Spurs Back in the Groove Even If the Record’s a Bit Scratched

Arthur sits in front of us. Coming to Spurs all his life. He said it was good to be back. I was surprised. He detests Wembley and the journey is murder. I asked him why, and he paused, then looked around at the familiar faces in the stands. “Well, you’re all here, aren’t you?”

We’ll all go our separate ways at the new Lane. Meanwhile, football’s back and with it the camaraderie, the greeting of old friends, the bright promise of each new season. It was good to get back to the football.

And it was a promising start. Spurs dominated the opening twenty minutes, passing through or round the Fulham defence with ease. When we lost the ball, our opponents, jittery and overawed, obligingly presented it back to us.

We made and missed our chances. Davies plonked the ball on Moura’s head 6 yards out but he put it wide, then the Brazilian’s normally reliable ball control let him down when clean through. Eriksen moved smoothly onto a loose ball at the edge of the box, not easy but we’ve become accustomed to him being on target, so it came as a surprise to see it slide past the right-hand post. A penalty after Kane’s ankles were tapped?

Then, the match required reappraisal. Fulham’s confidence rose, encouraged by Spurs’ failure to press home the advantage and a couple of counter-attacks of their own. Now it was Lloris who was forced into making the sharp saves, including one impeccably timed block on Sessingnon as he crept unnoticed into the penalty area.

Chances wasted against a side we should overcome, tempo dropping, possession conceded – Spurs fans began to replay this familiar negative scenario in our heads. Then Moura, whose confidence seemed sapped after those earlier misses, joyfully curled a loose ball, first time, round the defence and into the net. He pranced and leapt in the air, a celebration that exorcised the uncertainty and restraint of his Tottenham career thus far. It felt as he had arrived and was part of things. He proceeded to have a fine match, playing in an advanced role in support of Kane and furiously chasing down defenders when we needed to stop Fulham building from the back. Lamela took three years to work out that the PL requires hard work allied to skill and intelligence. It looks as if Moura has it sussed.

Spurs emerged for the second half looking as if they had spent the break running up hills carrying backpacks full of rocks. They drifted around, weary and unmotivated. Just when we should have stamped our authority on the game, it looked like we were about to let it slip. Fulham move forward eagerly and with pace. With Mitrovitch in the middle, they come from deep, in numbers. He hit the post – we were right behind the line of the shot and I thought it was in – then he equalised.

Fulham were posing a series of problems we couldn’t deal with. We’d lined up with three at the back, full-backs advanced and wide, Dier in the centre. Kane and Moura up front, so that makes a 3-3-2-2. Fulham pushed into the space out wide. Davies and Trippier were uncertain. Sessingnon drifting wide, right and left. Trippier and Davies didn’t know to go out wide with him or leave to the back three. As a result, Vertonghen on the left was pulled wide, leaving a big gap inside him, and Fulahm piled into those gaps. For ten minutes, outnumbered in midfield, we couldn’t get a touch.

Pochettino moved decisively to change formation and personnel. It won the game for Spurs. We went to four at the back with Dembele in midfield. We now had the numbers, plus the Belgian picking up the ball from defence to move it forward, his strength and purpose shifting the equilibrium. Lamela on next, lithe and active, just the energy boost that was required.

One moment of sublime skill put Spurs ahead. A free-kick 25 yards out. Post World Cup we have a new gunslinger in town. Lamela pushed and shoved in the wall, but it was a mere distraction as Tripper curled an unsaveable shot into the far corner. The perfect free kick.

As Fulham came forward, Spurs took advantage of the gaps that appeared for the first time. Lamela’s surging run took him the best part of forty yards through any number of opponents. The timing of his release was perfect, drawing the defenders to him as Kane waited in space. One touch from left to right, a jabbed early shot low past the keeper. Classic Harry, a real gem of a goal. Let’s hope it becomes classic Lamela. Could this be his year? I have the uneasy feeling I’ve said that for each of the past three seasons. he could play in Eriksen’s role when Christian needs the rest.

So in the end, a deserved win but only after moments when Fulham thought they would get something from this game. Their supporters have every right to feel encouraged for the future.

As for Spurs, Pochettino’s reintegration of Dembele and Alderweireld into the line-up is a shot in the arm. It’s one thing demonstrating authority by making an example of a player who does not want to play for the club, but the reality is, in any club, or in any workplace for that matter, not everyone is entirely motivated and focussed to the same degree. Managers have to bring recalcitrant players on board, or remind them that they are highly paid professionals, and professionals play. Poch seems to have developed that new skill. So refreshing to see Toby back, keep him there for as long as possible.

Kane looked sharper, helped by the support he received from Moura.  he hit the bar and could easily have notched another hat-trick. Again, Pochettino’s tactics moved to deal with a problem in the side. Dele did well, Hugo was full of confidence that spread through the side. Lamela looked right on it, more please.

Trippier was constantly available on the right, fulfilling instructions to cross early, although not enough were accurate. He and Davies are perfectly suited for a back three. However, at times we looked short in midfield. Eriksen and Dier looked like the World Cup still weighs heavy on their legs. With sterner tests to come in the next month against United and Liverpool, Pochettino has to find the right balance.

My first game of the season, an annual rediscovery of the joy of the goals and the angst of missed opportunities, the elation when those second and third goals went in. Lamela to Kane, his calm in the box, the finish, a fabulous piece of football.

On the way back, we bumped into friend of the blog Adam Powley. Plenty of time to chat as Chiltern Railways appeared oblivious to their timetable obligations. Wise man that he is, he remarked that it felt as if nobody, fans and players, really wanted to be there. It looks as if we may have to get used to it for a while longer as the electrical problem, buried deep inside layers of concrete, will take some time to dig out.

Conspiracy or cock-up? Instinctively I plump for the latter. Human fragility is always with us. Without regurgitating the details, on balance delays are not in Levy’s interests. A cautious man, he stepped out of character to announce an opening without giving any leeway for a cock-up. He should know better – the timescale was always tight, better to hang on and get it right.

The real problems come not from the bricks and mortar but the way the club see fit to explain this, or not. Their communication is poor. Fans deserve to be kept fully informed about progress, even if it is bad news. We’re grown ups, we can handle bad news. “We’re really sorry but because of safety concerns we can’t open the ground yet. We’ll keep you posted.” Easy, isn’t it. But beyond the club, apparently.

Communication should be improved, but communication is a means to an end, not an end in itself. On the Fighting Cock podcast this week, Kat Law, the joint Trust chair, made the point that the club firmly believe that their PR is spot on and that they know just what supporters want. This is the real problem, an absurd misjudgement born of arrogance that reveals the growing distance between fan and club created by their actions since the perfect WHL finale. That rainbow, that did happen, didn’t it? Seems a long time ago now.

Meanwhile, Spurs change the earth for Wembley. Last year, 1/19th of my season ticket at Wembley was about £52. This year, I must pay £70 for the category A Liverpool game. Clubs and fans have a bargain, a Faustian pact perhaps. We’ll turn up, you play your best. We’ll put up with a lot, give us something back.

I get it, I play along, I know what I’m doing. I don’t expect much, but some money off,  information about what’s going on, a proper acknowledgement of the impact on fans rather than detailed comments from the NFL: all beyond the club. You are left feeling as if they don’t need you, not as an individual anyway. They need consumers, hoovering up the merchandise, but anyone will do as far as they’re concerned. If you’ve been Spurs for fifty minues or fifty years, it’s all the same to them. They grow the brand – so abhorrant a phrase I can barely type it – but marginalise the loyalty of fans who need no further convincing. Stick the grid reference of the White Hart Lane centre spot inside a shirt collar and charge extra.

We should be grateful that our manager gets it even if the board don’t. Win for the fans, do our best with what we have and not dwell on the problems of the window. That’s something we can all get behind.

Aretha has left us this week. She made my heart sing and spirits soar. How I shall miss her. Here she’s recorded live, singing gospel. That rumbling in the background – that’s the sound as the walls come tumbling down

18 thoughts on “Spurs Back in the Groove Even If the Record’s a Bit Scratched

  1. Spot on analysis as always, Alan. I moved back to London this week after 15 years living overseas . I’ve been able to make 2 or 3 games a season (thanks to my good friend Jack who always manages to find me a ticket ) but this is the first game that I’ve been able to bring my two boys (aged 8 and 6). At first I wasn’t sure whether they liked the pick & mix sweets or the Football more but as the game wore on they got progressively more into it and by the end the six year old was pleading to be allowed on the pitch as a late substitute. Really quite magical. I’ll be saving your match summary to my ‘keepers’ mailbox to enjoy in years to come.

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    • Thank you so much Rory, that is a real compliment.. Nothing like passing the torch on to the next generation. Old lags like me may be sniffy about Wembley and the prices but it has opened up so many more tickets for families to buy.

      Regards, Alan

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  2. Good to be back, even in the wrong place. Great to get off with a good start even though the ‘Wembley Experience’ left me cold.

    Aretha Franklin was wonderful and that gospel album is incredible as was so much of her work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alan, it is great to be back, we returned to our LA Spurs patch after a summer of Spurs on Tour. Some visiting Londoners said they’d never experienced such fan enthusiasm for Spurs outside of N17. Nice compliment. And, thanks for the blog, the opening harked back to The Kinks’ song:
    “There’s a guy in my block, he lives for rock
    He plays records day and night
    And when he feels down he puts some rock ‘n’ roll on
    And it makes him feel alright
    And when he feels the world is closing in
    He turns his stereo way up high
    He just spends his life living in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy
    He just spends his life living on the edge of reality…”

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    • If only I had planned the opening to match a Kinks song…good to hear from you Ashley, I had no doubt the LA Spurs were showing the way in the states.
      Regards, Al

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  4. Never in over 50 years have I worried about the results in the first few games of the season,I have as always looked at the performance and am relatively pleased although not convinced by the past two games. There were holes in both midfield and in defence,and my main concern was if we were playing better sides,would the results be better? Billion dollar question I know,so 6/6 is a great start…( Better than some others). I’ll hold fire after Utd to see where we’re at,but it sort of proves a point as to where if anywhere the current squad can be improved upon and who could improve it? Equally, I’m also assuming the stadium naming right and the departure of one or two name players will indicate how much we’ll pay?

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    • Hallo Pete, I look at it in about the same way. Pleased we have got straight back in the groove but there were as you say big gaps in midfield, it was too easy for Fulham to take charge, credit to MP for match-changing subs. If Toby stays, investment in a centre back doesn’t look so important, but another creative and hard-working midfielder will help, plus more cover/alternatives for Harry.

      Personal view – I don’t think we’ve got much money. Stadium overspend etc etc

      Regards, Al

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  5. Thanks as always, Alan, for helping me to organise and articulate my thoughts after a game. I had the impression that the most annoying thing for the club last week was that the news about the stadium delay was first reported by agencies outside the club, reflecting again this patronising “we’ll tell them when we’re ready to tell them” attitude. I suspect it’s an industry-wide issue. According to my wife, a Leicester City supporter, we are a model of transparency compared to them.

    One of the few benefits of becoming officially ‘old’ in the Summer is that I am now able to take advantage of the extraordinarily generous concessionary ticket prices. I paid £18 for a ticket on Saturday which would have cost me £45 last year. At the risk of being battered around the head with the walking sticks of my fellow OAPs I would support a review of pricing, especially if it benefitted younger supporters and families. Again, using LCFC as an example, my wife’s season ticket, full price, costs a little over £20 per game. While I fully understand the differences is scale, location, demographics etc, the price differential does seem a little excessive.

    While I share the general dislike of Wembley there is a benefit for supporters living in some area of the Midlands. My return journey to a game is reduced from 7 hours to a little over 5. Every cloud eh?

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    • I’d love to a section of Safe Standing for our younger fans either free or cheavily reduced to entice tomorrow’s new blood and create a better atmosphere. Give them freebies treat them special and our future support is secured!

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  6. Great to have you back, Al. We’ve missed you.

    Spot on – as always.

    Thought there were moments when we were sublime on Saturday, showing real promise for the season ahead once the various moving parts click into place. This said, as what with Spurs being Spurs, there were also moments when it looked like Fulham could and would nick it while we huffed and puffed. As you rightly note, Poch changed the game with his substitutions – they were timely and immediately effective.

    This club makes me weep. They have well and truly fleeced us with the refund being less than the cost of the Liverpool game. Turning a profit in those circumstances means the new stadium is more of a monument to capitalism as it is to a community endeavour. We are little more than wallets on legs as far as the board is concerned.

    You’re right. Poch does get it. And boy will we – and the board – miss him when he is gone.

    Russ (@spursfandom)

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  7. Your articles are always thoughtful Alan. I know its tough,the corporate mentality fighting the flat cap supporter but its a fact of life in the new world in all spheres. London isnt LIverpool and the cost of the stadium is not written off as a gift,its a business.
    On the positive side Ive never seen so much cohesion between our players as I did in this one. Moura offered his part that created a flow,Dembele came on and took control of the middle and Lamela gave us a burst or something that Ive rarely seen from him…and with some end product.
    All round a good day. See a few of my friends writing here…Ashley,,Pete M and Tommy I think.

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    • I wanted to add that Dele has been tremendous lately. He really is starting to take responsibility and looks a new player as shown and Moura has shown (Eriksen has been growing for the past two years) and Lamela looks great from what he has shown so far

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  8. Like you, I enjoy a good conspiracy theory, and I think the events of the past couple of weeks have explained why we failed so poorly in the transfer window. I reckon Levy got hit by a wave of bad news about the stadium in late July and early August. When he should have been addressing the transfer ‘ins and outs’ he was juggling the implications of a delayed opening and all the other moving parts that would be involved with contractors, lawyers, Prem League suits, etc. etc. The lack of transfer activity was a direct result of Levy deciding that he had a real pile of ordure to sort out and it needed his full attention.
    I reckon the club should stop tooling around with new fixtures dates on a weekly basis and stop jerking around the supporters any more than is necessary. By the look and sound of things the stadium is still a couple of months away from being truly match ready. Instead, set a new opening day date in the New Year. In that way we get a New Year, New Start and New Era with the stadium tested and trialed and truly ready to take on 62,000 fans. It would set the right tone from day one. Tooling around with new and alternative fixtures and dates on an almost weekly basis just causes further confusion and frustration. And the last thing we want is to encourage an already negative press by going ‘live’ too soon and giving them more material to talk down the achievement. Give the fans a refund for the missed games up to the end of the year or a couple of free tickets to the European games and start the new year with a clean slate.

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  9. Wonderful to have you back more regularly Alan. Agree with Jim. Nobody can crystallize the usual mass of jumbled thoughts of a Spurs supporter better than you.
    Excellent to see Poch acting so decisively, let’s hope this sets a pattern for the rest of the season. Very nice to see Winks back in the fold – if he can get anywhere near his previous levels that would also be like a new signing. A fit Wanyama would be the icing on the cake and give us the midfield options we have been lacking.
    Moura is a real Tottenham player – born to wear the jersey. Rather like Van der Vaart was……..
    We will know a lot more after Utd away. COYS

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  10. Great match report – so much better than the move by move version people politely rave about.
    Shame your analysis at the end was off key

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