Spurs Drag Their Heels On The Long Walk To Wembley

Reaction to Spurs defeat by Monaco in the Champions League has been mixed. For supporters, it quickly became one of those signpost matches, not just an uneven performance but one that pointed towards deeper issues faced by the club both on and off the pitch.

Cogitating on the way home – pleeeeenty of time for that in the queue for the tube – and on social media is an exercise in understanding loss. Reactions cover the whole spectrum of football analysis, from being outclassed through to being unlucky or inept, whichever you prefer. From being not good enough to not trying hard enough, from being inspired by the occasion to being over-awed.

I’ve heard them all and there’s truth in most, although truth is hard to find because it feels like many are coping with defeat by projecting existing views onto this one game. If you believe the players are soft then you said they did not try and were over-awed. If you like Spurs being at Wembley, you were moved by the record crowd, if you don’t then the antiseptic bowl sucked the life out of the occasion.

I was moved by it all. Can’t fail but have a lump in the throat at kick-off choking back a few of the words of ‘Oh when the Spurs…’. But that feeling of anti-climax has only just disappeared 36 hours on. So…

Team selection was a bigger hindrance than the venue. I admire the attacking approach but for me, Lamela and Son don’t belong in the same starting line-up. Both can change the game, win it sometimes, both do not make enough of an impact enough of the time. In a game that was always going to be tight and where a solid start to the group was important, too often they were peripheral.

I don’t buy the ‘not trying’ argument. This lot try harder than any team in my fifty years at the Lane. What they lacked was authority. They did not impose themselves on proceedings until the start of the second half, by which time it was too late. Monaco had their lead and were supremely well prepared to keep it. We made and missed chances but for the most part it still looked as our opponents had a better sense of what they were about.

Authority is about presence. A midfield with Dembele and Sissoko has that, plus more experience. Neither were fully fit. Dembele made a huge difference in the second half, promise in the games to come and Tottenham deserve credit for lifting ourselves in a rousing twenty minutes in the middle of that period. Plus we needed some nouse, players who had been there before, to dictate the tempo and take control. Spurs went at the game with the naïve enthusiasm of kids when some caution and stability was required. Spurs play well when they keep the tempo high yet the first half was decidedly flat, the early goal puncturing our balloon.

Our game going forward is founded on the attacking axis of Kane, Alli and Eriksen. For different reasons this functioned only sporadically. Alli is needed further forward, not lying deeper. Eriksen found plenty of space but his passing let him and us down, three occasions in the first half passing to the opposition when he could see the openings perfectly well.

But in the end, two mistakes, two goals given away. Lamela taking insufficient care as we moved out of defence, everyone therefore in the wrong place when he gave the ball away. A cross not won fell straight to a French player. Could have gone anywhere.

Above all, despite it all, chances made and missed. Son early on, Lamela half a chance, Alli inches way first from a through-ball then with a shot well saved. And Harry, straight at the keeper. What were you thinking? In the media he is convincing himself that nothing is wrong, but there is tell-tale hesitation in everything he does. We know you, H, we can see it and feel your pain, but oh Harry, we’ll take care of you.

And the future? It doesn’t show Spurs are not good enough. It shows we have to learn to adapt our game to this level, and manager and players have lessons to absorb. This is the elite. For long periods we weren’t up to it, yet one less mistake, one taken chance and the outcome would have been different.

Spurs did everything possible to make Wembley feel like if not home then a place where we were more than just passing through. For the players, the home dressing room looked very familiar, while in the build-up the team trained on a Wembley replica pitch and on matchday their routine was identical to that of a home match. This is what Pochettino’s fabled attention to detail looks like in reality, and there’s no doubt his attitude filtered through to board level too in their negotiations with Wembley.

The banners and the ‘game is about glory’ message around the top tier were appreciated by everyone I spoke to but in the end it is the supporters that make a ground home. The pre-match buzz became a crescendo at kick-off. The noise was deafening. The passion must have conveyed itself to the team. For us, we told ourselves that we were there, we are Tottenham, that Tottenham had come to Wembley and the Champions League and we would make this place ours.

That many have dismissed the record attendance figure says more about modern cynicism and over-weening expectations that anything that took place at Wembley. Sure we all would have preferred to have been at the Lane but this was something special in itself. To forget our history is to lose a huge chunk of our identity, of ourselves.  Even the glory days of swaying flat-capped terracing couldn’t match these numbers. Never. Ever. And the Spurs did it.

Any Spurs fan not moved by the torrent of white streaming back to Wembley Park after the game must have a heart of stone. It flowed endlessly, that all-time attendance record brought to life more than filling the ground did. Scaling the stairs to the station entrance and turning to gaze back at the throng became a ritual for successive waves of fans and will be the memory that many will share in years to come, rather than the game itself sadly.

Trouble is, it was a Herculean effort to get to that point in the first place. Defeat, rain and the Wembley tube queue equal one of the Twelve Labours. It stayed dry but problems with the Met line – of course there were – came on as a late substitute. It takes time to shift 85,000 people and I’m used to the wait but don’t recall comparable delays in the station itself waiting to get on to the platform.

It will never be as good as White Hart Lane because it isn’t White Hart Lane. The old ground means so much, the heritage, the ghosts of victories past, the tight enclosed stands. More than anything, it is ours and nothing will be the same. Supporters self-regulate over time to sit where they feel comfortable with, by and large, the people they feel comfortable with. It creates a culture that does not transfer well to a bigger stadium with a different shape, as West Ham fans are finding to their cost. Those things we take for granted, friendships, pre-match drinking holes, the fans who start the chants sitting together, all split up. We’re beginning to learn the lessons of moving to the new ground already.

You can hear Martin Cloake and I talking about A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur here on the Tottenham Way podcast with Tom and Dan, or me flying solo on the BBC London Radio sports show for Wednesday, recorded by the Bobby Moore statue no less, here around 7.20 pm

7 thoughts on “Spurs Drag Their Heels On The Long Walk To Wembley

  1. Fair and insightful as always Al. Thanks for the write up.

    Like you, I choked up when the screens in the ground displayed pictures of the players in the tunnel waiting to come. There is a whirlwind of cynicism that consumes the modern game but let’s face it, we put up with the nonsense for moments like these. Shame about the result but as you say, it could easily have gone the other way.

    The board and the Trust did well to make it feel like a home game. Most of all this was achieved by the fans. I thought we were amazing but I was behind the goal in the singing end and have no idea what was going on in the rest of the ground. It sounded good to me but I was in the middle of it.

    And as you also say, 80,000+ Spurs fans in one place was impressive and a moving experience. If a German club had used a similar pricing structure to get that crowd our press would have wet themselves with excitement. Thanks to the board and the Trust for their work on this.

    I’ve no idea what happened on the night. No explanation to add to what you’ve written except to say that I was surprised Delle was playing so deep in the first half. Joel used to say Spurs were 100% better when Ledley King played. Dembele is now the one who has that effect. And great to hear how loved he is by the fans. He needs to score more goals but he is well on the way to being a deserved talisman.

    It was disappointing but not a disaster to lose our first CL game. We can still go through. Big performances and results needed against Sunderland and Our next CL game are needed.

    We’ll do it.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you let Poch off the hook a bit, Alan. His team selection was baffling, and you put your finger on it early on. The midfield was far too lightweight, allowing Monaco to get at our defence and stop our usual build up through the middle. Lamela’s deficiencies were exposed within the first 15 minutes and after enabling Monaco to score with his sloppy play, he disappeared for the rest of the first half, mentally shot. Son is an attacker, not a midfielder, and at this level you cannot expect to fiddle your way to a result. The decision to leave out Wanyama, Dembele and Sissoko defies logic. Wanyama almost played Barcelona on his own when at Celtic a couple of years ago and we bought him for precisely these sort of matches. Ditto Dembele and to a lesser extent Sissoko. A midfield of Eriksen, Son and Lamela is asking for trouble even in the Premier league so Poch got what his selection deserved. The fans, and the rest of the team, deserved more. I am more optimistic about Sissoko than a couple of weeks ago. If he can be given a very specific and direct role to stay wide and drive at defences then he can be very effective, as we saw. In one match he provided more threat than a season of Chadli’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glorious. That could have been the tagline.But….

    There has always been a but. But the ref,but the defence,but the weather,but the fans,but the lasagna,but Levy. None of them valid.

    But we never showed up,well and but most.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved it, 85,000 in wembley. I was overjoyed when the fixtures came out and I realised that I was going to be in Europe for the first home game, Great that I bought the bundle… We lost the game YEP! But Ive seen us lose a lot of games, doesn’t make it easier, but knowing that despite our recent History, and the media’s love of the sky four / five We can fill the 2nd biggest stadium in Europe is part and parcel of my SPURS!!! Also the queues after the game brought back memories my childhood going to games with my dad and seemingly taking hours to walk home various watering holes. Only thing missing oin wednesday was the hot salted peanuts and roasted chestnuts! Someone missed a killing there! Daniel?? Wins in Russia and Gernmany will fill wembley again, I hope sadly I’ll be back on the west coast of USA… Did I tell ya that I got to Wembley at midday and walked around it both ways That too a return to childhood. #COYS, #BIGGESTTEAMINLONDON NOT ARF!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Alan,

    Even far away in southern Europe, watching on a stream, I could sense the joy and magic of The Spurs Nation taking over Wembley; it reminded me a little of us taking over Highbury for the 81 FA Cup semi replay. It looked and sounded amazing from where I was sat, grissini and beer in hand. We definitely lost something by not playing at a full and fired lane but that’s the way it is, and we had something special on the night. As one of a crowd of some 13,000 against Coventry and around 11,000 vs WBA in the mid 80s, it was something to see!

    On the match, MY the margins are tight, aren’t they? Lamela’s error but the fella still had a way to go and a lot to do to score and Vertonghen might have been more decisive. Still, a wonderfully taken goal from their point of view. The second could have gone anywhere but fell right to their guy a few yards out. We had started well i thought and Son should have scored, man on the line or not. Overall, the performance, I agree was uneven, but Harry’s shot goes in and we get at least a draw which I felt we warranted. They were a very decent side, but goals and results change the analysis, so we were found wanting, the result in the paper said. I don’t think we were, just tight margins, a bounce of the ball here and there.

    I agreed with not playing Dier and Wanyama together, and who knows how fit Dembele and Sissoko were. Not match fit to play more than 45-60 perhaps. Only Poch and they know.

    Lamela seems to have gone back in the last 2-3 weeks to Mr Tentative on the ball again. Poch couldn’t easily leave out Son after Stoke, and while the midfield set up left us a little open on the break, we dealt with it okay, bar unforced errors for the goals. It meant we were offensive in approach and frankly bar the unforced error for the first goal and bad bounce for the second (though we didn’t always look as solid as usual with balls coming in the air) we might have won out or at least drawn, so I am okay with the team put out.

    Harry is also tentative as you say Alan. He didn’t control the ball well enough as it bounced too high for him to hit it low as he should have. I have no worries about him, however, he’s the real deal and it’ll come.

    I might add that Wanyama has been playing much better than Eric so far this season and, of the two, deserved to stay in the side on Wednesday. Nonetheless, we have still to really get going this season, but I am very confident we will qualify.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s never a straightforward journey supporting Spurs. While opinions vary, there have been some pretty reasonable suggestions offered here why we suffered defeat.
    My view is that we could very easily have won but for a combination of missing chances, defensive lapses and may be some poor luck, but probably every defeated team ever could say the same. Aside from those points, frankly, I was very impressed with Monaco. They were very slick moving forward, and defensively solid, and while their goals came as a result of errors ( the lack of closing down the cross for their second goal was criminal in ny view) , at times in the game they were a well oiled machine and were close to cutting us open several other times.
    As well oiled as Monaco were, at times I felt we were quite predictable and stagnant, but even for all that, we still could easily have taken a point or maybe even all three, so I’m still optimistic we’ll qualify. Defensively however, a big improvement is needed if we are to achieve a qualifying spot.
    A brilliant occasion, a well written summary of the night but a disappointing outcome – maybe not untypical for us Spurs fans! I’m hopeful of getting to at least one of the next two CL games and still equally hopeful we’ll progress.
    Cheers DB


  7. Hi Alan
    I too was at the game, but just missed kickoff by 2 minutes due to delays on the A1 edgeware roundabout with a broken down car on the way to park in Cannons Park, which took us another 10 minutes to find parking .

    It was great to see Wembley so full with Spurs fans it was a surreal moment walking into the noisy stadium.

    The Metropolitan line has been closing for a while now after 10pm due to ongoing works and that is why we decided to get to the game via the jubilee line from Cannons Park.

    I have to agree with you regarding Poch’s tactics, but he did get it right in the 2nd half, shame he did not change this when the warning signs were there.

    Let’s hope today we do well against Sunderland 🙌

    Keep up the good work Alan 👍🏻


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