The Noise

Going to games is not meant to be like this any more. The Premier League contrives an ordered, stewarded environment where fans watch rather than participate. But this was different. Streets around the ground closed from late afternoon so the carnival could take place. Wending our way through the glorious chaos of crowds and smoke to the turnstiles to the soundtrack of more songs from those already inside the ground.  

This game belongs to us. The supporters I mean, our energy the context for everything that took place. This was a celebration of being Spurs. It’s the derby, it’s all about beating them. Nothing else. Win this game because it is them. It’s not about the Champions League. Social media static and Sky hype drowned out by fans being fans. This was the purest expression of being Spurs. All as it should be.

Our rivals took what they believed to be an expedient decision to push for a postponement of the original game. However, their short-termism did not take account of supporter reaction, again typical of Premier League clubs as a whole, but this proved to be a grievous mistake. Conte didn’t need a team talk, and no cheerleaders were required. Marginalise fans at your peril.

This match will be remembered for the emphatic nature of a result born from a level of dominance rare in the NLD, certainly from the Spurs side of things. Those of us who were there, and hopefully those at home too, will vividly remember it for the atmosphere. Levels of noise into the red on the dial and beyond into smoking hot, raw emotion and impassioned support billowing out from the stands to envelope the players and inspire them.  Sitting in the east Shelf, at times I couldn’t hear myself think.

It’s also the only game I’ve ever been to where I couldn’t hear the opposition fans. I genuinely mean this as an observation rather than disparagingly. I wouldn’t have been in a joyful mood if my team played as they did, and fair play, I could see the away end bouncing up and down at 3-0, I just couldn’t hear them because they were drowned out.  

The ground is great, the noise was incredible. I spent most of the second half watching the fans because it was better than the game. Not my words but those of two AFC fans ruefully discussing the game afterwards and their prospects for the last two matches as they walked behind us through the park near Tottenham Hale.

Derby games are all up and at ‘em frantic, but this is not Conte’s approach at all. On the touchline he’s all about flamboyance whereas to his team he preaches control and order. The early exchanges were cagey therefore, with our opponents keeping it tight, keen to keep their shape and cover Bentancur to block passing routes out from the back, and Spurs resisting the crowd’s urge to go flying in. Then Spurs picked it up again and never let slip our grip on the game. Hojbjerg played a prominent role here. Often maligned, his desire and purpose made him a key influence in this period. With Bentancur marked, he took responsibility to make good use of the relative lack of attention our opponents gave him to drive us on with hard yards and tough tackles. He lifted the whole team.

A push in the box, Harry disdained the organised protests around him to score the penalty. Although he has rehearsed a variety of options, his go-to pen has become low to his left, and he’s used this a bit recently. England teammate Ramsdale knows this, so Harry goes the other way.

And then the noise got to them. Normally Harry is the target, battered calves and ankles evidence of countless what me ref going for the ball ref! fouls. Now Son is the danger, to be dealt with by whatever means necessary. I assume Holding’s series of fouls, including a smart wrestling move, was integral to Arteta’s tactics, so why on earth commit a blatant heavy block on Son so soon after a first yellow? Because the noise got to him. We got in his head. Sonny’s rep and our noise scrambled his brain and changed the course of the game.

We three in block 123 agreed this was the time to ram home our advantage. Harry duly obliged. That never happens. We then agreed on the imperative of not letting them off the hook after half-time. Son duly obliged. That never happens. What looked at first sight to be a straightforward stab at a rebound was in fact a poised, considered placement of the ball to avoid any possible blocking defender.

Then Spurs dominate, controlling the game until the final whistle. That certainly never happens, any danger to our superiority remarkable by its absence. We strolled through to the final whistle, our rivals drained and beaten. Naturally I didn’t relax until the 86th minute.

Conte is getting through with tactics and mindset. The spine of the team is strong. With Dier as the lynchpin (notice near the end, it’s he who Conte shared final instructions with before Rodon came on), the back three works. Davies is adept at covering for others, while credit to Sanchez for a good game. Everyone did well, extra praise for Sess, whose growing confidence is allowing his long-dormant talent to gradually emerge. Maybe this plus the volume of support will convince Conte to stay for a while longer, or more realistically, persuade Levy to give him a budget to work with.

This was my first game since March 2020 because I’ve stayed at home, shielding my immunoknackered wife. So thank you Tottenham Hotspur for honouring my return, decent of you after all these years. I’ve been lost without the game and the fans. Being there has been integral to my life and my identity for over 50 years. This is who I am, who I want to be. By midnight, I was knackered but couldn’t sleep, my mind flooded to overflowing with the game, the scenes, the people. Of being there. Of being truly alive.

Spurs: Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious

The sole advantage of writing this blog infrequently is a sense of perspective. I’m not compelled to respond to the latest piece of gossip, Emerson falling over as he attempts a tackle or analysing Conte’s latest stream of consciousness news conference. Big picture stuff, an overview. A thousand yard stare into the recent past. 

There’s no plan here. There never has been really, come to think of it, not for Tottenham On My Mind. Life gets in the way, you know how it is. Obscures the real plan, if I’m honest, that life should never get in the way of football, of being there. The contorted logic and twisted priorities of a football fan. You’re reading this, you understand.

Perspective provides invaluable insight, but, and this is a warning to all my readers, it can be dull. Here’s one for you: building a team takes time. I know! 

Who knew? We all did, but still we banged on about a lack of progress, one step forward, two steps back. I would have, if I had written more often. Conte’s a football coach, not a magician. The touchline flamboyance, bordering on hysteria sometimes, is only a part of this complex character, the 10% of the iceberg visible, out of sight is the 90% of relentless graft on the training pitch. 

And he’s getting through to the players in a way we’ve not seen since Pochettino left. There’s togetherness to overcome the disunity he inherited, motivation instead of apathy. Above all, there’s teamwork, a shape and pattern that strengthens the team as whole and brings out the best in each individual. 

Here’s another dazzling observation for you: the players know what they are doing. They understand what is expected of them in key situations in the play. For instance, the first half against Newcastle was a little dull, especially compared with the deluge of exhilaration that was to follow. And that’s the evidence of true progress. We kept the ball for extended periods, probing to find ways of breaking down a 10 man defence. No panic. Players were seldom caught on the ball because a teammate was always available, and that is a big difference compared with the last few years. Ben Davies’ post-match comments on Sky were interesting. He phrased them not in the usual ‘we got stuck in after half-time Geoff’ mode, referring instead to how they altered their approach from control to overcoming the low block. Like I said, they know what they are doing.

Wingbacks are self-evidently important to Conte’s formation. I had given up on Doherty, so I’m delighted he’s found a way to release himself from the constricting fear that inhibited his play under all four of his managers. Sessegnon has potential but rather than developing his huge teenage talent, it feels starting from scratch, Sess turns 18 again. At least he no longer looks like a kid who has wandered by mistake into an adults’ game. Reguillon flatters to deceive in my view but there’s something there if only he would learn to calm down at key moments. But I forget how young these men are. Time is on their side.

However, the key lies in the Conte’s core. Spurs have a backbone at last. For example, the wingbacks can make better choices about when to go forward because they have confidence in the back three. Dier is by no means the perfect centre half but this back three revolves around him at its hub. Over the last few matches, we’ve given up less space in front of the penalty box. This is not just down to the efforts of Bentancur and Hojbjerg but also because Romero and Davies know when to come out and intervene. That’s made a significant improvement to our defence and in our ability to play our way out from the back. Son’s goal on Sunday is a masterpiece, beginning in our area and ending with Son having time and space to pick his spot.

And then there’s the Paratici perspective. The man with a contact list longer than the Yellow Pages ended up with a couple of castoffs and two players unwanted by his old club. Or so the story went. Yet in a comparatively short period of time, Bentancur is shaping up as a high class midfield stroller, unhurried, exuding a sense of control that has become contagious. Unobtrusive, he makes others around him better players, linking with Kane and releasing Hojbjerg from his self-imposed burden of being two midfielders at once, thus trying to be everywhere and being less effective for it. It will be fascinating to see if Conte pairs Bentancur with Skipp when the latter is fit again, which should be imminent. 

With Romero at the back, everyone is better. We have a proper defender here. He appears calm and unruffled, his expression an inscrutable mask of concentration. He looks the same if we’ve had the ball for 20 minutes or if he’s been under intense pressure. Like Bentancur, he is unhurried, then bursts into action when he sees danger. Dynamite over 5 yards. His tackling of Saint-Maximin was a throwback to football’s bygone age, one on one, the defender coming away with the ball. It was good to see him (mostly) standing up rather than going to ground. He can’t defend corners, so we’ve got to sort something out there. 

Kulusevski solves a problem we’ve had for years. Changes of manager led to changes of tactics and recruitment, leading to square pegs in round holes, leading to forwards playing as midfielders. No matter how much tracking back Moura and Bergwijn offer, they don’t have defensive instincts, yet Kulusevski is comfortable as a multi-faceted midfielder, highly skilful on the ball, physical and with good positioning.

So Paratici is doing ok, as it turns out. Scouts, directors of football, whatever we call talent-spotters, never have a perfect strike-rate. It’s not a numbers game. Quality not quantity. Two or three players who make a real impact is good going. If some fall by the wayside (Emerson has a lot of improving to do), so be it.

And so to the bleedin’ obvious. Let Conte get on with it. No need to pour over the implications of every news conference seeking portents for his future. Put aside the media campaign to sell Harry because we’re not worth it. Instead, relish every touch from a remarkable, single-minded footballer who gives everything, every time. It is a privilege to watch him, even at this stage in his career adapting his game for the team’s sake and just getting better and better.

Conte has got something going here, a vision for the future that his players have clearly bought into. Let’s pause in this age of overbearing expectation and instant gratification to recognise the scale of this achievement, especially as he’s not been as well supported in the transfer market as he would have liked. Spurs looking to the future – now that is something out of the ordinary.

The Y Word, Spurs and Changing Times

I haven’t altered my view on the use of the Y word by Spurs fans since I first heard the abuse directed towards us, in my case going away in the early seventies. I am Jewish, I accept that Spurs fans use it in the context of their support for the club but I choose not to use it to describe myself. I am a Spurs fan, not a y*d. But times are changing.

First things first. This is not easy, and if you are looking for straightforward, off-the-peg answers, you won’t find them here. This is a highly complex arena, a social stew blending intricate, contested expressions of fandom, individual identity and the construction of behaviour over time. It’s not simple, yet some proposed solutions seem simplistic.

We’re talking about this again because the club have published the results of their lengthy consultation exercise about Spurs fans’ use of the Y word. I welcome their response. They’ve produced a comprehensive and insightful report that appreciates the nuance and subtlety of the debate, avoids dogmatism and gives proper weight to different perspectives. Frankly, I wish they adopted a similar approach to every aspect of fan engagement.

They take a reasoned position as a way forward, that supporters and the club should engage with the debate to think again about our use of the word and why we use it, without taking anything away from our loyal support and our pride in being a Spurs fan. At this point, this is a sound, pragmatic approach. Whatever our views on the use of the term, we cannot get into the contorted position back in 2013, where the police randomly arrested a few Spurs fans for the use of the word while simultaneously the crowd chanted it and rival fans abused us.

So a few things need to be said and understood. Firstly, do not speak on behalf of “Jewish Spurs fans” because it’s really not that simple. I took part in one of the focus groups. I was moved by the depth of feeling, fans’ passion for the club, how this interacted with their beliefs and the sheer emotional effort expended on finding a way forward. I was also surprised by the breadth of views, and this is a topic I thought I knew about. I’m not breaking the bounds of confidentiality because anonymised transcripts published by the club.

Some objected, many spoke eloquently about their personal conflicts, getting behind the team yet hearing this word that in other contexts conveys horror and violent prejudice. And how do we Spurs fans explain this to our children, where a celebration of our heritage conflicts with our passion for our club, both of which we wish to pass on?

Then again, one fan who described himself as extremely religious raised no objections to the Y-word used in this context by Spurs fans, context being the operative word here. Another with family members killed by Nazis was similarly comfortable with it, another with the same experience vehemently opposed. A young woman who had married into a Spurs family, a newcomer perspective, said, well of course this is Ok, the meaning in this context is clear. For another view, have a look at Dan Merriman’s wonderful piece about his family trip to Leipzig.

Then, we cannot escape the history or pretend this does not have an impact both on the debate and on us as individuals. In our People’s History of Tottenham support and supporters, Martin Cloake and I examined the link between the club and the Jewish community, which stretches back to around 1910, when large numbers of the predominantly working-class, male Jewish community who moved to Tottenham and the surrounding areas found not just entertainment on the terraces on a Saturday afternoon after schul but also a welcome, and safety. Here, they could take part.

We know that the use of the term to describe Spurs supporters came first from rival fans as a form of abuse, and was then adopted to neutralise the abuse and become a symbol of pride. I understand the debate around whether it is legitimate for non-Jews to adopt this word, whether or not it is to nullify abuse. The fact is though, they did. We can’t change that. Jews have a long history of exclusion, except here, it became a powerful form of inclusion. Going home and away in the seventies, often on my own, this truly meant something. Spurs fans did not join in the abuse. This is fundamental to my formative experience as Spurs fan and of the Y word. I was there, I felt it, and if it looked ridiculous to see gentiles wearing a kippah and prayer shawl, or carrying an Israeli flag, it was part of the celebratory carnival culture of being a Spurs fan.

This element of supporter culture is acknowledged but too readily dismissed. It’s significant rather than trivial. That said, the meaning of historical events is not static. The context has changed. To me, this is real, something I carry with me as part of my identity as Spurs fan, but the majority of fans have not lived through that experience. Martin and I heard from many people, Spurs fans and others, that until they read our book, they had little sense of the history of the use of the word. In other words, the word has become divorced or distanced from the lived experience where it originated.

Also, more recently the debate around discrimination, immigration and statues is raising awareness of the meaning and interpretation of discriminatory behaviour and language in society. We are questioning the use of language as part of this, so it is right and proper to re-evaluate our use of the word, to judge whether it is appropriate now. Context is changing. We cannot isolate ourselves from the context of society, however much football desperately wants to, for example Raith Rovers’ justification of signing Goodwillie on the grounds that it was a footballing decision.  

The club make a valuable contribution to this by engaging in the discussion and being a source for knowledge. You can’t tell a football crowd what to sing, but fans can now make informed decisions and make their mind up. That’s the right place to be at the moment.

What this doesn’t do is adequately address anti-Semitism in football. Spurs fans are the focus of a one-sided debate that neglects displays of naked, vicious anti-Semitism from some rival fans. Songs about Spurs on their way to Auschwitz, gassing sounds and Nazi salutes is abuse towards jews.

I refuse to accept the notion that somehow this is the responsibility of Spurs fans because we use the Y word. Think of all the things that might represent Jewish culture, even if you wanted to have a go. The chosen form of abuse is about Jews dying. It’s not football banter, which goodness knows gets bitter at times. If Spurs fans stopped using the Y word tomorrow, the rival fans who choose to abuse us in this way aren’t going to stop, and it is ludicrous to suggest that it will. The minority who behave this way do so because they see no harm in being anti-Semitic, or they want to express their prejudice under cover of the relative anonymity of a football crowd.

Therefore, football has to step up its game if it truly wants to end anti-Semitism. In the Netherlands, there’s a corresponding debate around Ajax as a so-called “Jewish club”, although whether there is any fraternal solidarity between us is dubious, judging from the scenes outside the Lane a couple of years back. There, rival fans, Feyenoord being the main ones, are encouraged to confront their attitudes by attending educational groups, supported by their club, not Ajax. These groups examine the meaning of chants and behaviour and the discriminatory attitudes that underpin them. I’d like to see this happen in England. Chelsea are already doing good work in this area, other clubs need to follow suit, supported by the FA and the PL, as part of their work with the football community. It’s a fine line between asking Spurs fans to re-evaluate our relationship with the Y word and using this to cover up inaction elsewhere.

So there are no easy answers, but that shouldn’t stop us trying to find a way forward, beginning by finding out more about what this all means, including the history, and what is personal and meaningful to us. Spurs should lead on the work with other clubs and the authorities to address anti-Semitism in football. Remember that part of the contemporary context is a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Maybe think about what some of things mean to you and make your own mind up.

Spurs Transfer Window: Progress But We Won’t Know How Much Until the Summer

This is Conte’s time. Levy and Paratici are self-evidently key figures at Tottenham but this window was about a solitary imperative – give Conte the squad he wants. As to whether Spurs have been successful, only he knows the answer. He said a while ago that we can’t make a final judgement until the summer window is over, but the stakes are high. He can get to work with what he has right now, but summer will overnight turn to a dark winter if he’s not happy and walks.

Welcome Kulusevski and Bentancur, two useful additions to the squad. They bring considerable experience for players who are relatively young and will welcome the chance to develop under Conte’s wise tutelage. Reports suggest they are both willing to adapt to a manager’s style of play, and those same reports suggest these are players Conte is happy to work with. Kulusevski’s flexibility is significant in a squad that still lacks real alternatives in places. They should slot in relatively easily. I’m all for developing players but right now, we need men able to meet the demands of the Premier League straight away.

Staying positive, we now have cover in every position bar central striker. That’s a big but, and I remain incredulous that Spurs have left the side so vulnerable to an injury to Harry for so long. However, Conte can do something with a permutation of Son, Kulusevski, Bergwijn and Moura if the unthinkable happens. He has no choice.

Whether this cover is good enough is another matter. Spurs have a competitive first 15 or 16, essentially Conte knows his best team. However, it’s clear to everyone, including Emerson and Doherty, that he’s not content with right wing back options, Rodon hasn’t had a look in, Sanchez has bucked up but is still wanting, and while I can see a real player waiting to emerge, against Chelsea Sessegnon looked like a boy playing in a man’s game.

Conte has a proven track record in getting the most from his squad, and it’s here that ther are grounds for optimism. The two newcomers will not only bring something extra, they could bring more from the players we already have, plus we have the huge positive of the return of Romero, which feels almost like a new signing. For instance, on the right Kulusevski should be able to both protect that flank when we don’t have the ball and as a left-footer readily step inside in attack, giving space for the RWB to advance. Also, Romero on the right of a three adds to defensive solidity, thereby also giving the RWB more confidence when he makes the decision to go forward or stay back, part of the art of the wing-back. Both Doherty and Emerson will benefit from that, Doherty in particular who is more effective if he has freedom to advance, as he showed against Leicester. He looked better at Wolves because he could rely on their back three.

Also, Dier for all his limitations is becoming the central figure and organiser in defence who other defenders can play around. Sanchez certainly looks better with Dier close to his left shoulder. Again, players improve if they can be sure about what is going on outside their eyeline. Up front, Bergwijn has rediscovered who he is and what he can contribute.

Similarly, while we’re short of lock-picking tight-spot creativity in midfield (the very best of luck at Brentford, Christian Eriksen, the best news of the week), Bentancur could enable others to be the best they can be. Skipp will have more freedom to get forward, a role Conte has encouraged of late. Winks is not a natural defensive-mid. His strengths lie in being available and circulating the ball, plus he has a decent forward pass, he does you know. I don’t subscribe to the negativity around Hojbjerg, a good player who will be better if he didn’t feel compelled to be two players at once, running around like a Tasmanian devil chasing Yosemite Sam, and instead had the security of knowing that if he misses a tackle, there’s something and someone behind him.

Staying with Conte, as if it’s not all about him as it is, this has been a great window for sorting out the players he doesn’t want, as important a move as any incoming transfer. Spurs are not going make more of Lo Celso, Dele and N’dombele. It’s a risk, dispensing with such creative potential, but for different reasons they just don’t cut it. Everyone is now pulling together and can work within Conte’s approach, both in terms of tactics and motivation. The outpouring of joy around 95:30 at Leicester felt like something was shifting, something good, with fans and players as one in their jubilation.

And significantly, if we’re looking for signs that things are changing at Spurs, Conte and Paratici have persuaded Levy to take the hit on these players. The notion of Levy as the ace dealmaker is a decade or so out of date. When he could use Spurs’ power in the market as leverage, it worked, until sides especially those in the Premier League realised they were wealthy enough to stare him down, revealing that he had nothing up his sleeve. Now, he’s accepted the losses, taking a realistic view on loan fees to soften the blow. Perhaps the Dele deal is a sign of a developed grasp of the modern market, low up front money to enable Everton to make the deal happen with bigger figures to come if he plays regularly, as surely he will.

Levy’s shallow understanding of the game, even after 20 years of running a football club, created a legacy of missed opportunities and misguided senior appointments, culminating if that is the right expression in the era-defining decision not to fully back Pochettino in the transfer market when Spurs were at their peak. Appointing his successor was another gross error.

Spurs’ owners stand alone amongst top clubs in not putting any of their own money into their club. That won’t change, but other aspects of his approach have. Money for transfers and wages has been available. It’s been largely wasted because of the managerial churn. N’dombele and Lo Celso have been failures, I don’t know how things might have turned out but players catch the eye of one manager, Poch in the case of this duo, his successor in the case of Emerson and Doherty, only for the next man to not rate them. I would dearly like to see the scouting report on Tanguy. What do we know about players’ self-motivation and resilience before we buy them? How can that be assessed? Is it seen as important? Because it should be, it can make difference between success and failure.

Paratici came as the guy with the contacts who could change everything, working within a limited budget to find gems for the manager to polish. So how’s he doing? For this window, we lost out on Traore and Diaz. Of course we will, it’s Barca, it’s Liverpool. Diaz appears to be an opportunistic deal rather than part of a plan, as he and Son have very similar styles. Fair enough, we offered similar wages and fee, can’t complain.

If Paratici is to be effective, his work has to be part of a longer term strategy, and the jury’s out til summer on this one. Kulusevski and Bentancur are good deals in terms of ability, fee, improving the squad and offering potential for the future. Also, presumably Paratici played a key role in those outgoing deals. It’s just that this ace fixer and broker has brought players from his old club and nowhere else this window. Granted January is the hardest time but there’s nothing else around, no other bargains in Europe, nothing to bolster the squad up front and at RWB…where his manager asked for reinforcements… Also, the Bergwijn to Ajax deal feel through because they offered three million Euros under Levy’s valuation, but Conte has said he wants to keep him, so why in that case are we even thinking of selling him? That doesn’t seem like joined up thinking.

We’ll see come the summer but as yet I’m not convinced we have that strategy in place. For a club like Spurs, that’s essential if we are to compete. We, and by we I mean club staff and fans, have to take on board a realistic perception of our place in the football firmament. We aren’t in the Champions League, not in Europe at all any more, we don’t pay ludicrous wages or inflated transfer fees.

This is realism not negativity. Build and take the chance to improve, as we have achieved before. Find the right blend, bring on younger players in the background and bring them when they are ready, upgrade over a period of time rather than in one giant thunderclap of transfer turbulence. That’s why Paratici’s role is vital, to find the right players. Get it right and maybe he’ll keep Conte happy, or better still, simply keep Conte.

And as a postscript farewell Dele. Players come and go, and the gap between fan and club has widened again in the last couple of years, but in Dele’s golden years, he pulled us  closer. Dele epitomised the new Tottenham, Poch’s Tottenham, full of hope and flair, ambitious and fearless. We roared his song pre-game when the stadium opened, because it meant something about our Spurs. Young, daring, take them all on, all achieved without spending beyond our means.

When the ball came near to him, anticipation crackled in the air. The goal at Palace was wonderful, I adored the first-time touch at Arsenal, the Chelsea goals on the end of Eriksen’s passes, rocking European nights at Wembley as he casually matched Europe’s best, the most sublime two metre pass at Ajax. Tottenham aren’t the same any longer and neither is Dele. Sad that he’s gone, sadder still that his spark and strut have been extinguished. I hope he finds himself again, I miss him so.