The rumble of the seats on the Shelf echoed around the girders of the venerable old stand, growing into a roar as this tense derby tumbled headlong towards a climax. The rumble as the punters rise in expectation to catch every last fraction of a moment and their seats slam into the backrests, the clatter of anticipation as Bale, Luka, Lennon launch themselves onward. It’s the classic sound of the derby that took a while to appear but later, in the second half, as we freed ourselves from Chelsea’s pressure in a series of high speed counter attacks, was heard every few minutes, stilled as we stayed upright for the last five or so, the penalty save offering fresh optimism.
Although it’s a familiar sound, its character seems to have changed of late. No longer in hope, more of expectation. Chelsea were beatable: we entered this as slight favourites and have players who not only thrill the crowd, they are matchwinners too. Bale again, bursting 70 yards in the first half. I refuse to take my eyes off him. I want to savour every stride, full tilt at the opposition, his expression focussed but full of expectancy. I never want to get used to this. He’s so special, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time, such is my delight.
Yesterday he did well but was cleverly marshalled by Chelsea. Fereira used all his experience, including a gentle bodycheck in the first half when Bale would have been clear, that failed to merit a booking but took him out with ruthless efficiency. His effectiveness can be also be measured by the space he gives others, notably Defoe who drifted wide left several times, into the space vacated by Fereira’s close marking. One pass from there led to our goal.
We have others able to step into the limelight. Modric was outstanding throughout, painstakingly making himself available time and again to pick up the ball from colleagues and either move it on or burst through the centre himself. As both sides attacked in an expansive game, Luka revelled in that space and where none existed, he made some with a swivel and close control. He’s a top quality footballer and an absolute pleasure to have in a Spurs shirt. In the past I’ve compared him to the great Ossie Ardilles, hunched skipping run, ball close to his feet and dictating the pace of the whole game as others move to his promptings. Modric has better stamina and a better shot, while he’s starting to approach the influence the Argentinean could exert.
This was a match that was finely balanced throughout. Both sides had spells on top but neither dominated for extended periods. Certainly both Spurs and Chelsea could have scored at almost any point. In the first half, Chelsea looked the most likely. Kalou and Malouda are perfect in turning 4-5-1 into 4-3-3 and although we had men back, the midfield and defence failed to pick up their runs from deep. Last week Birmingham scored from such a run but Chelsea wasted several good opportunities.
The feeling was, Drogba and Lampard would have taken one of those. Much has been made in the media of Chelsea’s injuries to key players but little significance has been given to our much larger casualty list. It shows how well we are able to compete that the media are barely noticing.
In the end, we scored first, a superb finish from Pav but his gorgeous first touch laid the foundations, taking the ball away into space despite a crowded box, then a fine swivel shot to the neat post.
Unfortunately as far as the strikers are concerned, and we tried all four of them, that’s about the last time I can talk about good control. Defoe was especially poor. At least three decent opportunities to make a break were wasted due to this deficiency, one in particular where he let Terry in with a chance when he should have been clean away. As it was, Terry and Ivanovic were consistently too powerful for our lot, brushing them off the ball with insolent ease, far, far too simply. We should have tried to get them on the turn more often and when we did, another recent failing, the poor final ball, appeared again. Hutton to Pav is one example that sticks out from the second half but there were others.
Second half, Drogba on, crank up the tension. Yet our back four came into their own in the second half. Palacios covered assiduously in the centre but he and Luka could have come back a few yards to shield their defenders, while again Bale and Lennon were adrift too frequently when Chelsea had the ball. Hutton and Benny, especially Benny, defended expertly. They too sit a little too far from their central defenders as a result of the lack of protection in front of them but both used their pace to deal with the many balls into the channels.
Hutton’s passing could have been more consistent but he linked well with the attack, giving us an extra dimension. He had space because the threat of Lennon and Bale kept Cole and Fereira penned back and that’s where Chelsea have to seek their width as the midfield are fairly narrow. Although our two wide men open up space for the opposition as well as us, their presence curbed a key offensive area that Chelsea usually employ.
Inside them, Dawson was immense, as if he had never been away. I was pleased to see him back but feared that a tough game such as this was a game too early – do this one when he’s match fit and has Gallas, fast becoming indispensible, alongside him. As it turned out, no need to worry. A towering performance. Finally, credit to Bassong for taking Drogba on. The Ivorian drifted onto Seb, presumably because he was seen as the weak link, but right from the first challenge, Bassong did not shirk from the physical contact, buffeting him about, refusing to let him turn and making the interceptions. Not everything worked, and he gave the ball away on three occasions in dangerous positions, but he refused to be over-awed.
The equaliser came from the other side, the left. No danger, Daws there and the angles sorted, but it squirmed over and through. There was great power in the shot but Gomes should have saved it. Ironically it came at a time when we had got on top again. I thought we had dealt with Chelsea’s pressure and were coming out the other side. Confident of our defence, a goal would come only through a mistake. I felt utterly deflated.
He made a couple of other good saves, notably from WP’s skimming header, then late on, as we pressed on the counter for a goal, another error at the death. I’ve not seen any replays of this or the game but it looked like another rash challenge. He’s a fine keeper who does not deserve the ridicule he received on 606 last night but diving at feet is becoming a weakness.
Then the hero, and be honest, you thought it had to be us with the winner as we dashed upfield, freshly invigorated. No repeat of Liverpool.
Before then, Keane had been rushing about in what could well be his last home appearance, earning cheap applause but doing little positive. Actually, that’s unfair – we need some energy, particularly as Harry’s strange substitution to have both Crouch and Pav made Chelsea’s task in defending that much easier. I really don’t see what that gave us.
A point in the end when we could have had three, or just as easily none at all. However, the lasting impression is a positive one. We took on the champions, were never overawed and certainly not outplayed. On the contrary, in another terrific football match we bravely and continually took the game to them. Sharpen up and the goals with come, and with them points and glory.
Not again not twice not both of them not in the same week. You hardly dare think about the possibility. On Sunday they were out on their feet after 70 minutes, after 120 they were the living dead. It’s OK, they did enough on Wednesday. You always want more, in that delicious five minutes before kick-off, when all that has gone before is forgotten and time begins, always hope for more. For so long we couldn’t beat them at all. Yet twice in one week.
The surprise of spring sunshine in the afternoon is pleasant on your back but it’s not right for a derby. The journey is too easy, park up with no problem, it’s all just too – nice. Early evening football is wrong somehow. The teams emerge and there’s a phone call.My boy, a man now, tall and strong, is cut down. As passionate and silly and consumed and soppy about the club as you were at his age, he lives for each match. The news is delayed by the discordant and irrelevant Premier League anthem.No music fires us like the sight of white shirts and navy blue shorts. The call confirms the worst. His friend, the same tender age, has hours, his insides eaten away by cancer ravaging his organs and his spirit. My boy leaves to be with him for the last moments, we blink away tears and scream louder than ever at the kick off. From inside, let it out, screaming and shouting to get it out somehow.
And we play. Oh how we play. Ball to feet, one touch and pass, then move on. The others are moving too. Ball to feet, they want the ball, no one hides, they pass and move. It flows upfield and endangers their goal. Modric leads. Luka little Luka ball to feet moves it with a touch to me to me, in comes the tackle but he moves it on with sway and swivel, in his stride, theopponent thinks he has a chance but Luka is away, the defender left spurned and forlorn by the object of his desire, wondering where it all went wrong. But Luka, lovely little Luka, is already looking fo rmore, to me to me, head up gliding into space, balanced and poised amidst the turmoil, who wants it who needs it. The pass is angled and perectly weighted, he moves on I’m here to me to me. It is a masterclass in creativity and he runs the midfield. It is beautiful.
Huddlestone too, cumbersome and unfit perhaps this past few days. How could a man of his bulk disappear on Sunday? Yet he’s put that behind him because time begins at kick off. He moves, he’s available to me to me, pass it on, long and short to me to me. Pav wanders when on Wednesday he stood still, Bentley wide, Bale running, running. To me to me. Pav shoots, Bentley messes up, Defoe’s power blocked.
After ten minutes you draw breath. This is happening.You thought it could not get any better after Wednesday night but this is happening. Deco, Lampard, Mikel, Cole, they are all there but look at the space in midfield. Arsenal did not let us rest for a second, they tackled and nicked and nipped and smothered, but Chelsea watch us play. This is a training match. Ancellotti is the tactical master at every level but hasn’t he watched the DVDs. What about all those blokes with clipboards and notepads who sit behind him, or Arnesen who left us behind because we were not good enough for him? Just Watch the DVDs for five minutes,or ring Mick McCarthy, Tony Pulis orPhil Brown (he’s got time on his hands), this isn’t the way to play against Spurs. Later, Mikel injured and you make Deco the defensive midfielder. Idiot. Ta.
Bale stampeding forward is stopped only by an outstretched leg but nothing. Then handball. Not him,someone else give the ball to someone else anyone else not the shimmy please not the shimmy just plant it please not the shimmy. Bang! That’s what you do best bang it, one up and fully deserved. Chelsea top of the league and outplayed by the living dead.
Bale is unstoppable, a force of nature rampaging down the left. He is a sprinter with the build of a middleweight and the touch of an angel. He rips huge gaping holes in the defence from first to last. Again he’s on the ball, off then slowed, almost stumbled, they close in but he is away, all is well we’ve shifted him to his right foot and Cech has the angles covered, then low and firm, near post, as Cech dives he thinks he has it, my near post that’s mine but it’s gone before your hand is fully outstretched grasping only thin air. This is happening.
Space in midifled means they have more men up front. We organised superbly against the Arsenal but this lot have Lampard, Ballack and Drogba, they have bodies waiting as it comes forward. But we have Gomes. Ridiculed by pundits and fans throughout the land, the icy fear in his bulging eyes when he came for crosses sent shivers down the spine. Past tense. Lampard lightening volley and Gomes leaps to his right, all arms and legs but look at those hands, together and strong, just as they were for an earlier stinging long shot. We have Gomes and wouldn’t have anyone else. We have Gomes.
Corners and pressure, just keep them out,hang on until halftime, the better team, well on top, don’t let yourselves down, hold onto halftime. You won’t let me down, you’ve done enough to prove yourselves this week, the living dead, don’t let yourselves down.
Half time.Time to catch your breath, slap a few backs, shaking heads. Can’t last. Not Wednesday and tonight. Is this really us? Can’t last.The whistle blows, they attack, balls into the channels, Drogba absent in the first period, moaning now and a better player for it. Balls into channels, where’s Ledley? They were saving him for tonight, for Drogba, pace over ten yards, strength to hold him off, intelligence and anticipation to get there first. Where’s Ledley, I wish Ledley were here, wish Capello could see Ledley.
But we have Dawson,strong and tall. We have Gomes, sweeping up the loose. We have Bassong, inspired and surprisingly strong. They have too many men forward, if only we could set Pav and and JD free, just keep them out. JD on the break, one on one, game over – he’s missed it! Bale unstoppable, missed it! Pav moving well, drops back working so hard.This is what English football is all about, hear the noise, work back, sprint forward,work back.It’s worth it, enjoy it, you understand now what it’s all about, you are working so hard and enjoying it. Here’s the chance you’ve worked so hard for- missed it! How many more, how many more….
Terry unblinking as the abuse washes around him. Looking tough but inside it’s getting to him. Wayne, Vanessa, we don’t care, your mother or your father, couldn’t give a flying one. Just now, just this moment. It’s not pleasant but it is all we have. The Land Rover with the tinted windows, the PR machine, your media mates, the electric gates at the house, cut off from the real world, cut off from us, all that money, no protection now. It’s all we have and it’s getting through. Two fouls and gone. You have a word with Bale, somehow his fault that he was too fast for you, old man. The kids smiles and answers you back, didn’t expect that did you?
The abuse, the songs, the chants, the noise. Great slabs of noise rise from the stands of this old ground, high and close to you, feel the noise, closing in. No escape. Chelsea fans sing about the library. Meanwhile the Lane is rocking and rolling, shaking to the foundations, ten on the richter scale. A roar from deep down, all those defeats, those years of pain, now we have a team. Down and out on Sunday evening, they have dragged themselves up somehow, some way, and we are beating the top of the league easily. Easily the better team. They are giving everything and so shall we. From the Park Lane, the Paxton, East Upper, new songs roll around, picked up on all sides. Chelsea surrounded, no escape. This is as good as it has ever been. Steep stands and devoted fans. A proper football ground.
Keep the ball, keep it. They always come back, can’t if we have the ball. Stay on your feet, don’t dive in. Keep it Bentley you greasy haired poser, stay on your feet that’s it nice and easy keep it. Working hard, never stop, no one stops, every last one of them. Just keep it.
Dawson, our mighty leader, we’ve got Dawson at the back. First to every ball, blocking with every fibre of his body, get in the way. Drogba dozing no more, through, shoots, far corner but there! Dawson from nowhere and blocks. The crowd rise and roar, the mask of fierce concentration slips for a moment and he grins to himself. One of us, a remarkable performance, leading from the front.
As Luka moves towards the ball already in the background Bale is off. Lung-busting surges from deep, unstoppable endless energy, how many times in the last week, how many? Ferreira, international,broken and substituted at half time, as before him Salgado then Kelly. Magnificent physicality and atheticism.They can’t stop him,but the ball slides tantalisingly past the post. Pav clear, hit it turns, hit it! Flickity flick fuckety fuck wide. Just hit it!
And they score, same goal as the Arsenal, same time, same anxiety in the noise. Then it’s over, sweet relief then overwhelming joy. Both of them vanquished. Tears for the team, for my boy, for his friend, his family. A wild and crazy week,contrasting emotions but those emotions, wretched and ecstatic both,were profound and lasting. This is our team, our wonderful wonderful team. This why we do it. Our wonderful team.
By the end, the game had become painful viewing, with Chelsea stampeding through our injury-ravaged central defence and insolently swatting our feeble attempts to score. However, such thoughts should not totally obliterate the might-have-beens. Earlier we had severely troubled their much vaunted defence, the best centre half in the league had departed and of course the penalty that was not to be.
Have you noticed that Andy Gray, for all his smug self-satisfied pontificating about refereeing decisions, never gives an opinion without seeing at least two replays? I called it a penalty first time and so it was. It was a crucial moment, as much for the timing as for the prospect of a goal, because frankly we did not look like scoring any other way. Our team does not yet have the inner strength and resilience to lift itself from the doldrums against the quality teams by sheer force. Rather, we need something external, like a penalty or a bit of luck, or maybe a spurt of individual brilliance. Resilience: a word that earlier this season I threatened to return to repeatedly. It’s key and we don’t have enough of it yet. Today, we found no way back.
Harry has to shoulder much of the blame for this one. In my preview I wondered if he may have something up his sleeve to cover the left side problem. When I heard the team, I thought Jenas would be told to do a job there, but it never occurred to me that Palacios was to take on that role. He failed to stop Bosingwa’s runs and left the centre exposed. He’s been the foundation of our teamwork since January, so there was little value in changing the very thing that has made us successful.
Also, it’s all very well Lennon having a roving role – Jol did something similar a couple of years ago away to Chelsea and we went two up before they cottoned on to the tactic. We lost 3-2. However, yesterday sustained width would have stretched our opponents and kept Cole occupied, limiting the freedom to attack that won the game.
In the centre, JJ did well enough but the game passed Hud by. It was all just a bit to quick for him after the first twenty minutes. Keane moved well but penalty apart he had one of his un-coordinated days on the ball. And King, great player though he is, how long can we carry the risk of another breakdown during the match.
In contrast, Chelsea move purposefully as a unit and are just so much more comfortable with each other. For them, walking onto the pitch feels like pulling on a thick jumper from the back of the drawer, well-worn and cosy, whereas we are itching from new wool straight out the packet. Ancelotti has experience at the highest level of world football and the Italian league is harsh and brutal. The way things are going, if the Scudetto is like swimming with piranhas, the Premier League is the dentist’s fishtank in Finding Nemo. Here’s an exclusive Ancelotti team talk: ‘OK, line up like you have over the last couple of years, Ash and Jose move up a bit.’ Top of the league.
Having played United and Chelsea in successive weeks, one glaring difference between them and us is the pace at which the game is played. More about this later in the week, when I have more time to write. In the meantime, I did not want to go the game but to those who did, we heard you loud and clear on TV, terrific support and huge kudos to each and every one of you.
Whatever the result, past glories mean that matches against Manchester United are amongst the most eagerly anticipated of any season. And so, a week later, to the one I most dread, Chelsea away.
My abiding abhorrence of Chelsea dates back to my childhood in west London. In 1967 Chelsea’s’ resurgence took them to the Cup Final and as the bandwagon passed through my primary school playground, it was standing room only. In those days the staple method of showing allegiance or just gathering numbers for a quick kick-about was to place your arms across a mate’s shoulders and march around, chanting the name of the chosen activity. As others joined each end, the line grew longer. Movement was sideways, rather than a prepubescent conga line, so usually some altercations ensued as innocents got in the way. Many kids joined these lines purely for the purpose of inflicting pain on their fellow school mates. Football, country dancing or maypole frolics, who cares when the opportunity to whack a classmate presented itself.
On the Thursday lunchtime before the Cup Final, two lines started, one Chelsea and one Spurs. The Chelsea line gradually became more visible as the chanting increased in volume and attracted more attention. Then the herd effect came into play as the sheep and the psychos linked up with the vocal minority. I guess Goebbels considered similar tactics in the 30s. Within a few short moments, the playground was empty save for one extended line of over a hundred interlocked kids. And five Spurs fans, including me. The phalanx turned by the shelters, with surprising dexterity manoeuvred round the drinking fountains and came towards us, as solid as a Roman legion, a hundred pairs of eyes intent on their prey and the scent of blood in their nostrils.
What happened next was not pleasant, and suffice to say Mr Watson and the school caretaker will forever have my gratitude for stubbing out their sly fags and rushing from the back of the kitchens to rescue us. However, come Monday morning, I would have my revenge. I planned the moment carefully, from about 5pm on the Saturday in fact , I thought about little else, apart that is from when I was endlessly recreating Frank Saul’s winner in the back yard. In the end, I decided against glorious triumphalism, accompanied by loud chanting, flags and finger pointing, not really me. No, I went for smug, profound satisfaction. Eye contact yes, the knowing smile, merely a questioning raised eyebrow. ‘Was there a game on Saturday?’ Secure in the knowledge that as just about the only Spurs fan to openly come out of closet, all eyes would be me, I strolled into the playground on Monday morning, my scarf discreetly visible over the collar of my green blazer, a bright and breezy air with all the joys of spring.
Nothing. Not a thing. Every scenario that the mind of an impressionable 11 year old could conceive had been meticulously rehearsed. Each jibe would be parried by a devastatingly witty riposte followed swiftly by a telling stabbing thrust of my own, right into the heart. ‘All right Fish?’ was the closest I got to any football related conversation. Never mind; for the rest of the week, in the playground games I was Jimmy Robertson, little did they know.
Of course they had all melted away, to next year become QPR fans, as our other local team reached Wembley. Amidst the scuffed leather and dust of playground concrete, I learned a lasting lesson about football. Mine was a true, everlasting passion.
I suspect that the modern crop (or should that be plague?) of Chelsea will be as loyal as my schoolmates, their bonds to the club as temporary as the lunchbreak line. When the Russian gets bored or ends up on a gulag, or this aging team breaks up, as the Park Lane taunted a couple of years ago: ‘Next year, you’ll support Man U”.
Not entirely fair. There are two distinct types of Chelsea fan, pre and post Abramovich, whose attitudes are so disparate, it often sounds as if they support different teams. Most BA fans (Before Abramovich) enjoy their success, justifiably so, sometimes with a little guilt and always grateful for the good times. Because they have been through the rough as well as the smooth, they have a sense of perspective. They are easy to identify because you can have a conversation about football with them.
Some have become disillusioned and alienated as the character of their club has changed beyond recognition. One long-standing Chelsea mate of mine is always up for a bit of banter but at the same time he feels more cut off from his club than ever before. Once a regular visitor to the bridge, he now takes his kids a few times a year, preferring to have a season ticket at his local non-league team, Welling United, where he is welcomed and is part of things.
On the other hand, Chelsea AD fans (Abramovich the Deity) are the most loathsome, arrogant bunch I have ever come across in the 40 years that I have watched football on a regular basis. The divine right of 18th century French kings to rule as the instrument of God on earth has nothing in comparison with the hubris of these people. Utter superiority is their birthright. Success is a given. History starts in the early 21st century. Before then, the football world was a primordial soup.
Callers to 606 are perhaps not the most accurate cross-section of the fans of any club, and goodness knows some Spurs idiots have rung up over the years, but the righteous indignation of 2 Chelsea AD fans who rang last season stays with me. One from the Chelsea AD heartlands (Bournemouth) was troubled by his team’s performance. They had only won 5-0. The ‘only’ was his word, not mine. The other lambasted his manager and his squad, rubbish. They were only third. Their manager, 10 games into his job, was not worthy of the post. He had only won the World Cup. The ‘only’ was his word, not mine. Both meant it wholeheartedly, because they really do not know any different.
This supercilious superiority, reflected also in the behaviour of several of their players, creates the most unpleasant atmosphere of the season. I have no intention of going anywhere near the Bridge, and significantly neither does my son who travels all over the country, yet after a couple of years of insults and goading is going to give this one a miss. Chelsea have banned us from bringing flags with the word ‘yid’ but they will not take action when their ghastly fans make with the anti-semitism and the gas noises. Maybe they wish to gas their owner, who knows. Whatever we think about them, you don’t get that with the Arse.
And so to the match itself. We cannot afford the luxury of an attacking formation, like the one against United, and Keane cannot play in midfield. On the other hand, we must not sit back and let them come to us. In other circumstances, Crouch would be a useful target man to hold the ball up as we move from predominantly defensive posture into attack, but with Defoe, who must start, this would mean two up front with potential weakness in the centre of the pitch.
Therefore, I reckon Keane will start with Defoe and drop back into midfield when we lose possession. Jenas must be given a run in midfield alongside Wilson, and Wilson must stay on his feet more. Chelsea’s diamond means we must carefully cover the space in front of our back four. Equally, they are vulnerable to width – please welcome Aaron Lennon! He must stay wide and attack on the flanks but track back on Cole. He’s in for a tough afternoon and that’s where the game could be won or lost.
On the left, Niko looks the most likely but he is seriously unfit. I wonder if Harry is considering a tactical masterstroke by playing someone out of position to cover over there. Will Bentley appear to seek salvation?