Russ Cowper on a club that delights and frustrates in equal measure.
There is no doubt in my mind that Spurs are one of the great clubs of English football. A trip to White Hart Lane in the less salubrious times of the late 70s and early 80s was an absolute pleasure. The stunning Archibald Leitch stands, the noise and passion emanating from the Shelf and of course a chance to see one of my all-time favourite footballers, the great Glenn Hoddle in the flesh. He was worth the admission fee on his own such was his magician like qualities. The walk from Northumberland Park station to the ground could strike fear into even the most ardent veterans of away adventures, the walk back even more so flanked by London bobbies as home supporters stalked the route back to the station like a lion after a young gazelle. It was a heart stopping experience for sure, but one that was well worth the time and effort. The relief of making it back onto the train unscathed was palpable. It was an adventure back then and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Sky blue scarf nailed firmly to the mast Spurs ruined my teenage years. Wembley in 1981 still gives me nightmares. Whenever I see Ricardo Villa dancing through our defence to score that magnificent goal I am reminded of how gleeful we were on the previous Saturday as we waved him off down the Wembley tunnel. How that came back to haunt us. I’m reminded of the fact I skipped school and missed my Maths O level exam much to the chagrin of my dear departed old fella and to this day I still do not possess that qualification. Ricky Villa ruined my life, I lost a girlfriend who was stunning going to the first game because I picked City over her. I was only 15 at the time and I would never, given a second chance, change that decision, but I saw her a few days ago and she is still astonishingly beautiful. All it did was remind me of Ricky twatting Villa.
That’s the thing with Spurs: I have history with them; its personal, unexplainable, ridiculous perhaps but I can’t forgive nor forget.
Watching Spurs in this era is different. Yes I still have the nightmares and I still see Ricky Villa everywhere I look. I still resent them and I like it when they fail, but its changing, nowadays. I quite like Spurs. They are hugely more likeable than their red and white shirted neighbours. I can watch Spurs now without Ricky Villa appearing in the clock-face on the mantelpiece. I enjoy watching them play even though I’m sure Ricky Villa is constantly on the subs bench sneering at me. They play football that gladdens the heart, its pure almost effortless at times and finally they make me smile. Their greats of yesteryear would surely be nodding with approval at the fabulous Christian Eriksen, the massively underrated Son, Greaves would purr over Harry Kane, Mr Nicholson would stand proud and nice one Cyril would want another one. On form they are a joy to behold, a mixture of Ardiles, Gazza, Waddle and Hoddle.
Yet something is not quite right. For all their individual brilliance, undoubted talent, bright, clever manager and loud and proud passionate support they lack that winning mentality of the truly great double winning Spurs side of 1961. On their day they are as good as any side in the world, on their off days they resemble the Arsenal we saw in the Carabao Cup final. Great hair, awful trousers my old Nan would say. They destroy or they capitulate, they are a team of extremes. A team you would not associate with those capable of grinding out a result on the proverbial arctic Wednesday night in Stoke. They sell their best players as in Bale, Modric and Walker and replace them with poor imitations such as Aurier, Sissoko and Lamela. They have their own in the extraordinary Harry Kane and the prodigiously gifted Harry Winks. One a world class striker one of such potential a long international career beckons. The manager is smart, innovative, tactically aware but has won nothing. The goalkeeper is capable of very high class followed by idiotic crass. The defence has very good players but they are like a jigsaw with a piece missing. Davinson Sanchez is only maybe the answer.
As a City fan I understand frustration – we owned the typical narrative – and Spurs at this moment remind me of how we were. They have inherited our typical narrative, they have taken on our mantle and sit proudly on the throne as the King of the Underachievers. Of course from a personal perspective it’s a throne I’m very happy to see them occupy but I am wary of the Ricky Villa behind the throne room acting like Cardinal Richelieu waiting to seize power. Somehow though I feel cheated by Spurs, they are the brightest kid in the class who gets bullied, they are top of a leafless tree laid bare and exposed to the elements they cannot control. They should be so much more, yet they feel incomplete, they are like listening to a favourite opera only to find its being sung by George Formby.
The underlying fear for Spurs fans must be the sale of their most prized assets as the cost of the new stadium rises. Mr Levy strikes me as a prudent unadventurous man. Selling Harry Kane would perhaps pay for one end in much the same way City selling Trevor Francis built the Maine Road main stand a new roof. What is the point of the grandest of amphitheatres if the gladiators are fighting elsewhere?
Spurs desperately need a trophy. The FA Cup has to be their objective as a winning dynasty has to start somewhere. If Spurs were to beat United in the final, I would forgive them and hopefully the ghost of Ricky Villa would be banished for ever.