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Page added on April 11, 2012

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This week in: English Football: Frustrations of a Tottenham fan

This week in: English Football: Frustrations of a Tottenham fan thumbnail

There is a commercial that has been on recently for a new baseball video game. It shows the city of Chicago celebrating the Cubs winning the World Series – the jubilation reflecting the long wait that fans of the team have had – since 1908 – for such a success. Everyone is going crazy, but then the camera pans out and the reveal shows that the victory was achieved only on a games console. The Cubs fan who was playing it has a tear running down his cheek. I feel for that guy – even if it is only an advert.

Us Spurs supporters may not have had to wait quite as long for a title – 1961 was the last time they were champions – but anyone under the age of 50 was not alive when it happened. The last time we won the FA Cup (in 1991) I was 9 years old, the same age my Dad was for the last league title – I just hope I do not have to wait over 8 years until my daughter (already a Tottenham fan) is 9 for us to win something of significance again. Actually, after waiting 21 years for it (League Cups, which we won in 1999 and 2008 are nice, but not that relevant), another 8 does not sound so bad.

We won the league in black and white

The way things are going, however, it could well be a lot longer. Every time it looks like Tottenham have finally turned a corner and will push on to achieve some level of success, the team suddenly forgets how to defend, cannot find the net and look incapable of winning a game. On January 11th of this year, Spurs beat Everton 2-0 in that long awaiting game-in-hand (the original fixture on the opening weekend of the season was postponed due to rioting in the Tottenham area). This is how the top of the league table looked that night:

  1. Man City. Played 20; Points 48
  2. Man United. Played 20; Points 45
  3. Tottenham. Played 20; Points 45
  4. Chelsea. Played 20; Points 37
  5. Arsenal. Played 20; Points 36

That weekend, because of the schedule, Spurs had the chance to move level on points with City at the top of the table, if they could beat Wolves at White Hart Lane. Despite 57% possession and 22 shots on goal, Tottenham could only draw 1-1 and missed out on that opportunity. Nevertheless, the following weekend took Harry Redknapp’s side to the Etihad Stadium to face the Premiership leaders and the opportunity to close the gap back down to 2 points. The turning point of the season for Spurs was not at the Emirates – when they threw away a two goal lead they had not really deserved in the first place – it was at 2-2 in the game against City a few weeks before. In injury time after the 90 minutes were up, Gareth Bale played a ball across the face of goal that eluded Jermain Defoe by a whisker and went harmlessly wide. Moments later, Mario Balotelli – still on the field despite a stamp on Scott Parker – was brought down in the area by, the perennially unfit, Ledley King and converted the penalty himself to secure all three points for the home team. If Defoe was a few inches taller, Tottenham might have emerged victorious – as it was, they left with nothing.

Since that game, Spurs have won just three games out of eleven in the league – the 3-1 successes over Wigan and Swansea, and a 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle. The other 8 games have included: the 5-2 debacle at the Emirates, followed by a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United; three away trips against Liverpool, Chelsea and Sunderland, where 0-0 was settled for and Spurs never showed the ambition to go for the win; a 1-0 loss at Everton in a game Tottenham failed to convert any of the 22 shots or 8 corners they had; and a 1-1 draw with Stoke at the Lane, the point secured with a last gasp equaliser from Van der Vaart. Finally, of course, there was the 2-1 loss at home to Norwich on Monday – beaten by side who are not fighting relegation, not have any European aspirations themselves – but who looked more cohesive as a unit and, dare I say it, had more of a desire to lose, along with less fear of failure.

Including the Wolves and Manchester City results, the run Tottenham have had in the last baker’s dozen of league fixtures is: Played 13; Won 3; Drawn 5; Lost 5. Extrapolated over a 38 game season, such a form would give Tottenham 41 points – leaving them hovering around the relegation zone. As it is, Spurs are struggling to stay in the Champions League places; ahead of Chelsea by 2 points – thanks to Fulham’s late equaliser yesterday – and Newcastle solely on goal difference. My biggest regret with the season, is how much they sucked me in to believing that maybe it would be different this year. Somewhere during that run we had of winning 10 Premiership encounters out of 11, I started to think that it was not going to be like all of the other seasons. The cushion we once enjoyed over Arsenal – 10 points at its height – made me hope that we would finish above our rivals for the first time since 1995.

In all likelihood, this collapse will continue and Tottenham will again fail to qualify for the Champions League. On Sunday, there is the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea – a victory would take Spurs to their first final in that competition for 21 years, yet I do not see how we will beat a side that has been in great form since Roberto DiMatteo took over as manager. Failure in both cases would lead to an exodus of players in the summer: Modric would make the move he so desired to Chelsea last summer; Bale would have his choice of clubs; Van der Vaart would likely depart; and Harry Redknapp is probably going to be the next England manager, despite Tottenham’s recent failings. Their form and performances have been so bad of late, it has got to the point where I would be happy to see a complete revamp of the squad. Earlier in the season, I was suggesting that a comparison of the Spurs squad with that of Arsenal’s would be favourable towards the white half of North London. Now, I am fed up of seeing: Bale diving around on the floor, and his inability to use his right foot; Modric having space on the edge of the area but dragging his shot harmlessly wide; Scott Parker suddenly not understanding that after brilliantly winning the ball, he needs to pass it to one of his own players, not the opposition; those central defenders who are not injured, failing to mark people at corners; Younes Kaboul or Benoit Assou-Ekotto taking free-kicks around the box, instead of Van der Vaart, Defoe or Bale.

Primarily, I am fed up of Harry Redknapp and cannot wait for him to take over as national team boss. I have never been Redknapp’s biggest fan and do accept that since his arrival in 2008, he has done a very good job in improving the squad, but I think all of the positives he brought may not have been worn out. His tactics away from home have been dreadfully negative, especially against Sunderland last Saturday. It is all very well having the majority of possession, but you need to do something with that. Because of Redknapp’s unwillingness to play Bale on the left, with Lennon on the right, teams are able to hold tight through the middle of the pitch and collapse any attack Tottenham have, as they are unable to break the opposition down. If Bale and Lennon were on either flank, the defence would have to stretch out to try to prevent the centre becoming congested. The most consistent goal scorers that are on the squad are Defoe, Van der Vaart and Bale (in that order) and all three should be automatically on the team sheet, with everyone else fitting in around them. If that means Adebayor does not start every game, so be it – Spurs do not play a long ball game, their passing style creates opportunities from the ground around the area, which is not the Togolese striker’s forte. Adebayor is a definite asset in many games, but his presence in the side should not be at the expense of those who regularly find the net.

Tottenham continue to be an incredibly frustrating team to support. Maybe they do no run the risk of relegation each season, nor do they have the financial concerns of so many other clubs, but the manner in which they raise supporters’ expectations every year, before finding new ways to fall short, makes their campaigns like an endurance sport for the fans. I have compared the supporting of Spurs to be like the experience of watching The Wire – but this is not entirely accurate. It would be a more exact analogy if a series of The Wire started in August and lasted until May – building up hope and expectations, before dashing them in the cruelest manner possible. And that happened every single year. Since you were five years old. I also managed to enjoy The Wire – even if the fates of Wallace or Sobotka might be tragic, it did not take away from the overwhelmingly positive feelings I have about the series. In contrast, watching Tottenham is rarely a pleasure for me – it is not exactly a chore, but the outcome is treated as crucial. I want to say that I wish I did not care so much about Spurs – but honestly I would not change it even if i could. The ridiculousness of such investment in something that is out of your control does not escape me, nor does the utter irrelevance of sports in comparison to real things in life like family, yet football does still matter to so many of us fans. It is not life of death – Fabrice Muamba and Stiliyan Petrov’s predicaments remind us of that – but supporting and caring about a team is at least a part of life. It’s just a shame Tottenham don’t make it easier…

John Lally online at Political Footballs

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