The Rumble of the Seats On The Shelf

The rumble of the seats on the Shelf echoed around the girders of the venerable old stand, growing into a roar as this tense derby tumbled headlong towards a climax. The rumble as the punters rise in expectation to catch every last fraction of a moment and their seats slam into the backrests, the clatter of anticipation as Bale, Luka, Lennon launch themselves onward. It’s the classic sound of the derby that took a while to appear but later, in the second half, as we freed ourselves from Chelsea’s pressure in a series of high speed counter attacks, was heard every few minutes, stilled as we stayed upright for the last five or so, the penalty save offering fresh optimism.

Although it’s a familiar sound, its character seems to have changed of late. No longer in hope, more of expectation. Chelsea were beatable: we entered this as slight favourites and have players who not only thrill the crowd, they are matchwinners too. Bale again, bursting 70 yards in the first half. I refuse to take my eyes off him. I want to savour every stride, full tilt at the opposition, his expression focussed but full of expectancy. I never want to get used to this. He’s so special, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time, such is my delight.

Yesterday he did well but was cleverly marshalled by Chelsea. Fereira used all his experience, including a gentle bodycheck in the first half when Bale would have been clear, that failed to merit a booking but took him out with ruthless efficiency.  His effectiveness can be also be measured by the space he gives others, notably Defoe who drifted wide left several times, into the space vacated by Fereira’s close marking. One pass from there led to our goal.

We have others able to step into the limelight. Modric was outstanding throughout, painstakingly making himself available time and again to pick up the ball from colleagues and either move it on or burst through the centre himself. As both sides attacked in an expansive game, Luka revelled in that space and where none existed, he made some with a swivel and close control. He’s a top quality footballer and an absolute pleasure to have in a Spurs shirt. In the past I’ve compared him to the great Ossie Ardilles, hunched skipping run, ball close to his feet and dictating the pace of the whole game as others move to his promptings. Modric has better stamina and a better shot, while he’s starting to approach the influence the Argentinean could exert.

This was a match that was finely balanced throughout. Both sides had spells on top but neither dominated for extended periods. Certainly both Spurs and Chelsea could have scored at almost any point. In the first half, Chelsea looked the most likely. Kalou and Malouda are perfect in turning 4-5-1 into 4-3-3 and although we had men back, the midfield and defence failed to pick up their runs from deep. Last week Birmingham scored from such a run but Chelsea wasted several good opportunities.

The feeling was, Drogba and Lampard would have taken one of those. Much has been made in the media of Chelsea’s injuries to key players but little significance has been given to our much larger casualty list. It shows how well we are able to compete that the media are barely noticing.

In the end, we scored first, a superb finish from Pav but his gorgeous first touch laid the foundations, taking the ball away into space despite a crowded box, then a fine swivel shot to the neat post.

Unfortunately as far as the strikers are concerned, and we tried all four of them, that’s about the last time I can talk about good control. Defoe was especially poor. At least three decent opportunities to make a break were wasted due to this deficiency, one in particular where he let Terry in with a chance when he should have been clean away. As it was, Terry and Ivanovic were consistently too powerful for our lot, brushing them off the ball with insolent ease, far, far too simply. We should have tried to get them on the turn more often and when we did, another recent failing, the poor final ball, appeared again. Hutton to Pav is one example that sticks out from the second half but there were others.

Second half, Drogba on, crank up the tension. Yet our back four came into their own in the second half. Palacios covered assiduously in the centre but he and Luka could have come back a few yards to shield their defenders, while again Bale and Lennon were adrift too frequently when Chelsea had the ball. Hutton and Benny, especially Benny, defended expertly. They too sit a little too far from their central defenders as a result of the lack of protection in front of them but both used their pace to deal with the many balls into the channels.

Hutton’s passing could have been more consistent but he linked well with the attack, giving us an extra dimension. He had space because the threat of Lennon and Bale kept Cole and Fereira penned back and that’s where Chelsea have to seek their width as the midfield are fairly narrow. Although our two wide men open up space for the opposition as well as us, their presence curbed a key offensive area that Chelsea  usually employ.

Inside them, Dawson was immense, as if he had never been away. I was pleased to see him back but feared that a tough game such as this was a game too early – do this one when he’s match fit and has Gallas, fast becoming indispensible, alongside him. As it turned out, no need to worry. A towering performance. Finally, credit to Bassong for taking Drogba on. The Ivorian drifted onto Seb, presumably because he was seen as the weak link, but right from the first challenge, Bassong did not shirk from the physical contact, buffeting him about, refusing to let him turn and making the interceptions. Not everything worked, and he gave the ball away on three occasions in dangerous positions, but he refused to be over-awed.

The equaliser came from the other side, the left. No danger, Daws there and the angles sorted, but it squirmed over and through. There was great power in the shot but Gomes should have saved it. Ironically it came at a time when we had got on top again. I thought we had dealt with Chelsea’s pressure and were coming out the other side. Confident of our defence, a goal would come only through a mistake. I felt utterly deflated.

He made a couple of other good saves, notably from WP’s skimming header, then late on, as we pressed on the counter for a goal, another error at the death. I’ve not seen any replays of this or the game but it looked like another rash challenge. He’s a fine keeper who does not deserve the ridicule he received on 606 last night but diving at feet is becoming a weakness.

Then the hero, and be honest, you thought it had to be us with the winner as we dashed upfield, freshly invigorated. No repeat of Liverpool.

Before then, Keane had been rushing about in what could well be his last home appearance, earning cheap applause but doing little positive. Actually, that’s unfair – we need some energy, particularly as Harry’s strange substitution to have both Crouch and Pav made Chelsea’s task in defending that much easier. I really don’t see what that gave us.

A point in the end when we could have had three, or just as easily none at all. However, the lasting impression is a positive one. We took on the champions, were never overawed and certainly not outplayed. On the contrary, in another terrific football match we bravely and continually took the game to them. Sharpen up and the goals with come, and with them points and glory.

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Spurs Support the Disabled and the Homeless

Tottenham Hotspur are once more leading the way amongst Premier League football who are helping the underprivileged. Two exciting new initiatives link the club with homeless people and with sport for people with a disability.

Today Spurs announced that they have become a Global Team Football Ambassador for the Special Olympics. It’s a bit of mouthful that smacks of being put together over 18 months by 7 committees and  three PR firms. Forget the title – there’s an uplifting message there if you stop and take a look. The club will support the creation and development of 10 new teams, but at least as important is the underlying message of the enduring power of football to promote respect and inclusion for people with learning disabilities.

Great quote from Ossie, ok, he probably didn’t come up with it himself but it’s still worth repeating in full:

“For me it is a very special occasion. Tottenham Hotspur and Special Olympics are both very close to my heart and so to see Spurs take on a bigger role globally with Special Olympics is fantastic.

“There are millions of people with learning disabilities and they are often a forgotten group. The partnership will help create opportunities for Special Olympics athletes and transform the way communities and groups think and act in regard to disability.”

This follows on the heels of the news that Spurs will sponsor the Indian team at the Homeless World Cup in Milan after donating $100k to the Sport for The Homeless Slum Soccer programme.

It’s easy to be cynical about things like these and the founding involvement in the 10:10 environment emissions initiative that I blogged about last week. So I will. The Indian hook-up will generate publicity and flog a few replica shirts.

But even a curmudgeonly sceptic such as myself can see these are good things. The homeless and the support for people with learning difficulties, both causes close to my heart, will do a hell of a lot of good, and full credit to the club’s board for taking the lead.

So let’s go one step further. Next season, Mr Levy, ditch the Mansion logo and emblazon the name of a charity on the front of our shirts. Take that message around the world, that’s how I want the world to see my club. Anyone as long as the logo’s not red. Something to look forward to.

Luka, It Must Be Love

Even though this blog is still wet behind the ears, I cannot believe that I have not yet raved about the boy genius that is Luka Modric. Maybe I have, so let’s do it again.

His leap of annoyance as Keane’s lame shot was pushed over by Reina could well be the most significant moment of Spurs’ season. Keano as usual tried to be too clever. The ball demanded to be clipped across the keeper with the instep. He should have taken his cue from the guy who set it up. A straightforward pass slotted into the space, precise and perfectly weighted, beguiling in its simplicity and one of many similarly composed and assured touches on Sunday afternoon.

The position from which it was delivered proved how involved he will be this season. Coming off the left wing, not drifting aimlessly but with purpose, he is less easy to mark, possessed of freedom born of the certainty that the unselfish Palacios will cover.

That gesture: if he’s involved then he wants his teammates to respond in kind. The fact that it was a public display means that he is no longer overawed by more senior colleagues. Finally, it proved it matters. Tottenham Hotspur matter.

If Modric plays, really plays, then we play. Last year comparisons with the incomparable Ardilles seemed fanciful and overblown, but nevertheless I went right ahead and made them, Now we’ll see it. The short rapid strides, pass and move, shaping the pace of play, charming the game as it falls under his spell.

This precious talent is overawed by the Premier League no longer. I still have a paternal eye on his frail frame but he’s big enough to look after himself. The TV experts often airily dismissed him last season solely due to his stature. One immutable law in Punditland is ‘small plus foreign equals inadequate’. But Luka was brought up in the battleground of the Croatian leagues where as a young man he was an easy target. He’s stronger than he looks and he problems, such as they were, were the usual requirements of a young man settling in a new country with a new team with a manager who did not buy him.

And let’s not forget Harry Redknapp, who has spotted the potential of this shining diamond (but not geezer) and is building the midfield around him. This is the sort of tactic that I referred to last week around the importance of Redknapp’s nouse in our campaign this season. Now just hold onto him in the window, for goodness sake. We love you Luka, I do….

Ossie’s Real Dream

In a few moments you will read the words of a great Tottenham footballer. Properly, fully, righteously great is what I’m saying here, as opposed to ‘great’ in the modern sense of the word, which in the otherwise vacant mind of many a media hack has come to be defined as ‘slightly better than average.’

Great as in supremely talented, to the extent that his gift enabled him to rise to the very pinnacle of his sport. Yet his virtues would be decried in this day and age. Skilful admittedly, but he could work harder, cover more ground defensively, not take a breather every now and again. With the insight born of the conclusive 57th replay in ultra slow motion, Andy Gray would pick holes in his stamina and positioning. Tut tut.

We mere mortals who delighted in his dexterity, we knew. Our hearts beat faster when he came onto the ball, skipping over the ground, bursts of short staccato steps, hunched shoulders, arms outstretched to offer balance and a measure of protection for his diminutive frame from muscular defenders anxious to disrupt his flow.

Sure he was not a 90 minute man and the fags didn’t help, but it’s what he accomplished in those 20 minute spells when he did play that counts. Then the whole game danced to his tune. He set the pace, a skip, a touch, pass and move, into space, teammates guided towards the pass that would follow not in a moment but in two or three passes time.

A World Cup winner, he held the ultimate prize but remains humble and content with a life in the game, even though that game has hurt him a time or two since then.  A lesson here for the preening precious narcissists we call professionals. Celebrated in his own country but in the drab surroundings of north London he was loved, truly loved, never to be forgotten.

And now, years later, we discover Ossie Ardilles’ real dream. To play once more this wonderful, beautiful game, just for the sake of it. If only.

“ Osvaldo Ardiles concludes his autobiography, Ossie’s Dream, published next week: “And if you asked me, ‘What is your dream, your real dream?’, well, apart from managing a national side in a World Cup, it’s simple: I would give anything to be able to play one more match. I don’t mean a kickabout with some mates. I mean a real, proper football match. Just to walk into the dressing room, all the kit laid out, the new socks, the boots … everything ready.

“Just to do a little run on the spot, a bit of jumping to warm up, then to walk out of the tunnel on to the turf of a real stadium. Just to hear the roar of the crowd and to let my mind compute all the emotions and thoughts and strategies simultaneously: my loved ones, my loyalties, my fitness and, above all, who is going to be marking me? Just to hear the whistle blow, and for the game to start.”

Extract taken from Richard Williams’ column in the Guardian today.