After the game on Saturday, Kyle Walker received several abusive tweets and deleted his Twitter account. This sorry episode followed what is fast becoming a depressingly familiar pattern: player joins twitter. Fans welcome this and follow. We can interact with our heroes. This temporarily bucks the trend of increasing separation between Premier League clubs and their supporters. Fan insults player. Player says why do I bother. Player deletes account. Player more reluctant than ever to communicate.
The textspeak insults were pathetic and small-minded, like the people cowering behind the anonymity of cyberspace who posted them. Twitter is in a froth about it all, predictably. The good guys are trying to get Kyle to come back, although if he’s not on twitter, he won’t see it….
So what’s to be made of this? Reading some of the coverage, it feels like there’s been a cataclysmic rending of the Spurs firmament. Fans at each others’ throats. Players alienated from fans. Let’s have a go at the team while we’re about it. High up the league, fast improving, fine players but lose to a team racing clear at the top who spent more on three midfielders than the value of our team plus the bench and it’s AVB out, Walker out, Levy out. 606 is as unreliable a guide to opinion as Twitter, but a Spurs fan rang on Saturday to say precisely that, describing our performance as the worst he’d seen in 30 years. Couldn’t have been a real Spurs fan, then.
Twitter is a lot of fun but sometimes it suffers from delusions of grandeur. Designed as a method of conversation, it becomes reified into a self-contained universe. Not one conversation but the only conversation. The delusion is fed by a media hungry for opinions. It’s referenced with increasing frequency. Who needs a contact book compiled painstakingly over many years of scoop-seeking when you have a ready-made source of quotes at your fingertips, conveniently packaged into 140 character soundbites.
I trust those weasel misbegotten nogoodniks will crawl back under the stone from whence they came. It should be easy, they have no backbone. Back in the real world, after his dire error, the Shelf groaned then gave Kyle Walker a warm round of sympathetic applause from the Shelf. A few stood to emphasise the point that there’s a difference between a bad player and a player having a bad game. Loyal fans who put that mistake into context. The young full-back heard that and will remember long after Twitter becomes the MySpace of the next decade.
That context recognised instinctively by the Shelf is sadly lacking from the appreciation of many football fans these days, not just Spurs supporters. Devouring the game through television provides valuable insights but fundamentally distorts the nature and equilibrium of this finest of all sports. It’s safe to sit back and judge from the armchair gantry where everything is spread out before you. Slow it all down, watch a key incident 37 times from 6 different angles, only then decide a player’s ability. It fosters a culture of blame where perfection is the sole acceptable option and condemnation follows swiftly for anyone who dares to fall short.
This culture of unrealistic expectations distorts our entire perception of the game, of what clubs, players and referees for that matter are capable of. Nothing exists but the here and now. Spurs have a new manager and new players so why aren’t we top of the table? We’ve had several matches already. Just buy lots of players. It’s what other teams do. Refs are rubbish, even though we’ve seen an incident repeatedly and still can’t decide whether it’s a surefire penalty. Players are not all they are cracked up to be. Look, they make mistakes. Let’s get some stats to back it up.
Back in the real world, players’ form goes up and down. Hardly a staggering insight but in the universe of the unreal, it is forgotten far too frequently. The two finest midfielders I’ve seen at the Lane, Hoddle and Gascoigne, had more games when they were largely ineffective than glory games. It doesn’t diminish their stellar achievements one jot because that’s merely the nature of football. The way Ginola was lauded at half-time, you’d think he was Hod and Gazza rolled into one. I enjoyed watching him play, but just so you know, they show those goals against Barnsley and Leeds over and over partly because they are superb but mainly because there aren’t many others to choose from. For every moment where he turned a game there were twenty others where he slowed everything down intolerably or ran, however elegantly, into a blind alley.
In the real world, I’m fortunate enough to sit in row 14 of the Shelf, almost opposite the benches. The players are close, real-life flesh and blood, stained and steaming. When they hug the touchline, I can count the beads of sweat on their brow.
It’s a perspective that means I’m particularly close to wingers and full-backs. For that reason, I’m particularly fond of them. They can’t hide. I’m not seeing them through a prism of slowmos or tactics graphics. Right there. I see their faces and under pressure, I can see into their minds. I see elation, indifference and fear. Lots of fear, you’d be surprised. They cover it up but not from me.
So I see Kyle Walker as the most focussed and committed of Tottenham players. I am convinced of it. Towards the end of last season, he was knackered. Sure, I know they play once or twice a week, should be fit enough blah blah. But pounding up and down that wing, forward and back, being nudged and pulled and kicked, he was tired. His legs were plastered with support tape as if stuck together with sellotape. In a quiet moment, he would bend double to catch his breath.
And he did not stop. Over and over, his determination to overcome the pain in his legs and his guts kept him going. His determination to be a good professional. His dedication to the shirt. Our shirt.
Walker is not playing so well this season. His poor positional play is being found out. Late on Saturday I looked for his runs to support Lennon as we sought an equaliser but there was nothing. I don’t know what caused it but he was shot through. The England trip, a virus maybe but he was off-colour. During a lull, he went to the bench, ostensibly for a drink but taking on liquid that late will have no effect whatsoever on his body. He needed a boost, words of soothing reassurance to quell his anxiety.
Exhaustion seeps from muscle to mind and when called into action next he made two horrendous mistakes in as many seconds and they scored their fourth. He made one final dash upfield in desperate atonement, stiff-legged and too late. Instinct propelled him forward.
Kyle Walker is not a bad player, he’s a fine footballer who is not playing well. He’s young and will learn. His pace gets him out of trouble most of the time but not always. Defenders need games to add positional nouse to their talents. He will succeed and but he has nothing to prove to me. I know he plays for the shirt.
Thanks to my cyberpal the @Lustdoctor. Blog in the blogroll to your right. Essential. Our conversation on twitter generated some ideas for this piece. Oh the irony.