Sorting helps. Properly therapeutic if you put things in order, in their right place. I use this sometimes with work, sit down with a child or young person, put the cars in order, or bricks. Lego’s good. It’s calming, regains a sense of control in the midst of a complicated, disorienting world.
Walking up to the turnstile on Sunday, my son nudged me, over by the burger bar, bloke wearing a Spurs shirt of a certain vintage, on the back Booth 19. It tells a story. Impressed with our new signing, a big strapping centre forward, your man had to be the first to get his shirt. Ahead of the game, a fashion leader. Guy at the front of the upper Paxton when we used to sit there invested in Piercy 32, confident that he could spot rising talent at the club.
Or maybe it was knowing and self-depreciating. Spurs don’t attract many football hipsters, although we’re cooler than the bear on a Fox’s glacier mint, but this could be ironic. It strikes me that some of you reading this have never heard of Andy Booth. David Pleat signed him on loan during one of his caretaker spells. After 4 appearances, no goals, we didn’t take up the option to sign him permanently. Booth is the archetypal honest pro. I won’t say journeymen because he played successfully at a decent level for several years but his touch wasn’t quite up to the highest standard. Or mobility. Or pace, or ball control, or chance-taking…But everyone was injured, Rebrov couldn’t hit the Kremlin with a banjo, so Andy trundled willingly up front. He scored a improbably good goal at West Ham which was ruled offside, wrongly so as the replays showed. It would have been the winner. The Hammers had signed someone we wanted, so in the away end we sang, ‘We’ve got Andy Booth, we’ve got Andy Booth…’ over and over. A cult hero for 10 minutes. Not even 15.
Which is a roundabout way of saying, things have changed for the better. Doesn’t seem that way over the last few matches but don’t be tempted by the reaction to the CFC game or laid low by Sunday’s disappointment. The reality is, 3rd place is an outstanding achievement, 2nd would be just fine and dandy. Think of Andy Booth and the desperation behind that signing to find out how far we have come.
By exposing old failings, Southampton fully deserved to win on Sunday. They were always dangerous coming forward. Toby and Jan found it hard to deal with those angled long passes into space. They did pretty well but were stretched and we could never settle. They stretched us too far for the first, pulling our cover out of place, then the second came after Spurs had failed to up the tempo after half-time, leaving the Saints firmly in charge. A lingering feeling that Lloris could have done more with both goals…harsh though.
It began well enough, Spurs pinging the ball around for the first twenty minutes, the glorious football matching an intoxicating ebullience in the stands. Supporters were out to enjoy themselves. This was to be a celebration together, players and fans. Noisy and happy in the sun, the atmosphere was not just loud, it was inclusive, with every stand joining in, and that’s the been the touchstone for the season, fans and players closer than ever, really feeling it.
Just as we lost a bit of momentum, Son intelligently kept running onto a pass probably not intended for him. Others were offside, he was on. Everyone stopped, he kept going, his reward a goal banged in from close range after he had danced along the goal line. Then we lost tempo and had no plan B in response to Saints’ domination. Second half the visitors kept it narrow, packing the centre midfield and leaving the wings to us. By way of riposte we sent in a stream of innocuous crosses and otherwise tried flicky tricky dicky one-twos in non-existent space.
We kept playing the same way when change was needed. Kane should have come deeper to mix it up and shift the centrebacks around. Push Lamela wide so we have two v one wide, so they have to break cover and come out. Runners deeper from midfield. None of which happened.
So they showed they are still learning as a team. No surprise there, yet such has been he gradient of their learning curve this season, you could be forgiven for expecting them to conjure a solution. Being hard last week, without losing your temper. Trying something different to unsettle a fine team, without giving in. We know this: Spurs have a fine team if 10 particular players start. Miss one and we can cope. Miss two and we suffer. Dembele the heart and power, Alli making precisely those runs past Kane that we so sorely missed on Sunday, both making other good players better. If learning by our mistakes is a sign of progress, this could have been a valuable 7 days.
A salutary reminder, then, that Spurs have a way to go and not to reach so far with expectation next season that we tip over and fall face-first into the mud. Don’t worry, there will be good times too because our promise is rich and fertile. It’s been a fabulous season regardless of the outcome on the final day, because most notably supporters have been royally entertained by a Spurs team bursting with commitment.
Reflecting on the behaviour of the home fans at the Bridge, they don’t get the bemusement of Spurs fans. Fact is, the chase for the title was fun. It represented over-achievement and came upon us suddenly, rather than being an expectation at the start of the season. It was always unlikely – the fact we got that close was a joy, and that’s what fans of other London clubs still rejoicing in Spurs’ not being defeated are struggling to grasp. We’re enjoying ourselves, something that some find the hardest thing of all to understand. Shame modern football’s like that.
The end of season lap of appreciation was, for once, justifiably named. More fans stayed behind than I can recall in the last decade. If anything it was over too quickly. Led by one of the senior stewards, whose name I can’t remember but who I have met and is Tottenham to the core, set too fast a pace. The players should have dwelt to take it all in. I hope that doesn’t change. Manchester City fans have had to take decades of heartache – it’s not been a bed of roses being a Spurs fan but think what being a blue in Manchester has been like. Their lap took place in front of empty stands. Pelligrini made a nice speech to the cleaners and 200 hi-vis jackets. I get the fans’ frustration at their side’s under-achievement and undermining the manager’s efforts by effectively replacing him with half a season to go. I just hope that raised expectations are not behind a change in attitudes because City fans are among the most loyal around. They say success changes you – I hope nothing changes at the Lane.