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.