his feet and a defender in his wake took place in the 86th minute. Bale had had a good game, working hard up front interchanging with Real’s main striker Benzema. It was a final against Real’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. The score was 1-1 at the time, a tight game heading inexorably for extra time and penalties. This was no ordinary goal, this was the stuff of legend. Whatever he accomplishes in the future, he will never be forgotten by Real supporters.

Most of the photos I use on Tottenham On My Mind are of the goals themselves but the one at the head of this article tells the real story of this goal and of the nature of football itself, what it meant to the crowd. In it, Bale soars in majestic isolation, as if born aloft by the tumult. The reality is more prosaic – he was alone because none of his team-mates could keep up with him.

Like I said, remarkable. Moments like these are precious, the reason why I remain unshakably fascinated by the game as I approach my sixties. Nothing else does it like football – the shared experience, the unsurpassed passion, that unique combination of improvised skill, power, beauty and presence of mind. Being gobsmacked by the whole thing is the essence of being a fan.

Not so if you gauge opinion from social media and the comments’ sections of newspapers. Reading this, my feeling as a supporter is out of step with many. I freely admit when I’m wrong, as I often am, but there’s something here about changes in the way we relate to the game, something that goes way beyond this goal and which I do not think is for the better.

Two examples. First, many said this was a good goal but was it really all that? In several places on the net, for instance the Guardian comments section, it is suggested that this is not ‘a wonder goal’. Leaving aside the use and creation of that phrase, which we’ve all heard over the past few years to the point where it becomes meaningless, many say this goal is not worthy of that accolade.

You can call it whatever you like but it’s clear many were at most only mildly impressed, others positively dismissive. Using that term as shorthand, if this is not a wonder goal, then what is? Partly this is a rhetorical question, partly a genuine search for examples. There have been goals as good and better but I would contend this is head and shoulders above most goals we’ve seen this season, especially if you add the context. You’ve got to say it’s up there – apparently not.

The modern game distorts expectations in many ways. Success must be instant. Supporters especially of the so-called big clubs have a overweaning sense of entitlement. Second is nowhere, success is not something to be acheived or worked at, rather it is their right as supporters to have success at the highest level to celebrate.

This distorts the nature of the game itself. Last week author Adam Powley overheard some Chelsea fans after they beat PSG saying it was a good thing that moneybags PSG didn’t get through…

This distortion has seeped into the way we perceive the game itself, gnawing away over time at the very meaning of being a supporter. If you can’t enjoy Bale’s goal because it wasn’t really that good, what can you enjoy? What are you waiting for? Because I am here to tell you after fifty years of watching the game, there’s nowhere else to go. Wait for something better to come along and you will be sorely disappointed. This is about as good as it gets.

I’ve seen all of Bale’s goals for Spurs. Some were up there as wonder goals, although I wouldn’t use that term myself. But in my time I have never seen, never, anywhere, a player like him. That fast, that strong, that powerful, that touch, those long-range shots, those deft touches in the box. This goal showed off the lot. This is what football is all about and if you’re looking for something else, it doesn’t exist. Treasure every moment. If this goal doesn’t excite, I cannot possibly see how you can get any enjoyment from football.

Bale’s goal was all the more breathtaking for me because as a Spurs fan, I’ve seen him grow up. More than just any ex-player, Bale has gone from a gawky, hesitant man-child too big for his body to an outstanding footballer. Along the way he’s provided some fantastic goals and memories. I have said before that I feel close to these wide players, these wingers and full-backs. From where I sit on the Shelf, they are 10 yards away, toiling, scared, audacious. I know because I can see every bead of sweat, I can look into their eyes.

I wasn’t the only Spurs fan who wished him well, who took pride in this goal and others even though it brought into stark relief how limited we are in comparison and how much we miss him. I openly admitted that Bale’s goal made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, warm in that I was pleased for him, the memories were fuzzy, generous recollections of his days with us.

Many Spurs fans were not so generous. Bale (and Modric, having a quiet moment together as the goal celebration finally ended) rejected us so we reject them. Many on the boards and twitter saw no reason to join in. Others were downright angry with him for leaving and the goal left them at best indifferent, at worst downright angry.

Unlike my first example, I do get this one even if I don’t feel the same way. An element of sentimentality infuses my writing, without dominating, because that’s part of how I relate to being a supporter. The past is important to the present. Football is 22 men kicking a ball and at the same time so much more than that. Equally I know only too well that investing in an emotional attachment is nothing more than love unrequited, doomed before it began because in the end, they all leave.

I say all. Ledley didn’t leave, he was taken from us. I don’t do friendlies or testimonials but I went to Billy Nick’s and I will go to his. But these days, they don’t hang around. This change has been mirrored by changes in supporter attitudes. Fans are quicker to reject them now, when they go. If a player indicates that he wants to leave, the anger and opprobrium is particularly harsh and bitter. Players have been agitating for a move for as long as there has been professional football but the reaction of fans these days seems much stronger than I recall in the past. Waddle, Hoddle and Gazza – I remember disappointment and sadness but not the fury provoked by, say, Berbatov’s or Modric’s departures.

Just to be explicit about what I am not saying. I’m not saying my way is better, merely that this development seems to be a part of contemporary fandom. Neither am I welcoming back every past Spurs player with open arms. The ones I don’t like are those who take it easy and don’t give us their best while they wear the shirt. All I would say about Bale is that when he played for us, he played. He gave as much as any man and his football over the years contributed to our best results, our best league positions for decades and unforgettable memories. He didn’t stop playing for us, just got a bit sulky in the close season when Levy was haggling over the fee. He was always going to be sold once Real made the offer and I can’t blame him for joining arguably the top club in Europe. In my balance sheet therefore, he is forever in the black.

So why are reactions more vehement? The answer must lie beyond the actions of individual players, although that is important of course, witness Vertonghen’s apparent disdain at the moment. Fans feel alienated from their clubs to an increasing extent. Players and clubs are distant, exploiting our willingness to come every week to the point where their praise of supporter loyalty borders on the patronising. Clubs invite us to be part of the experience but do little or nothing in return to earn our trust or respect.

It’s natural therefore that we don’t invest emotionally in players because we know they will be off soon. It’s not just Spurs. This is part of the modern game. And the consequence of not being close to players is that you are less close to the club itself. The ties that bind are loosening. There is a real danger that the nature of support is changing irrevocably and the only thing that will stop it is if the clubs begin to recognise that and treat supporters with the respect they deserve. I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy it while it’s there. That is not meant as an ironic throwaway remark. Get as much from the game as you can. See a goal like Bale’s for what it is, a sublime example of the art. Relish Eriksen’s goals or Hugo’s saves – maybe if they do enough of each they’ll stay longer because we will do well but don’t allow the certain knowledge of their departure to taint your enjoyment of the game. Football isn’t just about winning, it’s about wonder, so marvel all you can. Because if that goes, there’s nothing left.