A typical spurs performance in Europe. A mixture of judicious possession football, incisive attacking and reckless abandonment of defensive duties. Three times we went ahead only to let our opponents back into the match. A penalty needlessly conceded let slip the initiative presented by a lunatic own goal (and for fans of a certain vintage, it’s good to see the return of fat goalkeepers) but meh, this is Spurs, this is Europe, we’ll just run up the other end and get another one sometime soon.
Quite how we made as much space for Twente as we did, I’m not sure. Somehow we manage to enlarge the pitch when our opponents are in possession. Repainting the touchlines when the ref’s looking the other way. It was especially bad after JJ went off and we missed Modric’s influence terribly, but a pleasure to see JD so sharp again. As on Saturday we wasted good opportunities with a final ball that lacked precision. Sometimes the number of alternatives created fatal hesitation but Lennon curbed the instinct to shoot, only a little dink, so simple, so effective.
At the back, Bale and Lennon were too wide when Twente had the ball so…look – this doesn’t matter. Leave it. Today is not about analysis, it’s about celebration. I’ve only just about got used to associating Tottenham Hotspur FC with the Champions League. I still blink at the Sky ads, Champions League, JD’s on the poster, why… This morning I’m repeating over and over – Champions League. Knock out stages. Group winners. If you see me today, I’ll be at Waterloo in a minute, then the old County Hall, I might say hallo, buy a coffee, chat even. Bit overweight (I’ll shift a few pounds. promise. After Christmas. New Year), black woolly hat, that’s me but the eyes are blank. Champions League. Knockout stages. Group winners.
I was going to debate the list of possible opponents. Nah… we’re there. All that matters. Who cares. Bring them on. Bring them to the Lane. Europe has learned something about us this season, they don’t want to come here.
In a world full of hyperbole, where a loss of perspective is routine, this is a remarkable achievement. Genuinely outstanding. Take this, a bucket of superlatives. Astonishing, pulsating, glorious, unbelievable, transcendental, fab gear, brilliant, there are more, those are just the ones on the surface. Pick it up and empty it out, that’s us today, covered in glory.
In qualifying, we’ve scored more goals than any other team in the group stages and I believe are the only team ever to score at least two goals in every group match. (We’re allowed to leave the dodgy defending to one side today). Last night had been inked in my diary for months. Last game, if we were still in with a slender chance, maybe just maybe in the so-called group of death, have to sit down and watch that one on the red button. But we were through already. With a game to spare.
This has led to yet another bewildering phenomenon. In these days of tribal fandom, people like us. Spurs are popular. Fans love to watch us play. Many of the comments that I received on the blog this season from opposition fans have praised the team. Some criticise my conclusions but most end up by saying something like, ‘But good luck in Europe, I really enjoy watching your adventures.’
In the time I’ve been a Spurs fan, we used to be well liked by neutrals or least there was a fondness for the club that dated from the Double and our attacking teams in the late 60s and early 70s. I knew a good few Welsh and Irish people who followed us, rather like Manchester United are followed today. After the Villa Cup Final, I wore my Spurs scarf and badges in London and five people during the course of a single tube journey congratulated me on a thrilling game. You wouldn’t get that these days. Indeed, when we were down, other fans constantly accused us of having ideas above our station,living in the past, not a big club. We wanted success, they reveled in our failure.
Now people look for our matches. They’ve watched football from a bygone age, end to end, bags of goals, attack. They’ve seen heroes, especially a young full back come midfielder who is a character straight out of Roy of the Rovers, stampeding through packed defences in series of unstoppable runs with players bouncing off him from all sides.
Yet this is real. Gareth Bale personifies the talent, enthusiasm and spirit that Spurs have brought to the tournament, culminating in a pulsating encounter that saw the European Champions defeated and left an indelible imprint in the ancient rusting girders at the Lane. The old place has seen it all, but they’ve not not seen anything like this. The ground was rocking and is rocking still.
It’s unfair to single out one player, however outstanding his impact. Van der Vaart has taken centre stage and Modric has done increasingly well as the competition progressed. Huddlestone anchored the team, perfect in Europe where he has a fraction more time, while Crouch, maligned in these pages I confess, remains a mystery to foreign defenders.
Above all the team has played as a unit in the three key home ties, resilient and indefatigable. The first half Berne is a distant memory, a treatment room full of injuries overcome.
And Harry Redknapp has done us proud. He wants to attack, a strategy that has looked risky during frequent buttock-clenching incidents and which is perhaps dictated by the absence of a truly dominating defensive midfielder. But for now, who cares. He’s made it work to dramatic effect. Just enjoy. Savour every last succulent moment, because this is entertainment and pleasure of a rare quality. I love this club.