Bale’s Goal A Cause For Celebration? Thoughts On Watching Modern Football

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On Wednesday night former Spurs player Gareth Bale scored the late goal that won the Copa Del Rey for his current club, Real Madrid. If you haven’t seen it, congratulations – your willpower to stay away from social media and the press is far greater than mine.

By any standards it was a jaw-droppingly remarkable piece of football. Picking up a pass from defence on the halfway line, Bale couldn’t get past the defender in front of him so he decided to go round him. He knocked the ball past his man and ran. However, the defender wasn’t to be beaten so easily. Turning quickly, he had the inside track. The ball was his.

That logic would have defeated most players. If not, the nudge he received as he came close would have done the trick. Most would have gone down in an imploring heap, bleating to the ref as they plunged to the turf. But Bale kept going. No way through so like Lewis Hamilton on a fast corner at Silverstone he left the defender on the racing line and put the pedal to the metal. To get round he went a couple of metres off the pitch, through the technical areas and when he was back on the field, the ball was his.

Full-pelt he carried on with the ball at his feet, the full-back forlorn, desperate and beaten. He bore down on the keeper then with the ball perfectly in his stride went from power to delicacy in an instant and touched it home.

There’s more. Here’s the context. This full-tilt 50 metres in 8 seconds with a ball at his feet and a defender in his wake took place in the 86th minute. Bale had had a good game, working hard up front interchanging with Real’s main striker Benzema. It was a final against Real’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. The score was 1-1 at the time, a tight game heading inexorably for extra time and penalties. This was no ordinary goal, this was the stuff of legend. Whatever he accomplishes in the future, he will never be forgotten by Real supporters.

Most of the photos I use on Tottenham On My Mind are of the goals themselves but the one at the head of this article tells the real story of this goal and of the nature of football itself, what it meant to the crowd. In it, Bale soars in majestic isolation, as if born aloft by the tumult. The reality is more prosaic – he was alone because none of his team-mates could keep up with him.

Like I said, remarkable. Moments like these are precious, the reason why I remain unshakably fascinated by the game as I approach my sixties. Nothing else does it like football – the shared experience, the unsurpassed passion, that unique combination of improvised skill, power, beauty and presence of mind. Being gobsmacked by the whole thing is the essence of being a fan.

Not so if you gauge opinion from social media and the comments’ sections of newspapers. Reading this, my feeling as a supporter is out of step with many. I freely admit when I’m wrong, as I often am, but there’s something here about changes in the way we relate to the game, something that goes way beyond this goal and which I do not think is for the better.

Two examples. First, many said this was a good goal but was it really all that? In several places on the net, for instance the Guardian comments section, it is suggested that this is not ‘a wonder goal’. Leaving aside the use and creation of that phrase, which we’ve all heard over the past few years to the point where it becomes meaningless, many say this goal is not worthy of that accolade.

You can call it whatever you like but it’s clear many were at most only mildly impressed, others positively dismissive. Using that term as shorthand, if this is not a wonder goal, then what is? Partly this is a rhetorical question, partly a genuine search for examples. There have been goals as good and better but I would contend this is head and shoulders above most goals we’ve seen this season, especially if you add the context. You’ve got to say it’s up there – apparently not.

The modern game distorts expectations in many ways. Success must be instant. Supporters especially of the so-called big clubs have a overweaning sense of entitlement. Second is nowhere, success is not something to be acheived or worked at, rather it is their right as supporters to have success at the highest level to celebrate.

This distorts the nature of the game itself. Last week author Adam Powley overheard some Chelsea fans after they beat PSG saying it was a good thing that moneybags PSG didn’t get through…

This distortion has seeped into the way we perceive the game itself, gnawing away over time at the very meaning of being a supporter. If you can’t enjoy Bale’s goal because it wasn’t really that good, what can you enjoy? What are you waiting for? Because I am here to tell you after fifty years of watching the game, there’s nowhere else to go. Wait for something better to come along and you will be sorely disappointed. This is about as good as it gets.

I’ve seen all of Bale’s goals for Spurs. Some were up there as wonder goals, although I wouldn’t use that term myself. But in my time I have never seen, never, anywhere, a player like him. That fast, that strong, that powerful, that touch, those long-range shots, those deft touches in the box. This goal showed off the lot. This is what football is all about and if you’re looking for something else, it doesn’t exist. Treasure every moment. If this goal doesn’t excite, I cannot possibly see how you can get any enjoyment from football.

Bale’s goal was all the more breathtaking for me because as a Spurs fan, I’ve seen him grow up. More than just any ex-player, Bale has gone from a gawky, hesitant man-child too big for his body to an outstanding footballer. Along the way he’s provided some fantastic goals and memories. I have said before that I feel close to these wide players, these wingers and full-backs. From where I sit on the Shelf, they are 10 yards away, toiling, scared, audacious. I know because I can see every bead of sweat, I can look into their eyes.

I wasn’t the only Spurs fan who wished him well, who took pride in this goal and others even though it brought into stark relief how limited we are in comparison and how much we miss him. I openly admitted that Bale’s goal made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, warm in that I was pleased for him, the memories were fuzzy, generous recollections of his days with us.

Embed from Getty Images

Many Spurs fans were not so generous. Bale (and Modric, having a quiet moment together as the goal celebration finally ended) rejected us so we reject them. Many on the boards and twitter saw no reason to join in. Others were downright angry with him for leaving and the goal left them at best indifferent, at worst downright angry.

Unlike my first example, I do get this one even if I don’t feel the same way. An element of sentimentality infuses my writing, without dominating, because that’s part of how I relate to being a supporter. The past is important to the present. Football is 22 men kicking a ball and at the same time so much more than that. Equally I know only too well that investing in an emotional attachment is nothing more than love unrequited, doomed before it began because in the end, they all leave.

I say all. Ledley didn’t leave, he was taken from us. I don’t do friendlies or testimonials but I went to Billy Nick’s and I will go to his. But these days, they don’t hang around. This change has been mirrored by changes in supporter attitudes. Fans are quicker to reject them now, when they go. If a player indicates that he wants to leave, the anger and opprobrium is particularly harsh and bitter. Players have been agitating for a move for as long as there has been professional football but the reaction of fans these days seems much stronger than I recall in the past. Waddle, Hoddle and Gazza – I remember disappointment and sadness but not the fury provoked by, say, Berbatov’s or Modric’s departures.

Just to be explicit about what I am not saying. I’m not saying my way is better, merely that this development seems to be a part of contemporary fandom. Neither am I welcoming back every past Spurs player with open arms. The ones I don’t like are those who take it easy and don’t give us their best while they wear the shirt. All I would say about Bale is that when he played for us, he played. He gave as much as any man and his football over the years contributed to our best results, our best league positions for decades and unforgettable memories. He didn’t stop playing for us, just got a bit sulky in the close season when Levy was haggling over the fee. He was always going to be sold once Real made the offer and I can’t blame him for joining arguably the top club in Europe. In my balance sheet therefore, he is forever in the black.

So why are reactions more vehement? The answer must lie beyond the actions of individual players, although that is important of course, witness Vertonghen’s apparent disdain at the moment. Fans feel alienated from their clubs to an increasing extent. Players and clubs are distant, exploiting our willingness to come every week to the point where their praise of supporter loyalty borders on the patronising. Clubs invite us to be part of the experience but do little or nothing in return to earn our trust or respect.

It’s natural therefore that we don’t invest emotionally in players because we know they will be off soon. It’s not just Spurs. This is part of the modern game. And the consequence of not being close to players is that you are less close to the club itself. The ties that bind are loosening. There is a real danger that the nature of support is changing irrevocably and the only thing that will stop it is if the clubs begin to recognise that and treat supporters with the respect they deserve. I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, enjoy it while it’s there. That is not meant as an ironic throwaway remark. Get as much from the game as you can. See a goal like Bale’s for what it is, a sublime example of the art. Relish Eriksen’s goals or Hugo’s saves – maybe if they do enough of each they’ll stay longer because we will do well but don’t allow the certain knowledge of their departure to taint your enjoyment of the game. Football isn’t just about winning, it’s about wonder, so marvel all you can. Because if that goes, there’s nothing left.



25 thoughts on “Bale’s Goal A Cause For Celebration? Thoughts On Watching Modern Football

  1. I agree wholeheartedly Alan. I love Tottenham,but I also love quality football.If only we could get both together as the same time.
    I’ve only good wishes to Bale and also Modric.Great players should be in great teams.I wish that Levy aspired us to the go for the gold on the field as much as the balance sheet.It takes a manager to think like Bale.That nothing would stop you to be a winner. Maybe we should embrace the new Sainsburys as much as the new WHL.
    I never was mad at Berbatov for leaving us. He WAS our team at the time. We should have built the team around him rather than let him go.Same with Bale. But we waited to long to respect them enough.
    You dont own these players if you cant sell them on the future.
    Get a LVG and tell the world where we want to be.But Levy wont. Forget Danny and Bill’s Banners about Glory.
    We need a banner that says that Tottenham are the best Accountants the world has ever seen.


      • Well said. We have sold Spurs to players who have barely heard of us not because of the money but because thier future could become intertwined with theirs. We are on the up, so are they. I felt this strongly when AVB arrived – ambitious manager out to prove himself attracted players in the same situation to a club with ambitions too. 2 out of 3 – the club has let them down as well as us. Not an excuse but that’s why vertonghen’s had enough. He should at least keep up appearences but what he signed up for went out the window when the caretaker came in.

        Regards, Alan


  2. Very well put. I have been watching Spurs since 1954 and Gareth Bale is the most explosive player I can remember in a white shirt. Those who criticise the goal amaze me, one even said it was not a great goal because he did not have the ball under control, he just pushed it past the defender and ran…

    I cannot understand the blind tribalism of the modern football fan. The crowd at Tottenham used to appreciate good football and even applauded the opposition if they played well. Can you see them clapping a good goal from the other side nowadays? I am also amazed at the disgusting abuse shrieked at the away side players when they take a corner. What gives people the right to eff and blind at someone just because they wear the opposition shirt? God help them if they dare to even raise an eyebrow in response to the abuse to which they are subjected.

    Getting old has its downside but at least it allows me to remember the days when fans from both sides stood together on the terraces and enjoyed the glorious game for what it is.


    • I Completely agree that spurs fans did appreciate a good opposition sadly it’s changed…I had a moron behind me at WHL when we played Benfica screaming at there fans for supporting there team… I turned to him and said ” You know what? it’s not their fault Tottenham are playing shit!!” he just looked at me like a dumbstruck idiot…


    • Good to hear from you. I hadn’t seen that version of the goal – ‘just pushed it past him and ran’, should be on MOTD with analysis like that.

      I want Spurs to win, too much mostly, but that doesn’t equate to compulsory hating of the opposition regardless of who they are. Now Charlie Adam, he’s a different story…

      Regards, Alan


  3. Sir,
    Thank you for this article.
    It expresses with eloquence my own feelings on Bale’s goal and the delights and despairs of being a fan.
    I am of your generation so perhaps our shared view of the game has been molded by remembering what it
    used to be, both the good and the bad. Whatever the reason for feeling as we do, I would like to say again
    “Well Done,” for writing a piece that struck a cord with this reader.


    • You’re welcome and spot on re the godd and the bad. That gives fans perspective, you see the entire game in a different light. Ups and downs are normal, it’s the dominance of a top four cartel that is unusual.

      Regards, Alan


  4. Seeing Bale score his goal filled me with wonder. I stopped caring about Barca winning and found myself just happy for him and Madrid. The most wonderful bit was his pace. Even though he took a nudge, even though he was so far off the pitch he was closer to the dugout than the touchline, he still scorched Bartra for pace. It reminded me of when he burnt up Maicon. Can’t help but be happy for him.


  5. Alan. It is a relief worth having reading someone as lucid and cogent as you. I may be a couple of years nearer God’s fill time whistle (less injury time!) than you, but I can remember the home crowd applauding visitor’s eye-catching play.

    This season has started in expectation and ended in expectoration.

    I’m starting to think I won’t bother never year despite a circular asking to vote this week. Why don’t they ask us poor saps who pay and stay loyal for decades what we think… what they’re doing wrong… why all we want is football that entertains and excites and wins more often than not – when the balance sheet is what drives the business but NOT OUR “CLUB”

    Keep up the good work and please make something happen before I kick off (figuratively – not literally)!!!


  6. Well said – exactly how I feel about it. Bale in full flow bombing down the left wing is as good a sight as there is in world sport. I was there in Milan, and at WHL soon afterwards, when he arrived on the world stage, and his goal against Barcelona was just as superb – the shame is that it wasn’t for Spurs. I agree with you about the changing nature of support, and I thiink a lot of it is down to the fact fewer real fans, those who are in it for the long run, have a voice. We’re being drowned by the armchair fans and bedroom bloggers who know it all and desperate to tell the world, despite their lack of understanding of what the game is really about. Enjoy it while you can!


    • Thanks Gerry. I agree with what you say about the changing nature of being a supporter. I don’t think it is just about Spurs either but rather a function of how the game is consumed these days. When I grew up, being there was the goal. Now, that’s changed, partly because of changing patterns of leisure but also as a consequence of PL prices, which mean a generation of fans can’t afford to go regularly. Watching on TV and buying the shirt is how they define being a supporter.

      This does not necessarily mean they feel their attachment or passion any less. However, it does encourage an impatience, a critical perspective that distorts the natural rhythm of watching a team over the years.

      Are you the Gerry Cox who writes about football and Spurs?




  7. Grand article, “Fuzzy”? I feel the same when I watch Bale now, I have even considered supporting him rather than spurs…but you can’t, supporting a club is like owning a dog “It’s for life”….
    It all makes me quite sad so much false hope and false promise. In the last 6 years we have had the nucleus of a great team Bale Berbatov Modric Vertoghan Ledley Van der vaart Loris Sandro Lennon Ade..(Hudd etc and the British core of promising youth) but somehow we have not built on any of it…and now we are a mess.

    Last season I decided I would just enjoy it as much as I could as every media outlet attempted to sell our last outstanding piece, I knew he’d go and as I watched him score that wonder goal at Upton Park I turned to my cousin and told him “enjoy it because were not going to see anything like this for another 10 years”


  8. Alan, I’m blown away by the veterans’ love of our team here, and some of the metaphors (“a couple of years nearer God’s full time whistle (less injury time!) than you”) and analogies are just glorious, even for this writer to read. Being Welsh, I still feel I have a piece of Bale as he’ll be playing for our Red Dragons for awhile longer, and since they televise nearly all of RM’s games here in CA, I’m becoming a fan, mostly because of Gareth. And, in honor of that past, here’s what SF Spurs posted, British Pathé just released “glory glory” clips including this of our lads (just before my time) after the Double. Wow and Wow!


  9. I cheered Bale’s moment almost as much as I’ve applauded the few ‘vital’ goals we’ve scored this season.
    Interesting though that there would have been more of those actual Bale moments this season IF he’d still been playing for Spurs (and that’s different to what I criticize Tim for, further down).
    Am I alone in thinking that, one or two players apart (obviously), Bale’s a class above many of the RM players, and that some of those jealous and pretentious Galacticos don’t particularly want him to have that much of the ball, in case he proceeds to show them up. I’ve seen it a lot in the RM games this season in which Bale has featured.
    Roy Hodgson’s horribly misunderstood ‘England’ half time joke about the astronaut feeding the monkey (ie the guy who REALLY delivers, and in that instance, ironically enough, Townsend) should be applied 100 times more to Bale’s situation at RM (as it was at Tottenham in his final season).
    Despite his 20 goals this term, I believe Bale has been deprived of really showing just how good he is by the way RM play, and by certain individuals, and the manager, who don’t want to see the team built around him as well as Ronaldo.
    On another note alluded to at the start of my comment, what a naff reference to Bale’s fee was made by our ‘manager’!
    How easy hindsight is, and for Sherwood to spout the obvious about how well we would have done as a team this year if we’d kept Bale and Modric, was absurd. Funny how he kept quiet on that until the ‘Bale moment’ as the season reaches its end, but more importantly Tim knows he’s going and is somehow trying to blame everything and everyone but himself. We all know, even the dimmest of fans, that great clubs hold on to their great players in order to achieve greatness (or should, as Liverpool have shown this year), so to come out publicly with ‘what might have been’ (as the rest of us constantly do as fans) is crass beyond belief for any Tottenham manager. And Tim, it’s not that we sold Bale for less than what we should have either (another amazing insight after the event, and a passing dig at Levy), the real waste lay in what we spent that damn money on! Levy and Baldini take obvious ‘credit’ for that, but it’s how those ‘additions’ and squad generally were subsequently handled (ineptly) by both you and AVB, that finally did for us!


    • As you can gather from being a regular, I’ve had enough of Sherwood’s press conferences. Can’t bear to write about them any more, although I’m sure by the end of the season I will not be able to resist. I always thought Bale would prosper in Spain because he would have a fraction more room in midfield to get going. I have seen far less of him than you although I was lucky enough to be watching on Wednesday night. Not being a galactico might as you say have held him back but not any longer. All power to him.

      Best, Alan


  10. Alan,
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Watching Bale score was a wonder, you have to appreciate the shear athletic power and skill. Olympic like if you ask me, and I celebrate the creation of a wonderful moment, who can forget some of the great goals, trys, homeruns, golf shots etc. whatever sport you choose to follow they all meld together in moments of glory. Is not what the banner at the Lane says celebrate the glory of the game, that’s what Bale’s goal was, time stops and the indelible stamp is placed in the memory bank. For that alone it is special, and I for one as I as shuffle off in this mortal coil , will remember and smile, and feel some kindship, not being angry but proud that he was once ours.


  11. Pingback: Here’s To You, Christian Eriksen | TOTTENHAM ON MY MIND

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