A seven-goal North London derby it was, then. Regrettably five of those goals went to our fiendish neighbours and just two…well, I’m sure you can do the numbers. There’s much to be learned in defeat, of course, if you’re an open-minded sort: first, this kind of nonsense would’ve never happened under Harold James Redknapp’s stewardship and second, writing in a notebook is the hallmarks of a man with the last thread of sanity sprouting from his ear.
Making notes, according to The Mail, is an act of bibbling lunacy. Terry Connor makes notes. Certainly not a credible manager wishing to be taken seriously. You wouldn’t catch Mourinho making notes. Or even a good British manager like David Moyes.
Away from all the tabloid stink-palming of Villas-Boas, the game was a grim but perhaps avoidable catastrophe. That’s not to say Spurs wouldn’t have buckled under the weight of an Arsenal comeback had Adebayor not gone all Chopper O’ Braindead on Cazorla- we were pegged back by City the week before- but at least we’d have had a firmer base on which to defend our lead or even send out more invites to the goal party. They looked fairly whiffy at the back, it has to be said.
Villas-Boas’ second-half tactics were brave in that he didn’t just put blind faith in trying to contain Arsenal and keep the score from spiralling out of control and into I’m-not-going –outside-for-a-month territory. Switching to three-at-the-back was a courageous move in light of the home side already having put our defence under considerable pressure in the half’s final throes. The temptation to limit the damage must’ve been great so we must doff our caps for that. Clint Dempsey probably had his best game for us, too, so the only way is up.
And up we must go. The reality now is that we’ve lost four out of the last five in the League and we need to show some of this much fangled character to turn the tide. Mitigating circumstances aside- injuries, red cards, Presidential elections- Spurs and Villas-Boas have some work to do. Starting in Rome. Which, I hear, wasn’t built in a day.
We’ve got your back, Andre.
Morning, campers. The news we’ve no choice but to file under Definitely Not Helpful is that of Moussa Dembele’s impending and continued absence. Now, we’ve only seen Germinal Beerschot’s finest export on a handful of occasions this season; it’s perhaps a rather worrying indictment of our situation that for every game that passes in which he’s not on the team-sheet, I want to stand fully-clothed under a shower and weep. Spurs were given a gift at the end of August, and far too soon after unwrapping and seeing what cool stuff it could do, it’s been taken from us. Oh ye footballing gods. Deliver us from Tom Huddlestone and I’ll be sure to sacrifice as many goats as ye see fit.
Arsenal aren’t without their own problems. After the miracle of Steve Bould Defensive Guru™ turning out to be just some rather unpleasant gastric wind, the Gooners look as ropey and indecisive as ever. Worse than us at times. Like Spurs they’ve had injuries to key men (For BAE and Kaboul read Sagna and Szczesny) and like us they’re perhaps having teething problems with the exuberance of youth (for Walker and Caulker read Jenkinson). Where they might not have expected the backline frailty to stem, however, is at the calamitous feet of one Thomas Vermaelen, who’s been terrible for some time now.
It’s not all bad for Mr. Wenger. In Santi Cazorla he’s got quite literally a super footballer, and thanks to the catastrophic money-haemorrhaging of his former employers, came at a nice, Eurozone-friendly price. He’s going to look dashing in a Man City shirt I’m quite sure.
Moving away from the NLD for a minute. Ever one for the well-timed bellyache, Didier Deschamps has been stamping his feet this week, like the petulant man-child he is. I’ll not bother with the quotes; they read much like the ones he made last time…and the time before that. Hugo Lloris isn’t getting the minutes and there’re plenty who think he should be- myself included- but sacre-bleuing yourself silly every time the boy’s benched isn’t helping. If anything it’s making a delicate situation worse. In short, Monsieur Water-Carrier, you need to make quiet your noise-hole and get H2Over it.
Now, the trifling matter of besting those rotten neighbours. A great deal, you’d imagine, will rest on the burly shoulders of Emmanuel Adebayor, who ought to start after last weekend’s all-action masterclass in lone-strikerism- and AVB has suggested as much. For an hour against City, he held the ball up well, ran the channels and bought others into play to good effect; three boxes the modern solo frontman is obliged to tick these days. Scoring goals: nice also. Trolling Zabaleta: all part of the service.
With significant absentees, there’s no denying that our midfield has a bit of the Diet Cokes about it, rather than the robust, full-fat version a Parker or Dembele might elevate us toward for a tricky away game such as this. Being on the lighter side of lightweight, then, Sandro is utterly vital. Key also, will be the chaps jogging alongside him in matching shirts. The Brazilian will pull up trees until team-time but he sure as heck can’t do it without friends. Whether it’s Huddlestone, Carroll or Sigurdsson in there: they’ve got to share the burden of putting Arsenal’s midfield through the meat grinder evenly.
There Will Be Goals.
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Eesh. That was just unpleasant. If that’s us making progress then I must say it sounds awfully overrated. The more things change the more they stay the same; Arsenal dish out a good old-fashioned schooling at The Emirates and the horrors of yesteryear come flooding back like a burst sewage pipe in your living room. Mind the gap? Oh there were plenty of gaps alright. All over the bloody pitch.
Now this may come as a shock to you: I don’t pick the team each week- and I’m probably right in thinking you don’t either. As much as these are facts that won’t be changing anytime soon, Aaron Lennon’s absence from the side did appear a peculiar decision. Whether or not he’s still nursing a hangover from his latest groin-based ailment, it’s not altogether clear but I do feel the fleet-footed wingstress could’ve made all the difference on Sunday.
One of the cornerstones of our success this season has been the possession of two blisteringly prompt wingers. With Bale doing his free-roaming stunt for large patches and Lennon bench-bound, we looked ominously narrow. Like a Twix. Or a fish finger.
Oh well. Pretty depressing stuff all in all. There seems little use in going too overboard with the post-mortem. We just never really recovered from losing the two-goal lead and were thoroughly shellacked by the better team on the day. These things happen. Seven points clear in third is still pretty kicking in my book. But let’s just keep it there, shall we? No more funny business.
Right, good. As you were.
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Hello, good morning and welcome. The spectre of derby day looms. Wafting about the dinner table like Banquo’s ghost. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a talk with Spurs fan, Guardian columnist and author of the fantastic Vertigo: One Fan’s Fear of Success. John Crace. And if that wasn’t enough, well, then, you’re just plain greedy.
No, that’s not enough, you say? Oh go on then, we’ll chuck in a free copy of the book at the end…
WFRF: Morning, John. Awfully decent of you to talk with us today. For those poor impoverished souls who haven’t got their mitts on a copy of your excellent book yet- and frankly those people need to have good long think about their recent life choices- what’s it all about and what’s the story behind you writing it?
JC: Apart from getting a year’s tax-deductible football? There were a few main things I wanted to look at. The first was ‘Why do I spend so much time and money on something that causes me so much pain?’ The second was that I wanted to write a book that didn’t treat football as something that happened in its own ‘sports bubble’ which is how so many people write about it. I wanted to treat it as something that was as much part of my life as my family and work and involved the same complex negotiations and heartache. I also wanted to write about what it means to be a fan and how that changes over a lifetime. Above all, though, I wanted to write something funny. There have been other books about fandom but none really managed to capture the sheer black comedy of knowing almost every season is abound to end in disappointment.
WFRF: You speak in the book about a Chelsea supporting friend of yours who’s become somewhat disillusioned with his club turning into a ‘corporate machine bankrolled by a Russian oligarch’, and, as such, rather misses the bad old days of losing at home QPR in front of 25,000 people on a rubbish pitch. How would you feel now if Spurs were to be taken over by some Johnny Cashbucket who pumped all his delicious money into the club and suddenly we’re winning everything? Would you feel we’d done it the ‘wrong’ way or would you just be quietly grateful Spurs were getting their hands on some pots again?
JC: Tricky! I like to think I’m a purist and that I prefer the struggle to the success. That psychologically I’m more comfortable with hoping for great triumphs and being rewarded with many fewer. And I do worry about us losing our identity: hence The Vertigo of the title. The book is also as much about my anxiety about what might be lost if we became Champions League regulars as about what would be gained. I certainly couldn’t stomach the idea of moving to the Olympic stadium… And yet, if push came to shove and we did move, I can’t see myself giving up my season ticket. And if Mr Levy did suddenly open his pockets and Aguero and the like came tumbling out, I rather feel I might get used to it quite quickly. After all, Man United fans seem to have managed the transition quite easily. And my Chelsea mate was very drunk when he said he’s become disillusioned…
WFRF: Much of the story in Vertigo focuses on Spurs’ maiden voyage in the Champions League- most notably your visit to the San Siro for the first leg of the Milan tie. How did it feel to be a part of that? As well your own personal anxieties about making the trip, which you talk about, did you find it somewhat surreal to be watching little old Tottenham going toe-to-toe with the likes of Ibrahimovic and Pato? From the comfort of my second-hand sofa, as well the immense delight of seeing Spurs finally mix it with heavy-weights on the continent, a big part of me was thinking: this doesn’t feel right.
JC: It was a wonderful experience – not just because we exceeded expectations – but because there was the sense it might never be repeated again in my lifetime. I hope I’m wrong, mind you… To go to the San Siro twice and the Bernabeu once in the same season, is something I will never forget. Though oddly, not so much for the games themselves – I’ve been trying to erase the memory of the defeat to Real Madrid for six months now – but for the pleasure of getting there and being there and sharing the experience with other old Spurs mates who like me had waited the best part of 40 years to see the club in action against the best teams in Europe. And yes I did find myself doing a double-take at times especially when we took Inter Milan apart at home. I certainly didn’t have a clue Spurs could play that well and I suspect the team didn’t either.
WFRF: You mention Jimmy Greaves as the player who first attracted you to Tottenham. I’m a bit too soggy behind the ears to remember such things, but just how good was he? Like Jermain Defoe, I’ve watched plenty of videos of him twonking them in from all angles, but was there more to his game than simply being a great finisher?
JC: I was only 14 when Greaves stopped playing for Spurs, so I’d be making it up if I gave you chapter and verse on his technical skills. Given how much he drank and smoked, I’d reckon he might struggle in the Premiership, though. All I know is that to me he was a footballing king. A player whose name appeared on the score sheet every week – the closest I got to White Hart Lane until I was 16 was a newspaper as my parents lived out in the sticks – and whose brylcreemed hair was dead cool. Possibly I might revise that last opinion now…
WFRF:Early days, but how have you enjoyed this season so far? Are you of the opinion that while we made mere ripples in the summer window compared to some, the players brought in have been significant upgrades and there appears to be a nice balance about the team? That chap who used to play for Arsenal certainly looks a bit tasty.
JC: It started in misery. A long trip to Old Trafford to be turned over even without the usual help of the referee. Then a home thrashing to City where we barely got a sniff. And half the team looked unfit and the other half wanted to leave. And it looked much the same for the first 60 minutes against Wolves where the only reason the game was goalless was because the home team was as clueless as us. The up popped Adebayor and all was well. Somehow you just know that if that chance had fallen to Crouchie, he would have tripped over his own feet. After Wolves we were away. Against Liverpool we were sensational and despite dozing off in the second half against Wigan we still got three points. Parker looks a top buy at £5m – we haven’t had someone who hunts down the ball in midfield for ages – Defoe is a lot sharper, Bale’s back on the pace and dear old Ledley has played three games on the bounce. Happy days.
WFRF: Arsenal this Sunday, then. Where will you be watching it and how do you see it going? A lot of people I’ve spoken to feel slightly unnerved by the fact that we’re going in as favourites.
JC: I wouldn’t miss it for the world. How nice it would be to have another game like the one against Liverpool where I can actually relax and enjoy the game for the final 30 minutes rather than praying for the final whistle. And yes, starting the game for the first time in decades as favourites is costing me sleep.
WFRF: Finally, just exactly how cool is Beniot Assou-Ekotto?
JC: He didn’t look quite so cool when he gifted Wigan a goal on Saturday. But yes, he is still undeniably the coolest player in the Premiership. My mate Bob and I used to take bets with one another about how he would play based on what hairstyle he had chosen for any game. But it’s changed so often we’ve given up trying to guess. And there isn’t a finer one-legged left back in the Premiership.
To win a copy. Just send the correct answer to the following question to: email@example.com:
Which team played Spurs in the first ever game to be played at White Hart Lane?
Rightio, saucepots. I’m off to the other side of the world for a fortnight. Chocks away and good luck!
Now then, now then, as a wise old scholar once said. Well, I say wise. You have to wonder about the cunning of a man whose favourite indulgences include highly-flammable daywear and smoking cigars the size of bicycle pumps. He could probably choose his photo ops better, too. Yes, that’s Frank Bruno. And Peter Sutcliffe. The Yorkshire Ripper.
On a lighter note, (I fear we’ve ambled into somewhat murky waters) more splendid stuff from the chaps in navy and white this weekend; another potential away day banana skin neatly traversed and the good times they-is-a-rolling. You get the impression that Roberto Martinez’s heart may’ve sank a few inches during the opening exchanges at the Dee-Double-You, as Tottenham’s modus operandi looked to be to blow his Wigan lot off the park as quick as humanly possible. Stop giggling at the back. Two early goals from Van der Vaart and the boy Bale and all of a sudden the Spaniard’s forehead was looking awfully sodden. His eyes wandering surreptitiously toward the exits as Dave Whelan cries from the executive box: I’m not bloody refunding them again!
Fortunately for Señor Roberto, his rabble didn’t collapse so eagerly this time out- instead they pulled their socks north and remembered that golden rule about the best form of attack. To literally attack. For best results target the opposition’s niftiest players and the higher in the air you can kick them, very much the better. Reducers, I think they’re called in the business. Our Gareth has since said that he doesn’t mind all the rough-housing he’s been subjected to recently- in fact he sees it rather as a compliment. They’re made of stern stuff in the valleys, it seems. As are the mighty Hotspur who’ve climbed the table at quite a rate. Shamrock up on Thursday then you-know-what on Sunday. Yikes.
Ahoy there, land lubbers. I trust those of you joining us from the Small Isles enjoyed their bumber-sized weekends? Four days baked in unwavering sunshine and the distinctly sweet whiff of summer gushing up the nostrils like a mug of hot Ovaltine. Heavenly. Well, not quite, as it goes. The football’s been nothing short of a bloody nightmare and I’ve been stuck at work since last Wednesday. I swear to all that’s holy, if I see another ruddy-faced holidaymaker packing their boots with beach towels and instant barbecues, while I sit here looking out on the world like James Stewart in Rear Window, I’m going to climb out onto the rooftops and fire a gun into the sky like a certified lunatic. Thus declaring war on pleasant weather until I get a day off.
It’s just not on.
Talking of which, you could say the same thing about our chances of reaching fourth again. Tottenham’s recent adventures, a mixed bag, you could say? Sure. If the mix was one of regret, worn-down fingernails and despair. The midweek derby with Arsenal was suitably ding-donging enough; oohs, boos and aahs in all the right places. We even had the chance to add new lyrics to the ever-changing ditty of such and such and you messed it up. Three goals to our one being the deficit this time around from which Wenger’s lot proceeded to make a swine’s ear of it. We played our own part, too, of course. Van der Vaart being the absolute dog from open to close. My how we’ve missed that.
What was a credible fight-back in North London, though, was another comprehensive meltdown against supposed League dross on Saturday. Woy and his Brom leaving the Lane with a point and smiles aplenty. Did anyone else notice that Liam Gallagher foresaw this one on Football Focus? With the articulacy of a man who’d been given someone else’s mouth to look after for the afternoon- but had not yet become familiar with its settings- the former Britpopper-come-fashion-designer peered mystically into the distance and confirmed, I see goals in this one. Two-all. The slag was right and the sad truth is that he’s not the only one who could see it coming.
It’s become a key plot device for Tottenham’s season. Glaring opportunities to close the gap with City and Chelsea (who’re long gone now), but falling just an inch or two short when it really mattered. We can start counting the fixtures on our toes now; those in which three points seemed likely but rather less is what we were lumped with. Wigan, Wolves, West Ham, West Brom, Westlife. It’s seethingly farcical. To make matters worse, just when it looked like we might resolve the slight crisis we were having with our frontmen- Pav, Crouch and Defoe all finding the net in the last few weeks- it turns out we’re too porous at the back for it to matter anyway. And to really rub it in, just as Defoe was doing likewise against WBA, City’s twenty-seven million pound reserve striker, after a good long think, has remembered where he left his shooting boots, too. So that’s nice.
North London Derby is the word coming from the frontline. That and ‘please send more Sudoku and gentlemen’s literature as we’re awfully bored out here.’ Arsenal, then, come to The Lane on the back of another late-show surrender. On this occasion the show being so late in its coming there were folk in the bottom-right corner of the screen describing the action in sign-language. There aren’t many sides on this ball of rock that could take the lead in the 98th minute of a League game and still contrive not to win, but it seems The French Professor has forged a team capable of doing just that. Naïve? Unfortunate?…Thick? All these accusations and more have been railed at The Arse this week, but still, there they sit, in 2nd place and not too far shy of Champions-elect, United. ‘Tis a funny ol’ game, as they say.
The good news for us- apart from having the PFA Player of the Year in our midst (applause)- is that the opposition tonight are imminently beatable. Rather obvious a point, I grant you. The difference now is that we’ve got recent history to back up our gum flapping and war cries. Back to back wins for the first time since…well, I’m not sure I could tell you. Mid-90s? Whatever the figures, our current, relative success in the fixture should breed confidence among the troops and drive home the point that winning is not only an option, but rather within our means. We can, and have, beat them. All that’s required is a good, firm wringing out. Like the bunch of wet ladies’ tissues they are.
Predictions? Them, one. Us, two.
Friends, Romans, Countryfolk, lend me your eyes. No, seriously, look. Look at the sentence that’s chugging merrily over the vistas; snaking through the tumbleweed and into view. Here it comes. The international break is over. Phew. That felt good. If I could get to grips with some of the less discernible functions of this word machine I might have had the line in flashing gold font the size of my head and have it spill out into your toolbars. As it is we’ll just have to pop another log on the fire and take comfort in the details. Spurs are back in the fold this weekend- in what’s to be the beginning of an awfully busy month for the followers and folk of white and blue. If you buy into such things, it’s a month that many believe will shape our future, much less our season. Forget the Olympic Stadium kerfuffle, forget Crouch’s role in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. We’re in the business district now. The run-in before…the run-in.
April, then, betwixt her thirty days hosts *deep breath* a double header with Real Madrid (you might have heard about this one) a trip to Stamford Bridge, a North London derby, as well as the visits of Stoke and West Brom. More, you say? Well, I don’t think we could possibly fit… Oh, alright. Let’s throw in a jolly up in Lancashire for good measure. How does Saturday afternoon grab you? Presumably someone’s going to have to invent a device which can stretch the passing of time to cram all this in; otherwise we might finally see Jermain Defoe leading the line in his pyjamas for the oft controversial 6.00am kick-off. It’ll be like Japan and Korea 2002 all over again.
So, your thoughts and fears on the month ahead. April was labelled a Death March on here last year- and without the power of hindsight, quite rightly. A sl*g of a fixture pile-up. But we all know how that panned out. How does it grab this time around? Has it left you a bibbling ball of nerves or something altogether more sanguine?
It’s difficult to be entirely confident about this weekend’s North London Derby without sounding like one of those doddery old maids you see in Soapland- the ones so convinced that their offspring/spouses are Pope Pius XI incarnate, even the weekly kicking they receive from their beloved isn’t enough to persuade them otherwise. The habitual emptying of their Giro tin appears to go unnoticed, too. He’s changed, they tell anybody who’ll listen. He’s a good boy, really. While the suspicious dark ring around their eye says something altogether different. In the same breath, we hope year upon year that things might be different on the road against the League’s big-hitters. Arsenal in particular. And on each occasion we’re left feeling rather deflated and bruised. It’s getting to the point whereby expecting the worst might not be a bad route to head down. But soldier on we must.
At least we’ve not had the usual sh*t storm of player quotes in the days leading up to the thing- there’s still time, of course- which invariably leaves us with that eggy taste in our mouths when the promises of bulldozing them off the park aren’t followed through. Last year our centre-backs followed through. But it wasn’t really the type of thing we were after. Perhaps, then, with this auspiciously quiet prelude, the message has finally sunk in that their hot air is best saved for the allotted time and location. In this case, Saturday lunchtime in North London. We all know we’re capable of getting a result there- but let’s just get the doing part out of the way first and the talking can come later.
News from the bunker has Tommy Huddlestone out until February- the colossal creator falling foul of a troublesome ankle in midweek. And, too, it looks as if Defoe’s absence will overrun slightly. The Derby coming just a day or two early for our hot-heeled frontman. Even a late cameo might be out of the question. Elsewhere, the outcome of the game will rest heavily in the starch of our backline, which, to me, still looks flimsy at best. Neither of the likely starters are immune to the odd clanger- in fact, between them there’re gaffs-o-plenty. My advice, then, put all your hard-earned on Gallas to nod home the winner from a pearly Hutton cross. My forecasts are always way off. Bring the noise. Cermonyouspurs.