Saturday, December 29, 2012

‘Exclusive’: Villas-Boas has 133 games to save his job

There was no malice in Sunderland, but more seasonal joy as Spurs overshadowed the home side at the Stadium of Light to secure a second victory in three days. Temporarily, at least, Tottenham sit in third place and it is fair to say that, despite the misgivings of some mischievous individuals in the national media, Andre Villa-Boas has more than three games to save his job. More like 133.

Stalemates at Villa and Sunderland were viewed by some observers as the roots of last season’s ‘failure’ to secure a Champions League spot. Yet within three days, Spurs have emerged triumphant at both grounds as the players begin to flourish following the AVB blueprint. Since that misleading 2-5 reverse at Arsenal, Spurs have won seven and drawn two of ten games in all competitions. This purple patch was sparked by the return of the talismanic Mousa Dembele who has yet to be on the pitch when Spurs have lost a match.

A recent conversation with a Spurs insider made pleasant and encouraging listening. The Portuguese is an extremely popular figure among the squad and his man management and personal skills seem to have been significantly underestimated. He is also gracious in defeat unlike so many of his Premier League counterparts. The likes of Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers do themselves few favours with their post-match justifications. Martin O’Neill’s claim that Spurs had not had many chances was stuck in a odd place between delusion and comedy.

But for some alert goalkeeping and the agonising profligacy of Emmanuel Adebayor, in particular, the outcome would have been decided long before a traditionally edgy five minutes of injury time. Michael Dawson had been slow to react when Sunderland capitalised on some slack defending to take the lead through ‘Peter Kay’ but was a key figure as the Spurs’ backline withstood an inevitable bombardment in the closing stages. O’Neill’s decision to withdraw Sebastian Larsson, one of the best deadball takers in the game, was curious but certainly beneficial to the away cause. In goal, the alertness and handling of Hugo Lloris was, again, exemplary. The Frenchman looks every inch a world class goalkeeper.

The machine-like Sandro bossed the midfield areas, allowing speed demons Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon the freedom to take on the Sunderland rearguard. Lennon has been in sparkling form this season and the record of Spurs never losing a game when he has been on the scoresheet continued. Shortly after half-time, a Carlos Cuellar own goal gave Spurs parity before Lennon delightfully flicked the ball past Kay and Matthew Kilgallon to collect his own pass in the area and coolly shoot Tottenham into a lead they would never relinquish.

Martin Atkinson, who clearly shares an optician with O’Neill, once more found his eyesight under scrutiny. The referee who infamously awarded Chelsea an FA Cup semi-final goal despite the ball not crossing the line became the latest official to book Bale for diving. Instinct and replays suggested that the Welshman had been impeded. The decision was quite ironic given Jermain Defoe’s unconvincing ‘stumble’ in the first half and Stephane Sessegnon spending much of the game lying on the deck with a mouthful of grass. Spurs have yet to ‘earn’ a penalty in the 2012/13 Premier League campaign in stark contrast to rivals Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal who have received more than one gift this season. We’d probably miss it anyway. But under AVB Spurs have ended 2012 firing on all cylinders.

*** A happy and healthy New Year to all readers of this blog. May your hopes and dreams be realised in 2013. We may share one or two of them ;).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bale force blows down Villa

In a week where rain and floods caused chaos across Britain, another natural phenomenon wreaked havoc in the Midlands. Gareth Bale stamped his world class imprint all over the second half as Spurs cantered to victory over a shellshocked Aston Villa. An even greater surprise was a third consecutive clean sheet. Seasoned Spurs watchers rubbed their eyes in disbelief as Tottenham somehow failed to surrender a poxy late consolation. This is not the Spurs we know and love.

A dominant first half delivered everything but the goal. There were more corners than a fridge full of Muller yoghurts yet Spurs’ almost comical dominance went unrewarded. Like a toothless youth in the Twilight saga, there was little bite about Tottenham in the final third. Villa were a different proposition in the opening second half skirmishes. Paul Lambert’s half-time rocket and positional rejig seemingly galvanised the home side and the more fearful among us awaited a sucker punch on boxing day, but it never came.

The shift in the game’s dynamic suited Tottenham. A more purposeful, attacking Villa approach left large spaces to be exploited and Spurs, through the pace and incision of Bale, took clinical advantage. A sublime, almost Iniesta-like, pass from Kyle Naughton unlocked the Villa back door and afforded Jermain Defoe the time to adroitly put Spurs ahead.

Stung into action, Villa pushed for an equaliser yet the excellent Sandro’s timely intervention prompted a sweeping counter that Bale rounded off with aplomb. Even Fabian Delph’s wreckless yellow carded challenge could not halt the surging Welshman. He scored his third off-balance and fourth with an emphatic finish high into the roof of the net sending the away support into raptures and Andre Villas Boas’ charges into fourth place on goal difference. Sheer nosebleed territory.

There was much to admire about this performance, but I particularly admired AVB’s rotation policy and gamble at the back given the thicket of festive fixtures. Michael Dawson’s brawn and aerial ability were a prerequisite against the physical demands of Stoke City yet the defensive nous and positional play of William Gallas in the testing, early exchanges of the second half were a key contributor to this victory. The emerging Naughton, again, showed promise as a makeshift left-back and the maligned Kyle Walker was blissfully error-free on his return to Villa Park. Scott Parker’s effective cameo off the bench provided another encouraging aspect given the forthcoming fixture congestion.

What a contrast to Spurs’ last visit to the stadium where Parker’s late introduction was greeted with ire and a lovely way to shrug off the Christmas meat sweats.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

AVB > PMT > Stoke City

Stoke City are more defensive than a turkey in the approach to Christmas. Perhaps it was inevitable that the well-drilled Potters backline would neutralise Spurs’ frustrated forward flurries and earn their ninth clean sheet of the season. More surprising, maybe, was that the home side managed a second straight shut-out of their own.

Few can deny that Tony Pulis organises his teams effectively with an almost unrivalled resilience, but if Stoke were playing in your back garden you would probably draw the curtains and hope for a sudden infestation of triffids. It is football, but not as we choose to know it.

I started the morning with every intention of heading to White Hart Lane (despite another impromptu ‘home’ move) yet instead spent the afternoon watching a chick flick at the cinema while gazing at my phone for match updates. The girlfriend had a spot of ‘lady trouble’and I made a late judgment call that I would rather watch a girlie movie in the company of a premenstrual woman than be hypnotized by the windmill-like arms of Ryan Shawcross.

In the post-match, perspective-free climate where hysteria reigns and you are only as good as your last result then this draw was a minor disappointment, but Spurs head into Christmas on equal points with the third place team whose fans were burning replica shirts just 11 days ago.

The intense festive period usually throws up a mixed bag of results yet the Andre Villas-Boas reign is more than keeping pace. Be hopeful, but most of all be patient. And pray for triffids ahead of the next Stoke game.

***May I wish all readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas. Your support and readership is greatly appreciated. Have a memorable time this holiday season, in whatever way you choose to spend it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fear and loathing in North London

On eighty minutes, a fan spontaneously combusted in front of me. Another doused himself with a canister of petrol and waved a match provocatively before he was wrestled to the ground by a posse of frenzied stewards. A female fan offered round a hip flask of Rohypnol. Everyone had their own solution. Any excuse to sidestep another mad Tottenham finale.

The late substitution of Mousa Dembele was met with dumbfoundment and derision by those around me as Spurs clung on to a slim 1-0 advantage over a desperate Swansea. Andre Villas-Boas’ negative substitutions in winning positions have been a contributing factor to the glut of late goals conceded in recent months and the removal of our midfield talisman only increased the likelihood of a late Swansea equaliser. We had been here before.

A sporting encounter peppered with easy-on-the-eye passing swiftly degenerated. The fear of what might happen overshadowed events on the pitch. The sound of jangling nerves was audible in the stands. Swansea, who failed to register a shot on target, found encouragement and fed on the prevailing air of uncertainty.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Hugo Lloris raced out to punch away a late Swansea punt and poleaxed Michu with the follow through. Referee Mike Dean played advantage and Spurs broke away seeking a second, game-killing goal on the counter only for impressive sub Andros Townsend to be foiled by Swans’ keeper Gerhard Tremmel.

The away side furiously objected to Townsend playing to the whistle and, as tempers flared, a tracksuited Jake Livermore sprang from the bench like a geezer at a bus stop to defend his friend and teammate (receiving a booking for his troubles). When the whistle blew, a stopwatch-defying eight minutes into injury time, fans punched the air and greeted the clean sheet like a minor miracle.

Late tensions aside, there was much to be admired in the home display. Spurs pressed Swansea relentlessly all over the pitch and, but for the profligacy of the off-key Jermain Defoe, might have sealed the points earlier and saved the home support from their injury time travails.

William Gallas was an old rock in defence while Kyle Naughton showed pleasing assurance at left-back and made a terrific, chance denying interception in the second half. The criminally underrated Aaron Lennon fizzed around the field like a runaway Christmas toy and the late introduction of Townsend offered Spurs another jet-heeled outlet in the absence of healing superstar Gareth Bale.

Jan Vertonghen’s lightning reactions from Kyle Walker’s free-kick delivered the crucial goal but fellow Belgian Dembele was, again, the star turn and driving force between defence and attack. Rarely has a £15 million fee appeared such a bargain. Spurs have yet to lose while the Belgian has been on the field of play, ever more reason to keep him on it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

AVB: Witness the unfitness

Hatem Ben Arfa, James Morrison, Robert Snodgrass, Hal Robson-Kanu, Daniel Sturridge, Simeon Jackson, Jan Vertonghen, Edin Dzeko, Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll, Gregorz Raziak, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic. The roll call of late goalscorers against Spurs continues to grow. Okay, Rasiak didn’t score, but even a static Pole with a criminal haircut might net against Tottenham in the last 10 minutes.

The grim but unsurprising statistic that Spurs would be top of the Premier League (and in the League Cup quarter-finals) if games finished on 80 minutes highlights a trend that shows little sign of relenting.

Inevitably some will blame William Gallas for chain-smoking by a goalpost or Hugo Lloris reading Proust to a ballboy, but perhaps a simple lack of fitness is the key. When Sebastien Bassong left Spurs just before the end of the transfer window, he was asked the difference between the training regimens of new boss Andre Villas-Boas and everyone’s un/favourite ex-gaffer Harry Redknapp. The answer was unusually illuminating.

According to Bassong, most of Spurs’ training under Redknapp focused on ‘running’ with new coach Villas-Boas concentrating on playing football through which the team would ‘naturally’ gain fitness. Has AVB failed to witness the unfitness?

Of course, Saturday’s late reverse against Everton came against a quality side, away from home, several days after Spurs had played in the Europa League with the likes of Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Scott Parker still missing and the talismanic Mousa Dembele, almost inevitably, off the pitch.

Yet disappointment should be diluted by the previous three league wins on the bounce, progress to the last 32 of European competition and that Spurs remain on equal points with fourth place Everton. Away fixtures against five of last season’s top six sides (excluding Spurs) have also been fulfilled.

In the words of the late Whitney Houston, ’it’s not right, but it’s okay’ (except in the last 10 minutes).

*Regular readers of this blog may have noticed my absence over the last 10 days. Like Alan Partridge before me, I am currently living in a hotel after a crazy home move (into storage), heinous work deadline, emotional wedding and an early hours brush with Brighton’s knife community. Regular service will hopefully be resumed soon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Passed to death, but new life in Kyle Walker

The renaissance of Kyle Walker has begun. After a rough nine months, which hit rock bottom when the 'PFA Young Player of the Year’ was subjected to mindless abuse by a minority of Spurs fans in the home defeat to Chelsea, the form is beginning to return. Class is permanent, they say, and the sudden revival of Walker adds credence to that maxim.

On Sunday, Walker saw off two West Ham wingers in his best display since Spurs blew that massive points advantage over Arsenal last season and three days later the jet-heeled right-back was the standout defender as Spurs repelled a late Liverpool surge for their second win on the spin. Walker’s goalline clearance from a blocked Steven Gerrard shot was nothing short of sensational.

It was a busy evening for Walker and co. The Brendan Rodgers’ passing model was in full flow. Returning talisman Mousa Dembele is still struggling for fitness but was often the glue that held Spurs’ sieve-like midfield together as the defensive corps were forced to work for long periods during sustained Liverpool pressure in the second half. Sandro was oddly ineffectual – the match literally passed him by – perhaps he had not fully recovered from the injury sustained against West Ham.

The skill and trickery of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique in an advanced role caused constant problems for a backline featuring Spurs’ fourth and fifth string centre-halves and an out of position Jan Vertonghen. Never forget that Younes Kaboul and Vertonghen are the starters at centre-half with Steven Caulker an able deputy. Spurs are lucky to have such strength in depth in this position, but the understudies were tested rigorously in this rivetting encounter.

Michael Dawson and William Gallas are not the quickest of operators and, while frequently wrong-footed, they both showed admirable powers of recovery in what became a backs-to-the-wall situation when Clint Dempsey was replaced by the listless Gylfi Sigurdsson in the second half. Gallas, while sometimes ponderous against clever forward play, still made some pivotal interventions which no doubt went unnoticed by those with selective myopia.

At times, the home defending felt frantic, almost calamitous, with under-pressure Spurs players dawdling on the ball outside the box when clearing their lines was the only and best option. With the pint-sized Jermain Defoe on his own up front, there was no ‘out ball’ on offer and, on those rare occasions the ball found the striker, he was often being manhandled by Martin Skrtel to prevent any onward movement. That omnipresent ‘clever defending’.

This defensive uncertainty made for a tense finale, but a thrilling game in hindsight. Gareth Bale had an eventful evening and showed flashes of his usual brilliance early on, finding Lennon for the opener after a marauding left-wing run and sweeping in a free-kick to give Tottenham a giddy 2-0 advantage on 16 minutes that looked frequently under threat for the rest of the game. For all their possession and positive play, Liverpool were thankfully toothless and Suarez reliant in the final third and perhaps it was no surprise that their reply resulted from Lennon’s goalline clearance ridiculously cannoning off Bale and into the net. The away side merited a draw, but from a home perspective it was refreshing to see Spurs hold on to a lead after this season’s flood of late conceded goals.

It would not be a fixture against Liverpool without Gerrard and Suarez collapsing in the penalty area when goalside of a Spurs defender. Tottenham were certainly fortunate that Phil Dowd, no lover of Liverpool, was the referee. Dowd’s first free kick for the 'Reds' was awarded on 44 minutes! Neither looked a spot-kick on review, but both players deserve credit for artistic impression and post-decision arm-flapping. The t-shirt printers in Liverpool will probably be busy today.

The booking of Bale for ‘simulation’ was instigated by the snarling response of Daniel Agger who has no ethical problems playing alongside the talented but toxic Suarez, arguably the most prominent simulator in modern football. It looked a free-kick, and certainly not a booking, from my vantage point in the Paxton End. Ironically, the free-kick which Bale scored from was not and courtesy of a trademark Dempsey ‘tumble’.

A rare lucky day for Spurs and a red letter one for the resurgent Walker.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Big Sam Theory (disproved by Defoe)

Scientists insist that Sam Allardyce was not responsible for the creation of the universe, even if the West Ham manager believes himself to be the centre of it. Some 13.75 billion years after the universe was created, a second big bang was audible in North London. The noise was the sound of Allardyce’s pre-match comments backfiring.

Allardyce, once linked (by himself!) to the Real Madrid job, had been in bullish mood ahead of West Ham’s visit to White Hart Lane, predicting Spurs vulnerability and fatigue after Thursday’s excursion to Rome. ‘Big Sam’ was at least partially correct. The celebrations were exhausting.

Andy Carroll and the West Ham caravan rolled into N17 with the third best defence in the league. They rolled out chastened and pointless after Tottenham’s most encouraging home display this season. The old fluency returned after recent patchy performances. Jermain Defoe’s livewire run and finish just before the break sparked an enterprising second half where home goals looked as likely as they have all season.

The maligned Clint Dempsey suddenly came to the fore, rattling the bar before unlocking the West Ham backline with a clever dink that released the rampaging Gareth Bale for a crucial second. Shortly afterwards, the ‘US player of the year’ capitalised on some excellent defensive play by Tom Huddlestone and Sandro to set the scampering Aaron Lennon free before the winger’s unselfish cross brought Defoe his second goal and breathing space for Spurs.

After his heroics in Rome, Hugo Lloris retained his place in goal and showed cat-like awareness in the box, snuffing out rare West Ham attacks and critically denying a breakaway equaliser with a smart interception from a Kevin Nolan cross moments before Spurs took control via Bale and Defoe. A less than stellar clearance by Stephen Caulker denied Tottenham an elusive clean sheet, but Carroll’s pony-tailed nod was scant consolation for West Ham in their 'cup final'.

The last time they won at White Hart Lane was 1999. Back then celebrity Hammer Russell Brand was as high as a kite. He still had more perspective than Big Sam. Bang.

*** Despite previous indiscretions, I made another guest appearance on the excellent Fighting Cock podcast this week. Tune in here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The existential world of Monsieur Hugo Lloris

Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that Hugo Lloris isn’t real. Since rolling up to the Spurs training ground on transfer deadline day with his scarf tied whimsically into a cravat, the French national captain has made a handful of appearances rather than a gloveful of saves. The ‘Lloris or Friedel’ debate has raged with poor Hugo lost, at times, in pure existentialist despair, but the Frenchman’s one-man show in Rome appeared to finally provide a solution to Andre Villas-Boas’ seemingly unanswerable question.

A number of fine Lloris saves at Lazio’s Stadio Olimpico kept Spurs’ European dream alive though this is a little misleading. But for questionable officiating Tottenham would have already qualified for the next stage of the Europa League and further overseas adventures in 2013. Given Italian football’s long association with corruption and scandal, one cannot help but raise an eyebrow when three legitimate Spurs goals are chalked off in favour of one of its teams in two separate matches.

The conspiracy theorists among us may also point to the bizarre situation where a bloodied Kyle Walker was refused access to the field for wearing one of the club’s ‘blood shirts’. Number ‘49’ is reserved for those rare occasions where a player’s blood-soaked jersey is replaced mid-game, but despite being standard practice in the Premier League (and nothing untoward) UEFA officials used this impromptu shirt change as an excuse to deny Walker’s return for several uncomfortable minutes. Lazio duly exploited the additional space and almost scored.

Yet after Gareth Bale’s onside effort was ludicrously ruled out in the early stages, it was a nervy, backs-to-the-wall performance with Spurs offering precious little creativity outside an occasional sortie from the Welsh wonder and the clever promptings of pint-sized midfielder Tom Carroll aka ‘Modric Lite’.

Step forward Monsieur Hugo Lloris. The sterling performances of ageless American Brad Friedel have relegated the French national captain to the bench, unfairly in the eyes of many, but this was the game where Lloris justified French hyperbole with a string of super stops that put Spurs on the brink of the competition's last 32.

Only a home draw against Panathanaikos is required for progression in the tournament. Europa League games have been, in recent times, criminally underattended at White Hart Lane so please support the team and buy tickets here. At £20 they should be within most fans’ budgets. The 1882 movement will be occupying Blocks 32/33 and once more adding song and soul to the occasion. Be there.

***Best wishes and thoughts go to those Spurs fans injured in a bar in Rome on Wednesday evening. Despite its grand architectural beauty, the city has always fostered an unpleasant and unfriendly edge and this is only the latest in a long line of attacks on English fans seeking nothing more than a relaxing break and the entertainment of a football match. We can only hope that visiting fans of all clubs will receive better fortunes and protection in the future, but bitter experience suggests it’s unlikely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The beautiful losers of Tottenham Hotspur FC

Support for many people relates to an office IT guy or a comfortable bra size. But not for me. Loyalty is the virtue that defines and separates the beloved and irrelevant in our lives. Too often this feels like a forgotten, almost alien, concept in modern football with its single serving fans drinking pitchers of Fosters on faux leather pub sofas and the online post-match rage, blame culture and insecure trolling from young men who have not yet known the touch of a woman.

For 90 minutes of a largely Emmanuel Adebayor-free game, I sang in the trenches. When other less hardy away fans fell quiet or filtered out of that soulless stadium, forged in the pits of corporate hell, I found empowering, Spurs-fuelled words to fill their absence. In the second half, real Tottenham supporters, the true and blue bloods, stood and joined me in song and an omnishambles of a game, punctuated by under-par refereeing, poor form and absent heroes, soon faded from view. We were back where we were supposed to be, singing and supporting, representing and validating the club that we love and cherish to the depths of our souls. The regular silence of Arsenal ‘fans’ (with their team clearly in command) was all too predictable. A hooped, old school scarf is not an indication of loyalty. It’s a statement of wankerism.

The calamity Kyles, Walker and Naughton, were thankfully withdrawn at half-time by Andre Villas-Boas and then fortunes, for the most part, improved. The hapless Naughton was, in fairness, playing out of position at left back but Walker now sadly resembles a human road sign. His best defensive moves this season have taken place on Twitter. He needs time off the field to regroup and return a better player. At the moment, he’s an accident waiting to happen. Anyone who doubts the corn-rowed brilliance of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, take a drug test now. This option does not apply to Jack Wilshere, the human equivalent of a Coke Zero.

One cannot help but feel a little sorry for Villas-Boas. There is a hefty asterisk associated with his early Spurs ‘failure’. The Portuguese is an inverted Harry Redknapp, an increasingly luckless individual whose every tactic or turn appears hampered by key injuries or Daniel Levy’s calamitous ‘everything must go’ summer squad sale. An anorexic, striker light bench will now weaken further in light of Adebayor’s suspension. We’re down to a solitary striker (as grimly predicted on this blog) for the next three league games. Lucy Pinder has greater options up front. And she could easily distract Jermain Defoe should West Ham field her next weekend. Dodgy Davids Sullivan and Gold certainly have form in this area.

The largely misleading 5-2, 10-man defeat may appear a life and death result now, but the Adebayor sending off (yellow or red?) and key injuries were mitigating factors. Spurs bossed the game with 11 men and half a team missing before old foe Howard Webb (who missed Mario Balotelli’s three-stamp on Scott Parker) rejoiced in an instant dismissal for Adebayor. Yet this is not an exceptional Arsenal team but a club in a tailspin that requires a one man advantage or the helping hand of a human billiard ball. For all Spurs’ limitations, we still have a more than decent chance of finishing ahead of celebrated heterosexual Sol Campbell’s favourite north London team.

As I zig-zagged through the shuffling red-shirted zombies on my way back to my local pub in Crouch End, I almost pitied the celebrating bug-faced hordes. Three points cannot cure personal deformity. Within a few games, South London’s finest will lose again and this brief sense of joy and entitlement will swiftly be replaced by limp-wristed threats of bin bags and those embarrassing ‘Wenger out’ protests.

Let them have their false dawn. I walked into that hellhole Tottenham and I walked out with Tottenham branded on my heart, guts and soul. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

AVB: Messiah…or fool?

Andre Villas-Boas is Tottenham’s most divisive manager since, er, Harry Redknapp. The Portuguese can do no right in some fans’ eyes and no wrong in others. Villas-Boas will inevitably make mistakes and their severity will dictate his future as Spurs boss; the only certainty is that his reign will not be defined by a 2-1 away defeat to billionaire bankrolled Manchester City.

At the Etihad Stadium, Emmanuel Adebayor’s substitution was greeted with anger and derision by pockets of the Spurs away support around me. I had called the change minutes earlier feeling that the effective Adebayor’s ongoing spat with City’s Pablo Zabaleta might have seen the Togo striker dismissed for a second yellow card.

The obnoxious Zabaleta adroitly switched roles from mugger to victim with Adebayor the constant focus of his ire. It reminded me a little of the way Peter Crouch was targeted by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg. Villas-Boas duly made a ‘like-for-like’ striker change that was anything but. While Adebayor and Jermain Defoe technically play the same position they are poles apart as players.

The predatory Defoe offers greater pace on the counter, but in a game that was fast becoming a backs-to-the-wall situation cannot offer the focal point of Adebayor and his nous for bringing others into play. Clint Dempsey has proven as anonymous as namesake Eastwood’s film roles of late and was the preferred option among many fans for withdrawal. Yet a conventional 4-4-2 at City would have likely opened up the floodgates at this point. Dempsey for Defoe was not a realistic switch with bullish billionaires City in the ascendancy and their wing-backs pushing on furiously for the win. One glance at the sidelines showed Jake Livermore, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Carroll sitting in tracksuits. The Tottenham bench looks thinner than Victoria Beckham on a beach holiday. Money is a great divider and, compared to City, we shop at Poundland and this financial disparity should always dilute expectations with a healthy drop of realism.

With many of City’s team and bench in the £20million plus bracket and Spurs stripped of midfield dynamo Mousa Dembele, defensive rock Younes Kaboul as well as player of the season Scott Parker and celebrated LOL-merchant Benoit Assou-Ekotto this away day was always a tough ask, especially given City’s long unbeaten run on home soil. Positives were the welcome return of Sandro who put in a characteristic ball-breaking performance, the overdue inclusion of Adebayor in a Premier League starting line-up and some spirited stops by the ageless Brad Friedel.

It is fair to say that Villas-Boas’ tactical acumen has not come as advertised. He is certainly guilty of negative substitutions in positive positions. But he has been hamstrung by injuries and Daniel Levy’s ‘careful’ spending policy (Spurs were again in the black in the last transfer window having moved on star players Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart for that ubiquitous ‘good deal’ while once more sidestepping a pressing need for an additional striker).

AVB cannot yet be labelled messiah or fool; he merely requires the time neither of those individuals have.

Friday, November 9, 2012

1882, Muamba and Defoe (love, life and goals)

This was a time when it felt good to support Spurs again. For one night at least, the magic was back. That unique Tottenham voodoo hung heavy in the air…exhilarating forward play balanced by a dose of slapstick defending. Songs were sung with passion and gusto, the football flowed and that old European magic crackled in the air.

The dearly missed White Hart Lane atmosphere, which in recent months has been sucked into a vacuum of boos by parasitical glory fans and OCD hand-sitters, returned like an old love with a wink and a smile. And how we loved it. Positivity is infectious.

This was so much more than an enjoyable 3-1 romp over Slovenian champions NK Maribor that kick-started Spurs' Europa League campaign. It marked the invasion of Block J by the vociferous 1882 movement and the emotional return of Fabrice Muamba to White Hart Lane less than eight months since his heart stopped beating for 78 minutes. Miracles can happen. Maybe modern football can be saved. Don’t stop believing just yet.

The sight of Muamba in tears as he visited the site of his near death experience was humbling and inspiring in equal measure. Somehow the former Bolton midfielder found the composure and grace to thank the Spurs fans on a night where many would find the mere thought of words overwhelming. His half-time intervention was almost divine and the goodwill seemed to spill over into the second half where Spurs finally took control of a game they had dominated, yet threatened to throw away, courtesy of Jermain Defoe’s sparkling hat-trick.

The 1882 movement commandeered Block J of the Shelf and set the tone for the evening with their songs and boundless enthusiasm, inspiring fans in all stands to raise their voices with pride. The ethos of 1882 is to support Tottenham and the team regardless of the fortunes unfolding on the field. They represent a modern twist on the true, old school support that once pumped through the arteries of White Hart Lane on matchdays before the vulgar marketing of the Premier League and cynical trophy purchasing of oligarchs and sheikhs.

“For many reasons the atmosphere at White Hart Lane has dwindled. Last night it felt like we had our Tottenham back,” explained 1882 standard-bearer Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast. “For 90 minutes, we sang our hearts out and it was honestly one of the most enjoyable experiences at Spurs that I've ever had. When Maribor scored there wasn't the usual deflation and silence as the away support revels in their glory, last night we were singing before Hugo Lloris picked the ball out of the net. And I think the players reacted to it. There was no tension in the air, just positive reinforcement, and the players played with confidence. The 1882 movement is open to all Spurs fans, young and old. Just bring your lungs.”

Defoe’s clinical hat-trick saw him move to 126 goals in Spurs colours, inching him ahead of Teddy Sheringham into eighth place on the all-time goalscorers’ list. One day Tottenham will name a lounge after the celebrated ladies’ man allowing the next generation of young women to joust with the legendary ‘little swordsman’. Matchdays will always be, er, busy in JD’s lounge.

The pint-sized hitman certainly benefitted from the presence of Emmanuel Adebayor, whose touch and physicality freed up space and occupied the overworked Maribor defenders. Central midfield featured an unfamiliar but strangely effective pairing in midfield Tom-Tom Club Huddlestone and Carroll. While they differ in stature and experience, both have an eye for a telling pass and were heavily involved in Spurs' more incisive approach play. Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon revelled as roadrunners on the flanks of the 4-4-2 system that has served their reputations and Spurs so well in the past; food for thought for Andre Villas-Boas as he copes with injuries to key players and tinkers with the starting line-up.

A number of appalling decisions from Finnish referee Antti Munukka, and a dreadful mix-up between Hugo Lloris and Kyle Naughton that briefly levelled the scores, failed to dampen the party. Why can’t all matchdays be like this one? They can, you know. All you have to do is sing and love the shirt.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Yid Army vs The Society for Wack Lawyers

The only offensive thing about Tottenham tends to happen on the field. Yet it is not the recent non-performances of ‘AVB’s blue and white army' that have raised the ire of the Society of Black Lawyers. Blue and white…can I say that? Or is the term racially offensive to Smurfs?

According to the Society, Spurs supporters are guilty of anti-semitic abuse at White Hart Lane. Should the word 'Yid' be uttered after their self-imposed November 20th deadline (the first match is somewhat laughably against peace and love merchants West Ham) they are calling for the Metropolitan Police to take action. The Club defended Spurs fans in a strongly-worded statement that can be read here.

Reread the term 'anti-semitic abuse' and one key word should leap out at you…‘abuse’. When Tottenham fans sing ‘Yid Army’ (at away games, I might add) who exactly are they abusing? The non-Jewish, milk white fans of Sunderland or Stoke? You will not see Spurs faces scrunched up with racist anger. The mood is proud and celebratory, defiant. The word Yid was taken back and adopted by Jewish Spurs fans and their sympathisers in the 1970s and worn as a badge against abusers from clubs with a history of racist abuse like Chelsea, West Ham and Millwall. Three clubs whose fan conduct holds less of a concern with 'the Society of Wack Lawyers'. Gas noises from opposing fans or hate-filled ditties about genocide rank lower on their agenda. To directly quote the philosopher Raymond Wilkins, “My word.”

There are parallels elsewhere. The 'N word' was reappropriated by rappers and urban blacks after stepping out of the grim shadow of slavery and years of institutionalised racism. It is featured in virtually every hip hop song in my music collection. It is also regularly parroted in more commercial hip hop and has silently filtered into the mainstream. Will Jay-Z be arrested by decree of the Society on his next visit to London? Perhaps the rap mogul should enjoy an extra bottle of Cristal on his next private jet from New York, just in case.

The key point here is who says it and how it is said. If a black person affectionately uses the 'N word' as a form of endearment to another that is clearly very different to a Nick Griffin wannabe screaming it with hate bulging in his eyes. The term ‘Yid’ is never spoken with hate among Spurs fans, but a sense of camaraderie and affection. I know many Jewish Spurs fans who proudly sing ‘Yid Army’ and refer to themself as a ‘Yid’ - by what token will they be prosecuted? According to the aptly named Peter Herbert, who chairs the Wack Lawyers, "That's not acceptable either." It should be noted that Herbert represented the shoe bomber Richard Reid in a ‘humanitarian capacity’.

The Society of Black Lawyers is an interesting concept. If I formed the Society of White Journalists, I would be swiftly (and perhaps rightly) wrestled to the ground by a mob of outraged Guardian columnists. I find it odd that anyone would wish to define their profession along racial lines. This country does hold a rather skewed outlook on racism. Its definition is too often simplified to ‘white on black’. But it is the abuse of anyone on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Anyone who knows or loves someone from a Chinese or Asian background can tell you that they suffer racist abuse on a daily basis. It’s deeply wrong yet action is rarely taken because the Asian mentality is to ‘get on with it’ and, unlike the Society of Wack Lawyers, they do not have a political agenda or an eye on career advancement.

Selective morality and outrage is rife in Great Britain. It is an extension of the middle class guilt complex where people seem to revel in sitting around and being appalled by everyone else. Even a handful of calls to the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) merits an investigation leading to some quite ludicrous complaints from easily offended people with too much time on their hands.

Recently, an H&M advert featuring a woman wearing a fairly modest bikini on a beach was investigated after a complaint that it was ‘overtly sexual’. Anyone who saw the ad at their local bus stop would have found their mind turning to their summer holiday or an impromptu shopping trip. Yet the case was pursued and unsurprisingly found to be harmless by the ASA, much to the bemusement of H&M and anger of a plain-looking woman in dungarees.

The use of the word Yid by Spurs fans warrants a constructive and reasoned dialogue between Tottenham supporters (in particular those of Jewish heritage), the Club and the wider Jewish community not a grandstanding lawyer. Yet its utterance at White Hart Lane is relative small fry compared to the ignorant racist abuse that takes place unpunished in life and at football. Maybe the woman in dungarees should complain about the disgusting gas noises and Auschwitz chants. People seem to take note of her ravings.

*** On Thursday night, Spurs will host Slovenian Champions NK Maribor in a game that is pivotal to the team’s chances of progression in the Europa League. This game will also mark the 1882 Movement’s invasion of Block J of the Shelf. For one joyous night at least, jeers (and silence) will be replaced with cheers at White Hart Lane. When Block J starts rocking tonight, be inspired and join the @lovetheshirt massive in song. Read more about the movement here. Get involved, people.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Against Modern Tottenham

A trip to White Hart Lane is fast becoming a toxic experience. You’ll find more atmosphere in a Virgin Train’s quiet zone or during nap time at the local nursery. The only time fans raise from their slumber is the now traditional half-time boo or end of match catcall. A sense of entitlement is palpable in the air. There are plenty of reasons to be against this interpretation of ‘Modern Tottenham’.

Tensions are threatening to boil over amongst supporters with differing views, arguments and petty spats are now commonplace between the perceived ‘nouveau fan’ and those with a greater tolerance (or perhaps experience) of crap results, but one glance at the Premier League table shows Spurs lounging in…fifth. The season isn’t over (if you go by the league table) and many of the club’s best players are stretched out on Ledley’s old treatment table hoping for a surprise invite to Daniel Levy’s luxury pool.

Yet few can deny that Haringey Council’s highest capacity library is a cause for concern. Not so long ago, White Hart Lane was rocking during home matches. It was a source of pride, especially given the dinner party style experience at Highbury and the Emirates, that the passions of our home crowd could carry a mediocre team to better things. A pure, unrequited love for Tottenham, its traditions and history burned bright within us and warmed our wounded souls.

We were relative beggars, enjoying slim pickings and savouring the rare football morsels thrown our way. A taste of success has warped perceptions. The home seats are now awash with unrealistic expectation and a dash of delusion, too many in attendance expect a feast when anyone who has supported Spurs for more than a month should know this particular menu is predictably unpredictable. Shit invariably does happen.

Booing your team with the game still hanging in the balance makes little sense to me. If only similar energy had been expended ‘supporting’ the team against Wigan on Saturday. Over 35,000 Spurs fans belting out rousing Tottenham anthems might have inspired the team to something special or at least made that experience more memorable for those unfortunates in attendance. A different, more negative approach sends everyone home unhappy. Very few people in life respond well to biting criticism, footballers are no different. If everyone at work labels you a twat tomorrow then you will probably understand the feelings of the Tottenham scapegoat du jour. Apparently, the Wigan defeat was either Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Dempsey or Defoe’s fault.

On the flipside, there is little value in being a ‘happy clapper’. There are several perplexing issues ongoing at Spurs. As much as I like and support Andre Villas-Boas, he appears to think tactics are a packet of small mints in a transparent plastic box. Playing a solitary striker at home, especially one who can only hold his balls up at Faces nightclub, makes precious little sense. The Tottenham way is to risk and attack, fail or succeed gloriously, and the largely turgid, conservative displays at White Hart Lane this season do not fit this ethos or sit comfortably with me. I want to be entertained not sedated. To date, AVB’s tactics remaining oddly rigid and devoid of flair. But it’s early days. Hang in there.

Tottenham are a team in transition. Frustration must give way to patience. This season is a team rebuild and, whatever your thoughts on our new manager, he has been hamstrung by injuries to key personnel (Mousa Dembele’s fitness is now, almost farcically, linked to our fortunes) and chairman Levy’s shrewd/tight-arsed transfer policy (delete as applicable) makes every transfer window feel like a 45 second shopping spree at Iceland. Just grab the nearest Sigurdsson!

In the interim, cast aside your grievances and back the team. We are all Spurs fans after all. True support can make an unbelievable difference. Turn the clocks back to ‘Old Tottenham’. It’s a far better place to be.

*** I was fortunate enough to be invited back as a guest on The Fighting Cock podcast this week. It’s the sixth-rated podcast in the United Kingdom and an audio opium den for strung-out Spurs fans. Listen or miss out. You can hear my insane ramblings and more coherent opinions at The Fighting Cock.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Striker light Spurs!

Striker light! We find ourselves in the same place again. Confused and blinking, like an alcoholic turning away from the first rays of sunlight. Keira Knightley has more up front than Tottenham.

Spurs’ long-running allergy to strikers proved costly once more as, from a position of apparent security, a mish-mash team imploded in the last 10 minutes and crashed out of the Capital One Cup conceding two late goals to an unambitious Norwich side. A late penalty miss was extra salt in the wound with competent spot-kick takers Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanual Adebayor since sold and injured. Today Rafa’s face peered knowingly from the November page of the official calendar.

A prospective home draw against Aston Villa made the elimination more galling, especially with only Chelsea and Arsenal remaining of the more fancied sides in the quarter-final line-up. A realistic shot at silverware has been needlessly squandered.

Jermain Defoe, the only fit striker on Spurs’ books, was perhaps understandably wrapped up in cotton wool for the trip to Carrow Road. No recognised striker played until Defoe’s belated introduction on 90 minutes. With Adebayor still frustratingly crocked and already planning his travel to the African Nation Cup, the sheer farce of a Tottenham squad with a solitary striker has reared its head. Can someone contact Louis Saha on BBM?

Yet Tottenham bizarrely boast four goalkeepers (three over thirty - 31, 39 and 41) in their basic 25-man list; the squad is unbalanced, like an elephant and an ant on a see-saw (apologies to legendary hip hop lyricist 'the Gza'). At the start of the season, Andre Villas-Boas defended 'his' decision to have a trio of strikers, championing rookie Harry Kane as the third frontman. Spurs fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. We’re okay with three strikers. Phew.

Wait a minute! ‘Clipboard Chris’ suddenly waves some late cash and a bag of Werther’s Originals in the direction of N17 and Kane is dispatched to Norwich on a season long loan with no hint of a replacement. Kerching! The deadline day signing of Clinton Dempsey was some appeasement. But, as we’ve already seen this season, the US international is a forward-thinking midfielder rather than a striker who can lead the line. Oddly, no-one from the youth ranks has been promoted to take Kane’s place on the bench.

The reliance on solitary fit striker Defoe and the world class runs and finishing of Gareth Bale is a concern. In the continued absence of Adebayor, you look at the team and wonder, ‘Who will score the goals?’ The Norwich and Southampton games have illustrated, somewhat alarmingly, that Spurs are too often toothless in the final third and unable to make long periods of possession count.

There is always an upside, however. Teams who reach the League Cup Final have a tendency to peak too soon and unravel in the final months of the season. Spurs’ post-2008 Carling Cup winning form was an unmitigated disaster whereas 2011 winners Birmingham were subsequently relegated and last year’s finalists Liverpool and Cardiff fell away alarmingly in the home stretch.

Late cup elimination is hard to swallow, especially for those die-hards who travelled midweek to East Anglia, but nothing three points and a performance against Wigan won’t heal, striker or not.

Monday, October 29, 2012

William (Gallas), it was really nothing

Perhaps it is our cross to bear that many of the good things we do are not appreciated in life. This was rarely more true than in the case of Tottenham captain William Gallas.

The 35-year-old veteran has been an absolute steal for Spurs since moving on a free transfer from North London’s second best team two-and-a-half years ago. The Gallas goal line clearance is now a standard feature in games, but his last ditch inventions too often remain uncredited by Spurs fans. Yet when ‘Mad Bill’ made several uncharacteristic mistakes against Chelsea (he was not alone in this regard) these were widely highlighted by his detractors.

Emerging star Steven Caulker has paid tribute to the po-faced veteran, affectionately known as ‘Mad Bill’ on this blog (Read William’s 2010 open letter here), and told of how the Frenchman calms his nerves and talks him through games. There is little doubt that the experience and nous of Gallas has played a significant part in the maturing Caulker’s fine displays this season.

Gallas was at his absolute best in Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Southampton on Sunday. It was a classic Spurs performance; dominating the first half and holding on for grim death in the second. I’ve lost count of how many comfortable two nil leads we've surrendered in second halves over the years. That’s just how we roll.

Tom Huddlestone’s clever dink created Gareth Bale’s headed opener, but after the hairy behemoth was replaced by Jake Livermore in the second half the midfield floodgates opened alarmingly and Southampton took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was suddenly backs-to-the-wall stuff. Jay Rodriguez’s reply had seemed virtually inconceivable when Clint Dempsey put Spurs 2-0 up on 39 minutes.

Despite his adroit header, Bale was quieter than an Arsenal fan on Tottenham High Road and Spurs leaned heavily on the fizz of Aaron Lennon on the flanks. Defoe’s shooting was painfully awry and, given Emmanuel Adebayor’s injury and eventual departure for the African Nations Cup, our lack of striker options remain a valid concern. Nothing changes.

Sandro was his usual bestial self in midfield, but his tireless tackling could not compensate for the large Dembele-sized hole in the centre of the park. The Belgian is a big miss, as if you didn’t know that already. Heartbeats quickened and collective blood pressures rose, but Spurs withstood Southampton’s late barrage, thanks to the desperate blocks of Gallas and co. Cue widespread homo-eroticism as the Spurs team stripped off and threw their shirts into the crowd, sparking a surreal and comical tug-of-war between two old geezers for Brad Friedel’s bright yellow jersey.

Wrapped up in the moment, I started peeling off my five layers of clothing, hurling them into the air in a celebratory tornado of designer garments. They fell harmlessly to the ground. No-one fought for them. Not even the cold people or women with limited dating options. Shrugging off the autumn chill, I picked up my clothing as uncomfortably as Spurs had picked up the points. But I was smiling. Three points on the road always warms the soul.

*The game marked my dad’s 50th anniversary of attending Spurs games. Somehow his vintage heart has withstood half a century of this madness. The old man’s first match was way back on November 1962, a 4-0 win over Leicester City at White Hart Lane. Apparently, the game was played in ‘black and white’ and the fans were still applauding a Jimmy Greaves goal long after Leicester kicked off again. Congratulations on the milestone, dad!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Charles Manson and Spurs, hardcore in Maribor

It was a trip of Charles Manson proportions. My outbound journey took 15.5 hours, four cities, three flights and I still didn’t make it to Maribor. Fortunately, mine was not the standard Manson experience. There were no technicolour Jan Vertonghens imploring me to ‘ruin’ Jack Wilshere. I might have listened.

My flight from Heathrow was heinously delayed for several hours meaning I missed the connection in Munich. A dough-faced Lufthansa employee then told me in clipped English to fly to Frankfurt where I could pick up a late night flight to Graz. As she printed my replacement tickets, I stopped myself from yelling, “Why can’t people in your city take a f**king penalty?!” Almost inevitably, my plane from Frankfurt to Graz was delayed further due to a ‘Manson sympathiser’ refusing to leave the previous flight. I rolled into Graz at 12.30am a near broken man. All for the love of Spurs. Andre better not be playing John Obika as the lone frontman.

The onward journey to Maribor was less taxing. An innocuous two-train journey across the Austrian border into Slovenia delivered us to the European City of Culture 2012, a small but pretty city with friendly locals and an indie, hipster vibe in places. Dressed in standard Stone Island clobber, we had to rectify that situation and (pwopa nawty) we tipped over the al fresco tables of a nearby café and smashed up a local bar with a hail of flying chairs* (*fictional event, did not take place). Seriously, it was as peaceful a European trip as I can remember without the slightest hint of trouble. Maribor is definitely worth a repeat visit if we play there again.

Bizarrely, at breakfast on the day of the game, my hotel restaurant was peppered with Charles Manson lookalikes. They love a wild, untamed beard in Slovenia and, as I gazed across my table at a hairy man with mad, rolling eyes, I wondered what the night might have in store.

What followed was a satisfactory point that keeps Spurs unbeaten and alive in the group. The involvement of Bale, Dembele and Adebayor would have certainly secured the win, but the maturing Steven Caulker was an encouraging standout. The performance was often scrappy, toothless and unpleasing to the eye, but we’re in the qualification business not a beauty contest and two home victories (crucially) against Maribor and then Panathinaikos will almost certainly see our beloved club progress to the Europa League knockout stages in 2013. The remaining fixtures are tipped in our favour.

One disappointing aspect of the trip was the sparse number of Spurs fans in attendance. Around 440 tickets were sold, way below allocation, and not everyone with a ticket was in Maribor (an ultimately unsuccessful ploy for extra loyalty points). I estimated that there were no more than 390 Spurs fans in the away end. Regardless of numbers, we made our voices heard. ‘AVB’s Blue and White Army’ was sung non-stop for over 10 minutes in the second-half in stark contrast to the increasingly funereal atmosphere at many Premier League games.

Simple economics, as well as heightened work and domestic responsibilities, mean the days of thousands of Spurs supporters flooding into European cities are no more. Champions League or marquee opposition would inevitably deliver more fans, but as a youthful veteran of 27 European away trips it feels like the passing of something special.

When Spurs returned to European competition in 2006 after a painful seven-year absence, the away end was always rammed to capacity. Fans sung until their lungs burst as an exuberant Tottenham army swept into Europe. The city centre would be heaving with packs of geezerish individuals on the prowl for spare tickets, but those halcyon days are no more. Now we are left with several hundred die-hards of mostly Bruce Willis vintage. The two trips to PAOK and Panathinaikos brought no more than 230 away fans. That’s a Greek tragedy Euripides would appreciate.

It was a noticeably ‘old’ support in attendance in Maribor with a significant over 40s demographic. The Tottenham youth are currently potless, modern life and football has priced them out of the game's Eurotrip. Hopefully, progression to the knockout stages and better times will entice them back into the fold. We need their passion and enthusiasm. They are Spurs' heartbeat of tomorrow.

Just don’t fly with Lufthansa.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kyle Walker and the Zen Geezer Movement

My old boxing pal Dominic Negus once told me, ‘If you spent your time knocking out the wankers in life you’d never do anything else’. This inspiring moment of ‘Zen Geezerism’ immediately entered my head in the fallout of Spurs’ 2-4 reverse against a clinical Chelsea.

After likeable full-back Kyle Walker’s fallow form continued against a sharp Blues’ outfit, packed with a trio of talented and highly-paid midfielders, a few faceless keyboard warriors were almost inevitably directing abuse at the rookie defender from behind the shield of a laptop screen. Walker duly deleted his Twitter account which in the best case scenario may concentrate his mind on more important matters like defending.

But footballers, we must remember, are not infallible, computerised drones. They have problems, too. FIFA13 has fooled us. The sheer brilliance of Lionel Messi makes it seem as if players can perform flawlessly without error, but they are people dealing with the same mind-bending domestic problems as the rest of us. Walker has been poor since the tail end of last season, for whatever reason, but he’s talented, young and will surely find form in time. He will certainly play more effectively and positively with our encouragement rather than guileless cyber-derision or mindless stick from recent lobotomy patients in the stands.

Gareth Bale’s decision to miss the game to attend the birth of his child was also met with criticism. It was a personal choice and one most people will respect. Bale does appear to be a rare British footballer in a long-term and loving relationship so his reasons were nothing but sincere. The great news is Gareth’s good lady will not be dropping a 7lb wing wizard on the day of the Europa League and FA Cup finals. If someone can put a contract out on Charlie Adam, the Welshman might actually play at the scenes of our double trophy triumphs. Don’t wake me up from that dream!

An unfortunate complication of ‘baby mama drama’ meant I was bizarrely at home with the miniature doctor rather than beating my chest like a wildman at White Hart Lane and therefore I (thankfully) missed this league fixture for the first time in 14 years. Given the reserve heavy line-up, a draw seemed the best case scenario. It was not to be.

The starting XI sent shivers down my spine. Tom Huddlestone lacks the mobility to influence a game against clever, mobile, high quality midfielders like Hazard, Mata and Oscar and his decision to grow his hair until he scores means he will probably end the season looking like Captain Caveman. The midfield was the key battlefield in this fixture and shorn of the drive of Dembele, bite of Parker and electricity of Bale, Spurs often looked second best despite fashioning a creditable number of chances.

But we should remember that Chelsea top the table for a reason and, given the inequality of the first half, the response in the second was worth appreciating. A blank chequebook is an almost unbeatable opponent at the best of times. Spurs gutted it out in the trenches and made a game of it and pressing for a late equaliser always leaves a team vulnerable at the back.

The AVB revolution is a work in progress. We must greet the downs with resolve and not a whining sense of entitlement. Foundations are being laid for something progressive and potentially special. Let’s show true support and not turn off our loyalty like a tap after a single setback.

We remain fifth and North London’s premier team. That ain’t too shabby. Ask any zen geezer.

***For those who missed it, I was a guest on the stellar Fighting Cock podcast this week. You can listen to me losing the plot (standard behaviour!) at

It’s a fantastic show created and driven by people with a pure love of Spurs at heart. Listen and love.

Monday, October 8, 2012

‘Mad’ Friedel bodyslams AVB in vicious UFC style smackdown


The sensational headline above only tells part of the story. The untrue part.

Displaced goalkeeper Brad Friedel watched his 310 consecutive Premier League game playing streak cruelly ended by unpopular boss Andre Villas-Boas against Aston Villa on Sunday and then flipped like an American style pancake.

Ripping his substitute goalkeeper's jersey apart with a flex of his yoga-toned muscles, the feral 41-year-old bodyslammed the weasel-faced Portuguese in Tottenham's West Stand car park as his ‘revolting’ teammates whooped and cheered, ‘The Sun’ can exclusively reveal.

Ever the Frenchman, replacement Hugo Lloris fled the scene with a girlish Gallic jog. The fresh garlic fancier was later found cowering behind a notorious Paxton End burger van and only discovered when its geezerish proprietor shouted: “Come and have a look at this!”

Friedel’s incredible Premier League run dated back to the days of black and white television when children fidgeted uncomfortably on beanbags with Jimmy Saville and hoped for the best. Back then the American sported a furry Fellaini style barnet which he used to expertly pluck goalbound screamers from just under the post.

Yet the ancient American’s goalkeeping pedigree and high standing in the game counted for nothing in the eyes of the conniving Villas-Boas. And last night, as disbelieving fans left scarves and lit candles in honour of Friedel’s departed streak, the Chelsea failure remained aloof and unrepentant.

“Brad took his rage to another dimension,” confessed a sheepish Villas-Boas after Spurs' 2-0 win that ensured his job safety for another fortnight. “He understands the project of me dropping his prehistoric arse and, after he clotheslined me in the dressing room and held my finely coiffured head down a flushing toilet, we shook hands like men.

“I told Brad we look forward to him playing again soon. In a behind closed doors friendly with the likes of Jon Obika. Here he can show his merit as an individual and I hope the opportunity incentivates him to accept Michael Parkinson’s life insurance offer. I understand you receive a Parker pen just for calling. Daniel Levy made 14 calls from different numbers and received 14 pens. That’s an immense stationery contribution and more than Manchester United manage in a season.”

While Spurs were labouring to break down a stout Villa defence, former manager Harry Redknapp was enjoying a traditional roast dinner cooked by beloved wife Sandra.

The scent of Sandra’s expertly cooked beef wafted over Sandbanks to the mutual delight of passing pooches and their salivating dog walkers.

“Cor, I told you Sandra was better than Darren Bent,“ winked the cheeky chappy ex-manager and Sun columnist. “I wish Pavlyuchenko had run around like those peas. Triffic movement off the fork. Let’s hope they pass better than Pav!”

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The miracle of Old Trafford

Rub your eyes and believe. It actually happened. The miracle of Old Trafford. As Spurs clung on to a slender but joyful lead, hard-bitten Tottenham fans the world over waited for a spurious penalty or spot of outrageous gamesmanship from a crap Michael Jackson impersonator. It did not come. The ball crossed the Manchester United goal line three times, yet keeper Anders Lindegaard did not have the presence of mind to roll it out quickly to the waiting Rafael. And somehow Tottenham’s rejigged rearguard withstood relentless second half pressure plus ‘Fergie time’ to erase 23-years of bad karma and humble Manchester United before some of England’s foremost prawn sandwich eaters.

Spurs fans woke on Sunday with sore heads and fast-beating hearts and the knowledge that, if Tottenham can overcome Manchester United (plus officials) on their home turf, pretty much anything is possible. Somewhere in the frosted wastes, a pensive but abominable snowman is pondering his future ahead of a joint press conference with the Dalai Lama.

Eighties’ pop siren Belinda Carlisle did not lie. True heaven is a place on earth (for this weekend at least). And any Spurs fan who has watched victory cruelly ripped away at Old Trafford over the years knows exactly what it’s worth. In the hours after the epic 3-2 win (achieved despite the ‘player revolt’ exclusively ‘revealed’ in ‘The Sun’ by hack Paul ‘Christopher’ Jiggins), I developed a nervous tick and found myself punching the air at regular intervals. Fortunately, NHS Direct informed me that such behaviour was quite normal and not a cause for long-term concern. Every so often I check the internet (an unknown quantity when Spurs last won at Old Trafford) just to confirm the validity of Saturday’s victory. And, Jesus, we really did win.

Yet that long fruitless run, almost smugly trumpeted in the media, was always a misleading statistic. On those rare occasions when Spurs found themselves in a strong position at Old Trafford, sinister forces intervened and an inexplicable decision conspired to turn the game on its head. Most notably, Pedro Mendes’ goal, witnessed by almost 68,000 people in the stadium, but oddly ‘missed’ by the officials. A selection of these atrocities were referenced on my bitter yet sadly accurate 2010 blog ‘The many crimes of Manchester United vs Spurs’ for those with an iron constitution.

The fates graciously decreed that Saturday would be different. For the first time in this long barren run, Spurs did not find a referee eager to equal the score should United struggle or fail to gain an early initiative. Our hero in the middle? The unlikely figure of one Christopher Foy. But his leniency did not entirely surprise this hardy veteran of debacles past.

You may not know that Spurs submitted a detailed dossier to the FA last December citing Foy’s curious decision making in the 1-2 reverse at Stoke last season (flashback to the ridiculously onside disallowed Adebayor goal, the three official instigated sending off, convenient myopia in several contentious penalty incidents) and ever since the referee and keen cyclist has kept a low profile in games he has officiated involving our beloved team. So when United players started predictably tumbling in the box Foy chose to sidestep controversy and ignore the amateur gymnastics.

Incredibly, United had already ‘earned’ four penalties in the previous five league games with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez’s scathing comments still helpfully fresh in the memory following a classic Manchester decision-fest two weeks ago. “In many ways, you feel as though you are fighting against a mountain,” lamented the likeable Spaniard.

You can roll out the favourable United statistics as much as you want, but the playing field is rarely even. ‘The Red Devils’ were comprehensively outplayed by 10-man Liverpool the previous weekend (the home side almost inevitably hindered by a sending off and contentious penalty) and, given Spurs’ bright away performances this season, I whispered to selected confidantes that this might be ‘the year’. The reservation on my rubber-walled room was cancelled at approximately 7.30pm on Saturday evening.

Superbly marshalled by William Gallas at the back, Spurs delivered on the back of a supremely dominant first half performance. New hero and poster boy Jan Vertonghen’s early surging run and goal set a positive tone before Gareth Bale’s effortless slalom through the United backline put Tottenham two ahead and evoked wonderful memories of that first night in Milan. The backlash was imminent, but Spurs refused to buckle and, for once, the officials declined to intervene. Clint Dempsey’s poacher’s finish was sandwiched by responses from the jheri-curled Nani and the significant other of Japanese porn star Ameri Ichinose, but stirred on by Andre Villas-Boas’ rousing half-time team talk Tottenham held on. Cue jaw drops, three crazy and wonderful points, a nifty leapfrog of Arsenal and insane celebrations and handstands throughout Yid-dom. The natural and passionate response of our Portuguese manager on the final whistle mirrored the emotions of all Spurs fans. A love affair is forming.

His opposite number was all too predictably uncharitable and beetroot-faced. Contrast Sir Alex Ferguson’s laughably ungracious demeanour in the post-match interview (he understandably wanted 10 minutes of injury time) with the almost zen-like stance of our former boss Martin Jol who (perhaps too) admirably refused to complain or lambast the officials when Mendes’ long range goal was inexplicably erased from the record books.

Yet there was a wonderful symmetry. One Portuguese was criminally denied at Old Trafford in 2005, but seven years later another would emerge to right the wrongs of the past.

Karma is sweet.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

‘Eiffel awful’: The unbearable life of Hugo Lloris

According to a widely disrespected but highly circulated tabloid newspaper, outcast goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was forced to watch Spurs’ 3-0 win at Carlisle on a grainy Arabic internet stream while handcuffed to a radiator in a north London basement.

The extreme punishment was meted out by ‘unpopular’ Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas after Lloris demanded that Brad Friedel’s age be verified on ‘Le Jeremy Kyle Show’ amid training ground whispers that his American rival might be ‘younger than Kanu’.

These unverified revelations have prompted furious uproar back in France where former ball-handler Fabien Barthez dubbed the French international captain a ‘Prisoner of war’. Lloris, who only has 3 years and 11 months remaining on his Spurs contract, was said to be devastated to miss the Carlisle trip and the chance to sample the local delicacy of Cumberland sausage. The game’s preferred goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini is said to have inflamed matters further by posting a picture of a delicious sausage butty on Instagram.

Highly-rated Lloris, who has made a solitary appearance in Spurs colours since signing from Lyon on deadline day, is said to have reacted darkly to the latest snub. “He mopes around Spurs' training ground with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, quoting Sartre to a LOL-ing Benoit Assou-Ekotto,” said a shady insider. “He tried to convince the girls in the canteen to go on strike, but they said ‘non’.”

Meanwhile, fellow goalkeeping outcast Heurelho Gomes, who now performs as a comedy street juggler in Covent Garden under the pseudonym ‘Coco Loco’, is recovering after being injured by a rubber skittle.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jan Vertonghen's hair

Jan Vertonghen is an absolute beast of a player. Drop him blindfolded in a Siberian forest and he would probably report for training on Tuesday wearing a tiger-skin, shrugging off a mild case of the blisters.

Wrestling a feral tiger protecting its territory, Jan’s salon perfect hair would undoubtedly remain flawless and unruffled. I dare any Spurs fan to recreate the Belgian’s rock-like side-parting with a small rake and two tubs of Studio Line’s Indestructible hair glue. It’s virtually impossible to emulate and god knows I’ve put in the mirror hours.

The transformation of Vertonghen from overworked centre-half to buccaneering left-back proved a pivotal moment as Spurs overcame a sticky first half against a lively QPR to flip a 0-1 deficit into a welcome first home win of the season.

Andre Villas-Boas’ bold but ultimately misguided decision to start Gareth Bale, Tottenham’s most feared and effective attacking player, at left back spectacularly backfired. In the first half, Spurs looked impotent with Bale in a retreated position and the Welshman laboured with the additional defensive responsibility. Meanwhile, fellow speed merchant Aaron Lennon was bogged down with extra defensive coverage and QPR effectively swamped the midfield with Sandro uncharacteristically careless in possession.

Spurs should have been trailing by at least two goals headed into the break but for Brad Friedel’s ageless limbs and West London profligacy. At half-time, the now customary boos rang out, but despite the pointless protests a listless display had been relatively unpunished and I felt optimistic that Spurs could turn the tables with minor tactical tinkering.

And so it came to pass. AVB switched Vertonghen to left back, sacrificing the ineffectual Gylfi Sigurdsson to bring in Stephen Caulker at centre-half and unleash Welsh wonder Bale where he could finally damage the opposition. Clint Dempsey moved to a more advanced role and began to cause QPR problems with his intelligent forward play. Suddenly, a sluggish Spurs were reborn.

Overdue karma (see the previous blog) gifted the home side an own goal equaliser before a surging Vertonghen run from defence released Bale whose rasping shot cannoned off the bar and dropped to a gleeful jermain Defoe who buried the rebound. And in that moment boo-ers and supporters were, again, united as one.

Spurs dictated the majority of the second half, but QPR always remained dangerous on the counter and had a wonderful opportunity to equalise in the 72nd minute when the ball fell kindly for the effervescent Junior Hoilett only for Vertonghen to slide in heroically with a perfect, goal-saving tackle.

Three points secured and not a hair out of place. Spurs bounce to eighth, one point behind 'title contenders' Arsenal, and AVB’s job is safe for another week at least.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Are Spurs the unluckiest team in football?

If an old Romany lady offers you heather outside White Hart Lane on Sunday, I suggest you buy a fistful. Somewhere in history, Tottenham Hotspur underwent a ‘luck bypass’ and the imbalance of fortune needs to be redressed.

Whenever Spurs score a goal, I instinctively look for the offside flag. Swivelling my head like a suspicious owl, I then check the referee’s body language. Is he fending off disbelieving Spurs players, their heads shaking like crazed bobbleheads? Other fans are celebrating and performing mid-air somersaults but my eyes are madly scanning the field, waiting grimly for fate’s next cruel turn. Only when the ball is placed on the centre circle, can I allow myself a belated punch in the air. Yet far too often I slump back in my seat a knowing but broken man, curling my lip at an unloving god.

In life, ‘You’re either paranoid or you’re right’, but there can be little doubt that Spurs are a bunch of unlucky f**kers. Thursday’s entertaining 0-0 draw with Italian ankle-tappers Lazio was another case in point with THREE Spurs goals disallowed. Two should have stood. Clint Dempsey’s stooping header beat the offside trap while Stephen Caulker’s late nod was inexplicably chalked off for a foul after beaten pasta merchant Stefano Mauri flopped to the deck. Had the likes of Romanian referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan officiated in the Premier League’s ‘golden era’, Alan Shearer would have registered three career goals. Bizarrely, UEFA's official website failed to mention any of Tottenham's disallowed strikes!

And so Spurs’ initial foray into the 2012/13 Europa League passed without reward despite an encouraging and cohesive display with rookie defenders Kyle Naughton and Stephen Caulker highlighting their potential for better things and new keeper Hugo Lloris a cat-like presence between the sticks. Andre Villas-Boas showed respect for Spurs fans and the competition by fielding a strong line-up and his team performed but were too often chopped down in promising positions, resulting in 22 fouls and four yellow cards for the visitors. Referee Hategan again displaying hippie-like leniency.

But what of that dreaded Spurs luck? We’ve been poisoned by lasagne and demoted by a flukey Chelsea penalty victory (add Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi falling inexplicably ‘ill’ before the semi-final) denying two Champions League berths; had a ball several feet over the line at Old Trafford missed by the officials and two game-changing goals awarded for Chelsea despite having not crossed the line. One of our greatest players John White was tragically struck dead by lightning with Spurs at the pinnacle of English football and the list goes on and grows.

Disallowed goals now flow like cheap pinot grigio. Last season Spurs fans watched, open-mouthed as a bizarre number of Emmanuel Adebayor strikes were ruled out despite replays showing their authenticity. Had just one been allowed, Spurs would have finished third. Already this season, five Tottenham goals have been disallowed in five games.

Knock on the door of your nearest caravan.

Footnote: Given the attendance of UEFA grand fromage Michel Platini at Thursday night’s game, the racist chanting directed by a section of the Lazio support towards Jermain Defoe and other Spurs players will hopefully be punished. Hearing ‘monkey chants’ at an English football ground felt like a grim rewind to the 1980s and cannot pass without penalty. Update: UEFA has since charged Lazio and its Control and Disciplinary Board will meet on October 18th to deliver a verdict. It's worth noting, however, that Porto were fined a paltry £16,700 for a similar offence against Manchester City. Punishment enough?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

AVB dodges ‘axe’, ewoks go mad in Reading

On Sunday morning, the bomb was dropped. Dave Kidd (who in 1996 correctly predicted that robot human hybrids would inhabit Milton Keynes) exclusively revealed in the highly-respected ‘People’ newspaper that Andre Villas-Boas was a mere three games from the sack.

‘The People’, affectionately regarded as an ‘inky bible with tits’, is rarely wrong outside of speculative tittle-tattle and spurious tabloid chuff and suddenly a terrible scraping sound was audible in north London. Presumably, Alan Curbishley rising, zombie-like, from his managerial crypt. Meanwhile, Kevin Bond was wildly texting, ‘DO U NEED DRIVER?! PETROL & PRINGLES GRATIS.’ Inevitably to Curbishley’s old number.

But just as the former West Ham manager was pushing away the concrete slab, Villas-Boas shockingly WON a game and SAVED his career. The scenes at the Madejeski Stadium were joyous and wild. I swear I saw a group of exuberant ewoks bundling each other when Gareth Bale scored the pivotal second, but now accept that my reading of ‘The People’ had triggered dreadful hallucinations and a complete removal from reality.

As I departed the fog of Reading, via its dreaded stadium bus, memories and thought fragments slowly pieced together and I recalled a fantastic (yet ewok-free) Spurs performance. Jermain Defoe’s brace and intuitive play rightfully earned plaudits but Mousa Dembele’s mastery of midfield was, at times, jaw-dropping. Dembele kicks like Van Damme, wows like Hepburn and may prove to be Daniel Levy’s best business yet.

The Belgian drove forward in a way that Luka Modric never could, breaking up play, prompting and weaving together a previously unhinged midfield corps in tandem with hairy enforcer Sandro and freeing the fast-forward Bale and Aaron Lennon with destructive effect. Elsewhere, compatriot Jan Vertonghen marshalled the defence superbly alongside the unfairly maligned William ‘Mad Bill’ Gallas who provided his now standard goal line clearance among other key interventions.

And so AVB was granted a ‘stay of execution’ or Kidd’s story was shockingly exposed as conniving bollocks. Whatever took place, it delivered a welcome transfusion of enthusiasm to Spurs fans. And maybe, just maybe, we have a season on our hands.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Daniel Levy’s ‘Moneyball’ and the price of cheap boos

In the final week of the transfer window, Daniel Levy was throwing around more bids than a violent nursing home. This scattergun approach, inevitably, came at a price on Saturday as a disjointed Spurs were pegged back by a spirited Norwich City in front of a funereal home crowd. The money conscious Levy sold yet failed to replace Tottenham’s two main playmakers banking over £43 million in the last week of the window, but another buoyant balance sheet has come at the price of an unbalanced and underperforming team. Great business, but this is football’s ‘Moneyball’.

The afternoon’s lowlight was undoubtedly the cascade of boos at half-time with the score all square, thanks only to two stellar saves from the under-threat Brad Friedel. It was our ‘bin bag’ moment. Tottenham supporters can mock the Emirates match experience as much as they please but the emergence of the nouveau glory fan at White Hart Lane has proved cancerous to Spurs’ once vibrant home atmosphere.

These are not true fans. Most likely they are beneficiaries of the club’s new and misguided ‘loyalty’ point system where ‘support’ over four of the club’s most successful Premier League seasons is valued and rewarded. Loyal supporters in grim times past (who may now have young families and find their opportunities to attend limited) have been marginalised in recognition of these baying parasites. But I guess four years of 'support' means the nouveau fan is 'due'.

In truth, Spurs played like strangers, without the coherence of old. Partially, this was due to a feisty Norwich outfit who, on another more fortunate day, may have departed with all three points. They certainly fashioned the better chances. I would pay them greater credit, but for the endless histrionics of Simeon Jackson who in his time on the field kissed more turf than a 2008 Lindsay Lohan.

Somehow an adroit finish from debutant Mousa Dembele gifted Spurs the lead, but it was a false promise. As Norwich pressed, Tottenham capitulated for the second week in succession with Snodgrass drilling past the otherwise excellent Friedel after another Norwich free-kick.

There was still time for the dismissal of the returning Tom Huddlestone who was red carded after a 50-50 challenge with Jonny Howson. Referee Mark Halsey (who endured a slapstick final 20 minutes) will probably look back at that decision through a gap between his fingers.

After a promising but unrewarded start at Newcastle, the Andre Villas-Boas era is misfiring. Many seasoned supporters around me, including the measured ones, felt the Portuguese would be gone by Christmas. Thankfully, David Pleat is still available. Like the dizzied Juande Ramos before him, AVB is a flashy, ‘designer’ signing favoured by Levy, yet under his stewardship top class players are playing listlessly, without cohesion or understanding. His fault or Levy’s window? Like a hermaphrodite, it’s a bit of both. True Spurs fans will cheer and persevere regardless.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Luka Modric: A strange goodbye

With more spin than a revolving football, Tottenham finally announced the departure of Luka Modric to Real Madrid in bizarre circumstances.

Under the headline ‘Club announcement’, Spurs trumpeted a new partnership deal with Real Madrid and ‘the transfer of Luka Modric’.

"The partnership agreement will see the two Clubs working together in respect of players, coaching, best practices and commercial relationships," announced the club. Translated on the goobledigook search engine, this means, "Real Madrid now have preferred buyer status in respect of our best players.” The ‘partnership’ received a passing mention on the official Real Madrid website.

But this does, in fact, represent progress. Four years ago, the slightest flirtation from Manchester United or Liverpool would precede a star player's exit.

Competition for a Champions League place over the last three seasons has raised the club’s profile and stature and allowed Chairman Daniel Levy to play greater hardball (a role he relishes) with Premier League rivals.

Selling to a foreign football giant means that Modric will have no direct effect on Spurs’ achievements (or lack thereof!) in the coming years. The Croatian might have fetched more money if sold to Chelsea last summer, but the sale of one of our best players to a cash rich rival would have sent out an ominous message about the ambitions of the club.

Unlike our friends on the other side of north London, there will be no burning of shirts or hate directed in Modric’s direction. He was never a ‘badge kisser’ playing up to fans' loyalties with false statements of devotion (cough Van Persie), but a wonderful player and key cog in Spurs’ progression from also-rans to contenders.

The best of luck to him.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

It was all Jenas’ fault II

False economy has, again, cost Spurs (five) points at the start of a new season. Credit goes to a battling West Brom who ably soaked up Tottenham pressure and pot-shots in the first half, to capitalise when a series of skittish substitutions in the second saw the home side cave in alarmingly.

The shadow of Daniel Levy’s tiresome transfer brinkmanship loomed large over proceedings. The (drawn-out) signing of Emmanuel Adebayor (Spurs’ first purchased striker in three years) was tempered by his inevitable lack of match fitness, allied with the unresolved future of Luka Modric and unpopular casting out of fan favourite Michael Dawson.

The match followed an all too familiar pattern for seasoned White Hart Lane watchers. A well-drilled away side sitting back, content for a battling point or joy from a fast counter or set-piece while Tottenham try to walk the ball into the back of the net. Of course, it wouldn’t be a home game without the now standard brace of disallowed ‘goals’. Had Spurs been wearing an all blue strip, they might have counted.

Spurs resembled a cohesive outfit under AVB’s starting 4-2-3-1 formation restricting West Brom to one effort of note in the first 62 minutes yet when the lacklustre Adebayor was introduced for Rafael van der Vaart the balance was lost and a large hole opened up in the midfield, exacerbated when Sandro was frustratingly substituted on 73 minutes.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s speculative opener brought joy, relief and optimism on 74 minutes, but the goal papered over fast appearing cracks. Within two minutes, Jermain Defoe who had held the ball up surprisingly well was off and replaced in favour of a dreadful Jermaine Jenas cameo. West Brom launched a full-on assault and the Spurs back-line buckled with reduced protection. As the game entered injury time, it looked as if Spurs might hold out for the win but when the ball fell kindly for James Morrison in the box he drilled in a merited equaliser for the visitors.

A few knives were out for Andre Villas-Boas at the final whistle but those holding them had drawn their weapons before the season started. Poor old Jenas, responsible for Spurs not being Champions League winners as well as common cancer, was another easy target, but an unsettled and disjointed first team was the true villain of the piece. Will Levy ever learn that the points thrown away at the start of the season carry a heinous implication at the end of it? The day the transfer deadline is brought forward to before the first game of the season I will cartwheel in ecstasy.

There were positives; the continuing emergence of Jake Livermore in midfield, a competent debut from Jan Vertonghen as well as a heartwarming reception for recently retired legend Ledley King. Those with a tendency to knee-jerk or panic will undoubtedly be on suicide watch tonight, but as a steely-eyed on-site veteran of hundreds of Spurs games (I am heavily scarred inside and out), I can assure the faint-hearted that fortunes will improve after the close of that pesky window. Remember, this time last season we had no points in the bank. One point from two games? Nosebleed territory.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Spurs sign striker, the end of the world begins

When I gazed up at the rapidly darkening clouds I realised something strange was happening. What had been a sunny early evening in north London suddenly took upon a dark and ominous turn. Shuffling, lobotomised figures emerged from the side streets, mumbling incoherently while dragging their spasticated limbs forth to the local bookmakers.

Small fires broke out sporadically in the local high street as if conjured maliciously by sinister and evil magicks. I looked down wide-eyed and noticed the rubber soles of my Nike trainers were burning and stamped furiously to extinguish the tiny flames. A hideous, banshee-like wail sliced through the air causing a mid-pavement collision between Bugaboo prams. Two babies shot out like pop tarts and appeared to high five in mid-flight before landing effortlessly in the opposite buggy.

From the newly-formed shadows, a shrivelled woman in an Arsenal shirt grabbed my hand in one snake-like motion and started babbling in tongues. “Are you all right, lady?” I enquired, foolishly engaging the demented woman with misguided post-Olympic spirit.

“Manubuyorcomintatottinhemshittyounort,” she garbled before scuttling off on all-fours backwards in the direction of the Emirates Stadium. What was this devilry?

Ignoring the strong aroma of brimstone (possibly a new Starbucks coffee flavouring), I stepped over a large crack that had formed in the pavement and found myself drawn to the flickering window of the local television store.

Two TVs, in particular, caught my eye. Each featured a yellow news ticker racing across the screen at breakneck speed. One switched to Sky Sports News said: ‘Adebayor signs for Spurs’. The other fixed on BBC News stated, ‘Rapture begins in north London…’

Aware of a looming presence standing alongside me, I turned sheepishly and looked up into the crazed yellow eyes of a large winged demon with rubbery, lobster red skin and curling ram-like horns on either side of his bulbous head.

“What’s happened?” said the winged satanic beast, pausing briefly to barbecue a passing Chelsea fan with a flaming burst of his fiery breath.

“Levy’s signed a striker,” I gasped, slightly distracted by the hellish legions slowly congregating around us to gaze blankly at the two televisions. The look of sheer bewilderment on their faces was a sight to behold.

“Ah, so that’s why it’s the end of the f***ing world!” laughed the demon. “Change of plan, my demonic brothers. I think we’ll head back to hell for another nine months. I want to see how this season ends.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Newcastle 2 Tottenham 1: Spurs tick without Modric

Like the flirtations of a beautiful deaf woman, there were encouraging signs about Spurs’ first game of the season at the Sports Direct Arena.

A creditable, high energy performance brought no reward in terms of points, but instilled sufficient faith that the Villas-Boas blueprint may find a far more coherent execution in his second foray into Premier League management.

Perhaps most heartening of all was watching a Spurs side tick without the midfield promptings of absent conductor Luka Modric. The team still requires reconstructive surgery in the form of emergency striker enhancement and squad liposuction, but I saw enough at first hand in the Tyneside sunshine to suggest an entertaining and potentially successful season in the noble half of North London.

Myopic FA Cup semi-final referee Martin Atkinson’s involvement was about as welcome as a honeymoon STI, but despite a liberal sprinkle of home decisions (notably soft bookings for Sandro and Jake Livermore) Spurs’ endeavour was undone by a sumptuous strike from Demba Ba and a softly-conceded penalty following Jermain Defoe’s predatory equaliser.

Ever the unfortunate, Spurs conceded the decisive spot-kick with just ten men on the field (with Sandro temporarily waved off by Atkinson following treatment) having, in the finest Tottenham tradition, mentally switched off after the restart. The dual, uneducated lunges of Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart arguably merited two penalties.

Spurs had previously hit the post through the livewire Defoe and bar via Gareth Bale’s looping header and pressed Newcastle deep into their own half with a high octane tempo that augurs well for the games to come.

Yet in the dying embers of the game, AVB’s only remaining card was to introduce rookie Harry Kane for his Premier League debut; insufficient firepower for the task in hand and never likely to bring a merited Spurs equaliser. One can only hope (or pray to any listening god or deity) that the wheezing moths are finally released from Daniel Levy’s tightly-zipped wallet and a high end frontman arrives in time for the first home game of the season against Steve Clarke's buoyant West Brom.

Otherwise, it's time to convert Heurelho Gomes to a striker and wave in a new era of chaos.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kanu solves Spurs striker crisis, implements new loyalty point system

Somewhere in a dimly-lit basement below Spurs ticket office, a tired looking Nigerian is crunching numbers. A door suddenly opens, revealing a burst of near-blinding light that causes the middle-aged man to recoil and shield his bloodshot eyes.

A Tottenham employee descends the flight of stone steps and extends a friendly, welcoming hand to Spurs’ new international striker.

“Hello Kanu! They told me you were down here.”

“Aaagh! Your grip, so strong, like five coiled snakes around my fingers.”

“Sorry mate. Welcome to Spurs. We hope you can follow where Louis Saha left off.”

“When I signed for the Chairman, I was told I would play a significant part in the new season. But here I am, adding up loyalty points. We had a gentleman’s agreement.”

“The deal suited all parties. Portsmouth were delighted with those Greggs vouchers. Can I have your autograph?”

“It is hard… hold a pen these days. Can I sign with a rubber stamp?”

Kanu dips a rubber stamp into some blood red ink and marks the Spurs employee’s autograph book alongside his prized Andy Booth signature.

“It says ‘legal immigrant’.”

The experienced striker shrugs innocently and rolls a couple of dice.

“So how are the new loyalty points working out?”

“Still adding them up using the new formula. Number of years a season ticket holder…14…multiplied by the roll of two dice…11… equals….123 loyalty points.”

“I’m no Vorderman, but I think your maths is a bit off there."

“Numbers…..never my strong suit…except when it comes to wages. Then I am the African Rainman.”

“You okay for Saturday at the Sports Direct? You look a bit…tired.”

The Nigerian picks up three arthritis tablets and washes them down with a glass of cloudy water.

“I’m a strong man, heart of a lion. 47 ye…27 years old and (cough) ready for (splutters)…another new season. Bring on (cough) the Geordies. I can hold the ball up like away tickets in the post. Why (cough) is it so dusty down here?”

“We had to sack the old cleaner Vedran because he was so slow, I mean prehistoric. But we’ve got a new guy now. Luka! Luka! Get your arse down here.“

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Help Emmanuel Adebayor, make poverty history

As legendary wit and Spur Peter Cook once famously opined: “I have learned from my mistakes and I am sure I can repeat them exactly.”

Daniel Levy, take note.

With the season opener at Newcastle less than two weeks away, our beloved Tottenham tread familiar ground, a third consecutive summer transfer window without the purchase of a leading striker and a second with our midfield playmaker agitating for a move.

Luka Modric has ‘joined Real Madrid’ so many times that the merest mention of the Croatian’s name has rendered sleeping pills redundant. Whisper ‘Luka Modric’s advisors have agreed terms on a £28million deal to Real Madrid’ in an insomniac’s ear and watch them black out and fall face first into a pillow.

Meanwhile, ‘The black Bono’ Emmanuel Adebayor has simultaneously been ‘signing for Spurs’ for eight weeks. The deal only being held up by the mad-haired striker’s heartfelt wish that Manchester City pay him to solve world poverty.

Both situations, it now seems, will rumble on inevitably to August 31st or ‘St. Levy’s Day’ as it is known in less salubrious parts of Edmonton (widely known as Edmonton).

New coach Andre Villas-Boas has become a curious co-conspirator at ‘striker light’ Spurs : "In this market it's important to make good, sound bids, not just to do anything for the sake of it,” parroted AVB this week. “We are hopefully moving in the market in the next couple of days or weeks.”

Days? Weeks? We’ve been trying to buy a striker for three-and-a-half f***ing years, Andre. Let’s not rush into anything!

A venerable Spurs fan sent me an email today highlighting the obvious folly of Levy’s transfer brinkmanship. One quote, in particular, deserves a wider audience.

“What Daniel Levy seems oblivious to is that the points lost during a dodgy start to a season may be sufficient to deny Champions League qualification at the end of it; so hanging on to August 31st in an effort to hammer down a fee might save ‘x’ pounds in the short-term, but a much greater sum ‘y’ turns out to be lost later on. I can never see the economic sense in that. And, of course, having new recruits in place well before the opening fixture makes so much more sense in terms of team preparation.”

Small wonder that Spurs often start the season with slug-like urgency and pay so dearly at its conclusion.

The Adebayor transfer, given his ludicrous wages and possible detachment from reality, was always going to be a tough one to seal. The lack of traction in an alternative deal is as disappointing as it is unsurprising.

For all Adebayor’s personal quirks, there is little denying he fits the Spurs system and was a major contributor in Tottenham’s best performances of last season.

His signature could solve the club’s neverending striker crisis and potentially thwart world poverty. But expect neither to happen before the Newcastle game.