Wednesday, 4 May 2011
The ten greatest moments of my Spurs supporting life - No. 1
1) Tottenham 3 - Arsenal 1
FA Cup Semi-Final
Spurs scorers: Gascoigne, Lineker (2)
I genuinely had trouble sleeping before the 1991 semi-final with Arsenal. Not the night before, the week before.
It all meant far too much, I'm afraid.
It was my first year as a season ticket holder. I'd been to all the games, home and away, in the cup run to date. Arsenal were romping away with the league. Paul Gascoigne had become the best player in the world. Spurs were on the brink of collapse and/or greatness. It was the first ever semi-final at Wembley. It was the first ever semi-final between Spurs and Arsenal. It was Terry Venables Vs George Graham. It was the rebel alliance Vs the evil empire. It was post Italia '90 and football was probably more popular than it had ever been.
People, I cannot overstate what a fucking big deal this game was.
Now, perhaps, it might not seem so big, or so special. We've played Arsenal in two more semi-finals since then. All semi-finals are held at Wembley. And, thanks to the Premier League and Sky, a Bolton throw-in gets its own theme tune, but in 1991, this was uncharted territory.
I remember when it was announced where they were staging the match. We were wide-eyed with wonder. They couldn't, surely? But nowhere else could take us, nowhere else could cope with or do justice to the occasion. The only alternative was space.
The game. When we were awarded that free kick, I said to a friend, 'He won't shoot from there'. What I meant was he shouldn't shoot from there. I knew he was hyped up, I knew he believed anything was possible, but here was a chance to float a decent ball into their box and see if we could maybe sneak something.
And one of the great pieces of commentary, courtesy of Barry Davies: "Is he going to have a crack? He is you know. Oh I say. Brilliant. That (pause) is schoolboys own stuff. Is there anything left from this man to surprise us?"
Sadly, of course, there was. But that would come another day. Gazza wasn't finished with this match yet.
A few minutes later he darted, dummied and feinted down the right wing before slipping Paul Allen in. His cross caused a scramble and Lineker poked home.
Before the break, Alan Smith pulled one back. A boring man with a boring voice scoring a boring goal.
The second half was the most nervous I've ever been at a football match. At one point as they attacked, everyone stood up in anticipation of a shot coming in, I stood up too, I had to, just to see, but as I did my legs shook so violently that I had to sit straight back down again. Torture.
And then Gary Mabbutt, genial, lion-hearted, Gary Mabbutt fed Lineker just inside their half, Vinny Sideways made a run (yes, sideways) to take away a defender, allowing the future Match of the Day anchor to burst into the space and fire a really rather weak shot into the far corner.
'And David Seaman will be very disappointed about that', said Davies, once again surpassing himself. The phrase actually became the title of a single by indie supergroup The Lillies, comprising Spurs-supporting members of The Cocteau Twins, Lush and Moose. It was given away as a flexi-disc on the cover of The Spur fanzine.
Merson, I think, hit the bar late on and the rebound fell to... Campbell, possibly, who dragged his shot wide. At that moment, I knew we'd done it. Joy was unconfined.
It was a fantastic game and a great result, but the truth is, we shouldn't (have to) hark back to it as much as we do. We should have done better since then. For a start, we should have won another semi-final - we've played five and lost five.
It tops my list, though, not because it was a great achievement or because it was against Arsenal, but because it came at a certain time and was the last real roar of a certain Spurs spirit. In the late '80s, under George Graham, Arsenal had started to pull away from us. They'd had the better of the head-to-heads and had started to pick up trophies as well.
But they were still Arsenal. They were still a prosaic and yeomanry bunch who worked hard for their wins and ground out results. They hadn't had their makeover yet. They weren't pretty.
Spurs weren't as pretty as they had been in the mid-80s. No side with David Howells in it can ever be described as really pretty. They weren't even a patch on the '87 team, when the five-man midfield plus Clive Allen up top threatened to win the lot.
But we still at least played the part of the swaggering cavaliers. We still believed our own hype and tried to live up to it. We still signed players like Paul Gascoigne and built a team around him. Arsenal would never have done that.
Hey, they were probably right. And we were probably wrong. But at least we were who we were. We were still playing our respective parts, before those fuckers chucked away the script away and stole our costume.
Two years later, when Arsenal got their revenge, I took solace (though not much) in the 'style' of their victory and the contrast with ours. They pinched it 1-0 thanks to a Tony Adams header from a set-piece: an ulgly win, an ugly match, an ugly player. We'd lit Wembley up, attacked from the off, scored three, conceded one and been inspired by the most skillful player in the world. We'd both won according to type.
That's all changed now, of course. Everything's changed. My relationship with Spurs has changed. Back then, everything seemed possible. Winning three or four major trophies every 10 years seemed feasible. I was young, dammit. Maybe that's what I miss most. Maybe that's what gives this match its golden glow.
I hope this isn't number one forever. I hope it is easily and gloriously eclipsed by the current crop or by some heroes we've yet to see wearing those famous white shirts. But even if it does sink down the rankings, it will never fully fade, because:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.