New Year is a time for traditions and this household is no exception. Once more, I welcomed in the New Year by dozing off in front of Jools Holland. Unfair on Jools this year, when his band seemed to swing with more vigour and soulfulness than ever before. It’s not live but it was the closest we’ll get to live music for a while yet, and it felt good.
A quick glance at twitter on the way to bed. The first tweet I see in 2021 is from my friend Adam Nathan, reminding us that Spurs have given themselves the opportunity of losing three more semi-finals between now and May. That’s proper Spurs. Happy New Year everyone.
Matchday begins with pictures of three Spurs players, Lamela, Lo Celso and Reguilon, having Christmas dinner with their families. The club official statement censures them. Reguilon is named as sub. Obviously Spurs’ need for cover on the left is more important than a clear message in a pandemic.
Bless him, Reguilon would otherwise have been alone at Christmas with only a ham from Mourinho for company. I haven’t had a hug from my children since the beginning of March.
I was optimistic after beating AFC. Enjoy the win, and the fact that they barely laid a glove on us despite having all the ball. More so because, like a Spurs shaman I’ve been searching for signs that Mourinho is taking us forward. They come both in results and in the nature and quality of our performances. The players looked motivated, invested in the team and in the manager, who had finally established some order out of sometimes chaotic and frequently directionless displays over many months.
But it turned out to be a case of one step up and two steps back. On top against a Palace side known for containment rather than attack, we fall back and let them back into the game. We concede late against Liverpool too. Allow teams to come back at us and you give them a chance. Plus, our defence is good but not that good. Against Leicester, they let us have space and we do nothing with it. Can’t keep the ball or create sustained passing movements. The problem is, I’ve been writing that since Mourinho took over. After 14 months, it’s legitimate to ask what he’s doing about it.
Spurs play well to beat Leeds 3-0, although it always helps when we get a penalty at 0-0 then the keeper chucks one in, failing to stop Toby’s header at a corner even though it was straight at him. In between, Son tucks away Kane’s early near-post cross with the ease of the top class player he has become. Hojbjerg with the pass before the assist, that skill that Modric perfected, plus the Dane breaks attacks up and fills the gaps between the back four defenders. He makes it easier for every player in the team.
Enjoy the win but it doesn’t answer the questions. Leeds’ tactics suit us. Their full-on bravura style is highly watchable but on a bad day they leave space in midfield and gaps at the back, and we took full advantage.
In the evening, on BBC2, Aretha soars, swoops and the earth moves.
Sunday but isolating means every day is pretty much the same. I genuinely didn’t realise that the 28th was a bank holiday until the early afternoon, not that it makes any difference.
Chat with Spurs pals via zoom and Whatsapp. Cheers me up no end.
Spurs have reached the League Cup semi-final by winning only a single game in normal time, hardly glorious progress but here we are. Mourinho has been paid a fortune to win something, and the League Cup is something.
The league cup and I have a complicated, contradictory relationship. I propose its abolition, the least important trophy in a chronically overcrowded fixture calendar, but I want to win it. I detest the way it is talked up, then teams play as close to a reserve team as they can get away with because it symbolises the dominating force in the way football is run currently, money before quality. Ditto the two-legged semi-final, thankfully scrapped this year. Yet it’s a trophy and there to be won.
I hate how winning it immediately becomes unimportant in itself and merely a stepping stone towards another level, whatever that is, but it’s a theory I recognise and espouse, Spurs being the side for whom it may be most significant because we’ve won so little and we know JM is here to win something. Then again, if we win, then people will say it’s meaningless because it’s only the league cup. Also, Mourinho tends to move on so we lose that momentum. I hate myself for being inconsistent. I hate myself for wanting to be there, so much.
Spurs beat Brentford 2-0 with a decent performance, nowhere near as straightforward as the Sky commentators make out. In control for around 60 minutes, we allowed the Bees to, wait for it, come back into it. Their big centre forward Toney targeted Sanchez, sadly now an obvious weak link, and the ball whizzed around the box too often for comfort. Then, N’dombele sets up Son with a pass he made look easy yet it had perfect weight and accuracy, Son smashed it in. Sissoko getting forward and scoring, whatever next. His foot placing to keep Toney a millimetre offside and avoid an embarrassing equaliser was impeccable. Good win but I’d prefer not to leave it to millimetres on VAR.
And I still don’t know what Carabao is.
There was a piece in the Guardian a while back about why our minds are programmed to not think about our mortality. It stands up if you think about it. We know we’re going to die, but if it’s constantly on our mind, we’d be permanently preoccupied and unable to function.
I can’t tell you more as I didn’t read to the end because, well, reading about not thinking about death makes you think about death. Yet covid means thoughts of death are inescapable. I’m worrying about Spurs inability to keep possession for any length of time while my wife, who has an autoimmune condition, worries that if she catches it, she might die.
We shield and isolate to be as safe as possible. I can get out to walk the dog in the woods, whereas my wife’s only outing is once a month to Guy’s Hospital for her regular treatment. People not in this position don’t realise the trauma experienced by a couple of million people who live with this feeling every day. Trauma like this causes long-term harm. There’s little recognition of this outside families who experience it.
It’s also convenient for me to forget that I am over 60, overweight and asthmatic.
So we carry on.
I started to read Shots in the Dark by historian David Kynaston, a diary that interweaves the nature of supporting Aldershot Town with current political and economic events. Kynaston’s considerable and justified reputation rests on forensically detailed historical research, especially about post-war Britain. However, as early as page 10 I am compelled to question these credentials as he offhandedly dismisses Spurs failure to win the 2017 title, linked to the Chelsea game.
I can’t match Kynaston’s depth and breadth but I am able to come in off an extremely long run on this pet topic. Much to say, but let’s just leave it with a reminder that Spurs were the only team who bothered to put up a fight, an away point at the Bridge would do (non Spurs always assume we lost) and it was the home draw against West Brom that set us back. Plus, if we’re talking about bottling it, who was top of the league on January 1st 2017? Answers on a postcard, and if that postcard says Arsenal, you are correct.
Still, it’s an absorbing read. He and I are pleased Trump is slipping from the mire into quicksand. Wonder if I can do anything with the concept?
Spurs beat Marine 5-0 and win many friends in the process.
Things that cheered me up this week: Alfie Devine’s’ smile, Staged, and a pic my daughter sent me of my 5-year-old grandson’s class having a Zoom lesson. Their teacher is an angel.
Not being able to watch football is a reminder, not that any should be needed, of how much the game means to so many people. Far from being escapism, football, life and society are inseparable. We express ourselves through the profound emotions football generates within us. Being happy or sad, being committed to your club, choosing your friends, all this and more puts us in touch with who we are.
And so football is no escape from our covid world. The Premier League has the nerve to trumpet its value to the nation in troubled times. The show must go on but only to keep the TV money coming in.
I enjoy the games, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as much as I used to, or will do when we’re back at the Lane. My routine and emotions revolved to a large extent around the fixtures. The game itself becomes a point on an emotional timeline. Process the last game, enjoy the win or anguish over defeat, anticipate the upcoming fixture, heightened emotions and complete attention during the game, then process the game with family and friends, and so it goes on.
Now, it’s all so distant and far away. Anticipation begins about two minutes before kick-off. I celebrate good football and get over-anxious about Spurs defending, that’s thankfully normal, then switch off because no one wants to listen to Jamie Redknapp, and that’s that. I have no shared experience to recall, no ‘where were you when…’, on the sofa like the rest of you.
Numbed by the personal impact of covid and appalled by our leaders’ callous incompetence, nothing satisfies. It’s a dulling down of the emotions. It’s flight not fight. You can’t confront it without being overwhelmed. So numbness brings protection.
Football used to make me feel alive. Now, the isolation of covid football is the very antithesis of everything that draws supporters back year after year, being part of the crowd, the togetherness, friendship and camaraderie. It’s a reminder of what I no longer have.
Spurs 1 Fulham 1. We let a bottom 3 side back into the game after scoring first. It’s not clear to me or I suspect the players what we were trying to do, because we didn’t defend or attack well. Same old problem – can’t keep the ball, can’t sustain any pressure for extended periods. Seldom look confident as we transition from defence to attack. Another set of opponents who find it straightforward to isolate our man on the ball. Mourinho blames the players. Of course he does. The pressure’s on and he reverts to type, a sign that he is perplexed. He must be worried about the way we’re playing.
Our PL run since AFC is a story of missed opportunities and weakness with Leeds the outlier. Winning mentality? The message in every opposition dressing room is keep playing because they’re soft. I don’t like our style, it’s not what Spurs fans expect and it’s dull. But more than that, it’s ineffective. It leaves us vulnerable and it won’t take us where we aspire to be over a season, although it may work in a cup run, a series of one-offs. Keeping the ball means the opposition can’t play, it keeps them on the back foot, it’s the way to create chances. Counter-attack patterns are clearly set and well-coached, the same can’t said for other ways of building from defence. And it’s a waste of our attacking talent.
Proud to be mocked by some on social media for advocating that children need to be properly fed and the taxpayer should get value for money from profit-making private companies. A raving commie no doubt but Never Red. More love and compassion, that’s what we need.