Monday, 25 July 2011

Haikus for Luka

Luka, we loved you
But now you 'dream' of Chelsea
Avoid dark alleys

Don't leave us Luka
And if you do, don't go there
Anywhere but there

Luka on a yacht
Dreams of Chelsea and money
Levy wakes him up

Yep, it's come to this. Our summer is still eerily quiet. Brad Friedel is the only addition to the squad and has announced himself by flapping hopelessly at an innocuous cross-shot and conceding an embarrassing, unnecessary goal. Training with Gomes was always a bad idea.

Our South African tour finally produced a victory, but no real signs of life and hopefully no clues as to the line-up or level of ambition for next year.

From the outside, it looks like Spurs are sleep-walking through the close season.

Behind the scenes, please God, we're bustling and bullish and about to announce the signing of two top quality strikers, one smart and silky centre back - and possibly Arjen Robben as a bit of a billy bonus. By Friday, please.

Next week, Gareth Bale limericks. 'There once was a winger from Wales...'

Monday, 18 July 2011

Spurs: Heading for atrophy - or in need of a proof reader?

I am aware of the counter argument to this. I am aware, in fact, that this is a fucking ridiculous thing to say, but: I'm worried.

The counter argument is that, as we stand, a team including a decent dollop of players who we'll eventually either sell or sideline have played 90 meaningless minutes, and that, anyway, no pre-season games ever give a realistic guide to form come kick-off.

But, still, I'm worried. I'm worried we're going to hit August 13th with all the momentum and dynamism of a soggy pudding. I'm worried that we're lacking leadership, direction, ambition and any galvanising sense of purpose and unity.

I wrote half way through 10/11 that, actually, the most important period in the club's recent history wouldn't be the season we failed to qualify for the Champions League, it would be the summer after the season we failed to qualify for the Champions League. That would decide whether we were going to be part of a permanent shift/broadening of the Premier League power base, or whether we'd just been tourists all along.

We're now more than halfway through that summer and so far we seem to be either embroiled in ugly situations in which we're battling against bigger opponents for obscure reasons (Redknapp in court, the Modric saga, the stadium fiasco), or we're just sitting on our hands (the transfer 'activity').

I'm worried that we're running out of time. I'm worried that our agenda has been hijacked - by agents, by Chelsea, by Sky Sports fucking News or whatever. Oh, and Sandro's injured.

But, yes, fucking hell, give 'em a chance, etc. Absolutely. Daniel, Luka, Harry, everyone, could all be ready for Everton and 11/12, shoulder-to-shoulder with impressive new colleagues as well as each other, determined to prove that we're better than last year and better than the year before; that 5th is not "as good as it gets" and that Champions League qualification (at least) is a realistic target this year and every year from now on.

Like I say, this is ridiculous. Only an idiot would start writing the season off in July. An idiot or a Spurs fan - a certain type of Spurs fan, anyway. Hi, have we met?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Going to the match

I recently read Stuart Maconie's Hope and Glory and it has inspired me to write something vaguely serious, something about why we support Spurs, in fact.

Actually, about why anyone supports any team, about why we go to the match. I guess, in the light of the unseemly Modric mess (itself part of a wider and even grubbier malaise) it's something depressingly close to me groping for a reason to believe.

In the book, Maconie takes a significant day from each decade of the 20th century and so builds a timeline of how modern Britain was made.

In the '60s, he chooses July 30th, 1966. But it isn't this one that made me think about football, our club and why we support it.

That was prompted by an earlier entry, 3rd May, 1926, the first day of the general strike which, at one point, looked like sparking a British workers' revolution.

Maconie uses it as a starting point for an exploration of the wider history of industrial action and so, inevitably, discusses the miners' strike of 1984. In particular he focuses on the Battle of Orgreave.

At one point, he says: "After watching working people, men you drank with, men you went to the match with, brothers, husbands, fathers, beaten with truncheons and charged with horses for defending their livelihoods..."

Now, I'm not going to pontificate on the strike, the politics or the sentiments (or even finish the point he's making). That stuff's all far too important to be kicked around in this comical little corner of the internet. But, I did find the whole thing quite moving - and was particularly struck by the phrase "men you went to the match with".

I like that phrase. They are all good honest words and they describe what we do. We go to the match. We go in foul weather and usually return in foul moods, but we still go and we go together. Two of us, or 36,000 of us, depends how you count these things.

And that, I thought, is what's important - important in terms of football and what it means, not important in terms of the decline of British industry and the dismantling of workers' rights, obviously.

Nothing thrills like victory and nothing crushes like defeat. But these are just the high and low notes. They're not the main body of work.

What supporting Spurs is actually about, or at least has come to be about, is the people I've been going to the match with for quarter of a century. And the people I met last season at matches. And even the THFC Twitter community who I've never been to the match with, but surely will one day.

It's about going with friends and meeting their friends, who instantly become your friends, and then they bring their brother, or their son, or their Dad, and you shake hands and you buy drinks and, straight away, you're off...

You may all only meet up at one or two games a year, but somehow you're all friends, and the group keeps widening, season by season, and conversation always flows. There is always something to talk about, something we care about. Not the weather or the telly or fucking interest rates, but our beloved team, our dreadful curse, our reason for knowing each other.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club have probably brought me more pain than joy over the years. They absolutely cannot be relied upon. I have learned this and learned to accept this.

But supporting Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, just going to the match, that has enriched my life hugely. (This is quite close to saying I support Spurs despite the team itself, isn't it?)

I hope this isn't mawkish or deluded. I don't think I'm either. The very worst football supporters (some of the very worst people, in fact) that I've ever met have been Spurs fans.

I have nothing in common with them and wouldn't wish to spend a second in their company. But that's because I've met more Spurs supporters than I have any other supporters. We've got our idiots just like every other club (although not every other club's manager calls his supporters idiots on national TV about three times a season).

But, forget them; I go to Spurs and talk about Spurs with some of the very best people. And so, probably, do you. And that's why, even though when we eventually sell Modric to Chelsea I will, for a while, believe it to signify the very end of days, and even though when we lose 0-1 at home to Everton on August 13th, that bloody cat will do well to make itself scare, I will continue to go to the match.

Well, I'll give 'em just one more season, at least.

Don't dream, it's over

We all know there is a vast disconnect between how we, as fans, feel about our clubs, and how players, as professionals, feel about their jobs.

Basically, we care and they don't. We're loyal and they're not.

They want to win, of course, pretty fucking desperately. But they want to win largely for themselves, not for their club and not for us. Victory validates and glorifies them and enhances their status (and bargaining power). What matters at the end of their career is their medal collection - not which clubs they won those medals for.

And that's fine. All bar the dumbest football supporters roll their eyes and chortle when some badge-kissing prannet gushes on about how the lads are determined to win something for these amazing supporters etc...

So, yeah, to paraphrase the chimp-dressed-as-removal-man in that old PG Tips ad: you play it, we'll feel it. Supporting a team is almost entirely emotional playing for one simply isn't.

With that in mind, it's also fair (if a bit blindingly fucking obvious) for people to point out, in cases like the current Luka Modric imbroglio, that our expectations should be based on the mindset of a player, not a fan.

It's no good us blanching with incredulity like some outraged old dowager if one of the club's employees says he wants to go and work for another company, willing to pay him more money for essentially the same job.

But players have to keep their side of this loveless bargain. They need to be honest and explain the purely mercenary and self-centred reasons behind the move. They do not need to trot out some old pony about how it is their 'dream' to play for Chelsea. Unless, maybe, the Croatian word for 'dream' is the same word for 'lucrative career move'. In that case, 'It is my dream to play for Chelsea' makes perfect sense.

Luka wants to go to Chelsea for two reasons: money and the fact that, due to previous levels of investment, it's easier to win things there.

It's certainly easier than staying at Spurs and trying and affect a shift in the balance of power. Just go to where the power is, instead. Easy. The phrase 'if you can't beat them, join them' would fit the bill perfectly and literally - if it wasn't for the fact that A) we beat them quite regularly these days and B) We can't beat fucking Blackpool, and it doesn't seem to be his 'dream' to play for them.

Anyway, that's it. I've got nothing to say about the rest of it: about whether he will stay or whether he should stay; about who we should sell him to or how much we should get for him; about who should replace him or if he's irreplaceable.

I'm tired of the whole thing, I'm tired of Modric - and I'm getting pretty tired of football.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A broken down Bentley

We were warned. Nobody can say we weren’t warned.

When Spurs signed David Bentley from Blackburn in July 2008, for a fee with the potential to rise as high as £17m, there were plenty of naysayers muttering darkly about attitude and ego. And that was just amongst Spurs fans.

Our friends up the road, once they’d finished chortling, simply shook their heads and declared with cast-iron certainty that the lad might have talent, but he would never cut it at the top level; that Arsene had seen a flaw not in his technique but in his mental make-up – and that he’d been right to let him go.

It was fitting and encouraging, then, that Bentley announced himself as a Spurs player with that astonishing volley in a 4-4 draw at the Emirates.

Inevitably, that turned out to be his absolute peak. And since then his form has dipped almost as sharply as that shot.

Two moments stand out. The first was when he emptied a vat of ice water over Harry Redknapp live on TV after we’d beaten Man City to clinch fourth in 09/10.

It was vaguely amusing, I suppose, for people who don't have an actual sense of humour, but for him to hijack centre stage at that time, no matter how playfully, seemed sort of wrong. The hard work had been done by others, Bentley just provided a silly little flourish - and chiefly for the cameras. It’s what he does. Redknapp didn’t seem especially impressed, either.

Then, at the start of the 10/11 season he took his place in an unusually weakened line-up against an unusually strong Arsenal in the third round of the Carling Cup. He clearly felt slighted at his inclusion and duly put in a shocking performance to make his point – assuming his point was ‘I’m a deluded grandstander with no grasp of my current worth within my employer’s ranks and I’m simply not prepared to put in any effort to rectify that situation’.

It was, genuinely, like playing with 10 men that night – and by the end of it, Bentley’s Spurs career was effectively over.

A few years ago, this man was regularly hailed as “the new Beckham”. Looking back it seems this must have been based largely on him being English, slow, playing on the right hand side of midfield and having nice hair. But in the beginning, presumably it must have been at least partly to do with talent.

And maybe it had some merit. Beckham has achieved great things at huge clubs and clocked up 115 caps, but is he, at his core, a much more naturally talented player than Bentley? Or has he, whilst never exactly being a Scholes-like shunner of the spotlight off the pitch, applied himself in every minute or every game and every training session in order to build a career of which any player would be proud?

We all now accept that Bentley will not be the new Beckham. He is free of that shadow. What no one will accept is him continuing to be the old Bentley. He needs a fresh start. Again. And soon, surely, Spurs will grant him one.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The biggest club in the world revealed!

It's rare that this blog deals in 'news'. But this is just too big to ignore.

It strikes, in fact, at the very heart of 'bigness'.

Scientists working in a secret base in Switzerland (no reason it should be secret, no real reason it should be Switzerland; you're already suspicious, I can tell) have come up with a super computer that will prove once and for all who the 'biggest' club in the world is.

Based on the Large Hadron Collider, football's version is the Big Ron Collider.

The question of bigness has, of course, been the subject of relentlessly erudite debate amongst the most sophisticated football fans for decades. And the controversy hasn't been limited solely to who is the 'biggest' club but, at every level, who is the 'bigger' club - meaning no one has been left out.

At no stage have these arguments been futile, annoying and ultimately pointless. In fact, there is a widespread belief that if these questions can be answered to everyone's satisfaction then there will be no need to carry on playing actual football matches at all.

Why, I myself was jovially bantering back and forth with a Chelsea supporter just the other week about which of our two clubs was 'bigger'. We took various factors into account: history, spending power, trophies, domestic support, global profile, the fact that he was a fucking bell end, loads of things. It really was quite lively stuff - and all in good sport, obviously.

Such speculation is, however, a thing of the past.

Because, using a complex system of matrices and coefficients, fans will now simply have to enter their team's name into the Big Computer and they will be issued with a Bigness Factor - the ultimate, cast iron and irrefutable indicator of their club's standing in the game. If their BF is bigger than another fan's BF, they win. There will be no argument.

You know, I haven't used the word 'coefficient' since school. I'll be fingering Pamela Watson* next.

Those two statements are both untrue and, important this, very much connected. I didn't just drift off topic and update you on my schedule for the day.

Anyway, back to the story - and the 'Big' pay off....

What this means, of course, is that we now know who the biggest club in the world is. The Toblerone munching boffins fed every scrap of relevant data into the funnel at the top of their whirry, clanky machine, pulled a comically oversized lever, checked everything twice, consulted some clipboards because it felt like the right thing to do, and were then confident enough to declare once and for all who is the biggest team on the planet.

And the answer is.... 42.

Now, let that be the fucking end of it.

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Pam's hasn't as she was never remotely innocent - God bless her.