This has been a decent week for Spurs fans. Two thumping victories, one of which was the most one-sided Premier League match ever, statistically at least. The 8 goals were the product of a return to the flowing attacking football that was a feature of last season’s success yet has often eluded us this time around. Rose and especially Walker were excellent, Alli a growing influence playing high, Eriksen too coming into a bit of form. Son’s goal against Swansea was a beauty, but for me it’s Kane who caught the eye. Rejuvenated after a much needed break – his injury could be the best thing that’s happened to Spurs lately – he’s sharp in front of goal, his movement a delight. We’ll put to one side the weakness of both opponents and the bucketload of chances missed on Wednesday to enjoy this after a sticky few weeks. And Toby is back!
Which leaves us a moment to ponder two enduring controversies, participation in the Europa League and playing at Wembley. It’s said that for every complicated, complex question there is a simple, straightforward answer – that’s completely wrong. But to cut through the blather and froth, let’s stick to the basics. The EL is a cup competition – play to win it. Wembley isn’t right for Spurs but it’s the only option so make the best of it. No, better than that, embrace it as a chance for players to shine and fans to get behind their team.
Granted the EL group stages appear part of football’s governing bodies’ long-term aim to suck every ounce of joy from this wonderful game. But this is straight knock-out, two legs, home and away, under lights. This is classic European football, as it always was. At Spurs we glory in the UEFA Cup triumphs, especially Anderlecht at home in 84 and the Cup-Winners’ Cup in ’63. Nobody says, ‘The UEFA Cup was only a secondary competition, cups are not a priority on the continent.’ Win something. Trust me, it feels good. Also, it’s time for this team to taste some success as part of their development. There’s nothing like winning something for players and fans alike. We don’t start again until February, by which time we can take stock of what is happening in the league and FA Cup. I’m growing weary of being locked into this commitment to futility where the aim is qualify for a tournament we can’t win so we can qualify again, and so on and so on. The lack of squad depth hampers a tilt at all three but it is not impossible. Better to aim high, did someone say?
Martin and I are delighted and honoured that A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club has made the Guardian List of Best Sports Books 2016. It’s a tribute to the vibrant, passionate, challenging and loyal support of generations of Spurs fans. Thank you.
It’s been suggested to me that this is all part of a cunning plan, that all along the EL has been Pochettino’s target. He’s spoken in this week’s press conference of the EL as a target. This is why he’s not played full-strength teams in the CL – we were never going to get too far so go for a more realistic target plus get top four, which generates more income than going to the CL knock-outs but finishing 5th or below. This implies Levy has had a hand on the tiller, mindful of the bill for the new stadium. Overused saying alert, but I tend to go for cock-up not conspiracy as a rule and don’t buy that argument. I do think Poch wants to keep his options open. If we had qualified without too much effort, so be it, but he’ll take the EL. Fact is, he does not prioritise cups but may re-think, in my view should re-think. Any which way, he’ll get to February then make some choices.
Wembley is partly about the here and now, partly a taste of things to come. The pros and cons of playing there are well-rehearsed but worth restating. For the CL, as I understand there was effectively no alternative. Technically it was possible but given the reduced capacity, lowered still further by UEFA rules for segregation of away fans, press and seats at the front it would have been a push to accommodate all season ticket holders, let alone go to members. The EL would be little different.
Next season, no one wants us. British football tribalism means sharing in London is impossible. Stratford is nominally public but West Ham made it impossible for that to be considered. If Milton Keynes was ever a realistic possibility, the problems in getting home from Wembley would pale into insignificance compared with a late finish in MK and anyway soon people would complain about playng matches in a small League 1 ground. Let’s get real about this.
So Spurs fans did what we have always done, from the 1880s and the Southern League onwards. We get there, get in and get behind the team. There’s carping about the support but just take moment. Not our ground, not easy to get to, record attendances for a British club match. 83,406 tickets sold for the Moscow game, and for a dead rubber over 62,000 people turned up. 62,000 Spurs fans. Atmosphere doesn’t come easy but Spurs took it on. Huge kudos to the block in the West corner who sang ‘being a yid’ for most of the second half. Brilliant.
I think that much of the angst around Wembley is about the future rather than the present. This as yet largely unspoken anxiety is better brought out in the open. Football fans don’t like change. We embrace the familiar, the comfortable. It’s not just about the football, it’s about pre- and post-match routines, who we sit with and where we sit, making the best of the journey. People complain about Wembley travel and rightly so but the Lane is hard to reach for the majority of us yet we do it because it’s worth it and because we’ve worked out a way to deal with it.
This is the thing. They are our choices, our routines, our decisions. I don’t like queuing at Wembley but 61,000 people getting away from the new Lane will be a neverending nightmare, yet we’ll do it because it’s our nightmare. These are hugely important to every football fan of every club, yet seldom articulated. Wembley takes them all away. Where do you eat, drink and bump into people even if they are not mates. Who do you sit with, and where? I am petitioning the club to put me at least 400 yards away from the bloke who sat in Wembley block 141 row 26 seat 232 or else I am not responsible for my actions. I don’t know Arthur, Steve, Mark, Dennis, Jackie, Derek or Graham outside football but I want to sit with them as I do at Spurs because it’s a great way to watch the team. This lies at the heart of the fan experience and we fear it will disappear, that our choices will taken away from us.
And underlying that is the growing realisation that as the home games run out, being a Spurs fan will never be the same again. I’m welling up writing this sentence, because it’s the first time I am committing these thoughts to the keyboard and thereby making them public. However good the new ground is, it will never be the same again. Maybe I’m over the top with this, because the club means so much to me, but I’m being honest. We fear those long-term changes too.
So let’s confront this. Enjoy Wembley, make the best of it. Let’s do what Spurs fans have always done, turn up and get behind the team. It’s part of our supporter DNA. Whether Wembley is full or not is immaterial. Keep prices down and get people in. And I may be a soppy, sentimental old lag, but the day my heart fails to lift at the sight of Wembley Way full of Spurs fans is the day I stop going. That’s not likely to happen for a long, long time.
Christmas is coming. Vision Sports have two outstanding Spurs books, The Lane, a sumptuous large-size history of the ground by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley, good friends of the blog, and Cliff Jones’ autobiography. Reviews to come very soon. Until January the Lane is only available from the club shop in person and mail order – it’s gorgeous.
Hear Martin and I talking about the history of our supporters on the Fighting Cock podcast