There are varying levels of disappointment that exist within this beautiful game we love so much. Watching your team lose is always accompanied by a gut wrenching feeling leaving you empty and devoid of any form of joy. Whether you are down towards the bottom three or mid-table or (like us) pretending to be good enough to break the top 4. We are doing nothing more than flirting with the ideology that the gap between the likes of us, Villa, City etc is no longer a Grand Canyon of impossibility. But that ideology is fact. The gulf is not the monstrous Godzillaesque vastness it was several years ago. Its now sitting somewhere between a teenage King Kong and a new-born Kraken. Ans still formidable enough to rip the head clean off your neck.
Most of us know not to get overly giddy about it. Not yet. Not nine games into the season. Experience has taught us well. We've been there before thirty-seven games in and then seen it implode in ridiculous circumstances. But one off seasons are not quite the same as a full-blown challenge, year in year out. But we can't complain, all we can do is take the opportunity if one arises. Earning membership into the elite at the expense of one of its long-standing members is beyond tricky. Even when they have a lull (which seems to be a shared nuisance that Arsenal and Liverpool own the rights to) they still manage to pull through and renew. Balaclavas and sawn-off shot guns wont be enough to get past the state of the art security that protects them. We (along with the other pretenders) have to add some finesse to accompany the brute force. You need a George Clooney and Brad Pitt to blag your way in.
It must be a little unsettling for their fans as well as their board of directors. Knowing that the money they need for their protection could dry up which would see the Sky collapse in on them. But it's yet to happen. Even when Liverpool finished 5th, they won the CL.
Losing a game always leaves you empty no matter who you are, but losing a game that carries more in the way of expectation is a far worse feeling. And losing a game that is considered a certainty is even worse. The Top 4 have to contend with the threat of the small group of ambitious clubs directly below them and from in-house weaknesses as illustrated by Liverpool's hiccup(s). The more susceptible you are to defeat, the closer to mortality you become. The threat is real. Finally.
The expectation and the anticipation and build up alone is worth it though. Every game is vital although arguably a touch more comfortable when things are going well. Life in the Top 4 is one that is never taken for granted. You can see that with the way arrogance and kidology is used relentlessly to bully and win. Add those two ingredients alongside top draw football and world class players - and you get why its considered absurd for someone like us to break in. And if the seasoned script is not followed to the letter, even though their fans may shift uncomfortably in their seats, the buzz exponentially grows. Its that do or die ethic. Losing. Failure. Its unacceptable and the very thought is blasphemy. Because a return to mediocrity would shatter the hearts of thousands. Which would be music to thousands of others.
Last time we had a taster was in the aforementioned 2006 season when we sat in 4th spot for months. Literally four months. Towards the end it was impossible not to feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness with each passing game. You stood watching, scared shitless of defeat. Because it wasn't just three points at stake. It was the whole season. Imagine having some of that every season.
We only tend to experience that type of intensity in Cup runs and have done so in the past two seasons when we've played Arsenal (semi-finals) and Chelsea (that final). Prem wise, we had the dismay of a relegation dogfight to contend with prior to Harry's revival. And now this season we have that oh so subtle grin across our faces with each passing week as we believe a little bit more with each point collected whilst others around us unexpectedly trip up. It's nice to be thinking about the next 2/3 months rather than already whispering to each other '...next season'.
When we get to January, if we are still up there and the usual suspect or two are still dropping points, then we can start making comparisons to 2006. And when people - within the club or the media - start talking about the CL with geninue belief (and not for the sake of soundbite) - we can actually say it out loud (as fans) that we are in with a chance. Not because we've evolved into a top class side over-night, but because the Prem is more of an open playing field.
At the moment its nothing more than theoretical because there's still plenty of time for normal service to resume. But all we can do is push on and it would be stupid not to think about it. And if we happened to gatecrash the party and lock the door behind us (might need a sofa to push up against it too) we would have to embrace anticipation and expectancy at that higher level making the disappointment of defeat far more draining than a 6-pointer for 7th spot.
A reoccurring membership is better than a guest pass.
Supporters of Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have come to expect a certain standard. They do not expect to lose too many games. They expect to finish in the top 4. They expect to challenge for silverware.
It’s a completely different type of pressure - on the club and its manager and players - and on the supporters, as a collective. We take it on the chin and we shrug because points are sacrificed as part of a never ending transition and learning curve. There's no choice other than to work hard and hope.
But if we begin to change the mentality at the club and truly hate losing - any kind whether its down to bad performance or bad luck - then we stand a chance. Although these chances of success will always be anchored to the type of quality we have in the squad and reacting professionally when we don't pick up points by making it up for it in the next game.
We - as Tottenham fans - worry and fret and generally hold our faces in the palms of our hands during most games. Regardless of how the next person along might tag the importance of the game. We are an emotional lot, not afraid to wear our hearts on our sleeves, even if it means one or two of us get a little bit over the top with a war cry or a just a plain old cry. Like any fan, we want to see our team win. But we lay extra importance on games (Arsenal, Chelsea, Utd, Liverpool) because we perceive these games as benchmarks of progress. The reality is, its the games against the smaller teams that will always define our steps forward. Beat them - home and away - and let the 'Top Four' smash each other up. And if we nick a point or three in one or two of the games with Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool then its a bonus.
This is not a defeatist attitude. We all know how limp we've been, bullied by the likes of WBA away in the past and dropping points to other clubs that should not be able to compete with us on paper. See that ounce of arrogance creep into the paragraph? It's not meant to be patronising. You know what I'm talking about.
And this season, we've shown we've got steel. We are not a soft touch. We tend to do ok (home rather than away) against the Top 4. But the way we've dealt with the rest has been more than impressive. And we've beaten Liverpool already (no mean feat it would now appear). So its not crazy to suggest we can compete. If we can keep it up, we can. Mental strength and togetherness will be vital. City, Everton and Villa have similar ambitious. Even Sunderland have a swagger about themselves. That's the tier of teams that will pose a direct challenge to us. Those will be the genuine make or break encounters. The rest will be bread and butter games to build the foundations on.
Fact is - expectation, even in small doses, is addictive. 2006 was wonderful (apart from the final 90 minutes). Having that every single season is something I want, even if it results in losing two years off my life expectancy by the end of May each year.
So. Liverpool and anyone else who sits up there in one of the four thrones, feel free to keep on dropping points.
Spurs. Tear Stoke a new one.