Spurs Not On The Beach Just Yet

Doing enough to beat Newcastle is the very definition of damning with faint praise. Spurs did most of the right things in a performance that improved on our last three efforts, but saying that and we’re back to not saying very much at all. Hard work throughout the side, pressing in midfield, decent movement up front especially on the break. None of this was accomplished with any consistent conviction, apart from Kane’s fabulous final goal on the break but we were the better side and deserved this win.

It goes without saying that Spurs set up with a 4–2–3–1 – has Pochettino ever started with something different? A few much needed tweaks though. Lamela on the right to have another go at discovering some form while Paulinho came into midfield to give Mason a rest. Fazio again started at the back. This latter was an interesting choice because the Newcastle centre forward Perez is small enough to nip between his legs. Their tiny striker of course scored a header earlier this season at White Hart Lane, which says more about the value of positioning for a centre half than height or muscle.

Their darting runs looked to unsettle the back four early on but apart from a few scares the early period was more about Spurs in possession and stifling Newcastle attacks at source by pressing intensely in midfield. Possession was the key to this one. The stats show 60–40 in our favour and while we could have done more in attack when we had the ball, it meant we gradually edged our way on top. Newcastle’s increasingly sporadic attacks became the exception to Spurs’ rule.

Bit of a nothing match until our pressing earned a goal assist. Gouffran delayed too long and Chadli picked up the loose ball, ambled forward unchallenged and shot past the keeper from 20 yards. It bounced and dipped, awkward for Krul but everyone, including Chadli, expected him to save it.

Credit to Chadli, repaying some of his manager’s faith where many supporters had lost ours completely. Was it my imagination or did he work harder on Sunday? Pochettino gave him a little peptalk as he was substituted later – maybe words had been said during the week and the Belgian had responded. Or perhaps Poch wanted some company.

In the home game earlier this season, Spurs were at their infuriating worst, on top then failing to spot the arrival of a Very Big Player on the left at the start of the second half and conceding straight away. This time, a small man but the same outcome, an equaliser in 15 seconds of the restart. When I plead for consistency, this is not what I had in mind.

It looked like another wasted opportunity to grab 3 points against an average team. Lamela was atrocious for the first hour, playing with the vision of a man with a bag over his head. However, after a stuttering fightback of sorts, Eriksen’s curling free-kick tempted many but no one got a touch, not even the keeper, and it sailed into the net at the far post.

Newcastle didn’t have the spirit to motivate themselves to push hard for an equaliser and Spurs were increasingly strong on the break. Kane’s piledriver volleyed corner bounced on the line but did not cross it, then he sealed it near the end, running on to a Lamela pass, controlling it perfectly and shooting past Krul, a fine goal to wrap up an average day.

Kane was unobtrusively excellent up front, available and drifting wide to make space in the middle, although Paulinho won the TV man of the match for a workmanlike midfield effort. No coincidence that his best game of the season (not that he has given himself much competition) came when he was played in his natural position. He instinctively covered the gaps when Bentaleb moved forward.

My frustration with him has been plain in this column this year. I defended him for a long time after his early form subsided because he was played too far forward or not at all. I commented at the time that he looked as if he would rather be anywhere in the world than on the WHL pitch. Will he stay? Doubt it, but playing him does not put him in the mythical shopwindow because his value lies in is reputation pre-Spurs.

Of the others, Rose did well and Fazio came strong in the last 15 minutes. He is someone who we should play now with next season in mind. To bring out the leadership qualities he showed in Spain, I’d put him in charge of the back four for the rest of the season. Give him a chance to be a leader, maybe his form will come back.

So good to see that compared with the last three games, we’re not by the pool just yet although the bags are almost packed. Albeit against unmotivated and disjointed opposition, we put in more application and effort on Sunday. I’m not thinking about what Man City can do to our defence, enjoy this win and Kane’s 30th goal of a season than effectively began for him in November.

A group of Newcastle fans organised a boycott of this match in protest against owner Mike Ashley’s regime that has ripped the heart and soul from a club which depends on passion to see it through the bad times. Suddenly the much reviled Alan Pardew looks a better manager than we thought. The policy of bringing lesser known signings through and developing them appears threadbare if progress stalls and the system doing that development falls apart. By all accounts Ashley is content to secure his investment at the expense of securing the future well-being of the team.

It’s fashionable in some quarters to jeer at fans who style themselves as the best in the land. Not me – I feel for Newcastle supporters, long-suffering but still willing. Their attachment to figures from their past as saviours, like Shearer or Keegan, leaves them open and I still chuckle at the Geordie who without apparent irony celebrated Keegan’s return by parading a packet of Special K outside an empty St James’ Park.

Look closer and we have something in common. Spurs fans don’t have that attachment to the city that I envy where club and city are inseparable in identity. However, the last but one paragraph serves as a warning as to what could go wrong if Spurs’ declared return to a policy of developing upwardly mobile talent does not work because there is no consistent support for manager and development staff/scouts. It’s not all about the money.

Spurs: Is It August Yet?

Danny Rose was bright and alert, dashing forward into gaps in the Villa defence. A willing outlet on the left, he was always available and had our best chance, Guzan blocking a low shot with his legs. Even after our opponents plugged the gap in the second half, Rose remained a danger.

Thought I would get that out of the way. It’s rare that I fail to see any redeeming features in a Spurs game, however poor it may be. In this case, that’s the best I can come up with. Before this turd of a performance sinks to the bottom, pull the chain and flush it from the  septic tank of memory into the stream of effluent that is the end of our season. It’s certainly all gone down the drain.

On the way out, a dad was carrying his little boy and trying to explain what happened. I have every sympathy with him. Beyond, tactics, formation or team selection, this was mouth open jaw-dropping I can’t believe what I’m seeing are these professional players bad.

For extended periods some players were unable to control the ball so it rested near their person or pass the ball 5 yards, let alone penetrate one of the most shaky defences in the league. As time went on, we became worse not better, adding to our repertoire the unerring ability to knock the ball into empty space or straight to a grateful Villa man. Instead of a gung ho finish in search of an equalizer, we wasted our time by conceding a series of needless free-kicks or giving the ball away.

It was unremittingly awful. Chiriches and Townsend on the right formed the latest in a long line of famous comedy double-acts. The difference is, Morecombe and Wise or Laurel and Hardy are funny but no one was laughing. As Paulinho’s “shot” last week encapsulated his Spurs career, so with Chadli on Saturday. With a sublime shimmy that took two defenders out of the game, he briefly emerged from the primordial soup only to hang onto the ball on the byline until a defender could get back and block his feeble cross. Thus he sank back into the swamp, never to evolve into a capable Tottenham footballer.

Spurs have seemingly been in a ‘transitional season’ for about 15 out of the last 20 years. Now we can add the ‘end of season fade’ as a second unwanted tradition, although this is less about fading away, more plunging headlong off a cliff. In truth this pathetic effort was not unexpected after our last two games. We’ve played three of the bottom five and looked short of form and motivation.

I am not a fan of Tim Sherwood because to me he committed the ultimate sin of putting himself before Tottenham Hotspur, where he practiced being a manager with our first team. This has been done to death so I’m not going to go over it again. I’m sure Tim and his ego snuggled up together for a cosy Saturday night in. This new breed of modern English manager showed the way forward – bang it up to the big man. Everything went to Benteke, usually from deep rather than the byline. He either went for goal, scoring the winner by stepping in front of the lumbering Fazio and guiding it into the far corner, or by flicking it on to Agbonlahor dashing through. The latter hit the post when he should have scored.

It’s hardly radical but it was far too good for Spurs. Fazio played to mark him, fine, but the Belgian drifted wide to get into space or onto the full-backs. Not standing still – the nerve of it! Chadli on Beneteke for several set-pieces…no one in that defence sussed it. Sherwood kept his side narrow and compact. When Rose had the freedom of the left, we never supported him, preferring to stay narrow centrally too. Easy to repel attacks and Villa have not had a more comfortable awayday since the last team outing. Looking at one stats site, in our shots total they must have included the half-time entertainment of a punter shooting into an empty net.

So what’s gone wrong? Our young men are tired under the burden placed upon them. They will emerge more mentally resilient next season. In the meantime Mason is half a yard short, Bentaleb passes sideways, Kane stiff-legged and adrift. Eriksen works hard but has lost form, row Z instead of match-turning magic. I don’t see why Chadli plays every week.Yedlin made his debut to a huge cheer. His first task as a Spurs first teamer was to take a throw-in. He stood frustrated on the touchline as no one moved for him. Welcome to Tottenham.

There’s no spark, little inventiveness and disappointingly the dullest knife in the box is our manager. Pochettino has done little to shake things up when we have been playing badly. Soldado came on and played off Kane except the two never got anywhere near each other. He seems resigned to the fact that he has no real alternatives in the squad. Can Dembele really offer less than the others? He like the team appear to have given up on the season. At half-time the conversation turned to the only truly modern discourse in fandom – the best ways of getting credit to pay for the tickets next season. Perhaps we have too.

Spurs and Supporter Participation: Lame Duck or Fighting Cockerel?

For the past two seasons, the only legal way to buy and sell unwanted tickets for sold-out matches at White Hart Lane has been through Stubhub, an American ticket reselling company. Tottenham On My Mind joined other prominent Spurs websites and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust (THST) to create the Stop Stubhub campaign in protest against an arrangement which we believe is not in the best interests of supporters.

We generated considerable support both from within the fanbase and from supporters of other clubs who suffered the same arrangement. At the same time we were on the receiving end of criticism from other fans who were perfectly happy with the scheme.

A couple of weeks ago there was a resolution of sorts when Tottenham confirmed they had extended the partnership for another two years. I am not sure if this is an end to the campaign – clearly we’ve failed to stop Stubhub – or a beginning, of a new effort with the same aim but a longer timescale.

What Stop Stubhub has done, however, is provide me with my first sustained personal insight into the murky relationship between a Premier League football club and its supporters. I’m going to tell you what I found.

Spurs fans will know how Stubhub works. When a match is designated as ‘sold out’ season ticket holders can sell on any unwanted seats to other supporters. Stubhub pay Spurs a flat sum for the contract (the amount remains a closely guarded secret) and make their money by charging a percentage fee per ticket to both sellers and buyers.

The club gleefully trumpeted the arrival of the scheme as being in the interests of supporters, as if that was the reason it had been introduced. It’s true that season-ticket holders want a chance to sell unwanted tickets, given the high prices and the moveable feast of a fixture calendar. From next season, if Spurs get into the Europa League home matches can take place on any night of the week. It’s also true that demand is high because we are a well-supported club with a relatively small stadium.

However, this benevolent peer-to-peer ideology swiftly crumbled in the face of good old capitalist exploitation. Tickets for big matches went on sale for exorbitant mark-ups – a pair of Chelsea tickets last season was up for £1200. Meanwhile touts bought tickets from good folk who priced their tickets near face value then resold them, on Stubhub, for twice the price.

FSF 7

I had a real problem with this scheme then and I still do. It’s less about the actions of individual supporters, although personally I wouldn’t sell on to a fellow fan at more than face value, and much more about the actions of the club.

Tottenham Hotspur charge some of the highest prices in the country. This is blatantly exploiting the astonishingly loyal fanbase. They also benefit from television deals of staggering enormity, yet this is not enough. They then make more money from reselling tickets that they have already sold while a company takes money out of the game. They even had the cheek to imply that because ticket prices were so high, this was giving us a chance to recoup the money. Cutting prices would have had the same effect but clearly not an option. All this replaced a perfectly reasonable alternative in-house reselling scheme, which charged sellers a fee and sold on at face value to other supporters.

These and other objections, including the fact that tickets for matches designated as sold out, thus triggering Stubhub, were still on sale at the box office, were taken to the club by some of the campaign bloggers and (mainly) by the Trust. I have not been directly involved in any of the negotiations so there’s no inside knowledge here but I have learned two lasting lessons from the experience.

One is that Spurs’ fans are not a homogenous, cohesive group. To talk about ‘the interests of Spurs fans’ as I did above is to tread on extremely thin ice.

I write as someone who thinks of himself as aware, who reads what people write about Spurs and listens to what they say. I’m open to different ideas and, if I say so myself, possess an ability that’s increasingly rare in social media of being able to disagree with someone and still respect their views and their provenance as a supporter. I thought that broadly speaking most Spurs fans would share my objections to Stubhub even if they did not want to actively oppose the scheme. That is simply not true.

Many supporters, as loyal as I am, see Stubhub as a legitimate way of selling and buying tickets, of giving them a chance to make a bit of bunce as my dad used to say and/or get hold of a ticket for a big game. It’s a free country and a free market – if people want to pay, more fool them but it’s their right to do so, or so runs the argument. Others, the majority I suspect, simply don’t mind one way or the other. They just want to come and watch their team, have a chat, a drink maybe, then go home until the next time.

It was the same with the other big issue we have faced recently, the possible move to the Olympic stadium site. Powerful elements of what it means to be a supporter came crashing together, heritage, the value of place and the need to compete in the brave new world of the corporate global game. Big questions, important to us all and again seen very differently and very passionately by those who saw our long-term future as served in a new stadium next to White Hart Lane and those who saw the high income/low cost Stratford solution as enabling us to compete with the rich and powerful. We support the same team but in different ways, and who is to say one way is more authentic than another.

The other lesson is that the club does not have the interests of supporters at heart, however those interests may be defined, and therefore any blame for problems in the relationship should be laid squarely at their door.

They control what happens at the club and choose to take an intransigent approach. Therefore the power of supporters to change things is extremely limited and that includes the efforts of the Trust.

As a supporter, season-ticket holder, campaigner and Trust member, I appreciate was has been achieved at the same time being disappointed that we have not achieved more. Stubhub continues but the Trust have secured important concessions that set an upper limit on prices and prohibit so-called ‘flipping’, i.e. buying to re-sell. What I am satisfied with is that the Trust have done everything they could to pursue this and other issues affecting supporters, not easy in the face of resistance from a company, and let’s call them that for the moment to make it clear who they are, from a PLC that considers itself untouchable and accountable only to itself.

This is the context that defines relations between supporters and THPLC. It’s inescapable. I know they are accountable to shareholders but Levy and Lewis hold the majority so that’s all the major decisions sewn up right there. A couple of years ago, the club at the highest level was openly contemptuous and dismissive of supporter involvement.

To evaluate success or failure, let’s take a couple of examples. I like to think we are something more than customers or consumers. In reality, the PLC defines that relationship as it chooses according to the circumstances. The fans are great when they get behind the lads, travel all over England and Europe, but these same loyalists are dismissed if they dare to grumble, see Adebayor this year and AVB last. As ‘customers’ the ticket money disappears remarkably quickly from our accounts yet you can’t get through on the site to buy the tickets in the first place, not because of high demand so much as economising on the number of operators and servers available to meet demand that is utterly predictable.

Look outside the blinked confines of the world that is Tottenham Hotspur. One benchmark is the efforts of consumers and shareholders to change the way other large companies operate. I would say the success rate is infinitesimally low. Protest or march outside any big company, even organise shareholder action, nothing of any substance changes.

All clubs including Spurs exploit the loyalty they profess to admire and value. Shoppers and shareholders who moan about Tesco’s recent performance and prices can go to Sainsbury’s if they wish but we’re not going to the Emirates and that distorts the ‘customer’ relationship right out of shape. And don’t mention a boycott because one, not enough people will, two someone else will just sit in my seat if I give it up, three, the TV deal means the club have massive income from other sources and could play in front of empty seats as League sides in Italy do, and four, I’ve loved this club for a lifetime so why the bloody hell should I give up now.

One group in a similar position to football supporters are commuters. Like supporters, they come from different backgrounds, classes and income brackets and have one thing in common, in their case that they have to catch a train to get to work. Commuters have long-standing and well-organised representative groups. Rail staff also face spontaneous outbursts of passenger anger. The sight of a phalanx of commuters with Ian Hislop at its head surging towards the manager’s office of my local station was more terrifying than almost anything I’ve seen at a football ground. Yet it doesn’t make any difference. Southeastern Trains abuse their monopoly position by raising prices every year and not improving the service. I don’t have to point out the similarities.

Let’s also consider this in the context of how supporters’ movements at other clubs have fared. Trusts and supporters’ organisations have increased their involvement and control only when clubs have been in serious financial trouble. The sustained campaign against the Manchester United owners has been fought in the boardroom as well as in the stands and outside the ground. The Glazers are still there. Across town the City supporters’ club complains AGAINST Financial Fair Play because, they say, it unfairly stops their owners spending more money than everyone else, hardly an oppositional stance. At Newcastle, Pardew went but Ashley is still there, unmoved and milking the club dry. Liverpool has changed ownership but the Spirit of Shankly fights on because supporters are still not listened to closely enough.

The Stop Stubhub experience provides a good example of what I mean. The club have listened to the argument, then signed up for another two years. Is that failure of the campaign? In one sense it is of course, in that Stubhub is still with us. I’ve had a couple of emails criticising the Trust’s failure to shift the club on Stubhub from people who were in favour of Stubhub in the first place.

In another though, we have made some changes as I’ve mentioned above. Our experience became evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee investigating the shady aspects of ticket reselling. Freezing season tickets for a second year running has halted the inexorable 700% rise over the past decade and a half, a major achievement.

In this context the Trust have achieved a considerable amount. No one is giving up, it’s just that these are the facts of football life. Protests about anything that is unfair to supporters will and should continue so that THPLC cannot rest easy. The board of the Trust as well as those involved in Stop Stubhub know that better than anyone. I can’t speak for them, that’s just my honest assessment.

We’ve gone from a club which ridiculed supporter involvement and activity a few years ago, let alone responded to it, to one that is reacting and changing its position, albeit in limited terms. That is something to be proud of.

So me. I have joined the Trust twice, once in the old days when it was run by some decent, hardworking folk but, well, they did not get very far because they weren’t up for a challenge. Disillusioned, I rejoined about a year ago because it was clear the body had been resurrected as something different, and if I could help with that rejuvenation in some small way, I would, and should.

I gave it a chance. I know some of them, partly because over the years a few have contacted me to say they read the blog, partly by attending meetings, once by standing in the rain at a demo outside the PL HQ, because we cared about supporters. Several of the Board have a background in activism, one has been elected by her peers nationally to negotiate with the PL. Whatever anyone thinks about the Trust, don’t think they are mugs.

I’m prepared to engage with the club whilst remaining deeply suspicious. To me, that’s a healthy approach, one that I see the Trust as sharing. I’m pleased that the club in the latest THST minutes have been more open with their approach to building a squad but I’m not under any illusions, pleased that Pochettino is doing a reasonable job but knowing that he came here probably because he was prepared to accept Levy’s financial restrictions on the playing budget that in my view have severely hampered our development over the past few years. If he was first choice, which I doubt, that’s the reason why.

I’m not naive. I used to be a shop steward. I led my office in two strikes, one of which lasted 5 weeks. I went to meetings, ran the welfare service, stood on picket lines and, the most difficult of all, explained to my wife why we didn’t have any money. The dispute wasn’t about wages, it was about the safety of receptionists and counter staff in council offices. It didn’t affect me directly, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.

At the beginning of the 6th week, we marched back to work together, in solidarity. We got some of what we wanted, including important concessions on support and working conditions, but in the end we couldn’t succeed with every demand. You work hard, do your best, take what you can and plan the next campaign. There’s always a question about where that point of compromise lies. You have to take something, or else lose everything.

Demo? I’ll stand outside the club or the PL for that matter. Complain? Where’s my pen and paper? Go to meetings. Work hard, do your best, take what you can and plan the next campaign. That’s the right thing to do.

This is all my personal opinion. I don’t claim to speak for anyone else. It’s in keeping with the way Tottenham On My Mind has always been, a blog with a single voice, open, honest, using my real name because of a touching faith that if you treat people properly, they will respond in kind. Too old to change now. I guess this is a personal tidying up of the feelings generated by the Stubhub experience. I blog so I share, I share so I blog.

New stadium, ticket prices – the one big issue. Price it wrong and a generation of fans will be lost, us older ones will be alienated, but there is a precious, precious opportunity to focus on. Safe standing on the agenda too, excellent. Let’s plan. And when we do, remember it’s the club that is the problem.

A Game To Forget and Spurs Play A Full Part

Time for my traditional Easter message to the world. My friends, I cannot begin to describe how much I detest DIY. Easter Sunday, 9am is the time the meaning of Easter is alive and well in the sunny suburban streets, further evidence that the British power-tool industry is in rude health. I was hacking away at something in the garden, which, completely coincidentally, was compete just before kick-off. By half-time I seriously thought about getting back outside again.

My granddaughter hurtled downstairs to greet me this afternoon. She hurtles everywhere. “Oh my god granddad, that was the worst game EVER.” Only 10 but a good judge already. The poorest match I’ve seen this season in the Premier League and Spurs played their full part. The clocks went forward a couple of weeks ago, apparently to mid-summer as this game played in bright sunshine had the air of a pre-season friendly rather than a fight for 3 points to take us above Liverpool into 5th place. A Burnley fan I follow on twitter complained of sunburn after the match. Sunburn, in Burnley, first week in April. That’s how odd this match was.

Spurs continued their lacklustre recent form. Mason and Bentaleb are playing OK in centre mid but there’s a lack of power and drive. There’s no momentum to our attacks. Eriksen was in and out of the action. In and around the Burnley box he was involved in several neat one-twos, usually active when the full-backs came into attacking areas. However, the players alongside him, Chadli and Paulinho, seldom responded. Up front, Kane looked isolated and weary. Wearing those support trunks under his shorts and tentatively stretching, it seems he was worried about his groin, a sure sign of over-playing. Not so much one game too far, more like ten, but he gets a free pass after a season like this.

Burnley deserve great credit for their phenomenal organisation and work-rate. it was hard to find a way through and Spurs never showed the required creativity. However, because of their efforts off the ball they could not get enough players into our box often enough. As a result they failed to pressure our makeshift centreback partnership of Chiriches and Dier with the long diagonal that has come back into vogue in the PL since Fellani’s success with it at Old Trafford.

We managed to tie ourselves in knots at the back, of course we did, but kept a clean sheet in the end despite a few scares. Ings shot straight at Vorm early on to miss the best chance of the afternoon. Our reserve keeper had a good afternoon, making several decent saves. One moment of weakness – off his line to make a punch, he was easily beaten in the air. We did our best to mix it up. Davies replaced an injured Walker and slotted in at centre half while Chiriches moved to right-back, so we had a full-back at centre half and an centre-half at full-back…

Not a lot more to say really. Our lack of spark and movement on the ball up front meant we made little more than a few half-chances. Paulinho was awful. Playing centre-midfield he provided nothing, except a second half shot when put through on the keeper so laughably feeble it will go down in legend as the moment that summed up his Tottenham career. What a terrible waste – of his talent and our money.

Chiriches did the shielding the ball out of play thing – except he backed into the Burnley player and knocked him over. Clear penalty, clear stupidity, but not given. Shame we did not see Townsend before the 80th minutes – not sure he touched the ball at all. His momentum from the England game seemed a perfect way to change the game’s balance. But it was one of those days when nothing could shake us out of our stupor.

Frustrating but take a step back and we know how hard it is for young players to sustain form and resilience over an extended period. Part of their learning, so let’s move on to the next one – which may not be that much different. Pre-season seems closer suddenly.