What convinced me was the steward’s hi-visibility jacket. I had been trying desperately to play it all down. We weren’t in the Champions League yet. This was just the qualifier, not yet, don’t get your hopes up, earn it first.
I didn’t notice at first. Trying to get in, yes to see the game but mainly, right now, to get out of the rain. Had to park further away than normal, mind full of traffic problems rather than navy blue and white. No glory in the Blackwall Tunnel. Me soggy and anxious, barcode is bound to go wrong, sod’s law, she’s fussing over the bags of the people in front of us. A little UEFA ribbon round the handle will save us all, never mind the petrol bombs and semtex hidden under the bloke’s coat. Nicely, mind, she’s sweet and kind, her gentle consideration out of place and time amongst the testosterone overload.
Then, the moment that Tottenham Hotspur arrived in the Champions League, for me at least. She’s wearing a Champions League official steward luminous orange waterproof jacket. The circle of stars and everything. Not just something knocked up in the printers on the industrial estate. Official. Probably flown in all the way from FIFA. Someone somewhere made it possible for her to have an official CL jacket. It mattered. We had arrived.
In the ground, cheap plastic flags, corny gesture, leave the atmosphere to us, the fans have done it for the last hundred or so years so we’ll probably be OK on our own tonight, thanks anyway. The anthem on TV sounds so ridiculously pompous, the perfect sign of the overblown self-importance of this competition.
Yet when they played it, I waved my plastic stick like my life depended on it, roared as the whistle blew, took photos, which I never do lest it detract from being part of the moment, of stands rippling with white silk and unbridled anticipation. I wanted to remember it all, a souvenir, but what’s the point – I’m never going to forget it, being there, Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, never until the day I die.
The passion from all parts of the ground lifted our men, Dawson I think, to reach an early cross first, but wide and wasted. It was a reminder from the first leg: never mind all the formations, the passing and the pitch, they can’t deal with high balls. That’s it, I said, to no one in particular, that’s it, just get it in, good crosses, either side, get it in. Straight away, Crouch, across the keeper. I leapt as it left his head, it was in, beautifully placed.
It was enough but we needed more. Young Boys move the ball impressively, excellent control, well-drilled, get possession and four or five drive forward as one. Tension in my head but not so much in the ground. My failings: on the death certificate, Terminal Anxiety, Shelf Side, Tottenham Hotspur. Neat and tidy doesn’t score goals and the YBs had little punch up front.
A great atmosphere most of the time, although it was quiet during periods. It never needed to reach the heights because we didn’t have to fight that hard for the win and for once scored the goals at all the right times. It’s always a good time to score, etc, but JD’s success came when the tempo had dropped and the game was becoming too even (blatant handball from my angle, didn’t really enjoy the well-taken goal as much as I should because I was waiting for the inevitable whistle), Crouch again at a flat spot (just cross it, see what I mean) and the penalty to finish it all off, still at a time when they need just two to tie it up.
YBs were not going to get into it themselves but Gomes’ injury could have been a turning point. He looks such a wuss, on the point of tears. I’m not sure what was going on. I’ve not seen any TV coverage of the game and so I don’t know what they worked out from the bench, but Harry appeared to come out and tell him to get on with it, presumably on medical advice. Get through to half time is all very well but it created uncertainly at the back where before there was none and this spread right through the team at the end of the first half. The cross that the 15 headed over left defenders and keeper staring blankly at each other. That was a bad miss and could have presented the initiative to the Swiss.
Otherwise, we were on top without romping away. The pen sealed it and oh what fun we had for the last 10 or 15 minutes. Crouch should not have taken that spot kick. Whoever was the man chosen by Redknapp, Pav I think, should have taken it regardless of a hattrick. Personal glory should be subordinated to the needs of the team. The match was not conclusively won at that point and we need to maintain the ruthless streak through the tournament. Start now.
Churlish to complain, I’m not really, but the match evidenced the oft-made point about the lack of technical ability of English players. The YBs would not survive in the Prem but their ball control was for the most part way better than ours. Once, Defoe was given the ball under pressure but in his stride. A simple trap and pass would have released Lennon but he fumbled it. Crouch, bless him, the ball sailed from ankle to above head high more than once.
Still I’m not complaining. Honest. Bale was always dangerous and Huddlestone impressively directed things from deep. A fine European performance, revelling in the extra space he had, always available even if not all his passes came off. Ledley was always there to head off the pressure and Benny had another good one. Crouch, the Prem defenders can deal with him, nudge in the back, get in first because he hangs back, but Europe may not know this. Two metre Peter our secret weapon against Europe’s finest, who would have thought it?
No comment on the draw. It’s tough but we knew that. Being there is all that matters. With a team including several players who have been with us for a few years, maturing in front of our eyes. We’ve suffered during their growing pains, winced at their naivety, grumbled about their mistakes. But under Harry’s watchful gaze, there they are, our boys, they’ve taken us to the CL. Bale, Benny, Daws, Lenny and big Tom. Although they wobbled, I never lost faith. So very proud of them.
Quiet on the way home, reflecting. It’s only when I reached my house and tried to sleep that I realised the adrenalin was still pumping through my veins in overdose proportions. What is it about this club that makes grown men dance around their living room, in the dark, at 1am, laughing silently, just laughing and laughing. It’s the Champions League and it’s real.