The last game and following pitch invasion and ceremony were all lavishly done. A final victory at the stadium over a half hearted Manchester United – who probably have most eyes on the Europa League final – was followed by a parade of legends in the rain, and choir and opera singers of some terrace chants. Amusing of course was the pitch invasion, with one claim from The Spurs Show podcast that to clear it, all they needed to do was give the microphone to Pat Jennings!
I’m writing this an hour ahead of the final games of the season, where Spurs finish off against a relegated Hull City. The season has been a good one from my point of view – Spurs were generally excellent despite struggles in the Champions League and FA Cup when we hit Wembley. The winners Chelsea are led by a terrific coach in Conte, while the on-off form of West Brom, Southampton and Bournemouth has showed that this remains the best league in the world.
Today marks 17 years since that Ryan Giggs goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi final. It’s a goal that has been analysed over and over since.
As a Spurs fan, I should take some pleasure in the goal, but part of me feels it lacks some of the magic of other “long and winding goals”. So I decided to present my top five similar efforts, including one by Giggs himself.
Number 5 – Ryan Giggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quI_LkMj4HI
Let’s start with this, as Giggs picks it up in his own half, is mostly unchallenged until Patrick Viera makes an effort, pushes past Dixon and Keown and scores a nice finish with a shot over Seaman.
Number 4 – George Weah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDuZpma_Oxs
Slightly better as it does involve a longer run having collected it in his own penalty box, and he gets past two paltry Verona challenges before rolling it in.
Number 3 – Saeed Al-Owaira https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8w89sl7Grc
A legendary goal from an excellent tournament. He gets the ball in his own half, is generally unchallenged by the Belgian running alongside him, gets past one dizzy defender on the 18 yard line and executes a very nice finish.
Number 2 – Roberto Baggio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGUeRn5c3Tc
Often forgotten, but still excellent. The divine ponytail exchanges passes in the Czech half before he is given incredible amounts of space (for a player of his ability) and the finish is excellent. The Charlie George-esque celebration makes it extra special.
Number 1 – Diego Maradona https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY40__rBvSk
“You have to say that’s magnificent” declared Barry Davies. He gets past 3 England defenders, takes it around Shilton whilst under pressure. One of the greatest of all time.
Now comes the month of uncertainty for Spurs, as February has typically been the month where the 20 something games played already goes to waste.
Memories will be cast back to those who chose to remind our not-so-noisy neighbours to “mind the gap”, while in 2011/2012 Spurs backed up an impressive five goal win over Newcastle with another collapse and failure to qualify for the Champions League. This season does look like things could go right. At the time of writing Spurs are third in the league and have a capability to grind out results – recent games against Norwich City and Colchester United are a great example of that.
Yes the stories about the price of the starting 11, Delle Alli’s emergence and Harry Kane’s goal scoring have all been told and are crucial to the tale of this season. Crucial also is the lack of any new players to arrive in January, while Andros Townsend, Federico Fazio and Alex Pritchard all left the club for the rest of the season. I did see an analogy that said when Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan in prime form they didn’t go out and get another Jordan, instead they put full faith in the playing squad that they had. Same here I guess, Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Alderweireld and Lloris have all remained fit, and the squad has so far only been set back by the injury to Jan Vertonghen.
Many will point to the failure to boost the defence and striker positions in January if the season collapses, but a collapse now would mean a failure to qualify for the Champions League. Some are whispering about the league championship, others on the FA Cup and Europa league, the truly ambitious on all three. What I know is this is the strongest team we have seen in years and week after week Spurs are getting the results they need to ensure strength in the finish.
Whether the unspeakable (be it positive or negative) should happen, the club will never satisfy everyone, but in a season where so much is possible, this dark February could be the month that sits in history books and is talked about for generations. Again, whether it is positive or negative remains to be seen.
Steve McLaren started his tenure as Newcastle United manager with a declaration to the toon fans to “judge me after ten games”. Now more than ten games into this season, we have one of the most open and scintilating seasons upon us in years.
Let’s face the truth – I’m a pretty smug Spurs fan with our place in fifth after 11 games and only one defeat (on the opening day, away at Manchester United, courtesy of an own goal) and signs of a pretty good first third of the season attributed to us. The ambition of Pochettino to play a high-line pressing game has paid off so far and with laptop touching wood, this has not seen the team caught out too many times – the Mahrez goal for Leicester the main exception.
The danger with playing a fast-paced pressing game is stamina, and while our team is relatively young there is not a huge amount of strength in depth and Spurs are an injury to Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen away from a major problem.
The change in management at Liverpool has seen new German boss Jurgen Klopp try a similar tactic and arguably, Liverpool have not adapted to this and this could cause changes to be made at Anfield in the January transfer window. At Spurs, the lack of strength in depth is evident in the centre of defence and in attack, and I would expect to see the end of Federico Fazio’s tenure with Spurs and a new face in attack to aid Harry Kane.
Another reason to love Spurs this season has been in the development and use of young players. Following the addition of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Eric Dier and Kane to the starting 11, along with opportunities for Joshua Onomah, Harry Winks and Tom Carroll, this is something to be excited about. However these mostly fill the already-crowded midfield and many Spurs fans are excited about the introduction of defender Cameron Carter-Vickers in the coming seasons.
For now, this (and a new striker, although I expect the addition of Saido Berahino to be completed in January) remains the biggest concern. Not being at the wrong end of the table, not a bad run of form and not a looming visit to Arsenal. No, the biggest concerns are four days at the end of month, containing a trip to Azerbaijan to play Qarabag in the Europa League, and a game against out of form Chelsea. Let’s hope everyone plays safe.
Following the tabloids in making a major pivot in their attitude to Syrian refugees, September 12th will see English football fans reflect German fans with a “refugees welcome” serenade. At present there are groups on Facebook and Twitter forming to encourage and welcome those supporter groups embracing the opportunity to participate.
Now I don’t expect many clubs to formally make the gesture (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/34142261) that Bayern Munich have done, with training camps to accommodate and teach refugees. Yet a formal form of recognition would be terrific, even if it is just in permitting large banners and flags with the Refugees Welcome international symbol (http://publicdomainvectors.org/photos/refugees_welcome.png).
On the day designated for such evangelism – a word better than protest I feel – I will be attending Portsmouth vs Barnet and in the way end. It would be great to see members of Barnet’s supporting groups back the refugees welcome movement, and show that English fans can show class.
Unfortunately my team Tottenham Hotspur will not have a home game, instead will be playing at Sunderland. I hope to read headlines about action taken by both teams, especially considering the history that Spurs have in battling oppression and welcoming ethnic minorities. This was the team that had the first black player in the football league Walter Tull, and also when England played a Nazi Germany in the 1930s, a fan climbed to the top of White Hart Lane to tear down the swastika flag.
A statement by football fans is one thing, and it seems that political activity is beginning after the horrific front pages that we have witnesses this week. Where the movement goes next is anyone’s guess, but sometimes it just needs someone or something to start it.