So yet another season ends at yet another crossroads, following more lows than highs and leaving more questions than answers. Like just about every club on the planet, ever, we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again, but it does seem to have been an over-common and over-recurring theme in all the years I’ve been enduring an allegiance to Spurs.
The first season I started going, Shreeves had just inherited Burkinshaw’s multi-cup winning team. Despite Burkinshaw quitting and Archibald being sold, we had a great season, came third, but Shreeves couldn’t follow it up and was sacked at the end of the next season, a particular low being a crowd of 10,801 turning up to watch a First Division match against West Brom at three o’clock on a snowy but sunny Saturday afternoon in March. I got on the train to go to that one but ended up wandering around Carnaby Street instead. We won that game 5-0.
From third to tenth and Pleat came in from ninth placed Luton Town. Another great season, third again, League Cup semi-final heartbreak, FA Cup final heartbreak (the only times I’ve been to see us in League Cup semi-finals or FA Cup finals; sorry), Hoddle left, Pleat got caught kerb-crawling, another poor season, and Venables came in. A particular low point was going out of the FA Cup away to Port Vale. I went to this one as well. Sorry for that. And for sharing.
I always feel Venables’ time managing the club was like two separate spells. There was the Gazza / Lineker / Paul Stewart team that won the 91 Cup Final ahead of El Tel disappearing upstairs and these three mainstays disappearing by the end of the following season, then there was the Sheringham / Anderton / Barmby / Ruddock team that seemed to form out of nowhere during the winter of 92 /93 and suddenly look so promising. Yet again, we won nothing, but we followed up that horrible FA Cup Semi-Final 0-1 to Arsenal when Anderton had a stonewall penalty waved away by thumping Norwich at The Lane. Norwich came third that season. The future looked bright for Tottenham again.
Venables fell out with Sugar that summer, Ruddock used the fall-out to engineer a move to Liverpool. The following season under Ardiles was yet another waste of space disaster, coming 15th beneath West Ham and Chelsea back in the days before West Ham had that genius Moyes in their dugout and Chelsea were financially doped. I was almost 100% disenfranchised with the club by this time, yet can still remember traipsing around behind Mrs Wasdan in a clothes store one summer’s Saturday afternoon and falling instantly back in love with all things Tottenham Hotspur when a news-bulletin over the in-store radio announced we’d just signed Jurgen Klinsmann.
1994-95 was probably our last ‘great’ season before ENIC arrived. We were docked twelve points and banned from the FA Cup but Sugar fought the FA and got the ban and the deduction changed to an increased fine of £1.5m. We went out of the League Cup to Notts County. We sacked Ardiles. We brought in Francis. We rallied. We did this away to Southampton in an FA Cup fifth round replay after drawing the first game 1-1 (the only time I ever saw this team in the flesh was in the first game; a Southampton season-ticket holder got me a ticket in the away end at The Lane; that was a weird, weird, weird ninety minutes, not helped by the fact I think it was the first time I ever experienced White Hart Lane as an all-seater – I felt like crying looking across at what little remained of The Shelf):
Obviously we lost the FA Cup Semi-Final 1-4 to Everton (we had a great chance to come back to 2-2 after again going 2-0 down but Stuart Nethercott’s shot was blocked and Everton went straight up the other end and scored (I think it was Nethercott’s shot anyway; probably explains why he wasn’t back where he should have been when Everton scored…)). Klinsmann left. Barmby left. Popescu left. Dumitrescu left. Anderton stayed. Injured. Sheringham, eventually left. Francis was replaced by Christian Gross. Gross was replaced by George Graham. Sporadically, we still made exciting signings such as Ginola, Ferdinand, Rebrov, or what seemed like sensible or promising signings such as Tim Sherwood and Steffen Iversen. We won a trophy. ENIC took over. Under Graham, the football was rarely pretty and Rebrov was more miss than hit. But then out of nowhere in those first days of Levy, we did this:
And that was pretty much George Graham’s last game in charge of the club. By the time we faced Arsenal in the Semi-Final that followed this game, Levy had sacked him and brought Hoddle in. I was at that Old Trafford semi-final against Arsenal. As much as it pains me to say it, we were lucky not to lose by four or five. But Hoddle was back at his spiritual home. And Sugar was gone. We’d be alright moving forwards…
This situation we’re in now reminds me a little bit of when Hoddle’s reign ran out of steam. Sacked on 21st September, Pleat back in a caretaker role, that same old rudderless feeling, long streaks of losses and then we’d go and beat someone like Liverpool or ‘treat’ our fans to a mad-crazy result like 4-4 against Leicester, or romp into a 3-0 half-time lead against Keegan’s Manchester City in the FA Cup at home… which we followed up straight after with this:
Santini came in with Arnesen as Levy tried a Director of Football out for the first time. You couldn’t walk around a clothes-store that summer without another new Spurs signing being announced over the in-store radio. We signed ten between 14th May and 25 August. I went to our season-opener against Liverpool on 14th August and even some of the season ticket holders sitting around me were scratching their heads trying to work out who was who. In typical Tottenham under Levy fashion, the combined cost of the six players who made their debuts that day amounted to little more than half of the £14m fee Liverpool had paid for Djibril Cisse. Our 1-1 draw was well deserved. And another bright new dawn was a-dawning.
It lasted thirteen games under Santini. But that was okay. In came Jol and for the first time in a long time, being a Spurs fan felt fun. No, he couldn’t break the top-four. No, we couldn’t keep hold of the likes of Carrick or Berbatov. No, we didn’t win anything. But it was fun. I went to the Quarter Final Second Leg against Ramos’s Sevilla when we were 2-1 down from the First Leg and Malbranque scored a third minute own-goal then our old-boy Kanoute scored in the 8th minute to essentially finish the tie. When the teams came out for the second-half, the atmosphere in The Lane was somehow electric, and even more so when Defoe and Lennon scored in the 65th and 66th minutes to give us half a chance. Obviously, we never took it, and I was sad when it ended for Jol, but then the League Cup run under Ramos the following season was fun, winning 0-2 against Manchester City with ten men for 70 minutes in the quarters, walloping Arsenal in the semis and doing Chelsea in the Final.
Then Redknapp was fun as well. Some great football. Some great results. Some great players. Some awful decisions. Some terrible results. Personally, although I’ll always find it hard to forgive Redknapp and / or Levy for the Nelson and Saha window and subsequent slide into fourth place, I still think Levy should have given Redknapp another season to see what he could do with his court case over and the England job gone. Other than Bale’s performances, the following season under AVB wasn’t as much fun. And the following season, although the arrival of the Bale Seven was exciting, watching them mis-managed by AVB and then Sherwood – well, there were times when it was so perverse it was funny, but, no, it was never much fun.
Again, the end of that season feels similar to the end of this one. Yet another crossroads. Yet another sense of having to start over again.
And then came Pochettino.
A lot of that was fun, though it wasn’t always perfect. I was there when Sherwood’s Aston Villa beat us 0-1 at The Lane in a truly awful game towards the end of his first season, but I was there when we cruised past Norwich on Boxing Day the next season and then at Three Quarters Lane a few times the following season to see some of the most comprehensive performances I’ve ever seen from a Spurs team – West Brom, Watford and Bournemouth all trounced 4-0. The following season I saw us take Liverpool and Real Madrid apart at Wembley.
If you’d had to pick a Champions League finalist out of those three teams, you’d have wanted to know who we’d be playing, and you wouldn’t have fancied their chances. How on earth did it end up being them?
If you had to pick a sliding-doors moment between us and Liverpool with the benefit of hindsight, it’s probably that Barcelona fancied Coutinho over Eriksen considering they fulfilled similar roles and Eriksen had superior stats at the time. We’d have been distraught and Levy would have been pilloried, but given the way Eriksen’s form ultimately fell off a cliff after the Christmas of the following season, how protracted and painful his last year with us was and how little we got for him in the end, Barcelona or Real Madrid coming in with a Coutinho style offer at that time might really have led us down a different path.
But, still, we beat each of that season’s Champion’s League finalists with Davison Sanchez in the heart of defence for both games, Trippier and Ben Davies (Aurier played in Davies’ position in the Liverpool game) as wing-backs and Harry Winks in central midfield.
The following season, I was at Wembley to see us dismantle Dortmund in the Round of 16. Again, we had Davinson Sanchez in the heart of defence. Foyth played right-back with Aurier in front of him. Vertonghen played left wing-back. Our central midfield consisted of Sissoko and Winks. No Alli. No Kane. I can honestly say I’ve never felt prouder of a Spurs team as I did that night. I think it’s the only Spurs game I’ve ever been to where I’ve come away wanting to try harder at life.
In another sliding-doors moment, Pochettino rushed Harry Kane straight back into the team the weekend after this game. Although Kane scored our only goal, we played terribly and went down 2-1 to Burnley. Other than in the Champions League for the rest of that season, we rarely saw Pochettino’s Tottenham play like a Pochettino Tottenham team again.
And while I don’t agree that we got through against City and Ajax on luck alone – we had plenty of chances in both games and played more than our part in two of the greatest knock-out Champions League games there have ever been – they weren’t Pochettinoesque performances.
But they were fun. And even under Mourinho, there was some fun. Leicester at home last season, Southampton and Manchester United away this season. Beating Manchester City and Arsenal at home while top of the league. The excitement of some of our pre-season signings was fun.
Sacking him and sending Ryan Mason into a Wembley final against Pep and City was more odd than fun, and here we are rudderless again, possibly about to see Harry Kane play his last ever game for the club.
After his interview, I’m torn over whether I even wanted him to be picked today. Like some other posters on here, I’ve got increasingly bored of every single Spurs game being turned into a reason to discuss where he needs to go in order to fulfill his potential. The fact he’s given this interview with one of the chief perpetrators of this circus really sticks in the throat.
I’m also torn over what I want from this afternoon’s game.
I don’t want us to be in next season’s Conference, and given we always seem to end up playing a gazillion games in the Europa only to embarrass ourselves in one of the early knock-out rounds, I’m not that fussed about making sixth either.
It would be nice to finish above West Ham, but only in the way it’s nice not to get poked in the eye.
I definitely don’t want Arsenal to finish above us, but they’re playing Brighton at home, and they’ve form for faffing their lines against Brighton at home.
And even if they do finish above us, blimey, well done Arsenal. You came seventh. What a behemoth of a club. Enjoy next season’s Conference.
I guess what I really want is for whoever it’s going to hurt most in the long-term to miss out on Champions League football between Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester is for whatever we do this afternoon to bring that about. If we can put in a decent performance and score a few goals as well, that would be nice. I mean, we had little riding on this late season trip to The King Power, either, but it sure was a lot of fun:
Then I’d like whatever’s going to happen with a new manager and any departing players to happen very, very quickly. Personally, I’d like a return to the early Pochettino model where the club was honest about its salary structure and the fact it wasn’t going to be paying silly transfer fees. That’s how the peak Pochettino squad was put together. It took a long time. It took a lot of misses. It took a lot of luck. And, as it could be now, a lot of the key performers from that team were viewed as waste-of-space underachievers at the time Pochettino arrived at the club. I really loved Tottenham then in a way I don’t love Tottenham today. We seemed to stand for something I could believe in. No oil money. No stupid spending like Liverpool and United. But from the moment in April 2018 when it was revealed Levy was earning twice as much as any other Premier League chief executive and more than any of our players, it seems to have started to unravel. I guess its the fundamental rule of leadership. You have to practice what you preach. Since then, we seem to have become the same as the rest of the big six, just nowhere near as good at it. It’s not been pretty and it’s not been fun.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be again.
Come on you Spurs!