Spurs and the VAR Debacle.

So yeah. How’ve you been?

First day of March seemed as good a day as any. It holds no special significance or power. It’s as good a day as February 28th or March 2nd, but it was a plan, so here we are. We all need targets, and like Fernando Llorente, I’ve found mine.

Spurs are doing fine without me. I say without me, I have been alongside them at Wembley all season, making the most of my half-way line Shelf equivalent, my perch for 50 years, before the new ground turns it into an exclusive debenture pay up front for three years padded seat complementary programme cheese-munching executive lounge. And prices me out.

My mid-season break was longer than that proposed for the season after next, and unlike PL clubs I didn’t whinge about tiredness then book a trip to Asia. Whether like Dembele I come back stronger or lose momentum like Harry Winks remains to be seen. But here we are, because Tottenham really is always on my mind.

Once again, Pochettino has cranked it up post-Christmas. A long unbeaten run, 6th round of the cup and a NLD derby victory mean life is sweet. More to come – Spurs don’t quite look like the finished article. There’s still a bit more growing to do. Over the seasons, Tottenham On My Mind has plaintively asked the question, what does a top-class side actually look like? We’ve had top class performances and remarkable growth under Pochettino, but maybe because I’m old, I can’t rid myself of the spectre of Newport and Rochdale scoring from every set piece. Can’t get rid of the old days and the old Spurs. Except in 80 minutes at Juventus, Spurs finally gave me an answer.

While Tottenham are in rude health, the same cannot be said for the game itself. Rochdale at home is the equivalent cost for me of about 15 minutes of Juventus, so there were economies. I had never planned to go, but Spurs’ ability to sustain a plan for 90 minutes and to pick themselves up after an average first half, features so distinct from past sides and vital to our 2018 surge, blew us gale-force into the quarter finals. And there was VAR. It’s March 1st, I’m writing, so here goes.

Last night was a debacle for VAR and the referees who administer it, their faults exposed like wiring after mice have chewed through the cable, and just as risky. VAR offers certainty where none exists. Lamela’s opening effort was disallowed after the TV ref found a Llorente foul that never was. It took the best part of four minutes to make a wrong decision. Spurs were then awarded a dodgy penalty. I’ll leave the controversy about Son’s run-up, encroachment and a possible re-take for now, chiefly because above all, Son was incredibly stupid to not know the law about run-ups.

All part of VAR’s teething problems. I get it. Except all of these problems could have been foreseen in advance, and were, by many pundits and supporters.  Once VAR is there, you can’t forget it. Offsides plus fouls where there might be a clear and obvious error are supposed to be referred, yet last night, like a folk singer with his finger in his ear, the ref seemed to be checking something through his earpiece throughout the match. It was decidedly off-key. Fans in the ground were the last to know what was going on, of course, but in this instance even those watching on television were none the wiser.

VAR placed the seed of doubt in the referee’s mind. I’m sure he felt undermined to some extent. It creates a climate of uncertainty when the intended effect is precisely the opposite. If VAR is at a game, fans and pundits will argue decisions and the decision to use it, or not. Because it’s there.

Also, if VAR runs an incident, what if something else crops up? If a foul is being reviewed, what if the TV ref spots a foul off the ball or earlier in the move? How far back will they run the tape? In rugby league and union, they seem to refer more and more tries to the video ref, just to make sure. The stop-start nature of the game lends itself more easily to swift replays – there’s a pause for the kick after a try in any case. Before Christmas, in an international the ref sought judgement for a touchdown – rugby refs ask for a specific thing to be judged and because they are miked up you can hear what is going on. The try was eventually disallowed not for the touchdown but for an infringement earlier in the move spotted by the video ref.

The fans in the ground are the last to know. Happy to stand corrected but rugby fans at the match see replays, at least in big games. We’re football fans, we can’t be trusted. It’s worth remembering that when VAR first appeared, it did not cross administrators’ minds that we should even be told VAR was being used, let alone see moving pictures, so you see why teething troubles becomes a euphemism for slack thinking from people dazzled by the power of the technology at their fingertips.

Spurs appear in the footnote of history that perhaps lies behind this. When the jumbotron was an innovation, Spurs played Newcastle, 93 maybe? Replays showed Spurs’ goal was dodgy. Kevin Keegan’s touchline jig of outrage sticks in the memory better than the incident itself, and ever since the screen cuts to a panorama of the Lane if there’s even a whiff of controversy.

And here’s the nub. VAR has a context. It exists in a football universe that prioritises the fan at home over the supporter at the match. This has been a trend for several years now, once the PL allowed Sky to dominate the football schedule. Last night could well be the tipping point, the moment where a tiny incident on the fulcrum of change shifted the balance irrevocably in favour of the sofa rather than the supporter.

VAR is fun for the TV viewer, especially the uncommitted. Last night, the commentators said exactly this. I can’t recall the precise words, but this was ‘fascinating, laden with controversy made it riveting viewing’, did a pundit actually say or tweet that it was the best game of the season?

For the hapless souls at Wembley, it was bewildering. Paying their money left them short-changed. Freezing cold, unsure if they could make the journey home, it was a stark reminder how little they mattered.

This comes on top of the new TV deal, where more matches than ever before are shown on TV and which for the regular matchgoer means investing even more money without any prospect of knowing if the match will be shifted to another date and time. Spurs again with the perfect example of the confusion this causes, lest we forget the rescheduling of the West Ham game around New Year. This was much more than the inconvenience we have sadly and unwillingly become party to. Sky changed the date and time to New Year’s Eve and the PL agreed without consulting the police, the local council or the safety authority. Sky presenters were stating the game was going ahead – I and a few others told them via twitter something their own company failed to mention. Never mind consulting with the fans, this is scandalously dangerous. Sky seriously think, we make the decisions, everybody else jumps.

The minutes of the latest meeting between the Trust and the board are essential reading for any Spurs fan. The indefatigable Kat Law, a champion of fans’ rights, asked about a link between pricing and lower attendances than expected for some games. The club replied that pricing was not a factor – what mattered was opposition, competition and match time. The day after, Spurs’ revised kick-offs due to TV were announced, which include a Saturday evening fixture versus Manchester City. In other words, we are knowingly actively taking steps to lower the attendance. And this without the implications for City fans getting home – the last train to Manchester leaves at 9pm.


One mercy of Tottenham On My Mind’s absence is that I avoided discussion about our away game at Liverpool. A Spurs match again becomes a touchstone in the technology debate. It showed, among other things, that at high speed refs get things right and that technology is never conclusive. My point here, though, refers to the debate that raged after the final whistle on social media, the perfect example of a trend that disturbs me as a football fan, not as a Spurs fan. The Liverpool fans who howled for retribution, a re-match, for the referee’s head, epitomised the totally unrealistic expectations of many modern football fans who have re-defined the meaning of a foul. In so doing, they seek to thwart the laws of physics. It’s not a question of Spurs or Liverpool, or about tribal loyalty, it’s about what is and is not contact, what does and does not mean a player touched by another falls over. I don’t want football to be become a non-contact sport. Editions of MOTD imply in their analysis that football is a series of incidents requiring television adjudication rather than a flowing game.

VAR plays into these sensibilities. Football does not lend itself to the micro-analysis of endless replays of so-called fouls. Yet this appears to be the expectation of a growing number of fans (and some managers who should know better). I’ll hazard a guess that the majority of these fans do not go to matches on a regular basis. I think also that the most vocal on social media at least, not necessarily a reliable cross-section of the public I’ll grant you, are younger fans who have grown up watching the majority of their football from the comfort of their living rooms.

We’re fond of talking about “the fans”. In reality, there are profound and I believe growing divisions within fandom, between the expectations of match-going supporters and those who do not, and between older fans and a younger age group. It’s a generalisation with many exceptions and of course there is a cross-over between the two, i.e. younger match-going supporters.

There are many other examples where these divisions manifest themselves and where the game is changing – all-seater stadia, the perception of the dominance of the Champions League that dmeans other forms of the game, and now the precious treasure of the English game, the FA Cup, relegated to a midweek 5th round with no replays. For what – because it gets in the way of, well, I’m really not sure what.


For me, as an older, match-going fan, VAR represents the latest and perhaps ultimate aspect of the changing culture of the English game, which is increasingly weighted towards the television fan. Partly it’s about the matchgoer being left in the dark, partly about how little the authorities care about the time, money and energy matchgoers put into seeing their team, partly about VAR as a symbol of how the game is perceived and what people want from it. When was football ever about getting everything right? That’s not what I expect.

Change football at your peril. Football is messy, ambiguous and thrilling. Thrilling because your expectations are constantly threatened by the fact that you have no idea what is going to happen next. From disorder comes pain and anguish, joy and fulfilment. They co-exist: can’t have one without the other.  And sometimes, from the chaos emerges beauty, a moment of inspired creativity that knocks you sideways, punches you in the gut and forces the breath from your lungs. Moments that you share with the like-minded. That you remember for evermore. Nothing else does this, only football. For now.






Kane Defies Expectations: Shame Some Still Don’t Get It. And Tottenham On My Mind is Changing


Tottenham On My Mind is changing gear. Most of my 529 posts since June 2009 have been written around a Spurs match but that’s become too much of a stretch. Last Saturday instead of watching Spurs play West Ham, I was in Crawley buying my wife a mobility scooter. There’s a message there somewhere, one that I can’t ignore. Over and above the obvious one of not spending Saturdays in Crawley, that is.

I almost pressed the delete button but this is called Tottenham On My Mind because it is. That stuff swirling around in my head is not going to disappear, and the pressure cooker needs an escape valve. Maybe the trick is to regulate that valve to take account of all the other things I have to do, like earning a living and that. Writing about Spurs on the blog, pleasing myself what I write, not monetised, just me (LOVE receiving emails addressed to the editorial team) – it’s part of me after all this time so stopping won’t help.

So the blog is still here but I won’t write about every game. Pieces may be few and far between or spew out like slurry from a fractured sewer. Like the one below, for instance.

I’m doing other Spurs stuff. Researching how fan attitudes have changed over the last 35 years. I’m also involved in a new book Legends of the Lane, which carries in-depth interviews with many past Spurs legends, more info here: https://www.facebook.com/LegendsOfTheLane/

Martin Cloake and I had the great pleasure of talking about A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur with London cultural legend Robert Elms on his BBC London radio show, should be on his page for a couple of weeks, and I’ve filmed something for a US cable series on English football fandom, based around last Saturday’s game.

Heartfelt thanks to the many regular readers and commenters who help make this an authentic blog for fans. Apologies that I can’t make Tottenham On My Mind part of your match routine any longer, hope that you stay with me. Posts come up on twitter @spursblogger and Newsnow, or on the sidebar you can get an RSS feed or email notifications.

Warm regards, Alan

Up the Spurs!


It seems to me that Spurs’ recent success has upset a few people.  The old Tottenham, you knew where you were with them. A club with heritage but a great future behind us. Twenty-odd transitional seasons in a row, constantly failing to live up to expectations. The UEFA Cup was tailor-made for us, the competition for teams who aren’t good enough. Echoes of glory first taunted us then became the sound of silence as we took stock for another year of more of the same.

After a while, fans wrapped ourselves up in the cosy familiarity of it all, comfort blankets of self-deprecation and fatalistic humour, of being spursy, to keep out the icy chill of envy as neighbours from down the road and west London did rather better. And throughout we stayed loyal, turned up, proud to be Spurs, never wanted to be like them.

We knew our place, then we were good and it all went wrong. Wrong that is for those who wouldn’t accept that things had changed, changed not through the largesse of dodgy foreign billionaires but because we got it about right. Good players and a manager who could make them better, who could make them believe in him and themselves. Living within our means. No coincidence that rivalry with Chelsea and West Ham has become white hot since we had the nerve to be good.

Sections of the media have had trouble adjusting too. Fans are fond of accusing the media of being biased against their club and theirs alone, and many Spurs fans would agree with such allegations but I doubt it’s accurate. Supporters of every club say the same – recently I’ve seen this taken for granted in social media debates amongst Manchester United and Chelsea fans. The media needs United like it needs no other side because of their power to raise viewing figures, sell papers and generate clicks.

The media frame their perceptions in terms of their narrative. It’s the same for every club, just a different narrative. For twenty or more years, Spurs played out the narrative I’ve described above. Pundits and journalists knew where they were with it. Being different has confused some of them. In response, some of them want to keep the narrative at the expense of reality.

Which brings me to Matt Hughes’ article in yesterday’s Times. Not the Star or the S*n, the Times, and yes, to someone of my generation that still matters. Hughes says Spurs are no longer the right club for Harry Kane because he’s too good for us.

“Put bluntly it appears that Kane’s talent and personal accomplishments could soon outgrow those of Spurs particularly given the financial and squad-building restrictions caused by building the club’s new stadium, although whether he recognises that as yet is uncertain. Given Tottenham have won just one trophy in the last 18 years – the 2008 League Cup – it is questionable whether the club is the fitting stage for his talents.”

What is most questionable about this piece are misleading assumptions about the club, the player and the imperatives of contemporary football upon which it is based. Tottenham are battling to be better, to be contenders. Undoubtedly Levy’s financial restrictions make this task harder but right now we’re in there fighting. Stadium costs impede efforts in the short term but ensure long-term growth. Nothing seems further from Hughes’ mind than the possibility we might crack this one. I’m a realist: Wembley diminishes our chances of league honours, a lack of progress means our top players will be vulnerable to transfer bids, which diminishes our chances, and so on and so it goes. Equally, there is a legitimate alternative scenario where this side matures and develops into a real force with a future secured by vastly higher income streams. And so that goes too.

Then there is Kane himself. The article acknowledges that he is happy at Tottenham. However, this is supposedly outweighed by his comparatively low salary (Andre Gray and Nathaniel Clyne earn more than he does, to put his wages in perspective) and the rumoured resentment amongst his team-mates created by his acceptance of such a contract, which depresses wages for everyone else allegedly.

Thus the fact Kane is happy at Spurs is characterised as irrelevant and frankly odd. Look again at the quote above: “whether he recognises that as yet is uncertain.” Hughes will not accept that Kane can think clearly for himself. That sentence reeks of contempt.

Here’s a thought. Harry has made his own mind up that he is content with his lot in life at the moment. On top form, he wants to be part of Pochettino’s Tottenham. He lives with his new baby near his extended family, and a decent living it is too.

Elsewhere in the piece Hughes says clearly that Kane’s loyalty could hinder his career. For Hughes, loyalty, the quality perhaps most valued by supporters, both in our own identity as Spurs fans and in our players, is denigrated then dismissed.

Kane could earn a lot more elsewhere. If he left, I’d wish him well. What infuriates me is the dismissal of the notion that there is value in where his life is at right now. It’s a decent package: home life, the club who have looked after him and coached him to become the player he is, a manager with faith in him. And a crowd who adore him, who sing ‘he’s one of our own’ and mean it. To a bloke like Harry, that matters too. Kane has integrity and honesty. Those qualities don’t hold him back, they make him the man and the player he has become.

This article is about Harry Kane but the narrative holds across much football punditry. That all good players must inevitably end up at one of Europe’s few elite clubs. Kane’s performances are greeted each week on Sky TV with the grating story, ‘he’s due a move to a bigger club.’ I’m looking at you Jamie Redknapp. Many in the media are quick to employ another popular narrative with professional footballers, that they are over-paid, aloof, distant from fans and from the real world, only in it for the money. Yet when a conflicting story comes along, they are quick to reinforce this stereotype and say that money is what matters. I look forward to the article saying that Kane breaks the mould, that he’s a role model on and off the pitch, a professional footballer who understands his roots, knows what really matters in life, cares about his performances and about the supporters.

I’ll wait.

Spurs Still Have Some Growing Up To Do

Spurs’ failure to close out a scratchy win on Sunday leaves an odour that will hang around for a fortnight, due to the wretched international break. This late capitulation seems to have brought comfort to many, although not to me. On the train home, a bloke who hadn’t seen the game but knew the score laughed along with the fans next to us. “I knew it, just knew it! Same old Tottenham, always rely on them to let you down!” He was relieved to be in such familiar territory, sentiments echoed in queues to get home and on social media, fans who with ten minutes to go were certain we would concede.

Except last season the Tottenham we know and love weren’t like that at all. We were scorers of late goals, miraculous at times like Swansea away. Fewest goals conceded in the PL. Unbeaten at home. Remember? Many appear to have problems coming to terms with the fact that we’re good.

Granted on Sunday it looked as if we had turned the clock back to Pochettino’s first season, at times even to AVB. However, Spurs have changed for the better and rightly we have come to expect more from this group. What is of concern is that so far we are not kicking on from last season.

Difference between old Spurs and Poch’s Spurs – goals, good football, sound defence. The real difference though is the mindset that underpins this approach. The team played like winners. They believed in themselves, as a unit able to beat the best the Premier League can offer, in team-mates who relied on each other.

For long periods on Sunday, this belief was entirely absent. Instead of going out to run the game, we sat back and fiddled around a bit. First half was entirely forgettable. The highlight was Hugo managing a kick more than 10 yards into the Burnley half.

We began the second half in the same frame of mind but Dele’s goal came early, bringing  relief rather than the anticipated confidence surge. It was only until around 70 minutes that we really imposed ourselves on the game. Sissoko was on, replacing an ineffective Son, his talents dulled by a disrupted close season. and looking good going forward. He set up Eriksen who couldn’t convert. Kane had three opportunities, Dele another one, keeper Heaton in fine form.

Meanwhile, at the other end nothing much had happened. Burnley seemed baffled by our offside trap and weren’t connecting with far-post crosses from the right. However, ominously they had three openings where they were given far too much space. On one occasion, Lloris dashed from his goal to make the tackle of the game just outside the box.

Ten minutes left, the game was ours to win but Spurs were having none of it. Our composure, so carefully nurtured over the past three seasons, deserted us. Instead of shepherding the ball to safety, Spurs felt compelled to make lousy choices and give it away. As the corner flags waved invitingly, we opted for long balls forward that the Burnley centre halves won easily. The danger came down our right as their left back piled forward but in the end, it was a cross from the right and poor marking that did for us.

The last few seasons have seen the side evolve to the point where we could control games for extended periods and deal with opponents’ inevitable good spells with few disasters. This is the hallmark of a top side, of winners. The next step was to consistently take that into the big games, the cup semi-final being an example of where we went wrong and an incentive to get it right. So far this season, we’ve not taken this forward. Early days but we’re not imposing ourselves and in the final ten minutes on Sunday, we were downright shaky. Basic lessons of keeping possession and closing a game out deserted us. With due respect to a decent Burnley side, it was not as if we lost our faculties under intense pressure either.

Pochettino didn’t have a good last quarter. While I admire his attacking instincts in bringing Sissoko on, this weakened our formation when we didn’t have possession. Poch has taught Son and Lamela when to curb their urge to get forward but Sissoko hasn’t learned the lesson. At the same time, he moved Dier in between Jan and Toby so we had basically a back five. Again, a bit of caution feels good to me, except that with Sissoko and without Dier, we surrendered too much of the midfield at a significant moment in the game.

Without much protection, Trippier’s defensive faults were exposed. This was hardly Walker’s strength but he learned to improve both his starting position and how to make lung-bursting recovery runs to get back. Burnley exploited Trippier’s positional uncertainty. He stayed tight when he had three centre halves covering him, then failed to see scorer Woods’ run.

There’s an air of uncertainty and irritability around the whole club at the moment. Wembley just makes us yearn for the Lane all the more. The transfer window is taking shape, at last. We’re buying promise and talent, fine investments on and off the pitch but it means the drive and resilience must come from within the existing squad. Buying one or two proven, experienced players would help to put right the faults I’ve talked about.

We’ve not started well but there’s still time. However, the question remains, if Poch wanted to go three at the back and Levy was prepared to spend a lot of money on Sanchez, should this deal have been done in the summer? Also, as yet no strikers on the horizon. Poch is looking for upgrades all round, surely Janssen does not meet his standards. Spurs have the cash to pay the fees but Levy’s self-imposed salary cap restricts the players willing to come to us, hence the late buying spree as players accept they won’t get better offers from elsewhere. Two days left so we’ll hold judgements for now.

I made a lame joke a couple of weeks ago on the E-Spurs podcast, something about Spurs’ poor management of the transfer window and how we could outdo ourselves by signing a player who was banned from entering the country. Until today, it looked as if I meant it. However, the man in question, fullback Serge Aurier, is about to hold up a Spurs shirt in a happy, slightly embarrassed way as befits all new signings. I know this because the man himself tweeted a series of fire emoticons. This is modern football.

Aurier is by all accounts a fine player, muscular, quick, has stamina, who will fill the fullback role crucial to Pochettino’s tactics. He’s also guilty of homophobic comments, undermining his manager and team-mates and has a conviction for assaulting a police officer.

I’m concerned that the club are prepared to consider signing a man with this record. The answer is ‘expediency’, at least on the surface. He’s good and half the price of the man he replaces. In terms of the club’s identity, I question whether that’s a sound enough reason.

Much has been said about Aurier’s off the field record. There’s the standard excuse that the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch. That his comments indicate a misguided young man rather than a rampant homophobe. This translates as, the homophobic comments don’t matter very much, and to me that’s an unacceptable argument. And he’s been convicted of assaulting a police officer.

Levelled against this line of argument is the charge of hypocrisy. Gazza and Van der Vaart are lauded as club heroes, when both are guilty of domestic violence. I’m not excusing their behaviour but this is about the club, not the fans. We didn’t sign them knowing they were violent towards women. Also, apparently it’s ok because in a match Aurier once helped save the life a player who collapsed. Good, it shows another side of his character, although not mitigation for other behaviour.

The most ridiculous argument I read on social media was something about Steven Gerrard assaulting a young man in a nightclub and going on to play for his country. Again, we’re not signing Gerrard. All of this is irrelevant to the central issue, Tottenham’s decision to buy him.

We like to speak of the Hotspur and its fans having a distinct identity. We’re loyal, loud and proud, of our heritage, of sticking to values of playing good football, of turning up in the doldrum years when things weren’t going well, latterly of bringing our own through and not buying into the instant gratification and hubristic entitlement sadly prevalent in the modern generation of football fans.

We like to think this makes us different from the rest. Not much, we want trophies and glory after all, we want a new ground, we want Levy to spend some money, but different enough. We like to think, for instance, that we would not have defended John Terry’s or Suarez’s alleged racism, or bought players who have been in prison for certain offences. That we are a crowd where racism is not tolerated.

That the club considered Aurier’s signing shows we’re the same as all the rest, and it’s this that disappoints me. All this is meaningless because we’re desperate for a fullback. Spurs have welcomed the LGBT supporters club and valued their contribution both to combatting discrimination in football and to the atmosphere at games, yet they appear to tolerate homophobia. To them, I imagine it’s meaningless and insulting. Not words from the terrace but the attitude of the football club.

One mitigating factor is relevant, however. Aurier is a young man. He can learn, and deserves another chance. If he helped a fellow player, maybe he has a good heart, so here’s what I’d do. The club should tell him as a condition of his contract to make a public statement acknowledging that his past behaviour was wrong, that he’s learned from that and apologises. More than that, insist that he does something active to show he means it. Help out in the Spurs Foundation, who do excellent work in the community, including with people with a criminal past. Set up a meeting with LGBT supporters. Start a dialogue. Be a mensch. Grow up within this club and understand what our heritage means. THFC, you are the employer, you can say that this should be so. It’s easy if you mean it.



Spurs Fail to Learn Their Lesson

The home game that’s away. The club that goes unbeaten for an entire season then demolishes the ground. This doesn’t feel right.

The Bakerloo line to Wembley Central is easy enough. Too easy. There’s nobody on the train, the dingiest of lines with old-fashioned carriages and 40-watt bulbs. Never mind saving energy, it’s sapping mine. The journey is part of the match for fans. The buzz, the chatter, rubbing shoulders with strangers who are friends because they wear navy blue and white. Smelling the booze, the sweat, the fags, all set the scene, whet the appetite. This is merely another tube, destination suburbia, our companions mostly central London workers with tired eyes going home after the early shift. Thank goodness for the bloke in the t-shirt, a picture of Bob Marley in Spurs gear, just about the sole reminder that Spurs are at home today.

Then burst into daylight and the first sight of the stadium. Both lift the spirits. The Lilywhites are here and so are we. Except it feels like a cup semi-final. 19 semi-finals this year, then. The Trust twitter feed has been fun this week with a stream of reminders to fellow supporters, at first plaintive then increasingly desperate, that this is a Spurs home game and there are no designated pubs for home and away support, so I’m not the only one.

It’s better once we’re in. Seeing the same faces and greeting them like lost long relatives gives a sense of stability and continuity. I’ve seen them every fortnight for the last 16 years, don’t know the names of most of them, but they remain part of my life. Spoke to Karen, I now know her name to be Karen, like old friends we are. Never said a word to her until now.

We have been lucky enough to move with the people we have always sat with, except oddly the seat allocation has been reversed, so the people who were on my left on the Shelf are now on my right. This is surprisingly disorienting. Football support is about familiarity, routines, they’re comfortable, we wear them like a favourite old overcoat to feel snug and protect us against the intrusions of the outside world. That’s why we go to football. Isn’t it?

Kick-off is imminent. A thought shared. There are a touch off 70,000 Spurs fans here, and we can make a hell of a noise if we put our mind to it. Not like a semi-final at all. And one thing above all else. Results, players, managers, none mean as much as being there. When I look around just before kick-off, let the atmosphere wash over me, and think there’s somewhere else in the world I would rather be, then that’s the time to say goodbye. Not yet. Not for a long time. Home is where the Hotspur play.

In the end, it felt more like a home game that I expected. The noise when it came was mighty, deafening when we scored, but this is new to all of us and there were flatspots too. The fans sort things out for ourselves and that takes time. Everyone has been moved around, from my seat on the halfway line the efforts of those at our end were much appreciated and loud and clear. The Park Lane/Shelfside thing, made me feel at home.

So the amplified drum beat – that actually happened, right? Not a figment of the dark recesses of my imagination, a fever-ridden nightmare? The Chels fans chanted WTF was that and they were right. Nobody joined in and mercifully it was substituted at half-time, hopefully never to be heard again.

Football clubs still do not get supporters. The history of fans – any club, from parkland to the Noucamp – is we do want we want. We choose when to sing and what to sing. The decision of someone at Spurs that playing a drumbeat over the tannoy is going to energise the atmosphere is on one level laughable, on another a measure of the disturbing lack of understanding that exists from clubs in respect of their supporters. They did not consult the Supporters Trust – why ask the fans what they want. It’s that simple, yet the club doesn’t get it. Another desperate moment in the undistinguished relationship between club and fans in this crucial season away from home and when we all feel discomfited.

To fulfil their true potential, this season Spurs must accomplish consistently two things that in the past have eluded us, namely impose themselves on teams and cut out the mistakes. Everything else flows from there. Take chances of course, but first make the chances. The way we’re playing, chances will always come. Stay strong in those periods, and there will always be periods, when the other team are on top.

Matches against Ch**sea, the most bitter of our rivals, the nasty game, the bring-them-on game, these games have become the benchmark of how close we are to satisfying that potential. At home, at White Hart Lane that is, we learned the knack. Two seasons ago the mistakes came only after we’d scored five glorious goals. Last season in a skintight match we scored twice from as many chances in the whole match but took it to them from the start and they was no comeback in their hearts.

Last season’s semi-final showed how much we still have to learn. Justified expectation evaporated with a free-kick conceded by Alderweireld’s uncharacteristically poor judgement under pressure and a free-kick sliced into the top corner. Uphill from 6 minutes, our efforts to chase the game were in vain and I’ve drawing a veil round that penalty and Son’s excuse for a tackle.

Yesterday we were imposing for long periods but the mistakes did for us. One out of two is progress but not enough. The result was defeat, and defeat in the worst possible way. It’s one thing being beaten, but losing after being the better team, after hopes raised by a late equaliser then skewered by an even later winner, that’s bad. I still feel the pain.

The game took a while to get going then Spurs were the team who rose above the midfield morass that this match had become. But don’t make mistakes. Another free-kick conceded without undue pressure on the defence, superbly converted by Alonso. And now we’re running uphill.

To their great credit, Spurs lifted themselves and played extremely well either side of half-time. Kane it was who lead the charge, singlehandedly taking on the defence, shooting, lay-offs, dribbles, sometimes delicate, at other times stumbling forward under the weight of the tackles but always forward. He narrowly missed then hit the post. These are trademark moves from him and we expect these cross-shots to go in. Perhaps he’s falling away ever so slightly on contact with the ball.

We needed to put pressure on their reorganised defence. Despite the lack of space – everybody back behind the ball – we managed to find the gaps between their three centre backs to make the opportunities. Dembele charging forward, Eriksen looking to prise open a gap, Dele not part of the action. All the action was at the Blues’ end.

Gradually however our opponents stifled our efforts. A goal up, they could fall back to soak up the pressure. Effectively playing five at the back, those channels dried up. They forced us into the middle, broke up the attacks. We had all the ball but insufficient nouse. The selection of two DMs, Dier and Wanyama, was intended to create a solid platform against the champions. By this point, it left us short of creativity and options, compounded by Wanyama giving the ball away repeatedly.

Frankly we were getting nowhere, then a stroke of luck. Batshuayi on as sub had clearly not got his bearings. His near-post header was firm, decisive and perfectly executed, except into his own net. For all the world he looks as if he genuinely lost his head for a moment and though he was scoring for his team not against them, such was the intent behind the header.

A draw was the least we deserved. Then mistake upon mistake. Wanyama brought the ball out of defence but before we could draw breath after a sigh of relief, he gave it away. Alonso, dashing forward, shot through Lloris at his near post. If he had stood still it would have hit his knee, leg, torso, any part of his body would do. Instead, Hugo attempted to plunge his right hand downwards to push it away and obligingly moved his leg out of the way.

Positives and problems. Those spells either side of half-time showed how we can dominate matches and, without being at our most fluent, create chances against an 11-man defence intent on re-introducing the tackle from behind, without being at our most fluent. Kane was an outstanding leader.

Wanyama’s lack of a full pre-season became glaringly obvious as the game went on. Dier had little influence alongside him. And how we missed Walker and Rose. The merits of Trippier and Davies are immaterial – they’re not as good as Walker and Rose. The former should not have been sold, the latter needs to be brought back into the team as soon as he is fit, regardless of his rubbish interviews. Kyle and Danny offered stamina and pace as well as width, and how we need all three of those qualities when we were chasing the game in the second half. Without them, Spurs are far less potent an attacking force, and I worry about this in games to come. Dembele and Dele spent periods going out wide when like paperclips to magnets they are drawn to central areas, unbalancing the side and wasting their prodigious talents.

Hoodoo? No such thing. Play better is all. It will be hard. Home advantage has not disappeared but has been diminished and teams will lift their game because it’s Wembley.