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’ http://lustdoctor.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/many-crimes-of-manchester-united-vs.html 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.