Domination so complete, I have a crick in my neck from facing in the same direction for too long. Then, finally, Lloris’s bank holiday stroll around his green and pleasant area is rudely interrupted. He saves well, low to his right, two hands. Being alert after long periods of inactivity is another of his many attributes. The reading centre forward has a gaping net but heads the rebound wide. Pressure now, unexpected, unknown since the third minute when he put another bouncing rebound into the net. From the second corner, there’s an almighty schmozzle on the goal line. Legs, bodies, arms raised, accusing glances towards referee and linesman, but play on. A little while later, Dempsey’s celebration is indecently joyful as his deflected shot spirals over a stranded keeper. Spurs’ win is safe, 3-1 now and no way back.
Seasons turn on such short passages of play. Off the line at one end, a lucky goal at the other. If Spurs had dropped any points, it would have been a gross injustice in a match we dominated totally, but whoever said anything about football being fair? For Spurs, not pressing home an advantage and conceding late is not something that could happen, it’s something that does happen. From now until the end of the season, every point will be vital. The pursuit of 3rd and 4th will go the wire. Yet over a successful holiday period, 10 points out of 12 will do and in each of our three wins, we played well in the first half but better in the second, scoring eight second half goals and conceding none.
Our new year is a time to look forward. Without getting carried away on the back of three victories against frankly poor opposition – Sunderland were limited up front, Reading limited everywhere, Villa just arouse pathos – the signs are all positive. Bearing in mind the fact this team needed major rebuilding over the summer with the loss of both manager and its creative heart, we are moving ahead far more quickly than could be expected. The players are comfortable with each other and with their style of play that at its best offers an outlet for their attacking instincts and at its worst provides a fall-back position of solidity based on hard work. It’s pass and move in the Spurs tradition, easy on the eye and a possession game that’s entirely modern. The proviso is, we keep the tempo high, it’s what suits us best.
It’s significant that almost all of the players have improved in some way since Andre Villas-Boas took over. Fans never truly know what influence coaches have over their charges. However, something’s working. In no particular order, Sandro is a beast of a defensive midfielder who has responded to being his manager’s first choice by becoming an absolute rock. Lennon is having his best season, excellent yesterday. Defoe is scoring, Caulker has stepped easily into this side – I keep reminding myself he only turned 21 last month – while Bale is reaching stratospheric heights as the most dangerous midfielder in the league.
New comers Vertonghen and Dembele look as if they were born to play at the Lane. Their class was evident to whoever scouted them but the way they combine with their team-mates, that’s Villas-Boas again. The Dembele-Sandro axis could be as good a midfield paring as any in the Premier League. Dawson could have been transferred but wants to play and gives everything he has for the team, as does Gallas although his powers are waning not for want of trying but through the passage of time. Naughton has benefitted from having a few matches in a row, which also means we can rotate at the back. Dempsey has finally found his place after a sticky start, hence his celebration yesterday. All this without Parker and Kaboul, our best centre half.
Of the rest, none has been a disaster. Sigurdsson has taken time to settle, a better game yesterday but best as an impact sub to ensure the tempo stays high towards the end of games. Huddlestone has not picked up the pace that’s required. Walker needs guidance and perhaps some firm words about how to defend, while Adebayor, once the missing link up front, has become the weak link with a series of ineffective performances.
Again, his manager has kept faith in him, seeing the value of giving his choices several games to find their feet rather than chopping and changing every weekend. His patience was rewarded with a classic far post headed goal yesterday. In the first half Manu walked back to the halfway line bewildered after weakly heading wide. This time, he tucked Lennon’s glorious cross into the narrow gap between keeper and post. Strikers thrive on goals and the match was delayed as Manu milked it, eventually emerging from a heap of celebrating team-mates who also realised the value of that goal went way beyond putting Spurs 2-1 up. He looked to the heavens and crossed himself. This has got to be the way forward for religion too. Perhaps after a particularly good service the pope and his cardinals could spontaneously pile on top of each other in front of the altar.
Time rushes by as it does for older people like me but it doesn’t seem that long ago since the season began. Yet the media coverage at the time feels like ancient history. Villas-Boas was incompetent. Couldn’t handle players. Creates an atmosphere. Disharmony among the players was rife according to several tabloid journalists. They could not be more wrong. The players clearly want to play for him, for Spurs.
I’ve deliberately not mentioned Hugo Lloris, destined to be one of the finest Tottenham goalkeepers in modern times. Then, the papers had a hotline to Didier Deschamps and printed how unsettled he was even before he was actually fit to play. Now, his gradual introduction into the side appears a masterstroke of man-management and he’s been able to extend the redoubtable Brad Friedel’s contract. Lloris is sharp and agile on his line and seeks to dominate his area, which in turn means we play a back five, him included.
Yesterday we were unperturbed after that early setback, settled into our rhythm, kept the ball and kept probing. Dembele was back on top form after a few quiet games. The way he drops his shoulder and is gone is a sight of subtle beauty. This big man can disappear, at least as far as his marker is concerned. Sandro’s strength and Reading’s inability to get the ball forward – it seemed like they went for half an hour without holding onto the ball in our half and Lloris did not have a save to make until late in the second half – gave him the freedom to stay forward where he is dangerous.
Without Bale, suspended for the new offence of being too quick and too good, we lacked width. Naughton did well throughout but is very right-footed so we were narrow at times. As the half ended, we gave the Reading keeper shooting practice with a succession of efforts from too far out but come the second we upped the pace and put more balls into the box.
We begin the new year in 3rd place, albeit having played two more games than Chelsea, but the optimism is real. There’s plenty more work to do. Although we have beaten United we have lost to all the teams in top four contention bar West Brom, who I think will not quite keep up. It’s not so long ago when we were conceding stupid late goals and we still can’t defend a lead with total confidence. Nor do we convert our many chances as often as we should. We get more men into the box these days, finally answering my whinging about this problem that has gone on over the life of this blog, but on crosses especially we should pile into the six yard box not hang back.
In the window, Tottenham On My Mind will do everything in its power to retain the status of The Blog That Knows Nothing (TKN) and will stay resolutely ITK free. But we need a striker from somewhere. If Adebayor goes to Africa and Defoe is injured, that’s it! If Moutinho is available, I would buy him even if we pay over the odds. Buy two players and it will make all the difference.
We have to take the long view. An interesting piece in the papers recently suggested that Levy did not fully back his new manager in the market in the summer, preferring to wait and see how he does. Whilst I’m not entirely sure that is a ringing vote of confidence exactly, Villas-Boas has shown more than enough potential to be worthy of greater investment. He deserves the backing of his chairman. Looking ahead, this summer we will be again be vulnerable to bids for Bale, Sandro and others if we are not in the Champions League or have not won anything. The squad is young and like its manager still developing. The potential is rich and we must do all we can to see it fulfilled.
Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time and trouble to read this old-fashioned one-man no ads labour of love blog, especially those of you who add to the rich debate in the excellent comments section. You are a select bunch but I’m genuinely touched by the number of regular readers from all over the world who come back every week. I’m deeply grateful.
Order this book. As a Spurs fan, you must, or else drop so many hints to your loved ones that you wake up on Christmas morn to find ten coffee-table book sized parcels under the tree. Between now and then, listen to the radio, read the blogs, watch TV and make a note of how many callers and pundits say either that the Champions League is vital for financial survival or that finishing fourth defines success.
Then read the Glory Glory Nights. Take a quiet moment, all to yourself. Turn the pages slowly. Take in every detail of the photographs that cover every page. Read the text that describes the exploits of bygone times, of heroes whose time has passed but who will never be forgotten by those of us who ever seen the all-white strip with the proud cockerel.
Now close your eyes. Under lights, your world is spread before you. Nothing exists beyond the shimmering bright rim, not for 90 minutes at least. Close your eyes and feel the chill in your lungs, the breath billowing steam from 50,000 pairs of lungs rising high into the dark north London sky. Feel the Lane shaking beneath your feet. This is what Europe means to Tottenham Hotspur. Glory. It’s what football means. Read and marvel at the glory of those european nights and anticipate nights to come.
This loving history takes its title from a book written in the mid 1980s and commissioned by Irving Scholar, which co-author Martin Cloake wryly describes as the best thing he ever did for the club. It keeps two key elements of the style too, the liberal use of photos and incorporating quotes and headlines from the following morning’s backpages, which gives a sense of time and place. As Martin says, until comparatively recently fans relied on the papers for an account of the match because there was no other way of finding out what happened. Even the radio was confined to the bigger ties.
However, this is no mere revamp. It stands up in its own right as a tender tribute to a glorious past and brings out the enticing beauty and wonder of this entralling, all-consuming passion. The unobtrusive but insightful text sets the match reports, one for every single game, in context. Then, it allows the reader to explore the story for themselves as it unfolds. The images are stunning, chosen with care by Doug Cheeseman with an eye for the drama and passion the glory glory nights inspire. While the book rightly gives due regard to our modern successes, the black and white images are irresistibly evocative. Fans with rattles and cut-out cups gathering at the gates, players celebrating together and plenty of goals frozen in time. Mixed in is the surreal too; the Double team on an open-top bus with a man dressed as a clown clutching a stuffed monkey toy, Peters leading out the team past a row of giant Romanian urns in the tunnel or a man dressed as an ‘Aspurnaut’ parading round the pitch in the early 70s.
As a kid I had no doubt as to the meaning and significance of Spurs in Europe. My glory years began in the early seventies. We may have put 9 past Icelandic part-timers Keflavik but I knew I was part of a great tradition, the first British side to win a European trophy. Erratic and underachieving in the league (nothing changes…), play in all-white under the lights and we were transformed, a team that could beat any side in the competition. Frequently the glory glory lifted us to new heights, and to see Spurs win the UEFA Cup on our own ground not once but twice will live with me forever.
The book does my memories justice. There are extensive interviews with managers and players. In an age when we tend to think of players as primarily motivated by personal glory and vast wads of cash, it’s refreshing to see that they too bought into the myth. Europe was special to them and still is. The book avoids falling into the trap of becoming just a nostalgia-fest by giving due prominence to our remarkable Champions League run. Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson both fully recognise the magic of the Glory Glory Nights and were inspired by them. Make no mistake: those games away and home versus Inter or the astounding away victory at Milan rank up there with the best of the best.
European ties were magical affairs in far-off, mysterious places. It’s not that long ago, for example, when Spurs would kick-off not having seen their opponents play before. They had to think on their feet, changing tactics at half-time in order to cope with the unknown. And Spurs were pioneers; the Cup-Winners Cup in 1963, the first to win two trophies, the first fans to fly abroad to watch their team. It tells the story of why Spurs and Europe have a special relationship, the tale of what it means to be a Spurs fan. Simply wonderful.
The Glory Glory Nights: The Official History of Tottenham Hotspur in Europe by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley published by Vision Sports. Click here for a special site to see inside the book
Look out for an interview with Martin Cloake, coming soon.
Why do we do it? The heartache and pain, the time, energy and money, the fury and frustration, all expended in support of a cause over which we have absolutely no control or influence whatsoever. Because we support Tottenham Hotspur. Read Julie Welch’s lovely, insightful and touching book and you will be inspired all over again.
More than just a history, The Biography of Tottenham Hotspur reaches into the heart and soul of the club. What marks out this club from most others is that it stands for something. Danny Blanchflower’s famous statement that it’s not just about winning, it’s about glory and doing it in style, isn’t mere aspiration but articulates explicitly a culture and identity that dates back to the origins of the club in the 1880s on Tottenham Marshes.
For Tottenham Hotspur, it has to be good football, creativity and innovation. The Spurs Way is the right way. The pass and move approach lauded at Barcelona brought Spurs a league title in 1951 when Arthur Rowe called it ‘push and run’.Back in the early 1920s another great manager Peter McWilliam defined his tactics in exactly the same way. The mixture of flamboyance and exasperation, the sublime and the erratic that is familiar to readers of this blog would be instantly recognisable to Spurs fans of past generations.
As befits a biography, the book describes the club’s history while allowing the character to unfold and open up. Like Spurs, the writing is easy on the eye and draws you in. This is no dull history textbook. Rather, Julie is a storyteller, engaging and curious. She communicates her passion without allowing her voice to intrude or detract from the telling of the tale. It’s a measure of her skill and dexterity that she makes the journey from Tottenham Hale through the industrial landscape that covers the old marshes to our first pitch sound enthralling. And she’s not averse to the occasional gratuitous dig at our rivals: after all, she is a lifelong fan.
She freshens familiar tales such as the success of the Double side, the Nicholson era or the sordid conspiracies that brought the Gunners from Woolwich to north London, and by placing them in the broader context of the club’s culture and origins, enables the reader to look anew at more recent events that we’ve lived through. It kind of sneaks up on you, involving you in the story then in a couple of killer sentences nails its wider significance like a fine historian should. Be warned – set aside some time when you first open the covers because you’ll want to keep the pages turning, just to see what happens next.
Not all of which makes for pleasant reading. The late eighties onwards was a sobering read. Gross, Graham and Francis, and the inglorious reigns of Spurs idols Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle, goodness me how dispiriting they were, but as the current side teeters on the brink of new glory or yet another near-miss, it brings a vital sense of proportion. Being a fan isn’t about instant gratification. Read it and I defy you to rant on about the all-consuming Champions League.
Nothing really changes. Around the turn of the century the club was run by two dynasties of Jewish businessmen. ‘Up and coming club taken over by wealthy businessman in order to enhance his prestige. Club moves ground’ – 1890s or early 21st Century? ‘Club buys Scots, leads to great team’ – 1890s or 1950s? ‘Finances restricted by ground improvements, team slumps only to be rescued by a saviour who changes fortunes totally’ – that’s just page 58.
This is an enduring love affair. For better or worse. In any long-term relationship, there’s some give and take, although I suspect we supporters have put more into the relationship than the club has given back over the years. Through the anger and disappointment, having been let down so many times, it’s worth it because when she touches me, nothing else matters. It’s a passion that makes us swoon and shake with unbridled joy, an experience like no other. Share that with thousands of others at the Lane and these are the unforgettable moments that make life worth living.
By the time you reach the end of the Biography, you feel closer than ever before to the club. You will know more about the club and about yourself. About why you do those crazy things to watch a football team. About what it means to be a Spurs fan – about flowing football, pleasing the fans, about good football. About what it means to be you.
Look out for an interview with the author Julie Welch, coming soon.
The Biography of Tottenham Hotspur by Julie Welch is published by Vision Sports
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has been charged with many failings during his relatively short career. These include being aloof and uncommunicative, out of his depth, obsessed with tactics and worst of all, not being Jose Mourinho or Harry Redknapp. Over the weekend came the ultimate condemnation – AVB, you were seen in possession of a notebook. J’accuse!
Absurd, a manager in England should be writing things down when we all know a few sharp words of abuse in the dressing room plus an exhortation to run around a bit and get stuck is all that’s required. But this is the AVB phenomenon Few managers have ever been treated with such scepticism by the media. The problem is, some Spurs fans are joining in. The phone-ins have been full of anti-Andre sentiments on the back of the Woolwich defeat, ironically perhaps the game where he achieved the most only to find his efforts were undone by Adebayor’s moment of madness and where his brave and bold tactics after the break took the play to our opponents. Which was certainly written in that notebook.
To be fair, many other Spurs fans have praised him in defeat. There are differences of opinion so let’s take a step back and add some perspective to the debate. Here are the relevant points in, using the immortal words of Tess Daly, no particular order.
Spurs have played 18 matches under Villas-Boas. It’s hardly enough time to make a judgement and condemn him. Even Abramovich gave him more time. The demands for instant success have permeated the consciousness of too many. It was better when we had lower expectations and the CL was a distant aspiration.
In those games, Younes Kaboul has played once, Benny Assou-Ekotto three times and Scott Parker never. Abebayor and Dembele have both been injured for more than half the season so far. That’s the spine of the side and then some. Our cover has been weakened too with injuries to back-up players Naughton and Livermore. Villas-Boas has therefore never been able to select from a full squad. We don’t know what his preferred team is because he’s never been able to pick it.
If you think that’s obvious, here’s another one for you. Harry Redknapp is no longer our manager. Whatever the rights and wrongsof it, it’s pointless to use him as a reference point for absolutely everything that’s happening at the club. He’s not around.
However, AVB remains in his shadow. One underlying reason is the seldom articulated view that Villas-Boas has taken over his team as well as his job, but this is not so. Rather, AVB is faced with the unenviable task of rebuilding a squad that had one major existing deficiency the lack of another high class central striker, and over the summer had its creative heart brutally ripped out. It’s hard to watch Spurs without Modric and VDV and remember the criticism both players faced. Truly you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. I’m certain AVB did not want either to go and they have not been replaced, although by the same token Dembele’s absence has coincided with a series of deflated performances. He’s a quality player.
So whilst the presence of Defoe in the middle, Lennon and Bale on the wings and Walker, Friedel and Gallas at the back offer reassuring familiarity, it hides the extent to which this team has changed in a very short space of time.
The next charge leveled against Villas-Boas is that he does not attack enough. Cue the Tottenham tradition and the ‘R’ word again. I don’t quite see this one. We’ve not had two strikers available for the vast majority of the season so he can’t play two up front. Dempsey isn’t really a striker although right now no one seems exactly sure of what he is. We’ve played Lennon and Bale all season. Starting the season with two predominantly defensive midfielders that has been reduced to one on several occasions because the magnificent Sandro can do the work of two players, so with Dembele and either Dempsey or Sigurdsson plus two wide men, that’s a midfield with attacking intent. Whether we attack well is another matter.
That said, going into Wigan at home with Huddlestone alongside Sandro was unnecessarily cautious and his preferred option of bringing on defensive cover if we are a goal up going into the final quarter has served to show only that we can’t defend well. We have to preserve the initiative. If anything, we are not defensive enough sometimes. An old fault from the previous era, that of Bale and Lennon not dropping back effectively to protect their full-backs, persists in this new age. I banged on about it all last season. It seems basic to me – as someone who cherishes attacking, creative football I want us to be more cautious because it always makes us vulnerable. Every team in the Prem does it – so should we, or change the team.
The final charge is that Villas-Boas is an inflexible tactician, wedded to his doctrine of set formations and blind to all else. Again, it’s not that simple. His preferred options should enable us to find the balance between attack and defence that has been missing over the years. Again, the Portuguese has changed things around This season we’ve gone 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-2. The most significant tactical option has been created by AVB, the partnership of Dembele and Sandro in the engine room. Their flexibility, movement and understanding makes a mockery of those straight line numbers and has contributed to our best football. We really miss the Belgian.
But there are problems and let’s stick to tactics for the moment. In two games this season, Wigan and Chelsea, AVB has been comprehensively out-manoeuvred. Chelsea is perhaps unfair as they were superb on the break but the ability of other sides to by-pass their weak midfield protection and pressure their back four led to Di Matteo’s sacking this morning. Against Wigan, we had no idea.
Then there’s the form of the players. Clearly there’s a good atmosphere around the place and the players seem eager to respond He’s given the younger men like Carroll, Naughton and Livermore an opportunity Caulker is now an international after regular games. Bringing youngsters through can be a painful business. Bale and Vertonghen have done very well, Lennon and Defoe in their best spells for the club.
Some have not prospered – Walker, Sigurdsson and Dempsey have been poor for the most part. Walker in particular is a serious loss because not only has he made mistakes at the back, we miss terribly the attacking options he gives us on the right. It could be that AVB has been unlucky in that on top of the problems I’ve already mentioned, he’s not had the best from these three. However, there’s always the suspicion that the manager is unable to get the best from them, that he is to blame in some way. I will never know. However, Dempsey is a shadow of the man who scored over 20 Premier League goals and contributed many more assists. Jol got far more from him than Villas-Boas. Dempsey is best laying off the striker, interchanging and finding space. He needs the ball given to him once he finds that space in the box. It’s not happening. Similarly, Sigurdsson is the guy who makes the late runs into the box to support the striker, something we’ve lacked in recent times. He seems lost, running around with a lack of purpose to make up for his lack of form. AVB has to decide what both of them do.
Talking of men in the box, it seems daft to me that we encourage Bale and Lennon to bang in the crosses but have so few bodies in the box on the end of them. If we play one striker, and a small one at that, we have to get the midfield in there. We don’t. This week I’ve watched two teams who could not be further apart in terms of their style, West Ham and Juventus. Both have three or four men in the box when the telling ball is made, be it cross or pass. Basics again. We have to do something about this.
I question whether we have the right midfielders for a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Loathe though I am to question the presence of player I like, Lennon is not right for this set-up because he is not good defensively (although he has improved or in the box (although he has improved).
At the back, I will never have a word said against Friedel, whose ability and phenomenal focus is an example to every footballer in any league. However, Lloris must play. He’s the future. While his punching and desire to get off his line will always cause anxiety in the crowd, it works far more often than it fails. He can dominate that area like a sweeper, allowing the back four to concentrate on their man and also, when we have the ball, to get forward and make use of any space in the centre that our opponents concede. In that back four, I’d shift Vertonghen inside and play Dawson over Gallas.
And finally on players, Villas-Boas can only work with what he’s been given. Levy needs to back his manager in the transfer market. Once again the window ended without another striker and going into a long season with only Defoe and Adebayor was foolish I suspect this was not of Andre’s doing. Where he did want a player, Moutinho, that fell through. Levy should have swallowed his pride despite the agent’s last minute demands and paid up. Think of the long-term.
In the summer I speculated that the purse strings might ease. We had income from VDV and Luka. Also, with King’s sad retirement all the big earners had gone so perhaps Levy could have raised the self-imposed salary cap without putting several noses out of joint. Bale is allegedly on £100k plus.
However much I respect Levy’s prudence, he has to give our manager more time in the same way our fans do too. The best way he can support him is to allow him to buy his players. Even the purchase of Sigurdsson appears to have been sorted by Levy, before AVB came to Spurs and without Redknapp’s knowledge. This is not about breaking the bank. Rather, it’s an investment because if we do not get close to achieving anything this season, the vultures will circle around Bale and Sandro, replacements and/or reinforcements will turn us down and we’re back to square one. Only then can we judge how good AVB is. In the meantime, let’s get behind our man.