Spurs and The Sound of the Crowd

Even my wife noticed. “See your lot are doing what the manager wanted then.” I watched Thursday’s Europa League victory against Sheriff from the comfort of my sofa but the sound of the crowd came through loud and clear. The noise was generated primarily by supporters sitting behind the Park Lane goal, the traditional Spurs ‘end’, who had bought tickets in a section allocated by the club for the 1882 movement, a loose grouping of mainly younger fans who want to bring back the atmosphere to White Hart Lane.

This time last week I wrote about the unease with which an increasing number of Spurs fans express their support for the club. The loyalty remains but the ground can be deadly quiet at times, there’s anxiety in the air and despite our league position and highly promising squad, there is a puzzling but tangible undercurrent of dissatisfaction about the direction the team is taking under Villas-Boas.

I suggested that while there’s no single reason for this (high prices, changing demographics, Sky TV and unrealistic, barely achievable expectations caused by the dominance of the Premier League and Champions League are all factors), many supporters have developed a growing sense of alienation in terms of their relationship with the club. They feel distant, cut off and undervalued. The feeling is by no means unique to Tottenham, indeed it is a worrying trend that is spreading throughout the Premier League. It’s not something that you can grasp easily or put a name to, but it’s around and therefore all too real.

This feeling hasn’t stopped life-long Spurs fan, season-ticket holder and author Martin Cloake from regularly attending games. He was curious about what he calls the “new ultras”, groups of fans at clubs in Britain, Europe and the States who encouraged fellow supporters to gather and sing. Unlike traditional supporters’ organisations they prefer to remain anonymous and keep officialdom at arms’ length.

These groups manifest their allegiance in different ways. For many european Ultras, violence and protest is never far from their vocal support, others like St Pauli have political elements while others focus on the team. The Spurs response is the 1882 initiative. My son and I were present at a tiny bit of Tottenham history, the first gathering at a Youth Cup match at Charlton. I was probably the oldest one there. It was organised by Spooky from Dear Mr Levy and, well, I wasn’t sure at the time. Find Flav Bateman and co-conspirators at Love The Shirt but at the time, I heard the call because it was just a great idea. Come and sing for the shirt. No other reason, get behind the team and where better than at a youth game where we don’t know the players but they are Tottenham so they are ours.

Martin makes 1882 his starting point for a riveting history of Spurs’ fan culture in the last thirty years. I’ve called 1882 a movement but it’s not really. It has organisers but no leaders. It has no manifesto or political ambition, other than to increase support for the team and enable fans to enjoy themselves in the process. It’s inclusive – you don’t have to be a member of anything, you just turn up. It isn’t po-faced – I didn’t take my shoes off to support the lads and I didn’t sit down if I loved Tottenham because it would play havoc with my knees, but that doesn’t matter. Sing your heart out for your lads.

Love the Shirt is clear about one thing: their starting point is the long and proud heritage of fan culture at Spurs. They see themselves as carrying on that tradition, spontaneous and anarchic in the past, it’s just that now because of the alienation, it needs a bit of work. One particular aspect of fan culture that is unique to Spurs is how this heritage has persisted despite fundamental attacks by the club. Sound of the Crowd takes you through the scurrilous, sordid tale of how Spurs tried to emasculate loyal and loud support.

When I began supporting Spurs in the mid-sixities, the vocal and mostly younger fans gathered behind the Park Lane goal with away fans at the Paxton and other home support in the Shelf. Spurs must be the only ground where home fans share an end with away support. That’s bad enough but imagine turning up one season to find you’ve been turfed out of your end, your place without any warning. Yet this has happened not once but twice at Spurs. First, away fans were moved exclusively into the Park Lane, then in the mid eighties, the ultimate indignity or in my view betrayal when one close season executive boxes replaced the Shelf, the home of the most loyal and most vocal.

In Martin’s hands, this sorry saga becomes the tautest of thrillers, heroic resistance in the face of mendacity, intrigue and conspiracy. It’s essential reading for anyone interested in our history and the relationship between the business of football and supporters. The revurberations of that period rumble on. The atmosphere has never been the same but more than that, it opened wide that distance between club and fans that has never been closed. Football is about a sense of belonging and place: our fans have nowhere to go.

The supporters are happy, there’s an atmosphere at the Lane and the manager has a response to something he identified as a major impediment to the team’s continued success. Spurs reach the League Cup quarter finals and the knock-out stages of the Europa League. You would think there’s a message there somewhere.

So this is what the club do next. The West Ham game is category C and there’s no 1882 block. Big game, intense rivalry, the manager wants the fans to get behind the team, yet no discounts, no singing section, both dropped because THFC can make a sweet profit from a full house derby.

Stoke was due to take place on the Saturday after Christmas, 3 pm kick-off. Yesterday the club announced that it had been moved to Sunday, 4pm. No reason has been given and it’s not on Sky. Many fans make their Christmas arrangements around the fixtures. Even I for once, a bah-humbug bloody Christmas man if ever there was one, have organised things in advance. If I am to attend this match, and for the first time in a long time it has become an ‘if’, 12 people close to me will have to shift their diaries around too.

A twitter pal of mine, big Spurs fan, used to blog, goes mostly to aways as he lives in the West Country, young family so short of cash, planned a real treat for himself to be at this game. Now he can’t make it. He can get a refund on his match ticket but not his advance rail fare. He can’t be the only one. He’s disgusted and so am I.

Clubs should make a profit. These days with vast television and commercial revenue they can do so without it being at the expense of the supporters. If you’re puzzled as to what alienation is, it’s probably the feeling you get when you read the three paragraphs above. Things must change, not for my sake – I’ll be there til I die then scatter my ashes under the feet of the crowd after the match – but for future generations.

It’s not all bad. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity with the new ground to create an end and keep some prices reasonable. 1882 and the Trust are doing some fine work. The club must welcome not reject them. 1882 isn’t a separate movement, it’s us, you and me. It is inspired by our past and we are the future.

Sound of the Crowd by Martin Cloake is available on kindle from Amazon and on other formats from Martin’s website. Only £3.08 probably the biggest bargain on the net

“One Nil To The Tottenham…”

Sometimes you take control and smash your opponents into the middle of next week. Sometimes you have to get your head down and just keep on going. This season’s model, the AVB Mk2, keeps on rolling along. Creating chances at a steady rate throughout yesterday’s match against Cardiff, in the end shot number 29 went in, well worth the wait as the supporters in the ground celebrated as madly as the players.

If there are any non-Spurs fans reading this, forgive us if we think what is after all a basic requirement of a football team, to play for 90 minutes, is remarkable in some way. It’s just that we’re not used to it. Over the years the defence has had the concentration span of a hyperactive Tasmanian devil on acid. However well we played, it was only a matter of time before someone would go for a wander, suddenly entranced by the hidden mysterious beauty of the preformed concrete walls of the nearest stand or gazed longingly into the sunset over N17.

Villas-Boas has instilled a rare focus into his side. They not only keep going, they stick to their shape and pattern of play, retaining possession and pass-and-move towards the opponents’ goal. It proves that this system suits the players and they are responding admirably. As I’ve said before this season, it enhances their individual strengths, makes them feel comfortable and confident. Put that together with their philosophy and commitment, you have a little something going there. Their celebration of the goal was natural and ebullient, shared by the coaches and the subs – no sulking resentment at being taken off there.

And let’s not forget another basic – they are very fit. There is no noticeable dip in the levels of effort in the last 15 minutes of a game, but that’s carrying on from AVB Mk1, something he sorted out in the second half of last season.

This was a match we dominated for long periods without ever dazzling. None of the forwards had a particularly eye-catching game yet the chances flowed. Marshall, the Cardiff keeper, was undoubtedly the man of the match but without taking away any credit from his fine performance, many of our shots were very straight. Still, I would rather Soldado carry on taking the ball early because on other days those efforts will find the corners or a worse goalkeeper.

The goal was effortless class, the sort that makes the difference between winning and losing in tight situations. Holtby’s fine cameo when he came on as sub gave our late efforts renewed impetus, busy on the ball and early angled passes into the channels. In injury time he found Lamela on the right, whose cross with the outside of his left foot was touched home by Paulinho with a sublime improvised backheel-come-sidefoot.

We deserved the win but understand Cardiff fans’ frustration. They missed a couple of good chances when very well placed, missed by a fair distance if truth be told. They also could have had at least a free-kick and quite possibly 11 versus 10 when Lloris handled marginally outside the area as he rushed out at the feet of an attacker. Much as I admire him, that’s the second game in succession when Hugo has lost his bearings at the edge of the box. It’s a vital aspect both of his game and our tactics with the sweeper-keeper, he can’t afford to have a faulty sat-nav.

Second in the table, one solitary goal conceded. I’ll worry about scoring only five but leave that for another day and I’ll settle for the current 5:1 goals scored/conceded ratio at the end of the season. Twitter tells me this is the best defensive record in Europe. Remember readers, this is Tottenham Hotspur we are talking about. George Graham tried but failed to bring his ‘one nil to the Ars***l’ mentality to Spurs in the late nineties. All of this with plenty of attacking play, overlapping full-backs and Walker still going walkabout.

There’s no single reason for this. Lloris makes a huge difference – we have a back five now – and Vertonghen can cover up for the errors of others. We seem better defending set pieces and this may be my imagination but I get the impression we are conceding fewer unnecessary free-kicks in our own half. Linked to this is the value of retaining possession better, thus giving the opposition fewer opportunities.

The main factor, however, has got to be the formation with two defensive midfielders. Paulinho hasn’t dominated so far but he gets through so much work, snuffs out problems in midfield before they become serious and gets a tackle in. Finally, we don’t attack rashly these days. We don’t over-commit and there’s always someone staying back to cover. Add up the little things and you have something greater than the sum of the parts.

So that’s settled then – Villa 5 Spurs 0 tomorrow….There’s plenty of work required as I said at the start of the season but to my mind we are way ahead of schedule. In the meantime this solidity and strength is gaining us points that we would have dropped in, well, all the years I’ve been watching Spurs pretty much covers it.

Eriksen Shows Spurs The Way

Christian Eriksen’s eye-catching debut provided the creative spark that has been missing from Tottenham Hotspur’s season thus far. He was the focus of an easy win against Norwich, strolling through the massed ranks of yellow and green with the insouciant air of a man out for a pleasant afternoon walk.

The supporters quickly made him our own, applauding wildly as he took first half corners. It was a bit over the top – he’s not the messiah, he’s just a fair-haired little boy – but Spurs fans know class when they see it. Two good feet, well-balanced, the upright stance of man comfortable with his body and that precious awareness of what’s going on around him. Above all, he has the ultimate mark of a quality footballer – time. Early days but let’s enjoy this fine performance while we can.

When he heard the criticism over Spurs’ early season sluggishness in front of goal, Villas-Boas bit his tongue and smiled inwardly. I bet he was bursting to tell us about what he had in store. Eriksen was the centre of attention for our players too. For a side that hasn’t worked together much on the training ground let alone the pitch, our understanding and team-play was pretty good and Eriksen was at the heart of it. A little touch here, a short pass there, to feet of course, dropping back and keeping it moving, he kept the side ticking over until his energy fell away and AVB made well-timed substitutions to ensure we kept going.

The little things – in the warm-up Spurs do a surprisingly basic drill where in pairs they pass to each other, first short and then longer. Working with Walker, Eriksen took a single touch before passing and used both feet whereas Kyle sometimes took two, left the ball further from his body and always used his right.

Spurs pushed forward from the start, giving Soldado plenty of support in the box. I would have found a place for Sandro – I can’t resist the vision of The Beast and Paulinho in that central midfield, surely that’s the long-term way to go. However, Sigurdsson, the guy most vulnerable in this set-up, has the asset of being able to get into the box. He’ll never beat his man out wide but offers width to spread the play then comes inside, allowing Rose to get outside him if required. This time, he broke the deadlock with a perfect finish, coming onto Eriksen’s deft pass, a mere two or three yards yet delightfully perfect, and planting the ball into the far corner.

We kept possession well and were always on the move, maintaining a decent tempo for most of the first half without making too many chances. Eriksen created the best, slow-motioning through three defenders deep in the box before Soldado’s improvised back-heel hit the post.

If I were a Norwich fan, I would be less concerned about the ref’s generosity towards Tottenham in the challenges and much more about the quality of my team. They were outplayed today with Lloris a spectator for vast swathes of the game. Other sides will provide a greater test but nevertheless they were well-organised in defence and hard to break down, but we did so with patience and controlled probing. In the past we’ve floundered against sides like this, not now.

Complacency was our only problem. The Spurs defence seemed disoriented when forming up for a free-kick late in the first half, the first time they really had anything much to do.

The first half rather petered out. The crowd was as quiet as a cricket-ground with the low hum of conversations from each stand. Things picked a bit in the second. We scored again, just when there were doubts about our ability to confirm our superiority. Siggy again, a far post tap-in from Paulinho’s cross. Wonder if the keeper should have cut it out. The execution was simple but the result of a passing move that took its time to move the defence around then found the weakness.

We should have scored again, Eriksen shooting when others were well-placed for a pass then Townsend’s shot hit the keeper when Soldado’s touch let him down. There were other oohs and aahs too – Siggy from range trying for his hat-trick, Townsend shooting from anywhere.

We played out time with ease apart from when Lloris, no doubt to end the boredom of his afternoon, dashed out to the edge of his box and beyond to punch the ball away. It was poor judgement but the free-kick came to nothing and the kit-man won’t have to wash the goalkeeping gear because it didn’t get dirty.

Individual performances – everyone played well enough. Paulinho and Dembele interchanged productively. Twice both were inexcusably caught forward leaving the back four unprotected, they will show more caution against better sides. I endorse the posts in the comments section of my last piece from regular correspondents concerned about Tom Carroll’s loan. However, the performances of Rose and Townsend, back from loans fitter, stronger and with the air of a first-teamer, show the value of our policy with these younger, promising squad members. Rose won all his challenges – he’s put on more muscle – and was alert to gaps at the back. Townsend had a good game throughout, always pressuring the Norwich left but shooting once or twice too often. Better sides will exploit his weaknesses when defending but that’s for another day. Nothing to get carried away about but plenty to enjoy.

Spurs Season Starts Here

Back to school we go. We queued up to get a new blazer, sharpened our pencils and mum has been up half the night biroing our name into the collars of our clothes. Then school closed for ten days. May as well have stayed on holiday. These days the start of each season is absurd. End the transfer window at midnight before the opening game and shift the internationals. But here we are so let’s get on with it. So what do we know now that we didn’t know on the morning of August 18th?

That Spurs fans have every right to be excited about the quality of the squad. We have bought skillful, talented footballers able to play the Spurs Way, with the power and strength in key positions required to prosper in the Premier League.

That we will have to be patient. The coitus interruptus of the international break is a let down but creates time to reassess our performance. The madness of the end of the window with three transfers in a day and Bale’s impending departure (who will ever forget the regular scaffolding updates from the Bernabeu on twitter?) has thankfully subsided, leaving time for tranquil reflection, at least until kick-off tomorrow. The conclusion is, we have a lot of work to do.

Let’s start in the heart of the team, the defensive midfield. Paulinho and Capoue are highly promising. That area is their natural habitat and they know their role is not only to break up attacks but to start our own moves once we have the ball. Paulinho is the more flexible of the two, willing to get forward when the situation allows and his judgement in that respect is sound. However, after settling quickly at Selhurst Park, at the Emirates at times they both looked a long way from home. Sandro should be back tomorrow to provide more power and drive. Last season he did so well before his injury, Villas-Boas often switched to just one DM, allowing more support for the attack. And they need it.

That Soldado needs to be given the ball. Well obviously – but this guy does his best work in the box rather than leading the line as target man. Support from midfield in terms of both making chances and getting up alongside him is imperative therefore. I look forward to seeing Eriksen but it is not about one individual providing the chances, it’s a team effort.

That we have to get bodies in the box. See above. Six points from three games is a better start than we are used to but it masks the fact that we have not scored from open play. Partly this is because of a lack of creativity in the centre. We’ve directed much of our work out wide, which teams keen to pack defence find easier to handle. Partly it is due to a lack of support for Soldado in the box. We can’t be everywhere at once but have to get a better balance.

That progress hinges on the form of the old guard not the new wave. At least in the short-term that is. Sandro’s back. The back four have to get their act together. With Dawson rather stranded for the Gunner’s goal, either they sort out the high line drill or, better, Kaboul returns alongside Vertonghen. Rose needs a run while Walker has to improve his decision-taking, that is not get drawn out of position or sucked into unnecessary fouls. Chiriches still doesn’t have a work permit – I trust the club have not made a misjudgment here. I don’t understand how that can happen.

That I wouldn’t swap Lloris for any keeper in the league. Huge favourite of mine.

That Dembele is key. He has been somewhat overshadowed by the newcomers but he has the lot. Hard to shake off the ball, a good touch and the pass to pick out a man in the box. The axis with Sandro was dynamic when they played together last season. His manager likes him but should play him further forward to make best use of those talents. But we have a problem – he’s not played well for some time and he can’t finish a match. If he’s not fully fit, rest him until he is. His lack of form and fitness has had a greater impact than has generally been acknowledged.

That Adebayor has a vital role to play. Barely noticed during the transfer furore, he provides not merely cover for Soldado but alternatives too. His movement and ability to bring others into the game offers variation, provided his motivation is right. He likes to be top dog and although the club are rightly and generously nurturing him during the aftermath of his brother’s death, his mind could be elsewhere when he’s fit again, in which case suddenly we are short of options up front.

That bloody international break. AVB has had no time to work on tactics and formation, precisely the things that are most needed. I read today, for example, that Lamela hasn’t trained with the team since the break. It’s like starting all over again.

That Franco Baldini is a star.

That our rivals are benefitting from the lack of change. Arsenal had an organisation and ethic that was enough to keep us out despite our possession while at Liverpool Rodgers has begun to get the message across, despite having a worse squad on paper.

At this point last season I thought we would do well but not immediately. Patience remains a virtue, except that with this squad the rewards when they come, and I think they will, could be great. I’m looking forward to the journey.