January 25, 2007

Warning: if you are beyond jingoism and too intelligent to be emotionally swayed, without reason, by the actions of 22 men of questionable character and a ball on a small but immaculately maintained piece of open land 10,000 miles away then this post may well shock you, or bore you to tears. You have been warned…

Never before in a match have our dear Tottenham Hotspur’s frailties been more in evidence. Losing a two-goal lead to a second string Arsenal side after the previous travesty that was the football match at Fulham is painful indeed.

In the first half with everything to play for Tottenham were, at times, magical. I speak not of the ‘disappearing team’ magic act that had so little commitment going forward against Fulham they looked like a gay bachelor in a shotgun white wedding, no. This was the real magic.

Forty-five minutes of nothing-to-lose, all-in, aggressive, stylish football. Spurs, a side that is notorious for only arriving 15 minutes late in many of it’s games, had even noted the kick-off time correctly.

Arsenal’s first 15 minutes were designed to take advantage of Tottenham’s frailty and lack of confidence against sides that close down aggresively and all the way up the pitch. Instead the men in (mostly) white turned it around and defended all the way up the pitch themselves, risking the back two being exposed and creating some wonderful attacks in the process. Even Gardner, who has always been my ‘mistake a match’ man and has had little first team football, looked comfortable. Arsenal, in turn, looked preplexed and even Flamini, with no supporting cast, found Zokora and Huddlestone too much.

I sat at half time hoping against hope to see more of the same in the second half and, for 10 minutes, that’s what I got. I was bouyed. Ninety minutes of attacking, committed football? Surely not!

I have spent the last 5 years screaming ineffectually at various television screens here in South Africa, trying desperately to get 11 men 10,000miles away to hear me. Shouting three important words we should all hear, from time to time, from the mouths of those most dear to us: “close him down!”. In retrospect perhaps an email would have been more effective. Or a text message.

Actually, once the appropriate prepositions and expletives have been added it’s more like seven words: “close him the fuck down, you bastard.” But that is less than relevant, “you say tomayto- I say tomarto” stuff for it was this, yet again that let us down.

First little BE-K at left back who had had a pretty storming game up to that point decided that the best course of action at the edge of the box was to stand six feet away from his opponent looking pensive and French. There are bad habits that can be picked up in France that are, on a good day filled with light and sunshine, forgivable. A man who wears a silly hat with no discernable front or back may still be my friend. A man who bakes bread in such a fashion and shape that it is unable to carry conveniently without causing destruction and devastation to all who pass withing three feet of me may be passed off merely as a man with a charming and jockular sense of humour. The man who delights in the flavour of the legs of small amphibians may not feel my wrath or dishumour.

The man who stands around looking pensive, artist-like and broody while smoking Gauloise, however, deserves punishment as only the Germans know how. Yes, a lifetime of Bratwurst and Wagner. For a moment BE-K was short only the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips and an unfinished novel full of angst, passion, sex and people sitting in coffee bars discussing existential ideas.

The problem with these little French flashbacks is not only the effect it has on that player but also the contagious, disconcerting effect on others, especially those from French-speaking nations. Minutes later, on the halfway line, the previously heroic Ivorian, Zokora, found himself doing a formidable imitation of Marcel Marceau stuck in his glass box, afraid to tackle (I cannot be sure that Marcel Marceau was afraid to tackle, but odds are: yes). This allowed time for Flamini to pick out a pass down past our surprised, arty left back and the rest, as they say, is me historically storming out of the room refusing to watch another moment.

In my day-to-day business I build teams and I coach football in my spare time. Let it be noted that part-time football coaches are the worst sort for ‘back seat management’, but I cannot help but feel, here in my ivory tower, that there is something lacking in this Tottenham Hotspur side all the way from Robinson up to Jol. It is a certain kind of confidence: the confidence to make mistakes.

Benoit Essou-Ekotto was afraid he would be left standing for pace and so stood off too far- possibly he was not fit enough coming back from injury as he had coped pretty well up to then. Admittedly his cover was late in arriving. When our Ivorian stalwart Zokora stood off he had just had a series of unsuccessful tackles, although most of them had still shepharded play into safe pockets. Neither had the Freund-like confidence (misplaced or not) to jump on in regardless.

Whether this is because of the expectations of the board are making Jol uneasy and that him inexpertly passing that on to the players or the expectations of people like me, the fans, I do not know. I will say this: as a fan I would like to see the players giving it all and making their mistakes. If that gets us into European football, fantastic! If it doesn’t I am fine with that. As long as we stay above relegation and play attractive, attacking football I’m there. I’ll buy the shirt at ridiculous prices. I’ll pay excorbitant fees for satellite television broadcasts and help bring in that 900million pounds a year.

I became a Spurs fan at the age of 7 in a rugby-mad nation not for trophies or boasting rights. I did it to be entertained by players of talent, grace, guts and determination. And sportsmanship. Players to look up to and admire for their skill and enjoyment of the game. When it comes to supporting a football team it really isn’t, for me, about winning. The old cliche stands: it’s the way you play the game.


5 Responses to “Confidence”

  1. Peter Garnett Says:

    Great piece, well written and witty. As a Spurs fan you should join Spurs Odyssey, there are a lot of forums but SO is far and away the best.You can check it out at Registration is simple, my name there is peejiam I just know you would really enjoy it!

  2. visitor Says:

    Did you actually watch the match last night Flamini was only brought on at the tail-end of the second half – The player you have been refering to as Flamini is actually Cesc Fabregas. Spurs weren’t magic last night, first goal was a defensive cock up between Toure and Almunia and the second was an own goal from a free kick that should never have been given.

    when you said “When it comes to supporting a football team it really isn’t, for me, about winning. The old cliche stands: it’s the way you play the game.”

    The only question that comes to mind is if thats the case why do you support Spurs a team that hasn’t played attractive football since about 1991 ? Spurs are now a hoof it long, hit and hope unit.

  3. Angelo Says:

    You said it fellow South African Spurs funny person. I also started supporting Spurs when I was 7 (because I was a goalkeeper and Spurs had Pat Jennings – so there) and since then there has been nothing better than that warm fuzzy feeling at the beginning of each season and that horrible depressing feeling with about 10 games to go (except last year). I love the Spurs and love that I love them even though they haven’t had success over the last 10 years. So go suck an egg anonymous – supporting Spurs is a calling – not necessarily popular but a decision that only those who believe can understand. Thanks for a great article

  4. Dear Arsenal fan: ‘Visitor’

    You have a point about the whole Flamini-Fabregas thing. I get confused with all the foreigners in your team. Much like penguins and sparrows I find these Arsenal creatures difficult to distinguish from one-another and don’t have the patience to bother reading their names off the back of their shirts any more. I apologise unreservedly.

    As for your spoutings on the game: every goal is, by definition a defensive cock-up. If the defense had worked, the ball wouldn’t be in the back of the net; as for the 50/50 foul free-kick thingy it is so hard for the rest of us to know when Arsenal players are falling over because they have been fouled or because they have a sudden problem with gravity. Then again you probably have, like Wenger, never seen it happen.

    The ref was probably so shocked that your player stayed on his feet in the challenge that he blew up on reflex thinking something must be wrong. Possibly a head injury. That is, I am afraid, what comes of fielding some of your talented youngsters who haven’t discovered gravity just yet.

    As to why I support Spurs it’s because of what they were and what I hope they will become. You are meant to stick with a team. I am sure that when Arsenal goes through it’s first rough patch you will be wearing blue faster than the English cricket Team could say “We’ve lost the Ashes.”

    Best of luck, little red man.


  5. Dear Angelo

    Thanks for the words of support, you are most welcome to hang out here anytime. I would not worry about ‘visitor’ I am sure that dealing with all the long words (like ‘certain’) just confused and enraged him.

    My fervent hope is that, unlike Graham and Hoddle, the board will give Jol the benefit of the doubt and allow him to build over 5 years.

    Good coaches do not become bad coaches overnight, Moyes at Everton being an example of what a difference with basically the same players season-to-season.


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