Spurs Collapse So We’re Rebuilding Again

It’s official – Tottenham have ruined football forever. Sunday’s unforgivable late collapse not only lost two valuable points in this open league, it blighted the memory of some uplifting attacking football (and in these troubled times I need uplifting) and will forever undermine supporters’ confidence whenever we are ahead.

Some of us are perpetually anxious, having lived through Man City at home, 3-0 at half time against 10 men, lost 4-3, and Man Utd, at home, 3-0 up, lose 5-3. When the angst becomes overbearing, I start watching the clock. I’ve even created a hierarchy of times to match anxiety levels, a sort of league table of misery.

35 minutes isn’t up to much (you can see on bad days I begin this early) whereas 40 is getting to half time- either ahead or don’t concede, my system works either way.

Second half timings are naturally of a different degree entirely. 55 minutes, not much of a moment but we’ve got through the first ten minutes since half time. I have mixed feelings about the hour mark, initial relief that a substantial portion of the match has elapsed giving way to concern that fate still has 30 whole minutes to do its worst. 65 means nothing to me, neither here nor there, we can rule that one out completely. 70 is important as the time to avoid dangerous complacency because we’ve gone a long way but there’s still 20 to go but 75, more promising and 80, well 80 is significant because the next ten go past at half the speed of the rest, so in my head that can be twenty.

When it gets really tense, when time passes but the clock doesn’t move, I ascribe undue significance to the numbers in between, 73 is better than 72, 77 a step forward from 75. Curiously, around the 80 mark rather than levels increasing, I’ve taken lately to finding myself on another mental plane, where destiny will decide the outcome so there’s no point in worrying. What will be will be. But even I, at 82, 3-0 up, WHam have missed their golden chance early in the second half and while playing well aren’t making any impression on Hugo’s goal, even I…

We were even deprived of one of the classic moments of football crowd behaviour, late equaliser greeted with shared silent disgust so dense you couldn’t cut it with a sharp knife, the banging of seats as we rise en masse and jostle around the exit in a desperate rush to get away from it all. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t work in a football context.

Most football fans have a healthy fatalism about their team’s prospects. It’s something that binds us, an antidote to contemporary tiresome tribalism, but we don’t think it will really happen, because actually, it doesn’t, at least not very often. But now here’s proof. It’s real, the Spurs of hardnosed serial winner Mourinho really can concede 3 in the last 8 mins. We can never enjoy football again.

Despite the ruthless destruction of the Saints and Man United defence, that feeling that Spurs have a soft centre never quite goes away. We’ll use these goals to blame whoever we usually blame when things go wrong. My hobby horse is conceding needless free-kicks, I’m looking at you Lamela even though you weren’t in the ground, but Sissoko then Aurier stepped up. It’s infuriating to give teams a free hit because it undoes all the hard defensive work and reveals a weakness embedded deep in the mindset. They just couldn’t stop themselves.

Marginal gains is a popular theory in sports these days where in an intensely competitive field, small advantages add up and make all the difference to the outcome. Spurs demonstrated the art of marginal losses. Moura has added hard work to his game but doesn’t have a defender’s mindset so he’s back to help out but doesn’t read the run outside him, leading to the second goal. Sissoko and Aurier challenges a touch too heavy. Spurs adopt zonal for the free kick but don’t respond to WHam overloading the far post with big blokes.

Where were you when Bale trotted on to the pitch? Er, making my wife a cup of tea, actually. One for the treasure house of memories there. One of my favourite Spurs players, straight into my ‘best ever’ team of the fifty plus years I’ve been going, alongside the other greats. Let’s be patient as he gets back to fitness, his body is not as robust as it once was. A tantalising glimpse on Sunday, the way he shifted that ball from one foot to the other at top speed, only to shoot wide.  

As to where we go from here, Spurs remain one big contradiction. Capable of dazzling attacking brilliance to cower hapless defences, dominating the game then folding at the slightest pressure like a house of cards in the breeze.

These contradictions are a stage in normal team development. Progress is never a smooth and steady upward curve. Hindsight smooths out the undulations and bumps that are all too jarring when you’re in the moment and don’t know the outcome, where the curve ends. Since Mourinho took over, my main concern has been an apparent lack of direction. What he wants to achieve on the pitch wasn’t clear and, worse, the players did not seem to grasp what was required of them either. Transition from defence to attack was a particular problem.

The manager has sorted that now. Low block, everybody behind the ball, absorb the pressure and move it quickly when we get the ball. Players know what is expected of them. Kane, already a titan, is getting better. He drops deep, Son and Bergwijn or Moura, soon to be Bale, go wide. If the centre half comes out, they leave a gap, if they stay put then there’s space. Defences can’t cope and it brings the very best from Son and Harry, our two best players, and Bale will gorge himself on service like this. 

Moreover, Levy has supported his manager’s efforts to strengthen the squad. Doherty and Reguilon give us pace and width. While some talk of needing more creativity in midfield, this means we can build attacking play in a variety of ways. Plus, the rehabilitation of N’Dombele continues. His ability to hold the ball in central midfield and to pick out a player with precision can unlock any defence. We’re impatient because we can see his untold potential, and so forget he’s young, relatively inexperienced as a late developer and he’s getting accustomed to a different culture. He’s never going to be box-to-box, covering the runners then hurling himself forward, so we need to accommodate that in the system, and Hojbjerg is the foundation upon which we can build all this. Highly impressive, he is alert, strong, mobile and a leader. We even have another centre forward, who can either replace Harry or play with him.

Above all, this looks like Mourinho’s squad, where he can take ownership. He has the players he wants, I say that, what he really wants are the players Frank Lampard can play fantasy football with at the Bridge, but at least Levy has sprung for new blood. Hojbjerg, Reguilon and Doherty look to be good value. Rodon I don’t know, he’s one for the future and at that price we can’t go far wrong.

So with time, let’s see where this takes us. Meanwhile, Mourinho has three problems to address, as highlighted by the WHam feels-like-a-defeat-but-remember-we-didn’t-lose. The first one is pretty basic – are the defenders good enough? Sanchez had a wretched afternoon, although admittedly he was out of position on the left side. Hesitant throughout, WH targeted him from the beginning. Misjudgements are a fact of any defender’s life and can be forgiven but his effort to head that ball was indecisive. Toby has lost that spark that made him one of the very best, while Dier does not yet convince as the dominant centre back we need. Tanganga is highly promising but needs time and his injuries are a worry. On the right, Aurier does good work but a mistake is never far away. With the proviso that Dier has room to grow because he remains relatively inexperienced as a centre half, this area is a problem. Also, we still don’t seem to have a natural partner for Hojbjerg in front of the back four.

The second problem was identified post-match by Declan Rice who said he was surprised that Spurs stood off in the second half. The interviewer then asked Mourinho if this was deliberate, he replied, ‘not really’. He’s being disingenuous because we always play like this. There’s an inherent problem with it, which is that it cedes the initiative to the opposition. It allows them to come forward and gives hope that they can get back into the game. It leaves Spurs vulnerable, however well it is put into practice, to a deflection, worldie or mistake. We can’t sit back as we did on Sunday. You can be more aggressive in that formation, looking for the ball, rather than being passive.

Finally, the speed in which confidence evaporated after WHam’s first goal revealed collective mental weakness. After the game, when Mourinho had pulled himself together (he was visibly shocked at the final whistle), he said again that his team were not psychologically strong enough. True, the football world now knows it and every opponent between now and the end of the season is going to bust their gut for 90 minutes because of it.

It’s legitimate to ask again what he is going to do about it. Mourinho the winner has been here for almost a year. He wants us to be a bunch of c***s. Fine, and Lamela and Lo Celso have taken that on board, but mental strength is about clear thinking under pressure and building resilience, and the manager has to do something about this.

I thought he was getting somewhere, that the penalty shoot-out versus CFC and, lest we forget, scoring twice late on to beat Plovdiv marked the turning points that build confidence in adversity. Now it’s one step back again. In his first match as Spurs manager, Mourinho saw us go three up against Wham only to concede two late goals. 11 months later, it’s three late goals. Mourinho the motivator has to get through to them.

No Fans At Spurs So Is It Real? Unfortunately, Yes

There’s nothing like Spurs being rubbish to focus the mind. Football right now is distant, out there rather than within me. I’ve been an active participant all my life, now we’re all viewers, peering in from the outside. It’s a huge relief to know Spurs can make me angry, because it means I can still feel it.

The covid mindset is changing. No longer can we delude ourselves that things will return to normal, illusory though that always was. We won’t have big crowds in football grounds until next spring at the earliest, not safely at any rate. My wife is highly vulnerable because she has an autoimmune condition. It heightens the sense of anxiety and danger, let me tell you. I won’t be back for a long time. Meantime, I’ll polish my pitch to the doctor that I’m a priority case for a vaccine because I need to get to the Tottenham Stadium.

Spurs are more than just a part of my life, they are central to it. Being a Spurs fan is integral to my identity and to my well-being. I am husband, father, Spurs fan. I am many other things, male, overweight, bald, Jewish, white, British, part-time student, old-soul fan, but character-shaping though these are, I know what I value most.

I’m conscious this sounds trivial and shallow to the non-believers, but I’m being honest with myself, and with you. I’m no emotional eunuch, it’s just that football is core to my mental wellbeing. I know what’s truly significant in life, but as someone once said, of all the things in this world that aren’t important, football is the most important.

I’m part of a community, something real. I can find companionship or, if I choose, disappear into the crowd, and that is denied me precisely at the moment when we all need to feel other people are around us to get through these troubled times. Spurs winning is important, being a fan even more so. Not being part of the crowd creates a sensation of loss and separation. It leaves a gaping hole.

Football is how I express my emotions. I go to the game. Shout and cheer to let off steam. Be with my family. Meet my friends, meet people who I don’t necessarily know that well but we have something deep in common because they feel the same way too. How can I be myself if I can’t go to the game?

Football beats the rhythm of the years. Results aren’t predictable but the season is, and the feelings that accompany it. Close season to relax and refresh, something to look forward to. Tickets renewed, fixture lists come out. Weekend midweek weekend, and so it goes. Enjoy the game, process the result, don’t look back, look forward to the next one. Spurs will be there, like they’ve always been, one true certainty as life flows this way and that. It’s been pulled out from under my feet.

There’s nothing like the soaring elation of a good win. Lose and it affects my mood for days, until the next time. But I’ve discovered something worse, not being able to express those emotions at all. It’s out of reach, fading into nothing. I am diminished if I can’t feel it. I turn in on myself.

And the game itself, we win, we lose, but it doesn’t feel the same. Games are devalued because there is no atmosphere. How I miss the gasps of joy and astonishment as Harry curls another one in, or that collective intake of breath as he advances on goal, that moment of delicious anticipation as he pulls back his foot to shoot. Without us, the game has no soul.

More than that, fans have no stories to tell ourselves about the game. Who we were with, where we watched it, how we celebrated or commiserated together. This is what we do. Nobody will tell a story about how Spurs’ determined football defeated Arsenal last season, the disappearing north London derby. How it looked from your sofa is not something you are going to hand down to the next generation. However much Martin Tyler shouts down the line that the Premier League is back and it’s live, it’s not the same.

So perhaps I should be grateful in some warped, distorted way that Spurs were so awful yesterday, devoid of motivation, creativity and energy. It’s got me back to the keyboard at least, although that may not please you as you read it.

The sole reason for Mourinho’s appointment is to win something. Passing through, he’s not part of the Spurs Way, nor will he build the foundations of a new dynasty. He’ll take the credit for any success that comes our way, blame the players, fans and board when it sours, as it eventually always does, then move on. That’s what he does. Levy knew this when he was appointed, and so did we. Lots of people were happy about it. He’s our manager, so we’re all sucked in. It won’t change.

Everything is short-term and we’re already into his second season. Post-match, he blamed the absence of a full pre-season, but this is the same for every other side. Also, his tactics, unchanged from last season, are familiar to the players. It’s the new Spurs Way. Whining about the free-kick being taken from the wrong place is pathetic even by his post-match standards.

Mourinho will park the bus, then throw his players under it if they don’t deliver. Strong words were essential but best confined to the dressing room. One of the countless qualities football managers must exhibit is the ability to hide in public their bitterness at football’s vicissitudes. Save them for the memoirs. The only thing that matters is what helps the team play better. He has to be wholly certain such public pronouncements are the right motivation for the variety of characters he looks after. Key players like Dele and N’Dombele are not improving their games under him so far.  

Mourinho’s chosen approach at Spurs is dull. That won’t change. I’m frequently told he’s always been a defensive manager. I haven’t studied his previous teams in depth but from watching them and being beaten by them, I’ve never come away with that impression. Hard to beat is not the same as being defensive, and his sides attacked effectively. At the moment, Spurs can’t make the transition to a side that dominates the game in their opponents’ final third or, as yesterday, stop them from playing.

He’s also been criticised for being a footballing dinosaur, all back behind the ball and an attacking right back in an era of gegenpressing, inverted full-backs and tactical sophistication. While that suspicion lingers, he’s too bright for that and anyway, it’s not the main issue. You can’t win consistently with submissive, reactive football, however well it is implemented. It might be effective during a cup run, not in the league.

It’s predictable. Yesterday, Everton denied Spurs the opportunity to play on the counter by keeping the ball. On the few occasions we were able to break, we made and missed the rare chances that came our way, or their mobile midfielders recovered. We had nothing else.

I can’t escape the feeling that this formation and approach is Mourinho’s pragmatic response to the lack of quality and depth in the squad. Maybe he reckons this is the most they are capable of, and that a more open approach leaves us unduly vulnerable.

He’s discovered what we already knew, that his chairman will not invest heavily to change that, and it will get worse because an empty stadium rips up Levy’s meticulously crafted balance sheets. On the pitch, it leaves us short. Docherty and Hojbjerg are good signings and will improve from yesterday’s poor performances once they are match fit.

Early days yet it is impossible, however, to avoid comparing the performances of two sides who are rebuilding under shrewd, veteran managers. Ancelotti outwitted Mourinho with a dynamic, mobile midfield that kept possession and minimised our available space. Rodriguez on the right operated in the space Spurs leave because Davies stays back, mostly, and Son is not the best at covering him. Allan looked a level above any of ours.

Meanwhile, Spurs trapped themselves in their devotion to the shape, unable to use a solid platform as a basis to take the game to our opponents. Substitutions were strange, moving Moura and Son more centrally where it is easier to nullify their pace and threat and where Everton were strongest. N’Dombele should have been on earlier.

Plus, money really isn’t everything, but Everton invested, wisely so on this showing. Meanwhile, Kane still has no cover or alternative, Mourinho is now saying Aurier is a valuable squad member, i.e. we can’t sell him because Levy seeks an unrealistic fee and we won’t fund a decent replacement. And I’ve not even mentioned Spurs’ ludicrous fixture list or the money shelled out by those we see as rivals.

Yesterday, despite their superiority, Everton won by a single goal, not from open play. Mourinho’s Spurs will perennially live on fine margins. Holding on to a narrow lead is an art, something we need and there’s much post-match back-slapping when it works, as it did towards the end of last season. Another inescapable truth to live with, however, is that it leaves us vulnerable, to that one chance the opposition takes, a deflection or as in this case a free-kick. If we ever get back to the Lane, and there is the real possibility that we will never again see a Mourinho side in person, crowd anxiety will transmit to the players, exerting even greater pressure on them.

So we move on. Enough of our failings. I wish I could be crushed on a sweaty tube. Become uncontrollably over-anxious because the train is 5 minutes late. Leave the house absurdly early. Eat an overpriced burger too quickly and get indigestion. Pop into the Antwerp. Bump into Rob on the concourse. Get a hug from Chris. Wish I was back on the Shelf. Ignore pre-match build-up as I marvel at this wonderful stadium. The adrenaline rush as the whistle goes. Feel like a kid again. Feel sick even though we’re two up with five minutes to go. Straggle breathlessly behind my son and granddaughter as we dash back to Tottenham Hale. Fall asleep on the sofa. Be me.

Going Nowhere With Mourinho

This week, I was told I should be grateful that Jose Mourinho is Spurs’ manager. This nugget of wisdom came from a new breed of football fan, one who supports an individual rather than a team. He (it’s bound to be a man) follows me on twitter only because his chosen one is now at my club. See also Messi and Ronaldo fanboys.

And there you have it. The difference between a long-term supporter and a passer-by, because I think Mourinho should be grateful to be at my club.  Players and managers come and go, supporters are the one true constant in the life of any and every club. We hold the club’s history and heritage, Mourinho should be honoured and proud to be a part of it. He has a chance to add to it.

I wonder why he’s here. And, while I usually avoid simplistic accounts because in football as in life they’re invariably wrong, what on earth is he doing? It’s a legitimate question after last night, the only question.

To be complete, it should also be addressed to the players as Tottenham living rooms across the UK and the world joined as one voice to shout at their television, many, many times during 90 minutes, ‘what the f**k are you doing?” The second half was excruciating. No plan, no shape, no inspiration. Can’t pass, can’t shoot, can’t defend. Can’t go on.

My expectations aren’t excessive. We’re not going to qualify for the Champions League, and frankly with the team the way it is, Europa league football feels like torture, so I won’t complain if we don’t make that either. We’re getting back to full fitness after the break. I bear no sense of entitlement. I’ve never fallen for the ‘Jose’s a born winner’ horsedung.

No. I’ve set my sights low. At times pre-lockdown, the players appeared not have been introduced to each other, let alone understand what they were supposed to be doing on the field. I’ve been looking for some sense of direction, that Mourinho had a message for the players and that he could get this through to them. Rebuilding after Poch left behind joyous memories and a bit of a mess. I’ll be patient, because I’ve been around for a while and will be for a while longer. Howevr, even these low expectations are unfeasible.

Mourinho copped stick after the Man Utd game for his negative tactics, and anyone who has dropped into this blog over the past decade knows I want attacking football in the Spurs Way more than anyone. But I loved it. I enjoyed seeing the wide midfielders drop back so our full-backs weren’t constantly exposed. I cherished the sight of a back four close together in a line, leaving few gaps. I cheered Sissoko and Winks sitting in front of the back four. Mourinho’s message was heard, and the players looked confident. For now, that’s the most important thing for the team.

Granted, it also proved how far we’ve fallen. Everybody back behind the ball, or as I am now duty bound to call it, the low block, isn’t pretty and it’s a telling sign that we no longer have the ability or ambition to take the game to opponents with a pressing style. Also, the difference between us and them was the class that we used to have and United in Pogba and Fernandes now possess. Buying N’Dombele rather than Fernandes looks like a catastrophic error in the market. But we did not collapse, and dropping back was the right approach in that game.

West Ham were a different challenge, where we had to come out and break them down. And so a different approach, with a raft of attackers given freedom to move around and across the frontline, building patiently from the back.

Two games, two approaches, early days but here is the manager successfully adapting to circumstances. Or so I believed. I don’t like the way Mourinho carries or presents himself. I don’t think he is the right fit at this club. But he’s our man, love the shirt and build again. After all, I’ve seen George Graham turn Rebrov from one of the most admired strikers in Europe to a hustler forlornly pursuing ill-directed headed flick-ons. I’ve seen Terry Neill practice being a manager at Spurs while he waited for the Ar***al vacancy. Ah, the 90s, no direction, not even false hopes, just no hope. Where mediocrity was an ambition not a disaster. The battle for 9th. Finishing position in single figures! So I know how to handle this.

Sheffield United are often unfairly and mistakenly characterised as willing triers who put in a lot of effort. They are much more than this. Work rate is a means towards an end. They are tactically sophisticated with an understanding of their players’ talents and how to maximise their potential as a team. Everything Spurs are not. As the commentator said towards the end, Wilder outsmarted Mourinho.

None of this is an excuse for some wretched individual performances. Abject defending. Turning open space into blind alleys. Relying on Aurier to cross the ball accurately or Sissoko to pass the ball. Lo Celso wasted deep.

Commitment is nothing unless it is allied to clarity of focus. Sanchez summed up Spurs’ approach, incensed by what he thought, wrongly, was an unjust foul against him in the last five minutes. I wish he had become as worked up about trying to win the game. And hey kids – you do memes, dontcha!? TV close-up of N’Dombele’s face as, “why am I here???” And yet, that ball he slid through a packed defence to Kane, who was offside but that’s what he can do that we sorely need.

VAR – a cursed blight on football that delights keyboard fanboys and TV execs, nobody else. Rant elsewhere on this blog, not doing it again. One day, I’ll dig it out and you can add it yourselves to every game where it is used.

Elbow in the face when a player is on a yellow. Referees huh? Atrocious decision.

I planned a piece comparing Spurs and Liverpool. Force yourself to recall the days when we finished consistently ahead of them because they did not have a clear vision on and off the pitch. However, Jack Pitt-Brooke has written it in The Athletic this week, so read that. Summary: Klopp was backed by the board, Poch wasn’t.

Klopp and Mourinho both have egos the size of a postal district. Shrinking violets don’t cut it as football managers. But there’s a difference. Earlier this week, The Athletic headlined a Klopp piece, “it’s never about him”. With JM, there’s only him. Publicly criticising his own players. Last night, it sounded as if he spent the second half polishing his VAR speech rather than changing his team so they played better. In March, it was all about buying players, “July 1st! July 1st!” Earlier this week, ‘we don’t need anyone’. Last night, he’s saying that he feared the players wouldn’t have the mental strength. “Now I know more about the profile of my players”. He’s had 7 months. As if he has no influence over these matters. He’s worked hard over the break to get to know his men. He’s not getting through. His first instinct is to protect himself.

So what is he doing here? It’s rare, though not unheard of, that successful leaders drop down from the pinnacle of their chosen field to begin again and build something up with equal success. They think it’s an appealing prospect. Do what you did before, feel the rush of growth of progress, better than those stale moments during the inevitable fall from the peaks, a reminder of younger days. It’s seldom the same. Never go back.

Mourinho built with limited resources at Porto, but that was a while ago, ancient history in football terms. His task at Spurs is build and rejuvenate with limited resources, something that he’s not done for a long time. Never mind the players, Jose, time to reflect on what you’re doing, because Levy won’t save you with cash for players, and this can’t go on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spurs: A Year On, Times Have Changed

 

Tell me every detail of what you were doing a year ago today. Give me a minute by minute breakdown, because you can remember every one of them. Every second of preparation, leave nothing to chance. Pub, sofa or being there, the sole aim to get everything out of the way before kick-off.

We all need to relax. It’s a busy, breathless world, a frightening one at the moment. Meditation or mindfulness never cuts it because it just gives me the time and space to think about all my anxieties. It might work, though, if I could take myself back to those few weeks between Ajax and the final, a transcendental state of bliss and harmony where the world was a better place.

Being a Spurs fan never felt so good. Football was an adventure again. We recaptured the joy and wonder that made us fall in love with the game as children, told ourselves that the sacrifices and pain were all worth it. More than reaffirming our support, it’s about having faith in ourselves, our judgment, decisions, commitment. Because being Spurs is intrinsically something within us, about who we are. God have mercy on the woman or man who doubts what we are sure of.

And the way we did it. Coming from behind, epics in the quarters and semis, joyous attacking football. Fans and team never closer. A manager who understood and respected our heritage and who built a team to write another chapter in our history. They gave everything and so did we. When I went to the club to collect our tickets, I chatted with the head steward. He told me that everybody was just so happy. He’d never seen anything like it.

I wasn’t sure if we would all get tickets. I can’t get to away games but in the end we had more than enough loyalty points. Ironically, the nadir of the recent supporter experience, Wembley, sealed it because, who knew, you got points just for turning up.

The family spent 36 hours glued to every travel site on the net. At one point, the only option looked like one of the ten flights from Liverpool that suddenly appeared. I was so desperate, I nearly clicked ‘buy’. In the end, no problems except for the credit card balance.

Madrid was fun. Liverpool fans were top class, no edge, no side. At the airport on the way home, a bored Liverpool fan commandeered the tannoy to sing a few songs. Everyone clapped. It’s telling that these days, rival fans getting along is worthy of comment.

Madrid was hot. Meet friends at the fan park, the message is not bring beer but bring water. These are the best of times. My son took my granddaughter into the tent, which was like a south American sweat lodge ritual with Darren Anderton. The tube to the ground was so packed and hot, sweat condensed on the walls and washed over the floors. The Spurs designated station was 25 minutes from the ground, most of which was along a closed motorway. Hot concrete in the open sun. We got into the ground as soon as possible just to get something to drink and cool off.

When writers reach for similes for ‘utterly, utterly pointless’, use, ‘CL Final pre-match show.’ People from home texting me, asking if I was there and wishing me good luck. Not Spurs, me because these were friends who know nothing about football and care even less but they know me.

And then.

Last week, someone on the radio was talking about their biggest sporting disappointments. They said, reasonably, that the impact of disappointment eases as you get older. For me, though, it’s far worse now in my mid-sixties. Oh to be a kid again, when losing a big game doesn’t enter your head, so when it happens, you dissolve uncontrollably into a blubbering mess. There’s shame in that at the time but in fact, it’s entirely healthy. Let it all go and move on in the knowledge that there could be another chance.

Now, it festers. Being older, it means far more as part of who I am and what I have become. I never lost my childlike hopes of miracles and wonder in what football brings to me. This was our moment, my moment, and we blew it. My final whistle expletive-ridden rant was not so much about defeat, I’m Spurs, I’m used to that, but that Spurs will never get a better chance, not in my lifetime at least. We didn’t play anywhere near our potential, that’s what grates for me. Liverpool were beatable on the night. They did not play well either, and dropping into a cautious shape after their early goal potentially played into our hands because Pochettino’s Spurs were more vulnerable if put under sustained pressure.

I can’t get over the penalty. I need to move on but can’t. If it had been clear-cut, I could deal with it. Remember in the cup semi-final against Chelsea a few years back when Spurs were on the rise and hopes were high of a long-awaited breakthrough. Six minutes in, Toby, at the peak of his form, panicked and conceded a needless free-kick. They scored and it all went out the window. It would have been easier to handle if we’d cocked it up like that in the final but this way, the what-might-have-beens will forever haunt me. Anger would be healthy but thinking about it as I write this, I feel as numb and emptied out as I did then.

The stupidity of a Spurs fan part 498579579437. Belongings are symbols of character and emotion. A method actor might take a possession of someone they are studying for a role and wear it on set when they become that person, or in my line of work, a person chucks away a symbol of bad times to banish those feelings and move on. A few months back, I gave the rucksack I took to Madrid to the charity shop. 36 hours of schlepping it around, keeping a close eye on it, constantly fiddling about in and out of the pockets for tickets, money, passport. Seeing it around the house, it aggravated me. My bag, my CL symbol. I’ll let you know if it works.

The whole game was like wading through quicksand, one long anxiety dream when you try to run but get nowhere. Waiting in vain for the clouds to clear and one spell where we would get going. Long after I told the devil that I was prepared to give him my soul in exchange for one decent cross, we were still ploughing on.

If the build-up shows how little football authorities understand or care about fans, for the losers, the end is brutally sadistic. Back in the day, you knew where you were. Final whistle, losers get their medals, come over to the fans and depart while the victors’ celebrations continue. At Wembley, the winners used to come to the opponents’ end to be applauded and pay mutual respect. Times have changed.

Now, players and officials drift around for ten or fifteen minutes while a dais is constructed. Fans and players don’t know whether to go or stay. A few of the players came over, like Trippier, others hung back. Many fans left anyway. Saying farewell properly is important and this was denied us.

At least we could kick on from this, or so I believed. With hindsight, it was a crushing reminder of where we are in the scheme of things. Liverpool fans ached for their destiny of a sixth European Cup, whereas we brought 8 FA Cup semi-final defeats in a row. History places a heavy burden.

In reality, Pochettino’s Spurs had already passed their peak. The damage had been done in previous summers where Levy refused to invest in the squad, thereby failing to capitalise on the opportunities given to him by his manager and throwing away the best opportunity for glory in two generations. In a recent series of interviews, aka Pochettino sending his CV out to anyone who was interested, the Argentinian was all smiles but he must have been mightily hacked off with his chairman. The players were tired, physically and of his voice, he had run out of ideas and anyway, Mourinho was available. Levy always coveted a big-name winner, only appointing Poch after Louis van Gaal turned him down in favour of United. They had had enough of each other. The love affair was over.

In Mourinho, Levy saw a winner, but the new manager soon predictably created a club in his own image, sour, whinging and complaining. Fans were alienated again as we watched growing disorder, passing football replaced by what at times looked like kick and rush. Levy followed this up by increasing the some of the most expensive season ticket prices in Europe, trousering a £3m bonus for not delivering the stadium on time, then furloughing hundreds of low-paid staff. In a mere few months, Levy dismantled the goodwill and positive feeling surrounding the club that he and Pochettino had worked so hard for five years to create.

Pochettino’s departure was greeted by much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth but not everyone sat shiva. It revealed a split in the fanbase, where many criticised Pochettino as the epitome of the lack of killer instinct that winners possess and that has been absent at Spurs for so long. For them, the CL final was the ultimate symbol of that defect and a low point in our history. Not my view, as I wrote this time last year, but it serves as a reminder that fans are united only in their support for the club, not the way they show that support or what they want their club to be.

Fans’ distance from the club is now literal as the season will be completed behind closed doors. It’s noticeable on my twitter timeline how few people have said anything about missing football. Contrast with the international break or over the summer where fans are desperate for the next game.

My initial reaction to the announcement was, ‘at least that will get it over with quickly.’ Partly that apathy is down to Spurs’ poor performances but looking ahead to next season, whenever that is, I’m determinedly optimistic. Mourinho now has a true sense of what he must do. I don’t think he realised how far the squad he inherited had faded and was unprepared for the nature and extent of the job he had taken on.

The enforced break presented him with a fresh start. He has the chance to develop the talent at his disposal in what is still a relatively young squad. Everyone is fit. During the break, he appears to have been working hard on building trusting relationships with his players, so they know he has their support and that he wants them in his squad. Every player who thrived under his leadership in the past says this is his great strength.  That Dembele-sized hole in midfield will have to be filled in the transfer market, and there are gaps at centreback and right-back, but above all he has the opportunity to build his own team.

In the end, the final reminded me, if I needed reminding, of what football means to me. Being there, being with my son and granddaughter. Plus, on the way out, unplanned, at three different points on the journey back to the city centre we by chance bumped into most of the Spurs people I feel closest to. Hugs, commiserations, gallows humour. It helped and will not be forgotten. Being together is what it’s all about.