Talk to any Spurs fan about reaching the Champions League final, and I’ve spoken to many, or tried to, and the reaction is the same. Make eye contact, pause, look away and a shake of the head. Words just don’t cut it.
I’ve wanted to talk about nothing else since Lucas slid the ball into the corner of the Ajax net, the calm in the hurricane’s eye as all around him was blown away. I’ve rewatched it so often, I shut my eyes and hear the sound of boot-leather on ball, the gasps of despair from each exhausted defender, the ripple of every individual blade of grass touched by the ball. But when it comes to it, I choke. Words become stuck in my throat and I well up. I shake my head and look away.
I thought it was just me, over the top and stupid like only a middle-aged man who has watched and loved a football team all his life can be. Yet, when I met some good Spurs friends after the Everton game, they were the same. Filling up, no words, big hugs, shake of the head. Football makes fools of us all.
I’m just a little overcome. This piece is that overwhelming surge of emotion, it’s that incoherent noise you made when Moura scored. The gibberish you spouted, the uncoordinated movements of your arms and legs as you danced about like one of those inflatable stick people you see at opening ceremonies. It’s the spluttering as you try to explain how much it means to you. It’s the shrug as you give up because that’s impossible. It’s the hug we all need.
There’s stuff here. Rearrange it if you like. Might make sense, might not. I’ve not been able to write about it before now. This is the Tottenham On My Mind blog with fifty deleted introductions. I’m left with one: Spurs are in the final of the Champions League.
See what I mean. The introduction’s not even at the beginning. And Spurs are in the final of the Champions League. It is unbelievable, in the sense of beyond belief, not even a figment of my imagination. My dreams during my most disturbed, feverish nights never included reaching the Champions League final.
Spurs fans are in a state of bemused delight, rekindling the lost pleasures of joy, belonging and the unsurpassed thrills that supporting a team can bring, finding the child within us when football first cast its spell. We’re floating not gloating. There’s no strutting hubris or self-absorbed over-importance. We’re too busy having a good time being Spurs.
Liverpool fans have a different perspective. I have always respected and envied Liverpool, respect for their achievements, envy for the manner in which they’ve succeeded, a precious combination of good football and bloodyminded willpower I’ve wished Spurs could have found over the years. I also envy their fans for the link between club and city, a foundation and identity which London fans cannot match however loyal and passionate we are. The recent rivalry that’s has grown up has largely been fuelled on social media by millennials who spout abuse online as an element of the way they express their support. It’s not important. They’ve been there before. They have a context, a march towards another title, it’s their destiny. We don’t exactly know what to do.
Klopp clearly hears destiny calling. I like the way his teams play football and he takes pride in managing Liverpool, which for me are two benchmarks when it comes to judging managers. His celebrations, cocksure and certain, after that thrilling comeback against Barcelona, were entirely justified, but the different reactions to reaching the final are shown in the reaction of his opposite number, Mauricio Pochettino. Poch fell to the turf and fell apart. He wept, unashamedly and uncontrollably. Just like you and me.
One of the features of Pochettino’s time at Spurs, which I’ve freely written about on the blog, is how he and his players have created a close relationship with the fans. For much of this period, the board seemed to try to alienate us as much as possible but in that moment, Pochettino’s tears established an unbreakable bond between him and the supporters. He has always understood what our heritage means for us. Now, he is one of us, overwhelmed with the joy of being Spurs. That reaction was about us, not personal reputation.
More than this, Pochettino gives us the words to express our feelings about the club in a way matched only by the illustrious Bill Nicholson. Bill wanted to aim high, for players to give their all for the fans. Tottenham was his life and he loved the club. Pochettino, in his moment of triumph, also digs deep: “Without football, it is impossible to live.” Modestly, he thanked his players for being ‘heroes’, but here is a man who understands what this victory, this club, means to everybody who reveres the navy blue and white. Football is life itself. This win makes us truly alive. We feel the blood pulsing in our veins, sensations are heightened, life and love is better than it was before. We reach deep down into our heart and soul to find out something about who we are, what matters, and who we can be. Only football can do this for us. Poch knows.
Poch has also developed our vocabulary:
“Pochettino has run the gamut of emotions during Tottenham’s run to the final but he admitted it did not take much to have him well up with tears. “My mother said to me: ‘You are a llorona’ – a person who cries often and a lot,” Pochettino said. “My mum and my two brothers are different, and my dad is more strong. I am strong but very emotional and I cry.
“Maybe I listen to some music in my car, it translates to some moment in my life and I start to cry. When I arrive home, my wife says: ‘What happened?’ I say: ‘I was listening to some music that translated to a moment 30 years ago in Argentina!’ And she will say: ‘You are crazy.’”
We are all llorona now. Our minds flicker back to moments in Spurs’ history, prompted by nothing much in particular, we well up and we’re not crazy. And Mauricio, as long as I live, as long as my son and granddaughter live, we will not forget the moment Moura scored and you wept. As long as people talk of the Hotspur, they will tell tales of Mauricio Pochettino and the comeback at Ajax.
I’m just coming to terms with the reality that on Saturday night, I will be five rows from the back of the Spurs end in Madrid. In the end, I had easily enough loyalty points, without going to away games but having the season ticket for many years and notching up those points for going to Wembley. Seems it was worth it after all. I’ll probably have to sell my internal organs to pay for it but now I know why god gave me two kidneys. Liverpool fans again – they thought it was possible so they booked ahead, and of course they had that extra day before we played.
I’ve had the extra expense of getting a passport at short notice. The old one expired years ago, and one Sunday night when I was feeling low, in a fit of pique I thought life means I’ll never need this again so I cut it up and threw it out. Telling that to people at the Passport office produces wholesale incredulity. Nobody cuts up up their old passport before renewing it.
All I ask of players is that they be the best can they be. Those goals though. Somehow, they freed themselves from the burden of expectation to fashion three glorious chances through invention and pace, rather than relentless pressure of frantic gung ho attacking. They were beautifully created, the high velocity craftsmanship only football can provide and finished with exquisite precision and poise. Dele’s pass for the winner – where did he get that from, in that instant, at that stage in the tie? Moura’s expression as he finishes – here’s a link to the Guardian pictures that capture the moment as only still photography can. Your new desktop pic is there by the way. As he takes the shot, that’s my look when I concentrate on pouring a cup of tea, not scoring a legendary goal. His second matched Villa’s 81 goal for calmness amidst the bedlam. There’s no higher praise.
Everything has changed now. Vertonghen’s header against the bar, in that arc your lifetime of support flashed before you. The golden moments, the surely nots, the there it is, as it looped back in the opposite direction, the dashed hopes and crushed dreams, swaddled in the comfort of familiarity. This is what we expect from Spurs, a lifetime of support doomed to be separated from glory by the width of the crossbar. I missed Moura’s second go in because I was still looking to the heavens in frustration at the initial miss. That’s all over now. Throw away the lucky charms. No need to keep wearing the same pair of pants. The jinxes have themselves been jinxed. Spurs 1 Karma 0. Spursy is 6 feet under. Start again.
Allez Spurs. The allez allez song is unlike any Spurs chant I can recall, less a football chant, more a piece of storytelling and mythmaking. Perhaps also the first football song to celebrate VAR. Wanyama and Llorente feature, hardly two of our most celebrated players, but maybe that’s why they are included. Maybe their names scan easily, or maybe, and I like to think this is true, maybe this recognises those moments when Llorente, after a shocker at the Lane, made sure he was in the right place, and when Wanyama, a shadow of the powerhouse he was once was, stood tall against City’s relentless attacking force. Deep in the second half, with Spurs penned back 35 yards from their goal, as an attacker bore down on him, he steeled himself. A fading warrior fighting one last noble cause, he rose to his full height and thumped into the tackle to come away with the ball. Unforgettable.
Players, managers, games, we see them come and go. Each one takes a little piece of your heart. But now is our time. We are giddy and intoxicated with sheer joy of being there and being Spurs. I’m overwhelmed with pride in my team and my heart is bursting out of my chest. We are the Hotspur. Wherever in the world you watch it, we’ll be together. Come on you Spurs.