Sherwood Goes But Levy’s Still There

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A single moment in early May, east London, perfectly encapsulated Tottenham Hotspur’s entire season. Stewart Downing’s insipid free-kick from the edge of the box should have been easily blocked by Lloris’s meticulously assembled wall. Yet Paulinho and Adebayor stood aside, allowing the ball to sail into the bottom corner.

This was more than merely another of the record-breaking number of crass, unforced defensive errors that have blighted our season. They, two of our most experienced players, men we should be able to rely upon, failed to do their duty when it came to the crunch. They have not been the only ones.

This lack of responsibility has seeped into every part of the club, a gangrenous sore festering throughout the body Spurs, undermining any efforts to make concerted progress with regular stinking, slimy eruptions sadly synonymous with the way we go about our business. Risible defensive lapses, managers coming and going, fans singled out by police, comedy press conferences, over £100m on players to mount a challenge for 6th and 7th, all this and more has made Spurs a laughing stock, not least in the eyes of many of their long-suffering supporters. Some laughed, many were angry, all despaired of ever seeing the club attain the stability that is the foundation of achievement.

Amid the anger and finger-pointing that has typified Spurs’ fans on social media, nobody at the club should escape the blame. Villas-Boas’s dismissal and a change of style all created uncertainty and disruption, definitely on the field and if accounts are to be believed, in the dressing room too. Sherwood’s inexperience was laid bare so many times.

Equally, too many highly paid players did not give their best every time they pulled on the shirt. The shining exceptions of Eriksen and Lloris whose attitude and quality were impeccable in the second half of the season serve to expose those with less distinguished seasons, like Vertonghen, Rose, Naughton and Paulinho. Soldado and Lamela, £53m for the pair, not their fault that we had no idea what to do with them.

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Yet this is ultimately a failure of Daniel Levy’s leadership. He takes the decisions – two managers this season, a grand total of 9 in 12 years. If I ran my organisation like this, I would be sacked. Levy continues to make the same mistakes, over and over again. In comes a Director of Football and he shuts his eyes, ears and mind to what has gone before. The first sign of pressure, Levy’s feet of clay collapse. At least Spurs’ managers have the comfort of never having to hear the dreaded vote of confidence but only because the chairman doesn’t talk in public.

Much has been said about Levy, the pivotal figure in recent Tottenham history. It’s alleged that he’s stupid, finance-driven, foolish with the backbone of a jellyfish, and far, far worse. Some, a distinct minority now, don’t see him as a failure, pointing to our sound finances, the impending new ground and the relative success of the past few years where Europe is a given. We are much better off than when he took over, so this account goes.

That’s true. The real question, however, is what we might have been. Levy is guilty of flawed leadership. Any successful leader in any organisation has a clear idea of what they want to achieve, how they do so and how they take the workforce along with them. Levy is fatally undermined because he’s torn between two competing goals, success on the field and a return on his money. Never forget the ‘I’ in ENIC stands for ‘investment’.

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In an ideal world, one that Levy presumably prays for before he goes to bed, these two are perfectly compatible. We do well on the pitch with players bought at a reasonable price and not receiving inflated salaries, and the money comes rolling in. In reality, it’s much harder. Spurs strategy since Levy took over has been to buy players for whom the club is a step up and who will develop as footballers with us. Our recent history is best seen not so much in terms of the managers but in the eras of the three Directors of Football, Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini, because they seem to be charged with finding these players. Arnesen bought a clutch of predominantly young players while as time went on we bought under the same principle but higher up the food chain. Berbatov and Modric were established but had more to give, as do Eriksen, Paulinho and Capoue. This time round, Lamela was one for the future but Soldado and Lloris were at the peak of their powers, a sign or so we thought that we were aiming for the big time.

However, Levy has never been able to implement the most significant element of any strategy, consistency. He doesn’t believe in the men he entrusts with the team. As a result, the strategy never gets beyond the drawing board, known this season as the burst of wild optimism that greeted the arrival of seven new players. This fatal weakness and vacillation dooms any plan to failure.

Levy understands money, one half of being a club chairman, but not the other, football. Fairly basic in the post’s person spec but there you have it. As a result he is dependent on advice and at Spurs whoever is whispering in his ear at any one time seems to hold sway. It creates this culture of uncertainly. Poyet briefed against Ramos, to the players as well as the chairman, Jol and against Santini and now Sherwood against AVB.

CEOs prosper not because they know the nuts and bolts of a business but they know how to choose someone who does. Pfizer’s chief exec can’t invent or manufacture anti-biotics but she or he knows who can, then they don’t interfere in the lab. Author, journalist and Spurs diehard Adam Powley made a simple but telling point earlier this season that I keep returning to. Never mind ENIC out or ENIC in, what will do us nicely is if they do their job as owners properly and with responsibility. Yet this is no way to run a company.

AVB’s appointment seemed to fit the bill, an ambitious, upwardly mobile manager desperate to succeed. A theorist rather than a practitioner he may be but with the right organisation on the field we could have prospered.

He over-achieved in his first season but could not cope with the demands of integrating seven new players into the team. I have never bought the accusation that our football was dull because he was defensive. I just think we weren’t very good. More specifically, he wanted us to attack and pass the ball but our possession-based game foundered in the final third because Villas-Boas’s formation was ineffective and didn’t suit the players.

We came to a grinding halt at the edge of the opponent’s box. Too many providers and no finishers. His inverted wingers crashed into defenders standing idly by around their area. All they had to do was stand there as Townsend banged shot after shot into their bodies. He and Lennon were never going to score the goals we needed with only Soldado up front. He meanwhile waited in vain for throughballs and crosses. Criminally AVB allowed a row with Adebayor over a hat and mobile phone in a team talk to interfere with the good of the club. Manu was banished when we needed a different type of centre-forward, his type.

Overflowing with midfielders, we persisted with two wingers and played others out of position. With at least three attacking mids to chose from, Paulinho found himself played there instead, watching the ball ping around dover his head for the most part.

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Crashing defeats versus Manchester City and Liverpool at home showed the gulf in class, or maybe it was the crashing boredom of the odd goal wins. Whatever, less than half of the difficult second season and Levy had had enough.

Any questions about whether this was decisive or premature paled into insignificance when we saw who replaced him. Tim Sherwood’s appointment was sold to fans and media as continuity, the promotion from within of a guy who knew the club and the players, to steady the ship. However, the reality is impossible to deny. Levy had no plan B. AVB’s sacking was a panic measure and he had no one lined up.

Sherwood was given an 18 month contract but he was always a caretaker until the end of the season. The board knew it, the fans knew it, the players knew it and even Tim knew it. Levy wanted something and someone better but had to wait until the summer to sort it out. All the 18 months meant was that the end of contract compensation would be less than the usual three years. Today, the day he was sacked, it was revealed that even this short contract had an end of season break clause.

Despite his obvious shortcomings, I don’t blame Sherwood for taking the job. I blame Levy for giving it to him. Spurs wanted to challenge for honours and the top four, this season and in those to come. At the start of the season I felt Spurs were top six not top four so my dissatisfaction is not the result of over-weaning, unrealistic expectation. Levy chose to achieve his aim in an intensely competitive league by appointing a man with absolutely no managerial experience at all. It is astounding that this could happen in a club with our ambitions, a club that has spent £100m on transfers with pretentions as a global player in the game. No experience as a manager whatsoever.

He topped this staggering negligence by re-creating the caretaker experience of 2004, the darkest days in my time as a Spurs supporter. Then, Spurs entered the season confident that a 3 man injury-prone midfield with a combined age of over 90 (Anderton, Redknapp and Poyet) would last until May. Pleat took over and we scraped through, due in no small part to unsung hero Michael Brown who popped up unexpectedly in Ledley’s testimonial last night, still running and still kicking people.

The football was dire but the atmosphere desperate. The hopelessness and lack of purpose. Everything was about muddling through until the end of the season. At least in the Second Division we were working towards something.

Then and now we were just marking time until the summer. It takes away the extra incentive, the edge that turns a decent team into a competitive one, also-rans into contenders. It’s an awful feeling that transmitted itself to the fans. Loud and raucous away, the Lane was often hushed in contemplation, or, and let’s be frank, boredom. I can’t recall a time when so many said they had had enough. Sherwood is sacked 3 days before the season ticket renewal deadline. Coincidence? I doubt it.

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Tim the Temp was determined to seize his chance, the reason why he took the job in the first place. He used his time to learn about being a manager and write his CV. He started well, keeping it admirably simple. He asked players to play familiar roles and brought Adebayor back into the team, where he excelled. Even in his fine play there was the lingering stench of what might have been had AVB not been so foolish as to ostracise him.

His inexperience was revealed when he tinkered with the tactics. Over a period of time we played several different formations, including, absurdly, the same 4-3-3 with inverted wingers, players out of position and a high line that got AVB the sack. At times we were a rabble, well-beaten by the good teams, shell-shocked after Liverpool and Chelsea where the motivation was as poor as the tactics. Some of the football stank the place out.

His desire to get the ball forward and reluctance to play with a defensive midfielder left us wide open in midfield. I get the theory. I saw the evidence: us being over-run, even by some limited sides. The PL is not the place to test that theory out.

Most aggravating was his search for a role and identity. Touchline arm-waving became an undignified, comical gilet-chucking spat with the Benfica manager, who chuckled at his playground psychology that had successfully wound his victim up. He then retreated to the director’s box, playing the role of all-seeing analyst. Happily waving to the elite, his peers as he no doubt hoped, as Spurs lost the return leg went down extremely poorly. As Spurs were being taken apart by Liverpool, he remained aloof and distant. I suppose he believed he looked hard and stern, I thought he looked a prat. This plus his readiness to blame players in defeat but take credit for a win gave the impression that this was more about him and less about the club, the thing I find hardest to forgive in anyone associated with Spurs.

However, Tim was better as an attacking coach. Eriksen came into his own and we scored regularly. This got us out of trouble on several occasions. West Brom away was Sherwood’s Spurs in a nutshell. First half, the most abysmal defending I ever seen, plus a missed penalty. Lucky to concede only three. But WBA sat back and we notched three of our own, Eriksen equalising in injury time.

I think also that Tim had a bit of luck – we were awful for periods against Everton, Palace, Southampton and others, Sunderland even, but they did not press home their advantage. The fixture list was kind to him at the end of the season too.

Sherwood’s 59% win record has become the equivalent of Harry’s ‘2 points from 8 games’, a mantra of self-justification but there’s truth in both statements and I’m grateful. Try telling a non-Spurs fan what he’s like – they don’t believe us. He’s learned a lot quickly and will be successful in the job that surely will be his before the season begins, provided he gets over to the players a proper defensive formation. He seems more natural now, involved and animated on the touchline without going over the top and more considered in his post-match comments.

It’s just that I did not want him to practice football management on my team. Levy should never have allowed Spurs to be in this position in the first place. Sherwood had no incentive to plan ahead. He’s blooded a few young men but there was no sense of settling the team down to pick up in August where we left off, no continuity. Good teams benefit from their experiences together in one season to emerge stronger for the next. We start afresh. We have no settled pattern or combinations. The new guy could change everything. Not rate any or all of the £100m club. Off we go again. What a waste of a season.

It’s only football so I use the following quote with a sense of perspective. It has been said that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ The author was thinking about something more profound than the travails of a small club in north London but Daniel Levy would do well to reflect upon it. Once again we approach a new season without a plan let alone a manager. Players will leave, more will come in. More integration, more valuable time lost, more frustration in the club and certainly in the stands. The biggest problem of all is that this sentence could have been written at the end of almost any season since Levy took over.

32 thoughts on “Sherwood Goes But Levy’s Still There

  1. If only Levy could leave the football to thepeople who know and just stick to what he does best ie;the finacial side we might get somewhere.But unfortunately he fancies himself as football manager which he most definitly isnt.Until then please dont hold your breath.

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  2. If you are suggesting Sherwood is good enough to be our manager, you are mad! He was completely out of his depth on every level.

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  3. Superb and incisive article. Sums up how 90% of Spurs fans -100% of those I know!- feel, and sadly suggests another frustrating year when next season rolls around.

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    • That is, unless Levy unleashes the balls and employ the nous to dump the dross, stimulate the gifted waverers and magic wand a manager with Bill Nicholson’s DNA. My breath is not held. However…

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    • Thanks. I would say in the interests of balance that many Spurs fans would not agree with us. They say Sherwood has done well overall. Article from a fan in one of the north London papers only last week. he’s certainly won over the media, who have pronounced him a success.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. Now Sherwood has rightly or wrongly been sacked, may the pantomime begin for this seemingly poisoned chalice of a job.

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    • That’s the biggest question – if anyone any good will want to take it on. In that respect, many candidates will rule themselves out – Rodgers turned it down, I hear, and AVB was second choice – but we remain a step up for many managers and we have a better squad and resources than most.

      Regards, Alan

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  5. Alan. I’m impressed how you’ve managed to compose this over the course of an afternoon. Or have you been writing this over the last couple of weeks in anticipation ? Whilst I agree with most of your comments here I feel that without full knowledge of what has really been going on behind the scenes at the club you may be being a little harsh on D Levy. Fully accept that as CEO he has full responsibility for everything that goes on in the company but as you rightly say, he employs people to advise him in areas where he lacks expertise i.e. the football side, which is why we have a D o F. I personally feel that Mr Baldini has a lot to answer for regarding this debacle of 2 sacked managers in a season and a transfer policy of going out and spending money for the sake of it rather than having any coherent policy of which type of players were required. So if, as it appears, there has been a total cock up with regard to footballing side of the business, surely now is the time for Mr B to fall on his sword

    Roll on next season

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    • *delete as appropriate Alan is a literary genius/Alan wrote most of this a while ago

      Reality is, this is my season’s summary with a bit of hurry-up caused by Sherwood’s leaving, which I should say in public that you predicted to the very day!

      I take what you say. I don’t hear much I trust about what goes on behind the scenes but there is some truth in the rumours of Sherwood briefing against AVB and the other stuff comes from King’s autobiography. I also think most of the players Baldini has brought to the club are pretty good and/or have potential. My main point is that whether they are good or not, if they are players the coach doesn’t want, it’s a waste of time and cash, and that sums up this season completely. Soldado, £25 or £26m, two coaches have no idea where to play him.

      See you next season. Best, Al

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  6. Brilliant stuff Alan. Thanks for your writings over another season, I always learn a lot. Here’s hoping for next season, for Spurs and that TOMM continues.

    On the admittedly handful of occasions I’ve seen full Saints games this season (and reading around and watching highlights), they often seem to be good one half not so good the other. Perhaps most extremely, but not only, at the Lane. I’m very much in two minds about Pocchettino. Like AVB, it’s taking on promise, rather than established excellence. I don’t mind that, indeed, I think a big reworking of the strategy and restating of the objectives and holding of nerve and circling of the wagons post Liverpool at home should mean that AVB is still at Spurs and looking forward to next season after another 5th place finish. My problem is that Levy does none of those things at the first sign of real trouble!

    He should have been made to see reason about Adebayor, though I feel this striker regressed increasingly to the mean well before the end of the season.

    Even won it all everywhere presumed great managers have bad spells. Look at Mourinho this season. What a pig’s ear he made of it all. They are not in transition, have spent hugely, have a large squad choc full of class players and so many high quality attacking midfielders and three strikers that are proven, but he hasn’t been able to get the best out of. The buck stops with him, though maybe football is developing in a way that is leaving the Portuguese man of Waaaaaaaarh! behind. Here’s hoping.

    Patience and belief is required or when does Levy start to think his appointing skills may be lacking?

    It’s good Sherwood has gone, for him as much as Spurs. He should be worth a punt for a decent to middling championship side, but I generally did not swallow or often like the “he tells it like it is honest man” schtick. He came across as a buffoon too often and I think his coaching and ideas on the game are better than that.

    I wish you and your family a great summer Alan and many thanks.

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    • Sincere thanks, appreciate your support and regular comments. many of the people who stick around on the blog comes as much for the comments as the pieces – really, lots of people say that. And will definitely be here next season.

      Agree completely re Sherwood’s comments. The media have taken to say his honesty is a breath of fresh air but it’s as stale as a city centre pub at 6am on a Sunday – same old stuff you hear from every manager with a chip on their shoulder.

      Re Pocchettino, his teams are well-drilled and move the ball from back to front efficiently but do this group of players fit his style?And we’re back to the adverse effects of chopping and changing every couple of years.

      Have a good summer, Alan

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  7. Thanks for an excellent article. Being in the USA we don’t get much detailed coverage, so I appreciate everything that you do.

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  8. Great article Alan.
    Thoroughly enjoyed this read, and said as it was and what is wrong with our club.
    I just hope that Levy reads your post, or that someone close to him does and lets him know what you write.
    Have a good summer and let’s hope England can do us proud, including our international players in the world cup.

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    • Very kind but there’s as much chance of that happening as there is of England winning the World Cup.

      Have a good summer yourself, regards, Alan

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  9. Whoever is the next manager has a huge task on his hands. To mount a serious title challenge Spurs need a solid Defence, creative midfielder(s) and a potent attack + mental toughness. Clearly save for our 2 most consistent performers Lloris and Eriksen the whole side needs strengthening.

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  10. Feel I should stick up for AVB a little bit here. Firstly, Ade had that amazing period, but he’s massively dropped off over the last few months. Tim attached himself so strongly to Ade, it meant he became undroppable. Ironically, Tim ended up having the same problem as AVB.

    I have read that Ade basically called out AVB and/or his training methods in ‘public’. Now, you can say that a great manager would have done something to sort out the situation, but it would have put AVB in a very difficult position. If he lets him get away with it, he’ll lose all control over the squad. If you manage a team of people and one of them is openly rude or dismissive of you … well, it makes your job impossible.

    I also think that Tim got the benefit of that first half of the season where our team was settling in. I don’t think it’s Tim amazing coaching that made Eriksen am amazing player in 2 months, for example.

    And we were solid as heck for those first few months. I’m just shocked at the self-defeating attitude of so many Spurs fans – being bored by the football!? Boring 1-0 wins, or that 1-1 draw with Chelsea. Oh yeah, we’d much rather be beaten 4-0 or 5-0. We were solid and I was just waiting for that moment when the team clicked and/or we managed to buy/sell some players to better implement the system he was trying to have us play. Sadly, I think he got scared of the fans and changed his tactics, started losing big, and there we go. I can’t blame Tim for _that_ one, anyway.

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    • AVB’s problem was a particualr one – he could not integrate 7 new players into his squad, which shows to me that he was a bit out of his depth having had a good first season. Everyone who says he was boring – how about that Arsenal win at home? He made a big mistake with the high line and the wrong back four to play it plus the inverted wingers. I have never gone along with those who said he was too defensive.

      Agree re the team settling in – Tim benefitted undoubtedly.

      Cheers, Alan

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  11. Hi Alan.

    Agree with every word. You blasted the ball into the back of the net with this one. On the volley too. Levy in goal watched it sail over his head.

    Our club hasn’t emerged from this season with any credit. At times during HR’s managerial reign we were close to being taken seriously. It’s taken Daniel Levy 18 months to sort that out.

    I feel underwhelmed by the thought of another bloody manager. Initial optimism followed by disappointment then the sack and another interim manager etc etc.

    We need someone with experience and clout. And a big pair of cojones to stand up to Levy. It isn’t going to happen. Whoever we get I hope they have a great 18 months or so. But please God let it not be Moyes.

    Thanks for your writing. It’s always a pleasure to read such thoughtful and well-written analysis. Keep well.

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    • Hit the sweet spot, thank you. I’m letting the managerial rumours pass me by. We know if it works it won’t be because of Levy’s powers of selection so I’m not getting worked up about it.

      Regards, Alan

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  12. There’s is so much wrong with the way our club is run that I can’t really put it into words, but…

    Did AVB walk? Why else would you employ a rank amateur?

    Do ENIC care about success on the pitch when it’s cheaper just to pretend they do to justify the ticket prices? They will con the fans into paying for a new stadium, supermarket and flats which they will almost be sole owners and sell for a fortune.

    If we have 47,000 on the waiting list, why have we seen loads of empty seats? More lies.

    ENIC out!

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    • I think ENIC do care, but not enough. Levy wants success without spending a fortune. I wish he was right but know he’s wrong. Figures show an over 90% correlation between spend on salary and final league position. We finished 6th and have the 6th highest wage bill, something like that. To me it’s about making the best of what we have. That’s why this season was such a waste and why so many others have been. If ENIC did their job properly, that is achieveable.

      Cheers, Alan

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  13. Agree with everything you say about Levy – the real villain of this sorry tale. But I think you are a bit harsh on Sherwood. He arrived at a time when things could have gone south dramatically but he stuck it out and got us back into Europe (still not sure if that’s a good thing). If only all his players had his desire. Levy is a wily operator and could sense that someone had to go at the end of last year after some abysmal performances against Man C. and Liverpool and that someone wasn’t going to be him. AV-B had enough time to demonstrate if he had the goods. Admittedly, Sherwood wasn’t flawless but we had more good moments than bad under him. I really don’t understand this courting of Pochettino. Sherwood’s Tottenham finished around 14 points better off than Southampton, and our pathetic goal tally is only four worse than Southampton’s. So what if Southampton had a bevy of future England stars? Sherwood introduced us to a promising group of rising Tottenham talent (Kane impresses more with every game). There wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of that happening with AV-B. I’m not saying Sherwood should have stayed, but Pochettino flatters to deceive. We can do much better than him.

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    • I’d see the balance the other way – good and bad moments with the balance on the bad. We played some rotten football at times and I wasn’t the only one leaving the Lane shaking my head in wonder at how we got away with it. Everton, Palace stick out. Also why his losing percentage was so high – no fall-back or safety plan to hang in there. I believe he would have done it differently if he had been staying as manager, because he would have got more criticism and scrutiny.

      Regards, Alan

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  14. Brilliant incisive analysis of the whole situation at Spurs. Spoken from the heart, but written with your head. Passion and rational analysis combined. We need more of this combination at the Lane. Thanks Alan.

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  15. To seek, to find, and not to yield. That should be our motto alongside ‘To dare is to do’.
    Our club needs to follow both divine slogans next season, and remember who we are ..and what we are. .
    We are the club that seeks ‘Glory’. And if it is to be in defeat, then let us be remembered gloriously for it!
    Let us not set sad dull eyes again on performances such as we’ve witnessed this season.
    Rather, evoke the memories of past great days ..The Super Spurs ..the onward march of The Lilywhites ..and Towering (not tottering) Tottenham! Harry Hotspur! …we need your spirit now more than ever before. Someone, somewhere ..please inspire us to achieve whilst playing the beautiful game next season, or if to fail, fail gloriously …not with a whimper!

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    • Eh! A positively poetic end to the season. You should be the team’s motivator.

      Thanks for the comments, enjoyed the lot.

      regards,

      Alan

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  16. Alan thank you for another wonderful season of insite and observation.
    The word that springs to mind for the distillation of our season is visceral, from the whirling anticipative high of the pre season signings, to the overtly bile stained tannings we received by the upper echeleon. The gap to the top four looks more Grand Canyon-esque after this season, and we must not forget that United will want back in. It’s strange how this years results have created such a whirlwind rollercoaster of emotion, I never felt comfortable, ever, it was the ever present shoe drop, Butch and Sundance putting the brakes on at the cliff edge while always knowing you are going over. Adrenal glands in overdrive, diaphoretic and masticating the fingernails, it isn’t a week-end that for sure, certainly a beginning of sorts, suffering perhaps, but then again we are the Super Spurs. Well mate enjoy the summer, the heat of the Brazilian Amazon, I suspect in the jungle the mighty jungle the three lions will sleep tonight and fade away.
    Here’s to that great unknown, that’s the beauty of sport, it’s a clean slate, and we can start a new, with hopes, and dreams of glory, time to take a mulligan and drill one right down the middle.
    Ed

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    • Much appreciated, a pleasure. More of the same next season but who knows what’s going to happen at the club. Like your optimism, my man. Enjoy the World Cup, football without worrying too much about the result.

      Regards, Alan

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