Tottenham Hotspur: The Skin of Our Teeth & The Seat of Our Pants
“Morning”, he said nonchalantly, trying to put out of his head the fact that, in thirteen hours time, his team plays the most important match in its 137-year history.
Because it’s ridiculous, this, isn’t it? Tottenham Hotspur shouldn’t be in the European Cup final. They haven’t won the league since eleven years before I was born, and I’m not a young man. And the nature of their run, the sheer absurdity and bloody-minded nature of it, feels like a prize in itself. Come what may in Madrid this evening, they can’t take that run away from me. I hope that any defeat which may follow isn’t embarassing, though. This Spurs team deserves better than to get knocked for three, four or five goals tonight.
That very thought process is at the heart of what it means to me to support Tottenham Hotspur. And it’s not affected. It’s a perception of the football world that is based upon first hand experience of what this football club has been up to over the last four decades. The growth in use of the word “Spursy” wasn’t an incredible new creation of some sort, it was merely the rest of the world catching up with what Spurs supporters had known about their club for years. So many false dawns and near-calamities.
I can’t describe it as “agony” because you become so numb to it so quickly. Call it a defence mechanism, but I’ve always kept Spurs at arms length – by the time they lost the 1987 FA Cup final to Coventry City it was clear that “the Tottenham way” probably didn’t quite mean the same to the club as it did to the fans – and I think it’s an arrangement that suits us well. It may well be this defence mechanism that informs my relatively corinthian attitude towards football. Appreciate the aesthetic, and you can shield yourself a little from the wilder excesses of fandom. It’s certainly not a matter of considering fandom to be inherently “inferior”, either. It’s just not… good for my blood pressure. If I cared more, Tottenham Hotspur might have done me some serious damage by now.
And their run to the final has been ridiculous. Coming from two goals down in the second half of the second leg away from home against Ajax erased something of the four goals in ten minutes, the VAR and the stoppage-time goal against Manchester City, which erased something of the ease with which they brushed aside Borussia Dortmund in the round of sixteen, which erased a group which which saw them take one point from their first three group matches (the third of which saw goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris sent off), trail in their fourth against PSV before coming back with two goals in the last thirteen minutes to keep themselves in by the skin of their teeth, then score a winning goal with ten minutes to play against Inter to keep themselves in the tournament again, and then score an equaliser away to Barcelona with five minutes to play to get them through the group stages.
How much of that is strength of character and how much of that is luck is, of course, a wholly subjective question dependent upon the extent to which one likes Tottenham Hotspur. It would seem particularly swivel-eyed to not at least acknowledge the role that luck has played, though. From an unlikely flick on five minutes into stoppage-time in Amsterdam, through a VAR and deflection-assisted offside call in the quarter-finals, an unlikely series of events has propelled Spurs to this match when any of them might have stopped them dead in their tracks. It’s thrown up an unlikely hero in the form of Lucas Moura, and a very, very popular one, in Son Heung Min. It’s even had a dash of intrigue, in the form of the “will-he-won’t-he” saga concerning Harry Kane’s participation in tonight’s match, to which we won’t know the answer until the team sheets are published this evening.
For the record, I think that answering this question is extraordinarily difficult and that the only one thing that we supporters can do is keep faith with the manager’s decision, but to bear mind that yes, he might call it wrong because he is a human being and does not possess a time machine (to the best of our knowledge.) It has been argued that even this degree of uncertainty is a tiny advantage for Spurs, considering the amount of preparation and planning that goes into these matches. Will Jurgen Klopp have hedged his bets in terms of setting up his defence? How quickly could they adapt should the team news surprise Klopp?
These brief bursts of thought are something to cling to because it has to also be considered that their opposition, Liverpool, are a phenomenal team. This is a team that was good enough to push Manchester City to the last day of the Premier League season, and those ninety-seven points do mean something profound and strangely unique in the history of English football. But how strong a team Liverpool are doesn’t quite make this match a foregone conclusion just yet. To say that they can is not the same as saying that they will, and there are just enough glimmers of hope – that uncertainty over the Spurs team selection, Jurgen Klopp’s pretty abject record in cup finals, the individual brilliance of players such as Son Heung Min or Christian Eriksen – to keep the possibility realistic, at least.
And it’s made me think, about family, friends I’ve barely spoken to in decades, and about my personal history. I’ve had a fairly rootless life, but my origins are a short walk from White Hart Lane, in Upper Edmonton and it’s strange how, then you really start to think about it all, the memories and feelings really start to flood through you, almost like hormones. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say that supporting a football team is “in your blood.” It’s a serotonin rush. It’s in your brain, and in most ways that’s considerably worse. I’ve been thinking a lot about that childhood this week, about the sights, sounds and feelings of that world, and about how my kids are currently the same age as I was when we lived just behind the Angel. The more you think about it, the more it feels like there’s a lot to take in.
So I could take my stomach, wrap it in a knot, and spend the day pacing around with forty cigarettes simultaneously crammed into my mouth, and props to those who won’t be able to shake that feeling today. Those guys are the fans who truly deserve this experience. And yes, I will be invaded by butterflies and will almost certainly require remedial medication, the side-effects of which I should probably apologise for now, should I be on social media tonight. On the whole, though, I’m going to do what I can to enjoy it. Personally, I feel as though I’ve won a prize already in the form of the entire journey to get to this point and the experience of being involved in this match. I may be wrong (and I hope I am), but my own life story tells me that this is an event that comes up roughly once every forty years.