Spurs Dream the Impossible Dream

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.

Champions League at the Lane in Three Scenes


Best bit of the Ajax game? Everything before kick-off. Just another day. Work – writing reports up. Chores. Walk dog. More reports. Clear up. Prepare dinner. Get on a train. Watch Spurs in a Champions League semi-final at my home ground. Just another day.

Walking to the ground from Tottenham Hale is the eye of the hurricane, a leisurely stroll through city backstreets before the noise gets you. Far from an intrusive behemoth, the stadium is hidden once more behind the houses, faithful to Spurs’ roots amidst ordered terraces and looming up only when I’m a minute away. So my new routine includes one of life’s little pleasures, the quickening of the step to round the final corner, knowing it’s there, just to see it that much sooner.

Then it hits you. That something in the air. More people, a lot more police, excitement and anticipation. Roads are blocked, the delay serves to ramp up the tension, rumours of bottles thrown on the High Street but no Ajax fans in sight. My first ever queue at the new turnstiles. The welcoming buzz from the concourse, a sound that can only be a football crowd.

The noise from the Park Lane, spreading round the ground, sitting over the centre spot. Intense, vibrant, unforgettable. Doesn’t want to go anywhere. Passion and fury where it belongs.

Second best bit of the Ajax game? The morning after, when you take stock and realise in the cold light of day that it’s just half-time. In between, nah.

Ajax’s movement, pace and intelligence in the first half proved far too hot to handle. We didn’t get near their shadows. No escape from the stifling press. Bad touches and misplaced passes for sure, but there appeared to be no way out. The bloke behind me who coaches from row 23 like a Sunday league manager with a hangover urged more effort and more getting stuck in. Well, yes, but for extended periods, no amount of sweat and toil alone could have stopped the Dutch advances. Their goal released a player who had time and space in a packed penalty area. How did they do that? Spurs’ back five don’t know.

As Vertonghen staggered from the field after a clash of heads with Alderweireld, his distress and state of collapse summed up Spurs’ night so far. Happily, he recovered quickly, although rightly may not be available this weekend due to concussion. Look after him, and let the docs take the decision. We know he’d play for our sake, bleeding and battered, if it were up to him.

If it was hard to believe Spurs are in the semi-final of the Champions League, it was all too easy to envisage it all falling down around our ears. Thinking quickly, Pochettino used this as an opportunity to bring on Our Saviour, Moussa Sissoko, and change from a back three to a 4-4-2. This posed more problems for our opponents, plus Sissoko contributed much-needed energy and drive from deep positions.

Going longer to Llorente proved a worthwhile option. And when I say worthwhile, I mean the only option. Forgive me the delusion that it might have worked, he did his best, but against this defence, his best is not enough. However shrewd his touches and lay-offs, the defence found them relatively straightforward to smother. The tactics also pinned players close to him by way of support, which negates Moura’s pace, makes Dele easier to pick up and limits our options out wide.

We barely served up a decent cross all night. Rose was very good again save for his final ball, the same can’t be said for Trippier, sometimes unfairly criticised but justified on this occasion. Llorente’s in for his aerial ability, yet he missed our best chance, a free header from a first half free kick. Dele looked out of sorts. It may be only a hand injury but his form’s dropped away since it happened. I realise he’s had to drop deeper to do a job for the team but he misses Kane more than any of us.

The state of play in three scenes. Scene one: early on, Eriksen picks up the ball just inside their half, for once in a bit of space. His pass is quick and instinctive. Llorente comes off the defender and turns towards their goal. Then, nothing. He fiddles around because he knows he can’t run with it, something which of course has not escaped our opponents’ attention, so they funnel back into position and he knocks it tamely sideways. It doesn’t sound like much but we didn’t get another similar opportunity. You know Kane or Son would have been gone, up and at them, putting fear and trepidation into Dutch hearts.

That moment sums up where we are right now. I tried not to, really tried, but there were times when I narrowed my eyes and imagined Harry leading the line, head over the ball, hunting and inspiring. Impossible to escape that feeling of what might have been. I sincerely hope that sentence isn’t our season’s epitaph.

Scene two: Tottenham Hotspur play a Champions League semi-final with no forwards on the bench, let alone a striker. Home leg, goal down, we bring on two full-backs, one of whom, good though he is, is really a centre half. Not the time to dwell on this, but the gaps in the squad laid bare and raw. Not even an under 23 striker. It should not have come to this.

Scene three: we’re still in in it. We have it in us to spring a surprise in Amsterdam. We proved against Dortmund that we can defend, and Moura and Son are two ideal forwards for a counter-attacking game.

In the second half, we didn’t play well but we did restrict Ajax’s chances. Lloris had little to do, a sign perhaps that the Dutch are not as effective going forward as they might be. You bring the straws, I’ll clutch them. Even McDonalds paper straws.

It won’t be about a change of personnel. It will be about who we have giving everything they’ve got for the sake of fans and for the shirt. This we know they can do. Poch will come up with something. Show the football world what’s possible, show them who we are and what we have become. As Poch said in the programme, “it’s important that as players and fans, we show why this is such a special football club.” It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Leave nothing in the dressing room and have no regrets.

Sincere thanks to the gent who walked past before the game, saw my TOMM t-shirt and said he liked the blog.

This week, I guested on the Football Pink podcast, reminiscing about the 1991 cup semi-final. The Arsenal bloke didn’t make it so there’s too much of me. And Gazza’s free-kick should have been third on my all-time list of Spurs’ moments. Listen anyway.

Eriksen’s Jubilant Late Winner Keeps Spurs in the Race

I properly celebrated Eriksen’s winner for Spurs last night. Proper big celebration from deep down. Elation at a late winner with so much at stake in the league, a great goal in itself and a huge dose of relief thrown in. That’s a combustible mixture and I took off.

Each year the Championship play-off final is touted as the world’s most valuable match. We’ll only know come season’s end but the worth of that goal to Spurs could be incalculable. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of this, the best Spurs side in decades led by the finest manager since Bill Nicholson, could hinge on Champions League qualification.

The costs of the stadium are vast but manageable and budgeted for.  The cost of rebuilding this team is a very different matter. Tottenham can’t continue to challenge for honours across the board with a squad with as many holes as the Huddersfield defence, on top of which key players like Eriksen and Alderweireld are tipped to leave. Put these two together, remove the incentive to play for a London team in the CL, and it’s football quicksand, irresistibly sucking the life out of the team. Make no mistake, this year the stakes are sky high. With rivals stuttering, how we needed that goal.

Plus, I want to show the league what my Spurs can achieve against the odds. This thing about not winning trophies pales into significance against the pride and joy I feel in this Spurs side. They are completely genuine. There are no shirkers, only triers. Play for the shirt and for the fans. Injuries, no transfers, low salary budget – show the league what we can do.

Play terrific football at times, and if football is about memorable moments, we’ve had a bucketful of those over the last four years. Here’s an honour – 1982 cup final winners. Remember that everyone? Only because the final and replay were two of the worst finals in living memory. Man City home and away. Remember that? You will until your dying day. So, I celebrated.

Eriksen was the key figure as we remorselessly tried to break Brighton’s resolve. He’s not been at his best this season. Much of what he tried last night did not come off, partly because his touch is not quite there, although that first half pass to put Moura in for a rare goalscoring opportunity was a gem, and partly because our opponents shut down his angles in and around the box. You can’t play into channels if there aren’t any. You can’t chip into the space between the back four and keeper if there isn’t any.

The point is, he kept trying something. In the second half, Pochettino pulled him deeper so he became our busy creator, always available, always on the move, always trying to make something happen. It’s the only way to get through a defensive barrier like Brighton’s. In the end, he succeeded.

So many Spurs sides I’ve seen over the years would have given a collective shrug after 80 minutes and rehearsed their excuses. This lot just keep on playing. It’s this attitude and application that I admire and value so much. They really kept at it in a controlled, purposeful manner. Perhaps it could and should have become more frenzied and gung ho, but lobbing crosses into the box, tempting though it is with 10 minutes to go, had only provided heading practice for Brighton’s centre halves until then, so no reason to think it would change. This approach implies self-belief without arrogance, a conviction that the right way of playing will bring rewards in the end.



Please support the bike ride to Amsterdam in aid of the fight against prostate cancer, as advertised at half-time last night. Two good friends of Tottenham On My Mind, Bruce Lee and Kevin Fitzgerald (talking to Paul Coyte), are taking part, so if you enjoy the blog, click on their name and bung them a few quid. Thank you. COYS!

pic by Justin Ford via Pete Haine


Danny Rose is fast becoming my favourite player. He put everything he had into last night’s match, a man of the match performance of total commitment. His first half tackle in the box to deny the Brighton 10 was expertly timed as he came from nowhere. He’s come back from the wilderness because he’s earned his manager’s respect. Now, with this and his stand against racism, he’s earned the respect of the crowd too.

Praise also for Alderweireld and Vertonghen. They kept pressing forward, seeing the gaps in front of them without over-committing and leaving Spurs exposed. This was a performance of sustained intelligence, giving team-mates the freedom to commit to attack and nearly match-winning as Toby’s shot came off the inside of the post and scudded along the goal-line.

Third in the league with Llorente and Janssen up front, Wanyama in midfield, a bench with a keeper, four defenders and an 18year old midfielder, yet somehow Poch fashioned something out of this misshapen squad. Janssen’s name wasn’t even in the programme, that’s how far away from the first team he is. Was.

Llorente was fairly static throughout. Perhaps the plan was to keep the two centre halves occupied while others moved into the space that, in theory, created. In practice, the Spaniard’s flicks were easily blocked. Moura pushed in tighter to him in the second half but got little from it, a tactic not helped by the full-backs’ poor crossing.

Dele had one effort cleared off the line, a sublime right-foot take down of a high ball then perfect balance onto the left for a shot. Otherwise, 80% second half possession brought few chances.

Brighton’s ultra-defensive tactics were deathly dull but I can’t blame them given their league position, although it’s not the best approach against Spurs because it allows our ball-playing back four to get forward without fear of punishment. I do blame the ref for taking no action against their time-wasting keeper. The ref added on one minute in the first half. Teams will keep doing it if refs let it go.

The main reason why the battle for third and fourth is to tight is the late goals conceded versus Southampton and Burnley. It appeared we were running out of steam, understandable perhaps with the injuries and a thin squad. Then we looked tired, now Spurs are refreshed and rejuvenated. I guess a champions league semi-final can do that.  I think the new ground has a lot to do with it, not just the home support but the sense that the club is finally moving forward. Momentum is vital at this stage of the season, especially as our rivals are stuttering. Chelsea and United’s players have been criticised for not all giving everything and pulling together – not the case at the Lane thank you very much.

One of the Great Nights at the Lane

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The new Spurs ground opened seven days ago. Last night it was consecrated. And what a noise we made. The Park Lane wall of sound became a force of its own and I was carried along in the current of emotion. Standing on the shelf, two blocks along, it was deafening, leaving my ears ringing as if I were coming home from a gig. I think everywhere else was singing too, but from my vantage point I couldn’t be sure where it was all coming from because the clamour completely enveloped me.

The sound stays in, swirling around, reluctant to die down and let go. The songs were loud but what I’ll remember most is the sheer volume of noise at big moments, wordless and undefined, a roar from deep down, football noise.

I’ve not experienced anything like it in over 50 years of watching Spurs. The Shelf with its low roof was always noisy for big games, but there were fewer than half as many voices. Wembley for finals could get us going but never as sustained a din. Semi-finals when we were given a big roofed single terrace were the best, the example coming to mind being the Highbury North Bank for the ‘81 replay. But nothing like this.

This was a claiming of the ground by the supporters. After this, it’s properly ours now. Comparisons with the Dortmund wall go only so far. British fans dislike being organised or preparing in advance. We respond to the occasion and to the game, and the game responds to us. The old terraces were exciting, anarchic, rumbustious, dirty and welcoming. We don’t like being told what to do. A place in the crowd was yours if you wanted it.

I don’t really care about the facilities, opening ceremonies, the fireworks. Football grounds are about the supporters. It’s up to us what we make of it. Last night, we all found our way home. We took our places and responded together. Glory Glory Hallelujah in the second half, yep, that got to me. Building on the heritage that defines us, we created something new.

Also, there was a sense that the team needed us. This Spurs side have a bond with the fans, which was especially noticeable in the final years of the Lane. To a man they give of their best. They’re honest, they respect the club’s history and the supporters, and they bring the right values to bear in the way they go about their work. They’ve made themselves better players and, I hope, better people because they feel Spurs and the fans are worth it.

City are a huge challenge to any side in Europe. They were looking for something extra and we helped them find it. Our intensity matched theirs. They gave everything, and so did we. This relationship is becoming increasingly rare in top level football these days, and it pains me to say it. Fans become consumers and customers, and clubs and the governing bodies are complicit in the transformation, because a docile, predictable fanbase with money to spend suits them more than the glory or the style. It happens to some extent at Spurs, let’s be honest, as well as at our rivals. Last night was different, and that’s why it was so special.

Us and the manager. Pochettino rose to the challenge too. His set-up limited the impact of City’s pace and width. Out of possession our midfield dropped back to a five, protecting our full-backs. I thought the maligned Trippier was excellent last night.

Winks and Sissoko were outstanding in central midfield, an area where we have been deficient since Christmas, able not only to break up opposition attacks but also, crucially, move us forward onto the offensive. The effect was to take the game to City throughout. We were never passive. Sissoko’s tackling in and around the box, that is in pressure moments where timing has to be impeccable, was a feature of his performance. At the back, Toby swept up any danger.

City targeted Kane as the fulcrum of Spurs’ attacks through fair means and foul. Their centre backs and Fernandinho took turns to foul him, in the midfielder’s case three fouls in one challenge. He missed one chance in the first half and also uncharacteristically over-hit a pass in the box to Son. This was a game where despite the attacking intent of both sides, opportunities were at a premium.

The half-time reflection suggested we may not get better chances. Then, we scored. Son found a little space on the right. Forced towards the goal-line, he somehow rescued the ball, then cut back to shoot low under the keeper. An outstanding piece of individual brilliance, it’s worth recalling that I described the first goal at the stadium in a very similar fashion. Eriksen’s not at his best, but on both occasions, he made the deceptively simple pass to put Son in, and the tactics, width and movement of the others created that space for him.

Before this, the first great moment at the new Lane. A dodgy penalty for an offence that none of the City players appealed for. Under a fingernail moon and the glow of the golden cockerel, Lloris plunged to his left to push it away. There was noise. Rightly lauded for this save, his third pen in a row, almost as valuable was his late dive into a cluster of boots to claim a City cross to snuff out City’s later revival.

Nothing whatsoever will dampen my mood today. Tottenham On My Mind’s mantra is enjoy the moment. I shall come to terms with Harry’s injury later in the week, for now this is a day when anything and everything is possible.

I must however get this off my chest. For the matchgoing fan, VAR stinks to high heaven. Rose blocks the shot, the game goes on, then stops. The pre-match VAR explainer (cartoons! Those zany gals and guys at UEFA eh!) offers no reassurance. We are told its VAR, we have to work out for ourselves why. In this case, as we saw with the Man United penalty versus PSG, the handball law is being rewritten. Slow motion does not provide a sound basis to judge the instant ball to hand/hand to ball problem. Also, referees are assessed by their peers. If the ball hits a hand, they are predisposed to take the safe option of awarding handball. Doesn’t mean it’s right.

Mostly, though, this was the game when I felt well and truly VAR’d. Son scores, we celebrate wildly, then that doubt infects that precious feeling. I was convinced, wrongly, that the ball had gone out, therefore anticipated the VAR before, sure enough, the tell-tale finger to the ear gesture. In fact, they were checking offside – who knew? No one in the stands, that’s certain. I’m not sure you can check for the ball going out of play – it is a misnomer that VAR removes all doubt because it doesn’t look at everything.

None of which is the point. Being a fan is about remembering the moments, some horrific, mostly precious, and especially valuable are the goals scored in big games when you should be losing it all in wild celebration. VAR, you’re a bastard.


A final word in praise of Danny Rose. His comments in the paper about Spurs’ lack of ambition were ill-judged, his choice of paper downright rank. Since then, he has overcome fitness problems both physically and emotionally. He’s been honest enough to speak about the latter, an honesty which shone through last week as he confronted racism in football.

More power to you Danny, we should get behind him, as was the case last night. Chris Pauros and others in Spurs LGBT group organised this flag. Sorry I couldn’t arrive early enough to be there. Kudos to the City fans who joined in, and apologies for nicking someone’s photo.

Simple and meaningful. Danny, we’re with you. And did you see the vid of Son’s goal against Palace, taken from the Paxton? The crowd goes wild, the players rush to congratulate the scorer, Rose sinks to his knees in relief and gratitude. It’s one of the most honest reactions from a professional I can recall, an insight into the pressures players cope with day in, day out. It meant a lot to him, as well as to us.