Spurs – My Semi-Final Anxiety Dream. And the Day Tony Galvin Shook My Hand

Watching Spurs in a semi-final is like an anxiety dream. That’s where you try to do something, something ordinary usually, but you suddenly find you’re unable to perform the simplest task. You can’t walk, run, find your way home, you’re late for work. You wake in a cold sweat, only for a sense of unease to remain with you long into the daylight hours.

Supposedly the most vivid and memorable occasions in the calendar because of what’s at stake, frankly they have become a bit of a blur, all melded into a mush of an anxiety dream, where Spurs turned up but couldn’t perform.

I’ve been to six of the eight successive semi-final defeats. Intensely disappointed at the time to miss Everton and Newcastle, it was probably a blessing that I could hide behind my sofa instead of suffering on the terraces. As time has gone on, bile and bitterness have given way to a sense of numbness and inevitability. As it was on Saturday – too anaesthetised by failure for anger, although I would be justified in such a reaction.

The semis against United and Chelsea showed we could not consistently play at our best on the big day. For a while, there’s been no margin of error in these big games. Spurs at their best can beat anyone but we have to have everything firing on all cylinders for that to happen. No room for off-days. I say it’s all a blur, except I can recall those moments when your heart sinks, where you think, this time, it can’t go wrong, and it does. Dawson’s slip against Portsmouth, Alderweireld’s error last season or Son’s reckless tackle on Moses, Docherty putting us a goal up at Old Trafford offering some hope…Losing to a better team I can manage, enough practice over the years, not doing our level best is always much harder to take.

Law of averages anyone? Not that I’m desperate. I’m desperate. On Saturday they did it again. Hopes raised came crashing down from a dizzying height. On top early on after taking the game to an uncertain United side, Dele scored a fine goal to give Spurs a deserved lead. We were determined, industrious and well-balanced.

Don’t give the ball away – my epitaph. Whoops we did it again. Dembele this time, a goal well-taken by Sanchez but he should never have had the opportunity. Then, a Dembele-sized hole opened up in our midfield. No off-days allowed, especially for the mighty Moussa. His ability to hold the ball sometimes slows our attacks down but it enables any player to have a moment of respite. Under pressure, give it to Moussa and he’ll hold it while everybody adjusts, usually from defensive formation into attack. The transition I believe the young people of today call it.

On Saturday, he was a shadow of himself, Superman playing with a ball made of kryptonite, David after a haircut. United sensed weakness like a lioness stalking her prey. They pressed him hard and we could not find a way round it. The team wilted from then on, as if the palsy spread to their bones and muscles. Vorm too – I thought he was weak in his dive and too far over to stop Herreras’s drive.

Also, that cross, not a particularly good one, stretched us more than it should have done. The goalscorer wasn’t tracked, and throughout the match we had a couple of midfielders drifting about in no man’s land when United attacked, instead of getting goalside. I realise Poch wants to attack but there’s no alternative sometimes, especially to get our wide men to cover Trippier and Davies out wide. We ask too much of our full-backs too often. Trippier is prone to drift up field and inside.

United didn’t do much and sadly didn’t have to. We had no creative ideas or impetus, nobody to turn the game around and regain the initiative. Kane faded but had little support. Son peaked last month and is slightly off. Eriksen did well but was forced deep where he’s less dangerous. Fine margins. Vertonghen was excellent once more. Outstanding season – it’s a pity his drive and determination couldn’t inspire his team-mates.

Nobody pinpointed what had gone wrong, and without that we can’t put it right. That worries me.

As a writer about Spurs, I am duty bound to have an Alderweireld Angle, so here it is. It doubles as a Rose Reflection, just change the names. Spurs do not pay the market rate for top-class footballers. It is a remarkable testament to Pochettino’s powers of motivation and team-building that the so many have stayed for so long because of their belief in him, what he has done for their careers and where they think he can take the club in the future. That and Levy’s allegedly fat bonus system that adds a substantial whack to quoted basics.

I’ve said repeatedly in the past that Spurs should increase their self-imposed ceiling on the top earners. Not break the bank, not make them the best payers or anywhere near it, but enough to be an incentive both to stay and to encourage new talent to join. That fits with the club’s circumspect financial planning and is sound investment planning. Without top quality players, we won’t challenge for the top four, or encourage consistently high crowds. Even win something for goodness sake.

So give Toby a substantial pay rise. And Harry, and Hugo and Jan and Dele. If that’s not enough, he wants more elsewhere, other teams will give him a longer contract than Levy would give a player of his age – nothing you can do about that, goodbye and thanks for everything. We can’t compete with the top payers without jeopardising the club’s future. We think of City, United and CFC as our peers, in terms of salaries they live in another world. Recent figures showed the gap in total spend between ourselves and the two highest payers, City and United, is greater than the gap between ourselves and the lowest payers, Bournemouth and Burnley. It’s just that we could, and should, try harder, and Levy saving money because his manager is so good with players is a false economy.

In the meantime, Toby is a Spurs player and he should play. I’m a huge Pochettino fan but I’m not blind to his faults. Managing contract niggles is part of every manager’s role. Excluding Toby sends a message to the squad that he wants 100% commitment. Fine for one player, but this is three now – Walker, Rose and Alderweireld. Players might think, well, so be it, I’ll go if the manager won’t respond.

Spurs need Alderweireld. We need his nouse and experience. Sanchez has learned fast and he’s a tremendous prospect, but time is on his side. It won’t harm him if Toby plays the season out or indeed if he had contributed his experience on Saturday. Excluding Toby with half a season to play has brought no discernible benefit. It feels like such a waste of all Pochettino’s hard work in making him and other individuals a better player.

Semi-final defeats focus the mind. It’s not a time for long-term judgements, except they force you to do just that. Spurs once again are not quite good enough. The ‘bottlers’ tag makes for easy copy, and certainly there’s some truth in the absence of a long-term winning mentality at the club.

But this is about Pochettino’s Tottenham and only that. Spurs have tended to fade around this period in the last few seasons, this after our Christmas charge. Last season, we kept going without being at our very best. In the short-term, we must push Watford and West Brom as hard as we possibly can.

At the end of this season, Pochettino has a new challenge to face. Team building gives way to rebuilding, which he must accomplish under restrictive financial conditions. The team and the individuals in it have improved immeasurably. That’s all down to his remarkable influence. Now, there are signs that progress may stall.

It seems highly likely that Rose and Alderweireld, two outstanding players, will follow Walker out of the club. Davies and Trippier (to a lesser extent) are able deputies but they are not as good as their predecessors. Many fans seem to forget how influential and dynamic Rose was for a season and a half. Seems a waste to me. If not exactly spent, Dembele cannot again be the force he once was. That’s four top class players out of the picture.

We must ease the burden on Kane. The current squad needs at least another centreback and a midfielder, plus a sub goalie. Have more alternatives available for long seasons ahead.

Pochettino seemed momentarily crushed if not by defeat then the manner of it, unable to lift them with the resources he had on the bench. Far too much has been made of this understandable reaction, but the fact remains, he’s vulnerable to an offer just like his players. Fourth – we deserve it. Third – Liverpool have other things on their minds. Fifth – for this team, this season – unacceptable. Watford and West Brom become big games. Let’s push on.

On Saturday we were in the Spurs end on the corner, ordinary seats in the lower tier. Ten minutes before kick-off, Pat Jennings quietly walks in and sits two rows in front of us. Looking around, he’s followed by a virtual team of old Spurs. Steve Sedgley and David Howells, Tony Galvin and Martin Chivers. John Pratt sat next to my son and complained about paying £65 for the seat and having to stand up for the whole game, but then again, his knees are shot because of the running he did for us. Graham Roberts down the aisle. Gents all of them chatting to fans and posing for pictures.

Second half under way, suddenly someone grabs my arm and shakes my hand. It’s Tony Galvin. Says he’s a fan of my work, loves the shows, and has always wanted to meet me. “Great to finally meet you – Danny Baker!”

Still pumping my hand vigorously, I had to let him down gently, I said I was a huge fan of Galvin’s – I was and am – and it took him a moment or two to be convinced that I was in fact Joe Schmoe from Kokomo. And that’s the day Tony Galvin wanted to shake my hand.  

And Danny has appeared before on TOMM https://tottenhamonmymind.com/2010/03/12/paul-gascoigne-and-the-ultimate-taboo/

Spurs Masters at the Bridge

It’s a stunning moment. Dele at full tilt pulls down the ball and strokes it into the net in a blur. Strokes, mind you. Not blasted, not bobbled, or sliced, but stroked. From the time the ball leaves Dier’s foot, a pass of such accuracy and dip that Glenn Hoddle would truly have been proud, (there is no greater praise), Dele is the master of the situation.

Out of the blue it came, falling from the sky. Except it wasn’t, out of the blue I mean, because Dele was off on his little run as Dier moved onto the ball. Both knew what was coming. From the comfort of my sofa, I just shook my head in wonder. So good, it was beyond celebration.

He jogged away, and smiled. Couldn’t resist cupping his hand behind his ear as he trotted unavoidably close to the home fans. Still 21, world at his feet, he can appear furtive and cunning as he runs into the box or gets stuck into a tackle. He knows what he’s doing when he goes over, or, sometimes, goes in high. But he charms his way into supporters’ hearts. With a nod to Barry Davies, just look at his face. Before he’s buried by jubilant team-mates, he delights in the goal like a little boy who has found the most chocolate in the Easter egg hunt. This is no rockstar preening or macho posturing, this is a kid come out to play.

We’re not very good with young people in this country. We say we want them to express themselves but when they do, we demand they know their place. Perhaps we’re envious of their fresh ideas, different ways of seeing things. Envious of their youth, that their time is yet to come when our future lies behind us. But every generation complains about the behaviour and attitude of young people. Their different ways, the fact they answer back.

This season, the difficult third season, Dele as a sign that he is an established figure in English football has been presented with his own narrative, comprising two elements. One, he’s a cheat. Yes, he dives, I don’t like it, partly because I’m old-fashioned and don’t like diving, mainly because looking for a foul shows that his thought-process is not fully focused on his game. He’s largely got rid of that backing into defenders looking for a foul thing he did. I’d prefer one touch and a five yard pass, if it keeps possession. But there’s a narrative. No matter the penalties he’s not given, or that he is one of the most fouled players in the division, or that – gasp – other players dive to, one of the most talented English young players gets booed as soon as he touches the ball.

Lately, he has also had to contend with being told he is off-form. If anything, to me this is his best season. Until yesterday, there have been fewer sensational moments, although let’s not forget he did alright versus Real Madrid. This has been more than outweighed by his hard, purposeful running, support for team-mates, his passing and clever use of space. His role is slightly different because Son is scoring frequently. He’s maturing, as you would expect, but without apparently getting much credit, except from the man who matters most, his manager.

I rarely comment directly on media stuff – there’s no conspiracy against Spurs or any other side, and anyway Jamie Redknapp’s secondhand opinions aren’t worth the effort it takes to press the keys to write ‘twat’. But young people should be valued and looked after. I’m sick of it. Dele moving into space used to be praised to the skies as a sign of his quality and intelligence. Now, the same thing is derided as his supposed lack of impact on the game. All brewing nicely for his role as world cup scapegoat. Instead of caring for our young players, we build them up then find something to demolish them, just when they need recognition in their own right as individuals. He suffers because he’s young, smart, English and plays for Spurs. Some fans see that as sin incarnate.

Yesterday, Dele answered back. This is me, this is what I can do. I was so pleased for him. Not that he needs anything more from me. Spurs’ third, his second. Mayhem in the box, bodies flying, chance looked to have gone. Everyone’s blasting it. Dele, one touch, no more than a single revolution of the ball, under control, left to right and that foot made enough space to shoot and score. The presence of mind to do that. This is what he can do.

Enough of Dele. This was a victory for teamwork, this wonderful, spirited, focused and creative group of players. Spurs began well enough, taking the game to Chelsea and making busy patterns in their half. Lamela was prominent, working with purpose, chasing back and looking for those dangerous ten-yard angled passes into channels. Dele and Eriksen tirelessly sought space, but there was little as the Blues bunched in centre midfield.

Chelsea made ground down either flank, Davies was under most pressure as he tried to both tuck inside and cover wide. He couldn’t be in two places at the same time. A cross from the right was perfect for Morata’s head, too high for Sanchez and, sadly, for Lloris, who mistakenly came and watched it fail even to scrape his fingertips.

Spurs looked lost but Eriksen would not rest. Twice he moved onto the ball to shoot from range. The first thudded into the keeper’s chest, the second was unstoppable. I mean unstoppable, genuinely. A few metres from the goal, it was still well above the bar, until it dipped and dropped home.

We saw again a feature of Spurs’ success this season, second half rejuvenation. We picked up the beat and were the better side throughout. A little tweak and Moses and Alonso had less room to move, while keeping our attacking options and flow. Then there was Dele.

My imagination or did both Lamela and Eriksen begin their goal celebrations for the third only after admonishing Son for not crossing to them. They’re hungry for more despite the win. Vertonghen and Sanchez tremendous again at the back, Jan a tiger in the tackle, Sanchez managed Hazard well. Chelsea looked spent after the third goal, their manager unable to motivate them to play for each other in the same way than Pochettino can for Spurs.

Beating Chelsea feels good, and there’s no escaping the significance of the result and performance as Spurs continue to build a side to challenge the best. From within they found the resilience to come back from being a goal down to play their best football when under the most pressure. It’s the stuff winners are made of.

Spurs Ticket Prices Test the Faithful. Or: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of a Credit Card Bill the Size of Jupiter

It comes to something when your faith is challenged not from within but by the object of your devotion.

On Monday Spurs announced the season ticket prices for the coming season, the first in our new ground. We all expected increases but the scale of these price rises is intolerable. Variously across the ground, hikes amount to 20% and 30% more than the White Hart Lane equivalent. Some of the cheaper seats in the old Park Lane are now £995, that’s about £200 more than they were last year. My seat in the old block 28, Shelfside opposite the dugouts, is gone completely, now some luxury lounge corporate drinks at half time and padded seats for plump arses. The closest alternative costs £1500, a rise of 50% for a worse view. Can’t afford it.

It’s a fallacy to argue the increases are justified because Spurs must fund the ground and a top-class team. A recent Deloitte’s report on football shows that gate receipts amount to around 15% of a Premier League clubs’ revenue, the rest derives from television rights and commercial deals. This will go up substantially with the new ground, but the board won’t change the current salary structure because of this extra income from excessive rises alone. To repeat, it’s Spurs, in London, new ground, an increase I expected. 20, 30 50%, that is unfathomable.

The brochure extolling the virtues of the new Lane feels glossy and smooth. Two days after opening, it reeks of luxury and indulgence. To me, its only value is playing the Spurs equivalent of Where’s Wally? with the artist’s impressions’ pictures. Where’s Daniel? One bloke crops up twice in the same photo – if only we could do the same with Harry Kane on the pitch.

I’ll enjoy the space, although as to whether I will be able to get a cup of tea at half-time, I’m not holding my breath. The brochure is largely irrelevant to my matchday experience and that of many other supporters. I don’t want a micro-brewery or artisan cheese. Especially if beer costs £6 a pint, as the bar price list notes. Going home, I’m not going to say, “well, we were rubbish at the back but at least Spurs have an unrivalled standard of finish using materials such as brushed steel, copper, European oak and Quartz.” A floor to stand on and chat to my friends will do me.

“We’ve got brushed steel, we’ve got brushed steel, you ain’t, you ain’t.”

The brochure is a waste of time and money. They are selling the fans something that doesn’t need a sales pitch. Photocopy a sheet that says, ‘new ground, Spurs will be there.’ Done. Because that’s what matters to every single person who buys a ticket. I wasn’t going to go the game but the goal-line bar has changed my mind. Not how we think. You have to plough through the brochure before getting to the bit the matters, the cost. Marketing, that is.

Whatever you think about Levy, and in Tottenham On My Mind I have been consistent in pointing out the flaws in his strategy and decision-taking as well as praising him when he deserves it, building next to the Lane is nothing short of a coup. I’m deeply proud that our new home is in N17, and I understand that throughout our chairman has sought a fan-friendly design, with stands close to the pitch and good acoustics. That’s not an accident, and fair play to the board for delivering.

Yet the pricing serves to weaken this legacy. Great football grounds are made by the fans, not bricks and mortar. The ground is our place, where we come out to demonstrate our passion for the team and get behind them, where we celebrate, create and commiserate. Fans make football worth watching.

This pricing structure does everything possible to undermine this. Some will be priced out totally. Percentages and comparisons with other clubs mask the cold hard fact that watching football at Spurs is bloody expensive, whichever seats you choose. The government say we are in a time of austerity, where expectations must be scaled back and realistic, where money will be tight. The first thing that goes is usually leisure expenditure.

The South Stand is a return to an ‘end’, the popular side, for singing, for atmosphere, for young people. £1200 in the centre blocks, a fiver shy of a grand further down, with 4 pockets of 1882 Club seats at £2200. I see little encouragement there. Shades of Club Wembley as fans struggle to tear themselves away from the complimentary food to watch a football match.

And then there’s the Shelf. Over the past 50 years I’ve seen around 95% of Spurs’ home league games. Almost all of them have been from the Shelf, standing just to the left of the gangway separating the centre block from the rest, then sitting 10 yards away on the giant white F of the THFC spelled out by the seats. The people who sit around me – sat around me –  are pretty much the same. Football is no longer a working-class sport, and the working class itself has changed, but this is as close as you will ever get. We’ve been there since 2000 – we’re newcomers compared with the others. Ordinary folk, diverse, friendly, Spurs in their hearts and souls. 30 years of camaraderie and relationships obliterated, with a final message ringing in our ears – you are not important to us anymore.

This is the real demise of the Shelfside, home of the Tottenham loyal since 1934, whose fearsome roar urged on the navy blue and white and terrified opposition fans, who never came near. Bricks from the old Shelf form a mural on the wall of one of the bars. It is our headstone.

The stadium design pays close attention to our heritage, the club pays lip service to the fans who have created it. Fans who turned up in numbers when things weren’t going as well as they are now. Who took to the streets so we could stay in N17, to walk in the footsteps of every Spurs fan who has ever been to a home game. Levy, we helped you build this. Not rewarded in the prices.

The ground incorporates some good ideas, only fair that I list them. Better access and less segregation for disabled fans – Spurs were previously one of the worst in the PL. A range of discount tickets for children and, new this, for young adults (although these tickets are only in the cheaper areas). A better ticket exchange. Being able to walk round the concourses to meet friends who sit in different parts of the ground. Very good – safe standing areas.

Daniel Levy (salary 2014-15 £2.6m) is a shrewd financier and businessman. As such, he understands the value of investment, in the short, medium and long term, except when it comes to his supporters. Everything is rosy now, but when the burnished novelty of the new stadium dulls, if this fabulous team falters, renewals in a year or two may not be as attractive a prospect. Now, Levy rightly calculates that fans will pay, although the fact that a Wembley season ticket was offered to a 7-month-old baby who had reached the top of the waiting list suggests demand is not completely elastic. The crude supply and demand equation is a short-term approach that does not do nearly enough to safeguard future generations of Spurs supporters.

I’ve stood and sat in the same place for fifty years. In these stands I grew from a boy to a man. Here, I’ve shared joy and despair, laughter and some of the most bitter albeit creative moaning that’s ever been. I’ve been struck dumb in misery and lifted to the sky with elation. Only football can do this.

Football has kept me going through life events that I would not wish to happen to anyone, profound desolation and hopelessness, yet at the Lane there’s always hope. Always, even if sometimes it had faded far across the horizon. Just another run, beat a man, shoot on the turn. Ah, next time maybe. A goal to be craved, even a miss meant there was still hope for next time. I would have gone under if I didn’t know that there was going to be a show and Tottenham Hotspur would be there.

And this is what the Spurs board, and for that matter football boards up and down the country, simply do not grasp. They have no sense of the depth of feeling that an emotional attachment of such complexity and power generates. Football is about us as individuals. It’s fundamental to our identity. I am a father, husband and Spurs fan. I’m also Jewish, qualified, a dedicated social worker, white, a Londoner exiled in Kent, British, overweight, but these are the three that define me most accurately.

Worse than not understanding this, football boards think they understand. This means they don’t put any effort into finding out more. Instead, this loyalty becomes a commodity they can trade in and exploit. Not my business to intrude on the grief of others, but this is the root cause of the troubles at West Ham. Forget the tribalism – this also serves to mask another reality, which is that fans everywhere have much in common and are being treated poorly. The Hammers’ core support is loyal, longstanding and long-suffering. Their board, under the guise of working in their interests, has tried to undermine their heritage with a saccharin stadium designed for anything but football and barely disguised contempt for the well-being and safety of their fans. They believe the fans will fall for the promises they make about the future, in terms of players and the experience of watching the team. Mixing up groups of fans, misleading them about the view from their seat, feeding the line that Stratford means they’ve put one over on us – all this and more in the name of progress.

The ructions over the weekend at the London Stadium have multifaceted origins. At their heart is that supporters and fans hold fundamentally different ideas about how they see a football club and what they want from being a part of it. It’s a battle – the board wants to change a culture that has lasted for a century and more. They want everything to be shiny, pleasant, lucrative, commercial. They want consumers not fans. And when fans don’t want it, they have to make those concerns heard.

At Arsenal, the facilities are great but there’s no atmosphere. Corporates don’t sing, or indeed watch the whole match. Charge the earth for the privilege. It was fine until team didn’t do so well, now some fans are so aggrieved, they would rather stay at home than sit in seats they’ve already paid for.

Leave the sneering to one side. Both these groups of supporters have been through the process of moving. There’s a real danger than Spurs have not learned these lessons. The team is playing marvellous football at the moment, but recent history suggests this is atypical not the norm. The attraction of paying £63 per match to sit behind the goal, the popular end remember, not by any means the most expensive seat, could fade before you can say ‘and no guaranteed cup final ticket.’

Several years ago, the morale of Spurs fans was ebbing away. Ask people what they felt, nobody truly looked forward to the next game unless it was a derby. Season ticket holders questioned whether they would renew, some the first time such a thought had crossed their minds in two or three decades.

It wasn’t so much what happened on the field, although AVB and Sherwood inspired few of us. Supporters felt disengaged, distant and alienated from a club who asked us to spend the earth on tickets with no prospect of significant improvement, who treated us as customer number not individuals, extras for the crowd noise that is so attractive when it comes to selling the foreign TV rights.

I tend towards the view that football supporters are pretty much the same wherever you go. I might even go so far as to say that I have as much in common with a Hammer who fears for the culture of his club than I do with a Spurs fan munching mature gruyere and peering at the players through one-way glass in the Tunnel Club. What happened next at Spurs, however, gave us a refreshingly different experience from other London fans. We brought through a group of young players who were totally committed to the team and to improving themselves. They acknowledged supporters in their celebrations, I mean looking genuinely elated not doing a choreographed mystery in-joke dance when they scored. Kane is one of our own – this chant resonates as the symbol of what he and we have achieved together. Ryan Mason playing out of position and eventually disposed of, gave us everything and played for the shirt. No prima donnas, no excuses. They gave as much for the shirt as we did.

As a result, the distance between fans and club diminish. We felt closer. The atmosphere lifted. We played football the Spurs way. The club responded in some ways. The Lane finale moved each and everyone of us. These prices could destroy that.

Fans go to the game for the football, not the facilities. If we can’t afford it, we can’t go. I’ll be there, somewhere, because it’s that important for me, and for my son and granddaughter who sit next to me. This is what we do, this is who we are. I’m come through a crisis of faith before, when all things considered it would have been easier to not go and avoid the strife of going out, of this being a luxury I could not afford, the credit card bills. I can’t work full-time because of other responsibilities. Money’s tight. But I came through that, and I’m glad I did because I was being true to myself and thereby able to be true to others who need me. It gave me the energy to keep going. Spurs are a big thing for me, too big perhaps but I’m here now, this is how I feel so I roll with it. Love the club for evermore. Not sure it will ever feel quite the same though.

Spurs and the VAR Debacle.

So yeah. How’ve you been?

First day of March seemed as good a day as any. It holds no special significance or power. It’s as good a day as February 28th or March 2nd, but it was a plan, so here we are. We all need targets, and like Fernando Llorente, I’ve found mine.

Spurs are doing fine without me. I say without me, I have been alongside them at Wembley all season, making the most of my half-way line Shelf equivalent, my perch for 50 years, before the new ground turns it into an exclusive debenture pay up front for three years padded seat complementary programme cheese-munching executive lounge. And prices me out.

My mid-season break was longer than that proposed for the season after next, and unlike PL clubs I didn’t whinge about tiredness then book a trip to Asia. Whether like Dembele I come back stronger or lose momentum like Harry Winks remains to be seen. But here we are, because Tottenham really is always on my mind.

Once again, Pochettino has cranked it up post-Christmas. A long unbeaten run, 6th round of the cup and a NLD derby victory mean life is sweet. More to come – Spurs don’t quite look like the finished article. There’s still a bit more growing to do. Over the seasons, Tottenham On My Mind has plaintively asked the question, what does a top-class side actually look like? We’ve had top class performances and remarkable growth under Pochettino, but maybe because I’m old, I can’t rid myself of the spectre of Newport and Rochdale scoring from every set piece. Can’t get rid of the old days and the old Spurs. Except in 80 minutes at Juventus, Spurs finally gave me an answer.

While Tottenham are in rude health, the same cannot be said for the game itself. Rochdale at home is the equivalent cost for me of about 15 minutes of Juventus, so there were economies. I had never planned to go, but Spurs’ ability to sustain a plan for 90 minutes and to pick themselves up after an average first half, features so distinct from past sides and vital to our 2018 surge, blew us gale-force into the quarter finals. And there was VAR. It’s March 1st, I’m writing, so here goes.

Last night was a debacle for VAR and the referees who administer it, their faults exposed like wiring after mice have chewed through the cable, and just as risky. VAR offers certainty where none exists. Lamela’s opening effort was disallowed after the TV ref found a Llorente foul that never was. It took the best part of four minutes to make a wrong decision. Spurs were then awarded a dodgy penalty. I’ll leave the controversy about Son’s run-up, encroachment and a possible re-take for now, chiefly because above all, Son was incredibly stupid to not know the law about run-ups.

All part of VAR’s teething problems. I get it. Except all of these problems could have been foreseen in advance, and were, by many pundits and supporters.  Once VAR is there, you can’t forget it. Offsides plus fouls where there might be a clear and obvious error are supposed to be referred, yet last night, like a folk singer with his finger in his ear, the ref seemed to be checking something through his earpiece throughout the match. It was decidedly off-key. Fans in the ground were the last to know what was going on, of course, but in this instance even those watching on television were none the wiser.

VAR placed the seed of doubt in the referee’s mind. I’m sure he felt undermined to some extent. It creates a climate of uncertainty when the intended effect is precisely the opposite. If VAR is at a game, fans and pundits will argue decisions and the decision to use it, or not. Because it’s there.

Also, if VAR runs an incident, what if something else crops up? If a foul is being reviewed, what if the TV ref spots a foul off the ball or earlier in the move? How far back will they run the tape? In rugby league and union, they seem to refer more and more tries to the video ref, just to make sure. The stop-start nature of the game lends itself more easily to swift replays – there’s a pause for the kick after a try in any case. Before Christmas, in an international the ref sought judgement for a touchdown – rugby refs ask for a specific thing to be judged and because they are miked up you can hear what is going on. The try was eventually disallowed not for the touchdown but for an infringement earlier in the move spotted by the video ref.

The fans in the ground are the last to know. Happy to stand corrected but rugby fans at the match see replays, at least in big games. We’re football fans, we can’t be trusted. It’s worth remembering that when VAR first appeared, it did not cross administrators’ minds that we should even be told VAR was being used, let alone see moving pictures, so you see why teething troubles becomes a euphemism for slack thinking from people dazzled by the power of the technology at their fingertips.

Spurs appear in the footnote of history that perhaps lies behind this. When the jumbotron was an innovation, Spurs played Newcastle, 93 maybe? Replays showed Spurs’ goal was dodgy. Kevin Keegan’s touchline jig of outrage sticks in the memory better than the incident itself, and ever since the screen cuts to a panorama of the Lane if there’s even a whiff of controversy.

And here’s the nub. VAR has a context. It exists in a football universe that prioritises the fan at home over the supporter at the match. This has been a trend for several years now, once the PL allowed Sky to dominate the football schedule. Last night could well be the tipping point, the moment where a tiny incident on the fulcrum of change shifted the balance irrevocably in favour of the sofa rather than the supporter.

VAR is fun for the TV viewer, especially the uncommitted. Last night, the commentators said exactly this. I can’t recall the precise words, but this was ‘fascinating, laden with controversy made it riveting viewing’, did a pundit actually say or tweet that it was the best game of the season?

For the hapless souls at Wembley, it was bewildering. Paying their money left them short-changed. Freezing cold, unsure if they could make the journey home, it was a stark reminder how little they mattered.

This comes on top of the new TV deal, where more matches than ever before are shown on TV and which for the regular matchgoer means investing even more money without any prospect of knowing if the match will be shifted to another date and time. Spurs again with the perfect example of the confusion this causes, lest we forget the rescheduling of the West Ham game around New Year. This was much more than the inconvenience we have sadly and unwillingly become party to. Sky changed the date and time to New Year’s Eve and the PL agreed without consulting the police, the local council or the safety authority. Sky presenters were stating the game was going ahead – I and a few others told them via twitter something their own company failed to mention. Never mind consulting with the fans, this is scandalously dangerous. Sky seriously think, we make the decisions, everybody else jumps.

The minutes of the latest meeting between the Trust and the board are essential reading for any Spurs fan. The indefatigable Kat Law, a champion of fans’ rights, asked about a link between pricing and lower attendances than expected for some games. The club replied that pricing was not a factor – what mattered was opposition, competition and match time. The day after, Spurs’ revised kick-offs due to TV were announced, which include a Saturday evening fixture versus Manchester City. In other words, we are knowingly actively taking steps to lower the attendance. And this without the implications for City fans getting home – the last train to Manchester leaves at 9pm.

 

One mercy of Tottenham On My Mind’s absence is that I avoided discussion about our away game at Liverpool. A Spurs match again becomes a touchstone in the technology debate. It showed, among other things, that at high speed refs get things right and that technology is never conclusive. My point here, though, refers to the debate that raged after the final whistle on social media, the perfect example of a trend that disturbs me as a football fan, not as a Spurs fan. The Liverpool fans who howled for retribution, a re-match, for the referee’s head, epitomised the totally unrealistic expectations of many modern football fans who have re-defined the meaning of a foul. In so doing, they seek to thwart the laws of physics. It’s not a question of Spurs or Liverpool, or about tribal loyalty, it’s about what is and is not contact, what does and does not mean a player touched by another falls over. I don’t want football to be become a non-contact sport. Editions of MOTD imply in their analysis that football is a series of incidents requiring television adjudication rather than a flowing game.

VAR plays into these sensibilities. Football does not lend itself to the micro-analysis of endless replays of so-called fouls. Yet this appears to be the expectation of a growing number of fans (and some managers who should know better). I’ll hazard a guess that the majority of these fans do not go to matches on a regular basis. I think also that the most vocal on social media at least, not necessarily a reliable cross-section of the public I’ll grant you, are younger fans who have grown up watching the majority of their football from the comfort of their living rooms.

We’re fond of talking about “the fans”. In reality, there are profound and I believe growing divisions within fandom, between the expectations of match-going supporters and those who do not, and between older fans and a younger age group. It’s a generalisation with many exceptions and of course there is a cross-over between the two, i.e. younger match-going supporters.

There are many other examples where these divisions manifest themselves and where the game is changing – all-seater stadia, the perception of the dominance of the Champions League that dmeans other forms of the game, and now the precious treasure of the English game, the FA Cup, relegated to a midweek 5th round with no replays. For what – because it gets in the way of, well, I’m really not sure what.

 

For me, as an older, match-going fan, VAR represents the latest and perhaps ultimate aspect of the changing culture of the English game, which is increasingly weighted towards the television fan. Partly it’s about the matchgoer being left in the dark, partly about how little the authorities care about the time, money and energy matchgoers put into seeing their team, partly about VAR as a symbol of how the game is perceived and what people want from it. When was football ever about getting everything right? That’s not what I expect.

Change football at your peril. Football is messy, ambiguous and thrilling. Thrilling because your expectations are constantly threatened by the fact that you have no idea what is going to happen next. From disorder comes pain and anguish, joy and fulfilment. They co-exist: can’t have one without the other.  And sometimes, from the chaos emerges beauty, a moment of inspired creativity that knocks you sideways, punches you in the gut and forces the breath from your lungs. Moments that you share with the like-minded. That you remember for evermore. Nothing else does this, only football. For now.