If Spurs’ scabby season is remembered for anything, it will be for the anger and despondency generated as raised expectations were crushed by profligate ineptitude. Its symbolic moment, the peg on which we can hang our memories, took place yesterday just before half time.
Stewart Downing’s free kick was heading plumb for the centre of Tottenham’s wall. Paulinho and Adebayor moved out of the way and the Whammers had won the match. When it came to it, two of our most experienced players avoided their responsibilities. It wasn’t a powerful shot. All they had to do was stand there but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that. Any semblance of organisation fell apart at the slightest pressure.
As he left the field a minute or so later, Hugo Lloris shook his head slowly and puffed out his cheeks. Paulinho and Adebayor’s instinctive reaction was to turn their backs on their ball and in so doing on their team-mates. They had let him and their team-mates down. You may be playing well or badly, in our case very badly, but you stick together. Apparently not at Tottenham Hotspur.
The impact on Hugo was greater than on any other Spurs player. Leading from the back, he was outstanding throughout, giving his all in a game that to most of his colleagues appeared meaningless, judging by their lack of effort or application. He threw himself to all four corners of his net and of his area, fingertipping low shots round the post, holding the straight ones and fearlessly venturing into the muscle and elbows of a packed penalty box to punch the danger away. If he is planning to leave it didn’t show but frankly after this, who can blame him.
The turning point was Kaboul’s dismissal on 25 minutes. After a sedate opening when Spurs played some decent football, it all fell apart when the centre half pulled Downing down as he rushed towards our box. Last man so was gone. Personally I would have backed Hugo against Downing so Kaboul was at best clumsy, reckless more like. Lloris saved Carroll’s thundering free-kick, of course he did, but Carroll headed in from the resultant corner via a deflection off the top of Harry Kane’s head.
In a season where we’ve seen some rubbish, Spurs formed a rabble and stank the place out to high heaven. Having no idea is bad enough, they had no inclination to do anything about it. Paulinho, such a disappointment, sauntered around. I swear he kept looking at his watch to see how long he had to put up with it, or maybe he was checking the times of the planes to Rio. He certainly wasn’t interested in playing for Tottenham. Dawson tried his best, Siggy was in headless chicken mode and Eriksen tried to make sense of how professionals could play this poorly. I couldn’t work it out and neither could he, but at least he did something about it. Otherwise, I would rather be locked in a broomcupboard with Piers Morgan, John Terry and a box of two-week old rotting fish than watch this.
In contrast, Wham were totally committed. I’ve seen them a lot this season and despite their muscular approach they can be vulnerable. Instead, they were first to every tackle and loose ball, although they didn’t have to work that hard because we gave the ball away so frequently. Bear in mind they have had their troubles too, with the added pressure of being sucked into the relegation places, yet they took on their challenge rather than run away from it as we did.
Sherwood’s half-time talk had a marginally beneficial effect although it’s hard to imagine how we could have played any worse. He moved us more centrally, sacrificing width for more bodies in the middle. Lennon stayed busy. Eriksen stood out with hard work and a couple of superb runs but his skills provoked a feeble response from the rest. He was excellent, while Lloris continued to excel too. 10 v 11 is hard enough but this was 2 v 11.
Couple more things to make you feel even worse, if that’s possible. Carroll is Wham’s dangerman. Kaboul was marking him at set-pieces. When he was sent off, Spurs failed to react quickly enough. Kane seemed to be marking him for the corner that followed the free-kick. That was a mistake that led to the goal. Daws tried to get to him but too late. It was always a mis-match. No one on the field or on the bench reacted quickly enough. There was time to bring Chiriches on after the free-kick but before the corner. Sherwood was too slow and by such margins games are won and lost.
And then there’s Danny Rose. While the focus was on Kaboul’s foul, moments before Spurs’ back line pushed right up to the halfway line. As Downing ran through, Rose let him go. Before Downing’s free-kick, Rose gave the ball away when under little pressure in his own half, misdirecting a simple pass. Inexcusable on both counts.
On Friday I questioned the emotional commitment of the current squad. I doubt that playing for Spurs means as much as it should, therefore when it comes to giving that little extra, they are found wanting and that the way forward is to build regular, personal links between supporters and players so they understand the heritage and meaning of being Spurs.
This game exposed the yawning chasm between fan and player. This may be the end of the season but it’s a derby, it means something. Because of this, the fans give more but most of the players couldn’t give a hoot. The supporters who went not only paid a lot of money but took some massive stick. That’s what happens at a derby. The players could at least give something back. Disgraceful. No wonder we get angry.
It comes from the top. Levy’s appointment of a caretaker signalled that we had limited ambitions for this season but this blog has effectively been about that dereliction of duty and nothing else for the past few months so no more about it now. A few paragraphs above, without thinking about it, I wrote ‘they’ not ‘we’ when talking about the club. Slip of the keyboard maybe but it’s a small but telling example of how many supporters feel about the current situation. We’re not all in this together.
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.
Funny how these things turn out. I’m bashing out my post-match piece after the Liverpool game, usual routine except I was hitting the keys so much harder than normally, castigating Villas-Boas, blaming Levy for a decade or more of lousy decisions and predicting our manager’s sacking, at the very moment AVB was indeed being dismissed.
It’s happened before, many, many times before, but still comes as something of a shock. This follow-up should be a proper review, a look back at his time at Spurs. But it’s not about analysis, it’s about emotion. At least it is for Spurs fans. For others, it is much more straightforward – Tottenham are a laughing stock. Eight managers in twelve years, close to £100m spent in the summer and four months later the guy who spent it was gone.
It’s provoked different reactions amongst the fans, as you would expect. Many are delighted, some ghoulishly gleeful that their negative assessment of his ability has been proved right. My blogging pal Greg is angry and tearful in this fine Dispatches while Martin Cloake and Adam Powley separately (they are not joined at the hip after all) glory in the absurdity of it all. You have to laugh or else you’d cry.
I should be worked up about it. Long ago having sold my soul to the devil, I’ll be watching Spurs ’til the day I die regardless of who is in charge and who is playing, so rejection, the rational response to the mess the club is in, is out of the question. Rationality and supporting Spurs – really? What am I thinking?
But I invested in what I thought was happening at the club. I wanted Villas-Boas to succeed because I like the idea of a young, progressive and driven manager taking the club forward with a squad of similarly able and upwardly mobile players under his protection. I felt protective because of the way sections of the media and those within his club rubbished him at Che***a. He was ours now and White Hart Lane would be a safe home for him. We Is Us 18 months before it was said out loud.
He’s gone and I wish him well. I’m left feeling not angry, sad or happy, but numb. Hollow and distracted that once again my club, should be left in such disarray as supporters look on powerless. However difficult any life event is, human beings develop strategies for dealing with any repeat. Life goes on. Time and again our hopes have been raised only to be dashed once more. One step up and two steps back. We’re always regrouping, starting again. A endless loop of transitional seasons. It has to stop. Some clichés deserve repeating because they are perfect encapsulations of reality. We can cope with the despair, it truly is the hope that gets you.
I guess I don’t ever want the hope to be extinguished. Life isn’t measured by the passing of the years, it’s how enthusiastic you feel about the things that matter. Once that enthusiasm withers, so does body and mind. That’s why football supporters are such lovely, wonderful people to know. I mean real supporters, measured not by how many games they go to or their knowledge of the inside-out passing stats of Latvian second division false-nines, but supporters who feel rather than spectate. They hold these two diametrically opposed emotions in happy, blissful equilibrium, the cognitive dissonance of despair and hope that protects us from collapse. We moan, wring our hands and kvetsch in our frustration but we know what’s important. And we will turn up next week because good times are just around the corner. It’s a fundamentally decent, buoyant outlook on life that I love and would never be without.
It’s a good way to be but damn hard to maintain with a club that takes every opportunity to trample those positives into the mud beneath layers of cowpats. Uncomfortably numb, in fact, although the thought of a Pink Floyd song is the surest way of driving me completely over the edge.
I’m a keen student of Spurs’ history. If you asked me right now to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say something like: ‘none of the people who have run this club in my lifetime knew what they were doing.’
Daniel Levy has presided over a period of financial stability, and rightly deserves praise for that achievement. Yet he is totally unable to put into practice those same principles of sustainability and continuity on the field. A CEO in any business is not responsible for the detail. That is a waste of her or his time. Rather, they should establish a framework to implement clear goals that everyone signs up to. They set the parameters and the plan, the way the organisation will go about its business. Above all, their job is to pick the right people at senior level to put the plan into action.
This is how Levy has been successful in business. When it comes to football, that flies out of the window. This is what I can’t understand. I would rather a bad plan than no plan at all. To my mind, the club has had a consistent strategy over the last few years, to buy young(ish) players who will develop at Spurs. They come with more potential than experience. Develop together, we have a future in the long-term. the risk that they will leave is balanced to some extent by their increased value in the transfer market.
This long-term strategy is the best option for a club like ours, without a big stadium or recent success to generate income or a rich investor prepared to buy success. (we have a rich investor not prepared to buy success). It’s worthless without a coherent, stable senior management because this development takes time. Time is the most precious resource at the chairman’s disposal. No successful enterprise would dream of making so many changes. yet Levy cannot find the right man and does not know where to look.
Never mind all this speculation, we all know that Levy has no idea who to appoint. None at all. I wish Sherwood well. People I respect rate his coaching abilities and knowledge but if he succeeds it will be by accident not design. Levy has a record of appointing men at odds with the English game – Santini, Ramos – then folding to give anyone who happened to be around a chance – Martin Jol. He allows infighting within his management team – Jol actively undermining Santini with the players, Poyet the same with Ramos. Redknapp came as a panic measure to fight some raging fires, the success was unexpected. He invests millions in giving Villas-Boas the job, a huge risk given his recent CV, then refuses to back him in the market, the Moutinho deal going down the pan and playing an entire season with only two strikers.
I’m numb in the face of this because I have heard it all before. Much sighing and head-shaking annoying everyone around me this week. It’s real but the anger has gone. Not totally – it erupts to the surface as it did when I wrote my last piece. Sugar – Graham, Gross, Francis. Scholar – brought the club to the edge of bankruptcy. Burkinshaw’s parting shot: “there used to be a football club there.” Sidney Wale dynasty: Terry Neill, failed at one club and Ars***l to the core. It has to stop.
Monday was my birthday. It was nice to get wish-you-well messages. My good friend Adrianna, who tolerates but doesn’t get it, asked me if I had a good day. ‘Lost 5-0, lost a manager’ I replied. She hasn’t got back to me. My son knows me well: ‘Spurs in disarray, there’s a birthday present’ was all he said.
It is a shameful catalogue of wasted opportunities stretching back for over forty years. However, I am a supporter, a stupid sucker maybe but a committed sucker undoubtedly, so I find grounds for optimism always, and it is this: the players. This is a decent squad of footballers. Some obvious gaps but the potential is real. Healthy organisations need a goal: ours should be, whoever is in charge, to start next season with this same group of players. Without direction or some sniff of Europe, they will leave. It’s imperative that we keep them. Add to them, sure, but build on what we have.
Levy should look for someone with evidence of enabling talented, skillful players to create the right patterns of attack. In other words, to do what AVB couldn’t do. And whatever happens, I’ll be there to see it.
Even my wife noticed. “See your lot are doing what the manager wanted then.” I watched Thursday’s Europa League victory against Sheriff from the comfort of my sofa but the sound of the crowd came through loud and clear. The noise was generated primarily by supporters sitting behind the Park Lane goal, the traditional Spurs ‘end’, who had bought tickets in a section allocated by the club for the 1882 movement, a loose grouping of mainly younger fans who want to bring back the atmosphere to White Hart Lane.
This time last week I wrote about the unease with which an increasing number of Spurs fans express their support for the club. The loyalty remains but the ground can be deadly quiet at times, there’s anxiety in the air and despite our league position and highly promising squad, there is a puzzling but tangible undercurrent of dissatisfaction about the direction the team is taking under Villas-Boas.
I suggested that while there’s no single reason for this (high prices, changing demographics, Sky TV and unrealistic, barely achievable expectations caused by the dominance of the Premier League and Champions League are all factors), many supporters have developed a growing sense of alienation in terms of their relationship with the club. They feel distant, cut off and undervalued. The feeling is by no means unique to Tottenham, indeed it is a worrying trend that is spreading throughout the Premier League. It’s not something that you can grasp easily or put a name to, but it’s around and therefore all too real.
This feeling hasn’t stopped life-long Spurs fan, season-ticket holder and author Martin Cloake from regularly attending games. He was curious about what he calls the “new ultras”, groups of fans at clubs in Britain, Europe and the States who encouraged fellow supporters to gather and sing. Unlike traditional supporters’ organisations they prefer to remain anonymous and keep officialdom at arms’ length.
These groups manifest their allegiance in different ways. For many european Ultras, violence and protest is never far from their vocal support, others like St Pauli have political elements while others focus on the team. The Spurs response is the 1882 initiative. My son and I were present at a tiny bit of Tottenham history, the first gathering at a Youth Cup match at Charlton. I was probably the oldest one there. It was organised by Spooky from Dear Mr Levy and, well, I wasn’t sure at the time. Find Flav Bateman and co-conspirators at Love The Shirt but at the time, I heard the call because it was just a great idea. Come and sing for the shirt. No other reason, get behind the team and where better than at a youth game where we don’t know the players but they are Tottenham so they are ours.
Martin makes 1882 his starting point for a riveting history of Spurs’ fan culture in the last thirty years. I’ve called 1882 a movement but it’s not really. It has organisers but no leaders. It has no manifesto or political ambition, other than to increase support for the team and enable fans to enjoy themselves in the process. It’s inclusive – you don’t have to be a member of anything, you just turn up. It isn’t po-faced – I didn’t take my shoes off to support the lads and I didn’t sit down if I loved Tottenham because it would play havoc with my knees, but that doesn’t matter. Sing your heart out for your lads.
Love the Shirt is clear about one thing: their starting point is the long and proud heritage of fan culture at Spurs. They see themselves as carrying on that tradition, spontaneous and anarchic in the past, it’s just that now because of the alienation, it needs a bit of work. One particular aspect of fan culture that is unique to Spurs is how this heritage has persisted despite fundamental attacks by the club. Sound of the Crowd takes you through the scurrilous, sordid tale of how Spurs tried to emasculate loyal and loud support.
When I began supporting Spurs in the mid-sixities, the vocal and mostly younger fans gathered behind the Park Lane goal with away fans at the Paxton and other home support in the Shelf. Spurs must be the only ground where home fans share an end with away support. That’s bad enough but imagine turning up one season to find you’ve been turfed out of your end, your place without any warning. Yet this has happened not once but twice at Spurs. First, away fans were moved exclusively into the Park Lane, then in the mid eighties, the ultimate indignity or in my view betrayal when one close season executive boxes replaced the Shelf, the home of the most loyal and most vocal.
In Martin’s hands, this sorry saga becomes the tautest of thrillers, heroic resistance in the face of mendacity, intrigue and conspiracy. It’s essential reading for anyone interested in our history and the relationship between the business of football and supporters. The revurberations of that period rumble on. The atmosphere has never been the same but more than that, it opened wide that distance between club and fans that has never been closed. Football is about a sense of belonging and place: our fans have nowhere to go.
The supporters are happy, there’s an atmosphere at the Lane and the manager has a response to something he identified as a major impediment to the team’s continued success. Spurs reach the League Cup quarter finals and the knock-out stages of the Europa League. You would think there’s a message there somewhere.
So this is what the club do next. The West Ham game is category C and there’s no 1882 block. Big game, intense rivalry, the manager wants the fans to get behind the team, yet no discounts, no singing section, both dropped because THFC can make a sweet profit from a full house derby.
Stoke was due to take place on the Saturday after Christmas, 3 pm kick-off. Yesterday the club announced that it had been moved to Sunday, 4pm. No reason has been given and it’s not on Sky. Many fans make their Christmas arrangements around the fixtures. Even I for once, a bah-humbug bloody Christmas man if ever there was one, have organised things in advance. If I am to attend this match, and for the first time in a long time it has become an ‘if’, 12 people close to me will have to shift their diaries around too.
A twitter pal of mine, big Spurs fan, used to blog, goes mostly to aways as he lives in the West Country, young family so short of cash, planned a real treat for himself to be at this game. Now he can’t make it. He can get a refund on his match ticket but not his advance rail fare. He can’t be the only one. He’s disgusted and so am I.
Clubs should make a profit. These days with vast television and commercial revenue they can do so without it being at the expense of the supporters. If you’re puzzled as to what alienation is, it’s probably the feeling you get when you read the three paragraphs above. Things must change, not for my sake – I’ll be there til I die then scatter my ashes under the feet of the crowd after the match – but for future generations.
It’s not all bad. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity with the new ground to create an end and keep some prices reasonable. 1882 and the Trust are doing some fine work. The club must welcome not reject them. 1882 isn’t a separate movement, it’s us, you and me. It is inspired by our past and we are the future.