For something in which so many invest so much commitment and emotion, football is remarkably fickle. We fans put everything we have into supporting our team, yet they let us down more often than not. We arrive in hope, leave in disappointment. Modern football is even harder to love. The cost, the travel, the time, the distance between club and fans. Yet sometimes you remember why you do this thing you do. The game is uplifting and joyous like nothing else. Yesterday that was Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs were diamond fabulous. Manchester City can tear apart any side in Europe. Pochettino’s Hotspur play without fear. Get at them, take them on. Play your own game, let them worry about you. Pochettino embraces the club’s heritage, he plays the Spurs Way, with a flourish, not wait for the other side to die of boredom.
Tottenham mesmerised and enthralled with their combination of movement, intensity and inspiration. Time and again they won the ball then passed their way through the league leaders’ defence. From my seat mid-Shelf, the speed and creativity took my breath away. Not just for a burst or two but for almost all of the 90 minutes, such was their focus.
When the Spurs get it right, there’s nothing to compare. We all felt it, that thing. More than the value of 3 points, more than going second in the league. That special precious feeling when the players are as dedicated as the supporters, when they give their best, that realisation that they are capable of beating the best. This was fulfilment. People around me, punching the air. On twitter, long-term fans, Lesley and David, moved to tears not so much with winning but the manner in which we won. As good a performance as I can recall in twenty or thirty years, right up there with the best. I felt so proud of them.
In the bad old days, all of three years ago, the announcement of unexpected team changes came with a whiff of rotten eggs. Now they signal that Pochettino is up to something. Spurs lined up 4-3-3 to match City. Instead they excelled then overwhelmed them. From the kick-off the ferocity of the pressing startled City into firstly giving away the ball then a goal. Son had already tested the keeper when a fine cross by the excellent Danny Rose came to Kolorov at the far post. Nobody told him he was on his own. That’s a poor touch, hang on that’s surely not going in, it is you know.
An own goal in the first ten minutes is handy but Spurs were magnificent, rampant, unstoppable. The movement bewitched bothered and bewildered the City back four. Otamendi lost it for a time, a handball under no pressure except the terror that zinged through his overheating brain then scything down Tottenham forwards. Booked and lucky not to get sent off. Son irrepressible, Eriksen and Alli seeking space and making time where there was none, Lamela always in the game.
Several near misses then the second. An attack involving half the Spurs team broke down on the right but was resurrected by Son’s quick reactions. A five yard diagonal to Alli bursting through was all it took, Alli first time swept it into the net.
And they kept going. The tempo never dropped from off-the-scale in-the-red danger level ‘aye captain I canna hold her together’ levels, except Spurs had Wanyama to do just that. The 4-3-3 was in reality a fluid formation adjusting to whatever was going on. Wayama has the instincts of a defensive defensive midfielder. Second half, we were stretched, Wanyama pops up at left back to nonchalantly shepherd the ball to safety. Why was he there? He just knew.
After half-time we picked up where we left off, giving City no time to breathe. Their revival no doubt carefully planned in the dressing room was stillborn. Spurs’ football flowed as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and it was beautiful to see. Alli was fouled for a penalty but the move that set him up was stunning. Lamela and Son argued over who was going to take it. Unseemly – this should be done and dusted pre-match. Lamela has made great strides and played well up until this point but he does not have ice in his veins. The wrong choice and his weak shot was well saved.
The game would have been killed off then but we had to endure twenty minutes of tension and a Lloris save via the post before the celebrations could begin. When the going gets tough, Toby Alderweireld gets going. My man of the match, he is a giant. Vertonghen was solid alongside him, a formidable central pairing. Spurs even defend assertively. No sitting back, Tottenham have brought back the art of the tackle. The back four and Wanyama are not afraid to go in and get the ball. Three times Toby, three times Jan stopped attacks in their tracks to come away with possession.
Walker and Rose, on top form, the former a man transformed by his summer at the Euros. Decisive, swift, diligent – like all of them he takes responsibility and no longer leaves it to others.
At the final whistle we stood to applaud until they left the field, then looked at each other to say, this is a team. Our team. Our Tottenham. It was one of those rare games that when it finished, life was a little sweeter than when it began.
Last season we faded through lack of mental strength. That lesson has been learned. We’ve kicked up a couple of notches now. Bring them all on. We’re a match for anyone right now. And this is the way we play now. Same in Moscow on Tuesday, take the game to our opponents. It’s a shame it took the Monaco match before they realised what they could do but there’s more than enough time to make up for that aberration.
As a footnote, A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is getting rave reviews from Spurs fans and football writers alike. We’ve struck a chord. You can hear Martin and I talking about it on the Spurs Show podcast (episode 51 years), thanks to host Mike Leigh for his generous comments.
And if you are in any doubt as to the significance of supporters in the heritage of the club, this is what Steve Perryman said at half-time yesterday. Steve was a fine player and holds the record appearances at Spurs but more than anything, he gave it all every time he pulled on the white shirt. Of all the games, all the memories, the one he chose first was the 84 UEFA Final, when Danny Thomas missed a penalty in the shoot-out then was given an ovation to lift him as he trudged back to the centre circle. Not a goal or a cup, not even a match that he played in, but the supporters, a moment when he realised how special club and fan are together.