When he does those things, I just stand and gasp. Goal celebration bedlam feels wrong somehow, a vulgar demeaning of greatness. Several times this season, the instant adrenalin rush has propelled me from my seat, then I’ve stood, barely clapping, swaying gently as the wonder of it all flows over me, seeps through the skin, travels along each nerve until I eventually sit, long after the whistle has blown for the restart, in a little world of my own.
It recalls the time when I first heard soul music, I mean proper r’n’b soul, live, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in of all places Canterbury Odeon. I knew their songs but not that feeling, a ten piece soul band battle-hardened through hundreds of gigs in sweaty down-at-heel clubs let loose on an impressionable middle-class English teenager. After three songs I was holding onto the back of the seat in front of me for fear my legs would give way.
Bale’s goals are like that for me. Each as fresh as the first time, a driving horn section, swirling hammond, thumping bass, the crunch of the snare and screeching riff all rolled into one. That feeling.
They are all different. No speculative potshot that happens to fly in. This one began in familiar fashion, a little shuffle to the left, then acceleration and another touch, not beating a defender but simply sliding the ball where he cannot reach it. The final movement protected the ball in the instant of contact, leaning over, distorted body shape to enable the perfect contact. Low and hard this one, right in line I watched it arc into the bottom corner, finding a gap where there had been none for the previous 80 odd minutes.
Empty phrases like “world-class” don’t cut it, even if he is. Gareth Bale is a reason to believe, in the beauty of the game, in the team, in our ability to compete against the very best, to keep the faith. That anything is possible. I urge you never to take this for granted. In my late fifties, I have never seen anything like this. Greaves, Gilzean, Chivers, Hoddle, you name them, Bale is thier peer. This isn’t world-class, this is better than that. This is the fabric of myth and legend.
Until then, Bale’s demeanour and performance could not have been more at odds with this sensational moment. The other great ones strut and preen even if they are not playing well. Bale cut a forlorn figure, lost in midfield as the game went on around him. It was as if playing against his old club cast him back five years to when he was a youth team player finding his way. It was a reminder that even now he’s little more than a kid.
Lost and forlorn sums up this match as far as Spurs were concerned. It was a collective failure of epic proportions, as if the players had been introduced to each other for the first time in the dressing-room before the warm-up. To describe it as disjointed implies they knew what they were doing in the first place, which as the time passed I came to seriously doubt. After an hour, they became incapable of string three passes together, and that was when we were playing better.
The nadir was a little later. We had totally run out of ideas, then rallied with Manu and Holtby providing some much-needed impetus. Still, it was all a bit desperate. Something nearly happened, maybe we got vaguely near the Southampton box (it was that sort of game, even that lifted the crowd) and the ball went out for the throw. To break things up still further, three of their men went down. Benny restarted with three of our side having a drink by the bench, oblivious not only of the fact that the ball was in play but also that some urgency was required to rescue this god-awful mess. Walker was the width of the pitch away from his position. It showed that their minds had gone.
In the case of two key men, Dembele and Lennon, their legs had gone too. Both barely got involved, both went off injured. Neither was fit and neither should have started. Spurs were weak before the game kicked off.
It all adds up. iI the team is paying well, you can carry a man who is slightly unfit or out of position. However, we started with two men unfit and Dempsey vaguely left midfield. That’s fine if we are on top and he has some freedom to cut in. Yesterday, Southampton strangled the space and pushed him back, and the Deuce is no left midfielder. It showed. Benny was no help. Trying too hard, he gave the ball away frequently. He depends on having an outlet, but Dempsey gave him nothing and Defoe’s movement was limited. Collective responsibility. Hud’s long passes can be effective but the Saints did not allow our forwards any room. Also, the team are not used to the long ball game. With Bale denied space too, we looked distinctly uncomfortable for almost the whole match. One shot on target in 90 minutes tells its own story. 100% success rate, though.
Saints were organised and cultured, a fine side who surely won’t go down and will prosper next season. By the time Bale let loose they should have had the game sewed up, spurning two golden chances in the first half.
In an undistinguished afternoon, a little mention for Lloris who in his understated way did everything he had to and on one occasion something very special, hurling himself low to his left to tip a free kick onto the post. A lifesaver – even with Bale, such was the poverty of this performance we may not have come back from that.
Three games left and who knows. We’ve never looked less like a top four team as in the last few matches yet with Bale there’s a reason to believe. As I’ve said for a while, the defence is the key. We may not be scoring heavily but the problem is, we are shipping soft goals. The irony is, this was our first clean sheet for umpteen league games and our worst performance. Enforced changes may mean a more defensive set-up in midfield for Wednesday but Holtby and Siggy may be what we need. His goal covered up a dire effort but let’s worry about that in the close season, because with Bale on the break there’s a reason to hope.