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