Saturday, January 14, 2012

This is an Entry About Football

When I rediscovered my love for football (summer 1996), I'd missed a few years where my team - Spurs - had reasonably good seasons, but if you asked me to tell you where they finished or who played for them between 1988 and 1995, I would struggle beyond Gascoigne, Lineker and Hoddle. I remember telling people how I hid in the cellar of my shop during the 1991 Cup Final because I was too scared to watch the game against Nottm Forest and Brian Clough's last chance to win the only trophy he didn't win.

Since 1996, I've returned to my dedicated following of Spurs and as a result have had many lows and a couple of highs. The League Cup win in 1999 seems more recent than it really was. But in November 2008 with Spurs sitting bottom of the table with 2pts from a possible 24, Harry Rednapp was hired and despite his positive but hardly winning CV, I felt confident he would save us and take us back to the level we were when Big Martin Jol was getting the best out of a, now, average team.

On a sunny August day, Benoit Assou-Ekotto thumped a 25 yard shot past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal to cement a 2-1 victory and launch the team onto a campaign that would end with them finishing 4th and finally getting into the Champions League. Of course, this was the first game of the season and no one could have guessed that that goal probably won us that spot because our record against Liverpool until 2009 was patchy at best.

On Wednesday night, BAE or Bennie as he is called by supporters, hit a 30 yard shot, that ricocheted off Tim Cahill's arse and settled in the corner of the net away from Tim Howard's outstretched arms. It gave the team a 2-0 win over Everton and 9 points clear of Arsenal in 5th place (and 11 clear of Liverpool). That statistic after half the season is good enough, the fact that it brought us level on points with Man Utd in 2nd and just three points behind Citeh (who are wobbling a wee bit) in 1st. That fact has suddenly turned the team I've supported all my life into Title Challengers!

Ooh, heady days indeed. It's weird. I mean really weird because I support Spurs and Spurs are always guaranteed to screw up just when you think they could be onto something. In 2010, when Spurs dropped 23 points to team that finished in the bottom 6, if they had won all of these, they wouldn't have finished 5th, they would have been 1st by 5pts! And if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle.

At the start of the season, Spurs were 100-1 to win the league. Yesterday they were 6-1, today it's 13-2. Arsenal are 100-1, Chelsea 66-1 and Man Utd 13-8. Citeh are 4-7 favs, but I think that#'s more hedging than certainty. I always say that bookies odds should be respected, they're probably the best guidance tool. 3rd would satisfy me, especially if it leads to buying new players and cementing a regular place in the Champions League. But, I can dream, even if I am a Spurs fan. Shit, if we won it because the other two kept tripping over themselves, I'd be as happy as Larry. It would be a day I walk as erect as I possibly can, head held high, with the knowledge that even though my Scouse-loving friend Jon will continually remind me that Liverpool are the best team in existence.

In my wildest dreams I never really suspected Spurs would actually challenge for this ultimate prize. Even in football simulation games where I've turned Spurs into the new Barcelona, I always have to remind myself that it is fantasy generated by a relatively easily solved algorithm within a game play.

On Wednesday night, something strange happened. I sat down in front of the computer to watch the match against Everton and I, um... I felt, er... I felt confident. There I've said it - fatal. Just. Plain. Fatal. I support Spurs not Man Utd. I don't feel confident when my team plays any one, so accustomed to witnessing banana skin exploits that would make a hard core porn star blush.

The worst thing? My confidence was justified. We never looked out of our comfort zone. We played like a team that wants to win. We didn't show the remotest sign of letting the altitude go to our heads. We continued to play with the consistency that has made us the form team in the league and we lost to the two teams above us 1-5 and 3-0 in our opening fixtures! Today, with a win against Wolves, we could go joint top. This is the kind of hurdle that Spurs teams in the past have found to be a maximum security wall. I've seen my team go into games like today knowing a win would catapult them to new heights and they've surrendered the opportunity with aplomb and have become a bit of a joke because of it.

It's January and nothing is won in January, but plenty is lost.

Here is my two forecasts. One realistic and the other the one in my head that gives me happy thoughts.

Scenario 1: The top three stay the same, but Man Utd win the title by 5 points from a Citeh team that did what everything feared they would. Spurs will finish third, but it will be a hard fought thing, going up to the last day, with Arsenal and Chelsea.

Scenario 2: Spurs beat Wolves to go joint top, then go to Eastlands and manage to get a draw. All the top 6 teams take points off of one and other and the positions are pretty much the same come the end of March. Spurs have a phenomenal run in - their last eight games are: Swansea (h), Sunderland (a), Norwich (h), Bolton (a), QPR (a), Blackburn (h), Aston Villa (a) and Fulham (h). Paul Merson stated quite firmly that if Spurs were still 3pts behind the leaders with seven games to go they would win it and I'm hoping that Spurs go into the last day of the season needing just a win to ensure the first title for 51 years.

I can dream.

In reality though, because I'm a Spurs fan, I'm waiting for the bubble to burst. I'm waiting for Spurs circa Christian Gross to suddenly re-emerge in a game against, I dunno, Wigan and throw 3 points away because they forgot how to play for the day. Or an injury crisis par excellence, with half the brilliant players breaking legs in a freak training ground incident involving Adebayor's bobble hat. I'd like to see the club be big enough so the likes of Defoe, Krancjar and Huddlestone are content to be on the bench of a team actually on the verge of achieving greatness. The promise of Champions League football and a tougher schedule, therefore more playing time, should be incentive for any player if they want to win things, especially with an upwardly mobile team like Spurs. But I'd also like to see a definite Spurs striker capable of scoring 25 goals a season up front. I'd like a fit world class centre back to sit alongside Kaboul or Dawson and I'd like a nippy two-footed winger who can slot into Bale or Lennon's position, because they will get injured.

Other than that I'm pretty happy that my club has a first 11 that I pretty much wouldn't change on current form.

I remember asking my mate Dez how he felt when Chelsea won the title for the first time in a billion years, just after Abramovich bought a team to do it and he said it was pretty much indescribable. For a couple of years, he walked around expecting Chelsea to win everything and they often did; but he remembered the dark days in the old English Third Division, the Leyland Vans trophy and almost losing Stamford Bridge. His joy has always been tempered with realism and now with his team not doing so well, he's just pleased to be up there competing, even if he secretly wishes they were where Spurs are.

I want to have that feeling, just once in my life. Where I can say I support the Champions.

I know that this is the most excited I'm probably going to get.

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