My daughter graduated as a teacher on Saturday afternoon so instead of watching the game I was being an intensely proud father. It was a low-key affair, held in a university hall rather than the Cathedral where she solemnly processed to receive her undergraduate degree. At least we could see this time. We were stuck behind a pillar last year so I had plenty of time to scrutinise the skill of medieval stonemasons. Even so, it was still more exciting than the Whammers v Boro game that I saw in the week.
Two potential approaches if you’re not able to see the game. Go for constant updates, either via text from a willing accomplice or latterly use the iphone. Advantages include, obviously, the up to date score. On the other hand there’s the tension of knowing something might be happening but not what. This approach has led in the past to a slow, reasonable start followed by a frantic pounding of the refresh button, oblivious to my surroundings. The least said about Spurs conceding two late goals a couple of years ago whilst I was in the Bluewater branch of H&M, the better.
I opted for the alternative – the final score text, in this case from my son who went to the Bridge. It’s clean and predictable. Enter this mindset and the afternoon is shrunk to a single moment. Get on with life, there’s nothing you can do, in my case enjoy a wonderful moment in my daughter’s life and just wait for the score to come in.
During a bright and busy day in a lovely city, there was plenty to distract me and the warmth of the occasion is touchingly genuine, fuelled by the graduates’ overwhelming sense of pride and achievement that puts the sneering bile directed towards university students into its rightful place. Yet in the long wait for my daughter’s fleeting turn at the lectern, the mind began to wander. It’s times like this when I cannot escape the self-loathing of a true football obsessive. Her grand day but I must know the score. For a few short minutes, I want, I force something else to be on my mind but too late, it’s taken hold. Technology means I can furtively switch on the iphone. Like an addict with his fix, I press the on button.
I’m not offending any of my nearest and dearest. My daughter sits beside me at the Lane and the first thing she asked me, (well, the second, the first was, ‘where’s the wine and food, I’m starving?), was the score and after all, she’s teaching at Scott Parker’s old school in southeast London. I have the old class photo to prove it and can report that Scotty’s hairstyle has changed little in 20 years. Their mum was reassured to know my son would be reasonably happy. So why am I restless, sick and short of breath as, knowing it was nil-nil at around 65 minutes, full time approached.
I believe the stuff I write. That our fate will be decided not on this game but in the sequence of tough but winnable matches that take us to the end of the season. Yet the thought of an impending catastrophe at the Bridge was gnawing away. Restless and fidgety, the logic that this was no turning point was meaningless. Another insipid effort from tired, listless footballers was too much to bear. On a day like today. Twisted priorities, warped values. I really hate myself sometimes.
You will be relieved to know that I managed to not punch the air when my son’s text came through. Didn’t want to let my daughter down. Can you punch the air internally? If so, I did. He said we should have won but a point was good enough for me. Might have a slug of that wine, all things considered, it’s free after all. Rude to say no. Time to celebrate.
Watching the re-run, we’ve got our Tottenham back, almost. After a shaky opening, the side bedded down and produced a composed, considered performance where teamwork was refreshingly the key. Although much has been made in the media and elsewhere in the past week about the adverse effect of Lennon’s absence, in fact we managed perfectly well without him earlier this season. Mercifully dumping the two up front, Redknapp focussed on the crucial duo, two in front of the back four, and everything flowed from there. Parker and Sandro protected a defence that could otherwise have been vulnerable – Gallas coming back from injury and an unfamiliar pairing – and provided the platform for Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale to move well further forward, plus enabling Walker’s well-timed forays upfield. He’s becoming quite a danger, arriving late at the far post. Add Adebayor’s rangy movement and intelligent link-up play and we were back on form, if not at our very best.
There was shape and purpose at both ends of the pitch. The players looked comfortable and focussed, playing with a real intensity. If Bale wandered in, Modric dropped left to cover. Bale returned the compliment, working hard without the ball and allowing VDV or Luka to get closer to Manu or take up space. The tiredness in the legs and desperation on their faces that were the abiding memory of Stoke at home were gone.
At the back, Gallas was excellent. I feared he would break down again as his ankle is weak but he was having none of that. In these big games he plays with the enthusiasm of a twenty year old trying to impress and break into the team, coupled with the nouse of an old stager. He and Kaboul formed a strong partnership. They could do good work in the box because Sandro and Parker protected them so well. Opponents near the goal were faced with a cluster of defenders, compared with recent matches when all they took on was thin air. One example – Chelsea break from a corner, Walker sprints back to delay the counter-attack, Parker heads clear at the back post, Sandro cleans up the loose ball.
We kept possession well, especially in the second half, and should have won it with some glorious chances. But I’m content with the end result rather than fret about the might-have-beens. The experience of the spine of the team – Friedel, Gallas, Parker, Modric and Adebayor – reasserted itself. They knew what was wrong and did their utmost to put it right, the mark of true dedication. Despite the tired legs, they will have to bring that focus to every game from now on.