Spurs Have Individuals To Thank For A Point As The Going Gets Tough

Spurs had every reason to be optimistic as they went to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. With confidence high after good league form and that fine away win in Moscow, Pochettino was calling this a must-win game. Not really but it was a welcome statement of assertive intent.

We could have won it in the first half but by full-time we were hanging on grimly, grateful for a point but rocked back on our heels by our failure to take precious chances or defend as a team. Food for thought as MP plans for the stresses and strains of this seven game sequence culminating in Arsenal away. Two down, five to go, 3rd in the table and very much in a tight CL group but a few worries begin to niggle and chafe.

That we won a point was down to superlative individual defensive performances from Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose. Each of them made a fistful of outstanding tackles, interceptions and in Hugo’s case, saves, any one of which wold have be worthy of note in a match report. 3 tackles on the stretch from Rose plus a double block on the line, then later on Vertonghen heading away under huge pressure followed by two or three tackles deep in his area.

And Hugo. Low to his right three times, one outstanding save coming back across his goal, diving low to save a header with a strong right hand when you knew Hernandez was already half into his goal celebration. The ball rolled along the line but Hugo was still alert. Having blocked the ball, in the same movement as he continued to fall he enveloped his body around it. Safe in his embrace it didn’t cross the line.

Spurs progress this season has been founded on team play. We defend as a team, yet yesterday it seemed as if the midfield treated 4-1-4-1 literally. Wanyama as the only DM was excellent but he’s not supposed to do it all on his own. The full backs were exposed too frequently because of a lack of cover in front of them. This stretched the defence, especially after Leverkusen took hold of midfield after a canny half-time substitution. Too often Eriksen, Son and Lamela took the easy option of hanging around the edge of our box rather than getting their hands dirty with the risky business of defending danger areas.

It made for a grim last half an hour. It looked as if our hard work in taking control of the game in the first half would go to waste. Both teams play a pressing game, so a scratchy opening featured bunches of players descending on any opponent as soon as they had the ball. The Germans were more prepared to knock it long in those circumstances. Sometimes Spurs dazzled in the way they played the ball from back to front but these moments were matched by a couple of rank cock-ups, two clearances from Lloris in particular cranked up the pressure.

After a nondescript opening, Tottenham gradually got on top. We kept the ball better, won more tackles and had the best of the play. Wanyama was instrumental in bossing the middle, breaking up our opponents’ attacks and generally sorting them out. Trippier featured with his attacking play and searing crosses on the right. With Lamela over there and Eriksen drifting that way, we had an extra man often enough to look dangerous. Dele headed a great chance wide, Son had a rare shot blocked then Janssen hit the bar, Lamela’s follow up being tipped over the bar by the keeper.

At half-time, shaggy haired DM Baumgartlinger came on and did Wanyama’s job for Leverkusen. Spurs barely threatened over the next 45 minutes. Players took it in turns to give the ball away when all season we have looked so assured on the ball. Leverkusen made and missed a series of chances.

Never a good idea to read too much into a single game. However, it is concerning that Spurs did not adapt to the changing tide. They seemed fixed on an attacking mindset, a laudable approach but Europe is about having more than one string to your bow. Away from home, you will always have to absorb a period of pressure. The best sides learnt to roll with the punches. Sometimes this means retreating and covering up.

Also, missing chances is becoming a bit of a thing, not just in Europe. Janssen continues to look promising with his eye for goal, ability to hold the ball back to goal and good lateral movement, all of which means his link play with team-mates is accomplished for a newbie. He really needs one to go in.

Son seemed distant from proceedings last night. Maybe the occasion got to him, going back to his old club and not welcomed with open arms by everyone. Lamela did not have a good one while as the game went on Vertonghen was covering all over the box as Dier seemed uneasy. Sissoko made little effort to exert his experience on the game when he came on to do precisely that.

But a point, frankly not deserved. Wembley in a fortnight looms as a big night with much at stake for both sides.


23 Days, 7 Games – Spurs Next Challenge

Tony Pulis comes in for his fair share of criticism but when it comes to Tottenham, he gets it right. It’s as if he works towards these two games each season, the defensive drills peaking in time for Spurs. I imagine the dressing room, a hush descends as the players hang on their manager’s every word. “Well lads I want you to – just get in the bloody way.” It’s more than that of course. The midfield are well-drilled and the back 10 – that’s what it is for much of the time – are admirably disciplined in the way they hold their shape. Big centre halves stay where they are, supplanted by willing midfielders dropping into the gaps. But as the shots came in, it feels like when it comes down to it, they block everything.


Underlying this is a respect for Spurs’ inventiveness – Pulis called us one of the most attractive teams in Europe – but their lack of ambition makes for a dull spectacle. Ironically WBA looked good coming forward when they finally emerged from their shell deep in the second half. Before then, they had a couple of good chances, McAuley missing right in front of goal.


Nearly worked too. Lloris saved low by his post, pushing the ball out via the woodwork. In a crowded box there was suddenly a suspicious amount of room, which Nacer Chadli filled more quickly than anyone else to lash the ball into the roof of the net. What’s Walloon for ‘the immutable law of the ex”? He didn’t celebrate, and respect is due, but why shouldn’t players celebrate a goal against their old club? Every supporter knows the difference between players enjoying a goal with their team-mates and the arrogant f**k you glee designed to inflame. Fans understand a wind-up.


Toby fell to earth and stayed there for too long. As I write, it looks as if it’s bruising not ligaments or worse, out for two weeks. Dier came on as sub and will probably stay there as a right-sided player to sit alongside Vertonghen. Wimmer seems a long way from the first team all of a sudden with rumours that he’s not putting enough in on the training pitch, but he looked so able when he came into the team last season.


West Brom posed us a challenge – we’re sorted, everyone back, now let’s see what you can do. We did enough to win, certainly in terms of possession and desire to take the game to our opponents, but became bogged down at times. That left us vulnerable to a breakaway or set piece, and one loose ball looked as if it would ruin our afternoon.


It’s a long season, subdivided into a series of intertwining sequences. The fixture list presents us with 7 matches in 23 days before an international break, a real test of our progress, culminating in Arsenal away, which for many fans is the ultimate. Let’s see how we are when that’s over and we can draw breath. Being third in the league is a good enough start as far as I’m concerned.


New pressures, new challenges. Supporting the weight of expectation, going for it in the Champions League. It’s a test of focus and ambition throughout the squad, not just the first team. Last year the team effectively picked itself. Now, it’s not by any means as clear, in terms of both personnel and formation. Pochettino has options now with both. The 4-1-4-1 suits our need to devote more resources to attack as most teams do not sit back against us. Plus, Wanyama has made an outstanding contribution so far.


On Saturday, Dele was able to have the freedom to get forward. He was on the end of several chances before cunningly slotting the equaliser, a clever finish tucking the ball into the narrow side as the West Brom defenders moved to block the other side of the goal. Earlier, he missed a couple, including one where back to goal he took a touch to set up an overhead kick for himself while under pressure from a defender.


Both this and his goal show a presence of mind that is almost terrifying. That he can shut himself off to that extent is phenomenal. He is playing as if there’s no limit to what he can achieve, and he seems to enjoy himself so much. Managers in all sports encourage their team to go out and enjoy themselves. Such rubbish. If they wanted to enjoy themselves they’d have a kickabout in the local park. What they really mean is something like, express yourself, lose yourself in your talent, be the best you can be. When the world and his partner is watching and thousands of people are screaming at you, millions at home depend on you.


Spurs fans have been lucky over the past few years in being able to watch the development of two top-class talents, Bale and Dele. The difference is that whereas Bale was hesitant at first, reticent about expressing himself, Dele assumes the air of someone who is born to it. Gareth puffed out his cheeks and fiddled with his hair, unsure on the ball despite overflowing with natural talent. Dele on the other hand imposed himself from the beginning. When Hoddle was young, he worked with a psychologist who to boost confidence encouraged players to give themselves a title that encapsulated their role. Hoddle, the best passer of the ball I have ever seen and am ever likely to see, chose, ‘Lord of the Manor’, in charge of midfield. Dele is his heir.


Dele surged this way and that trying to make space. Eriksen did something similar albeit in a slightly deeper role. As well as being available and looking for the little pass into gaps, he encourages defenders to come to him, thus making space for others to run into. This is where possession works, not for its own sake but allied to movement and tempo, eventually gaps in the defence must appear.


We missed Rose. Take that as read for every game he misses. England have Bertrand but no other left backs, apparently, so the Saints player is injured and Danny willingly knackers himself. Davies is a capable deputy but Rose adds that edge, that incisive pace out wide that makes a difference in games like these. Dembele back, albeit as substitute. More work for him in the 6 games to come. Janssen allows the ball to feet with his back to goal and good lateral movement but Harry is better with 360 degree movement. Sissoko disappointing. He has big game experience – we need that tomorrow.



Kick Anti-Semitism Out of Football. But Don’t Start With Spurs Fans

Last week I went to a seminar on anti-Semitism in football. Over a couple of hours, we heard from representatives of the Jewish community, journalists, the chair of Kick It Out and a Jewish footballer, Joe Jacobson who currently plays for Wycombe Wanderers. Ranging beyond Britain and the Premier League, it revealed the scandalous inaction of governing bodies in Britain and Europe. The FA in particular does little or nothing to combat the growing number of complaints of anti-Semitic abuse KIO deal with each year.


Yet the debate really kicked off only towards the end when the elephant in the room became real – Spurs and the Y word.


A couple of things you need to know before we go any further. For Jews, ‘yid’ is a profoundly demeaning epithet, a three letter word inextricably linked to centuries of persecution. It provokes deep feelings and righteous anger from within in the community, bearing in mind that in this audience of a certain age, the Holocaust is a mere generation away. It’s not a GSCE topic but a lived experience for their family.


Also, there is an increase in anti-Semitic abuse in this country and Europe, variously ascribed to the rise of the far right, an effect of the conflict in the Middle East or part of the rise post-Brexit of overtly expressed discrimination in England. Whatever, it has always been there, lying low beneath the surface, ready to rise up.


In my time I’ve been to my fair share of meetings on anti-discriminatory practice, and I mean that in a good way. This one had an unexpected feel to it. Called by the charity Action Against Discrimination, an organisation I had not heard of before, it featured one woman, Roisin Wood, the Director of Kick It Out, on a panel of seven. The avuncular chair, a Jewish lawyer with long-standing links to the organisation, would have been the perfect host for my barmitzvah but in this setting his witticisms often unintentionally neutralised contributors’ points by diverting them in a different direction.


At one point he prefaced a question by saying he would direct it at Roisin only to turn to Times journalist Henry Winter by the time he finally finished his anecdote. Jacobson’s potential was underused. He was asked only a few times to contribute. When it came to questions, the chair took almost all from people whose names he knew. Eventually a woman spoke, then fellow Spurs fan Emma Poulton’s persistence paid off. Adroitly intercepting a potentially patronising introduction, she succeeded in sharing her academic research into the topic.


Last year Kick It Out received 79 reports of anti-Semitic behaviour and language. Every speaker on the stage and from the floor had experienced this both from within the game – Malky Mackay was sacked as Cardiff manager after discriminatory, anti-Semitic and homophobic texts – and from supporters of other clubs. Chelsea and West Ham fans were mentioned by several contributors as being the worst offenders, and this isn’t coming from me but the chair himself who is a Chelsea diehard, and David Sullivan was one of the event’s sponsors. Everyone agreed this behaviour had no place in the game.


Henry Winter was particularly strong on the disgraceful lack of action from the FA, the Premier League and FIFA, citing several examples where they have not so much turned a blind eye to discrimination as completely turned their back on it. FIFA have disbanded their anti-racism task force, while we still recall the Under 21 game versus Serbia where Danny Rose and other English black players were racially abused yet received no effective support from the FA. Winter also said that action against any fans’ anti-Semitism at club level was a priority.


Here’s a third thing you should be aware of. Passions run high amongst Jews about Spurs and the Y word, and there is serious disagreement within the community about its legitimacy.


And so the evening cranked up a notch or two when one Spurs fan, who from his comments regularly goes to the Lane, expressed his horror and fury. Yid, he said, had no place in football and anyone using it should be banned. He advised Levy to identify every fan using the word, ban them permanently and if necessary replace them with 30,000 Spurs who don’t use the Y word.


Extreme this may be, not to say unworkable, but the passions underlying it must be taken seriously. Certainly the Jewish Board of Deputies want action to be taken against anyone using the word, and Winter concluded his Wednesday Times column by calling for Spurs fans to take “a collective decision not to use the Y word.” The headline, which Winter did not write, puts it more starkly: “Spurs must ban own army from using the Y word.”


The alternative view was aired only towards the end, but talking to people afterwards confirmed my position that not every Spurs fan present (and this is a Jewish event held in north London so there were plenty) agreed. What the debate failed to take into account was context, the process by which Spurs fans became yids. Without this context, the debate is meaningless.


Some Spurs fans are Jewish. Spurs are a Jewish club. The two statements do not follow. Spurs fans were called yids by supporters of other clubs as an insult. Once ascribed this quality, abuse followed, in the same way that these fans would abuse Jewish people. Anti-Semitic abuse, in other words.


Tottenham were known as a club with a large Jewish following back in the twenties and thirties. The community of predominantly working-class Jews drawn to work in local Jewish-owned businesses like Gestetner and Lebus looked for assimilation and were welcome on the terraces on Saturday afternoon after schul. The decision in 1935 to play an international against Nazi Germany at White Hart Lane was seen at the time as provocative. But Spurs supporters were not called yids.


This came into widespread use from the mid to late sixties, alongside the rise of supporter culture, chanting and the growth of tribalism as a defining feature of being a young fan. It’s hard to define precisely when it began. Talking with fans for the chapter on this subject in A People’s History, ‘Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?’ (an extract appeared in last week’s Jewish Chronicle) supporters all think they know when it began but in reality are probably talking about the first time they heard it.


I recall it as part of my everyday experience going home and away in the early to mid-seventies, part of learning what it meant to be Spurs. The insults, the chants about Auschwitz, the insidious gassing noise. This abuse was directed at Jews. Those who handed it out did not consider the proportion of Spurs fans who were or were not Jewish, they decided we were so let’s abuse the Jews, this at a time when racist and homophobic abuse was sadly part of the culture of many on the terraces.


Tottenham fans took this on board and threw it back at those who would insult us, thus nullifying the impact. And thus we became the yids. I realise there is a new generation who stand divorced from this history and know they are yids without the story arc behind it. I fully grasp the argument that says the word is not for gentiles to do anything with. It’s just that this is outweighed by my experience as a young Jewish lad searching for identity, losing myself in the sound and sway of the terraces. Often going to matches on my own, I found that I belonged here. Three and more millennia of Jewish history tell the story of ejection and banishment, of communities repudiating the Jews when it came to the crunch.  Spurs fans opened their arms and embraced me, just as their predecessors embraced a previous generation and sent the Nazis packing.


This is an extraordinarily powerful event. The Tottenham fan culture I have been part of is broadly accepting and welcome. It’s a safe place for Spurs fans to be. Again some context – West Ham fans abused their own black player, Clyde Best, the chair of the JW3 debate told how one of his own fans made abusive gestures towards him, yet I don’t see that happening at the Lane. I don’t remember the vile monkey chants directed at black players and banana throwing endemic at some grounds.


You cannot re-write history and ignore this. This is how we got to where we are today. The Y word debate is complex, sensitive and delicate. Focusing on Spurs fans will not make it go away. In the book we use an example of a tweet from an Arsenal fan, a club with at least as many Jewish fans as Spurs, who considers with glee the possibility of a sort of Hillsborough-Holocaust mash-up as WHL collapses. When fans of other clubs sing the songs, hiss and give Nazi salutes, they are abusing Jews not Spurs fans. Those clubs should take action against their own to put their house in order. Henry Winter is right to confront discrimination in football, wrong to exclude that context from his conclusion.


I’ll leave the last word with Roisin Wood. She feels that football has made progress over the past 20 years but still has a long way to go. She demands strong leadership from authorities in terms of taking action and to educate everyone in the game about anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. In the stands and the boardroom, it is about creating a culture where discrimination plays no part and self-regulation becomes the norm.


Kick It Out have an app to enable prompt reporting of incidents. We may need it at Spurs for a while yet. Two Gillingham fans were arrested for anti-Semitic abuse. It won’t go away even if Spurs shut up.

Spurs Are Diamond Fabulous

For something in which so many invest so much commitment and emotion, football is remarkably fickle. We fans put everything we have into supporting our team, yet they let us down more often than not. We arrive in hope, leave in disappointment. Modern football is even harder to love. The cost, the travel, the time, the distance between club and fans. Yet sometimes you remember why you do this thing you do. The game is uplifting and joyous like nothing else. Yesterday that was Tottenham Hotspur.


Spurs were diamond fabulous. Manchester City can tear apart any side in Europe. Pochettino’s Hotspur play without fear. Get at them, take them on. Play your own game, let them worry about you. Pochettino embraces the club’s heritage, he plays the Spurs Way, with a flourish, not wait for the other side to die of boredom.


Tottenham mesmerised and enthralled with their combination of movement, intensity and inspiration. Time and again they won the ball then passed their way through the league leaders’ defence. From my seat mid-Shelf, the speed and creativity took my breath away. Not just for a burst or two but for almost all of the 90 minutes, such was their focus.


When the Spurs get it right, there’s nothing to compare.  We all felt it, that thing. More than the value of 3 points, more than going second in the league. That special precious feeling when the players are as dedicated as the supporters, when they give their best, that realisation that they are capable of beating the best. This was fulfilment. People around me, punching the air. On twitter, long-term fans, Lesley and David, moved to tears not so much with winning but the manner in which we won. As good a performance as I can recall in twenty or thirty years, right up there with the best. I felt so proud of them.


In the bad old days, all of three years ago, the announcement of unexpected team changes came with a whiff of rotten eggs. Now they signal that Pochettino is up to something. Spurs lined up 4-3-3 to match City. Instead they excelled then overwhelmed them. From the kick-off the ferocity of the pressing startled City into firstly giving away the ball then a goal. Son had already tested the keeper when a fine cross by the excellent Danny Rose came to Kolorov at the far post. Nobody told him he was on his own. That’s a poor touch, hang on that’s surely not going in, it is you know.


An own goal in the first ten minutes is handy but Spurs were magnificent, rampant, unstoppable. The movement bewitched bothered and bewildered the City back four. Otamendi lost it for a time, a handball under no pressure except the terror that zinged through his overheating brain then scything down Tottenham forwards. Booked and lucky not to get sent off. Son irrepressible, Eriksen and Alli seeking space and making time where there was none, Lamela always in the game.


Several near misses then the second. An attack involving half the Spurs team broke down on the right but was resurrected by Son’s quick reactions. A five yard diagonal to Alli bursting through was all it took, Alli first time swept it into the net.


And they kept going. The tempo never dropped from off-the-scale in-the-red danger level ‘aye captain I canna hold her together’ levels, except Spurs had Wanyama to do just that. The 4-3-3 was in reality a fluid formation adjusting to whatever was going on. Wayama has the instincts of a defensive defensive midfielder. Second half, we were stretched, Wanyama pops up at left back to nonchalantly shepherd the ball to safety. Why was he there? He just knew.


After half-time we picked up where we left off, giving City no time to breathe. Their revival no doubt carefully planned in the dressing room was stillborn. Spurs’ football flowed as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and it was beautiful to see. Alli was fouled for a penalty but the move that set him up was stunning. Lamela and Son argued over who was going to take it. Unseemly – this should be done and dusted pre-match. Lamela has made great strides and played well up until this point but he does not have ice in his veins. The wrong choice and his weak shot was well saved.


The game would have been killed off then but we had to endure twenty minutes of tension and a Lloris save via the post before the celebrations could begin. When the going gets tough, Toby Alderweireld gets going. My man of the match, he is a giant. Vertonghen was solid alongside him, a formidable central pairing. Spurs even defend assertively. No sitting back, Tottenham have brought back the art of the tackle. The back four and Wanyama are not afraid to go in and get the ball. Three times Toby, three times Jan stopped attacks in their tracks to come away with possession.


Walker and Rose, on top form, the former a man transformed by his summer at the Euros. Decisive, swift, diligent – like all of them he takes responsibility and no longer leaves it to others.


At the final whistle we stood to applaud until they left the field, then looked at each other to say, this is a team. Our team. Our Tottenham. It was one of those rare games that when it finished, life was a little sweeter than when it began.


Last season we faded through lack of mental strength. That lesson has been learned. We’ve kicked up a couple of notches now. Bring them all on. We’re a match for anyone right now.  And this is the way we play now. Same in Moscow on Tuesday, take the game to our opponents. It’s a shame it took the Monaco match before they realised what they could do but there’s more than enough time to make up for that aberration.


As a footnote, A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is getting rave reviews from Spurs fans and football writers alike. We’ve struck a chord. You can hear Martin and I talking about it on the Spurs Show podcast (episode 51 years), thanks to host Mike Leigh for his generous comments.


And if you are in any doubt as to the significance of supporters in the heritage of the club, this is what Steve Perryman said at half-time yesterday. Steve was a fine player and holds the record appearances at Spurs but more than anything, he gave it all every time he pulled on the white shirt. Of all the games, all the memories, the one he chose first was the 84 UEFA Final, when Danny Thomas missed a penalty in the shoot-out then was given an ovation to lift him as he trudged back to the centre circle. Not a goal or a cup, not even a match that he played in, but the supporters, a moment when he realised how special club and fan are together.