guestblog by Chris King
It’s the 23rd May. The Year is 1984.
A nine year old boy is watching his mates run around on the stage at the Curzon Cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue. His Mum leans in to him, nudging him on the arm. She asks why he is not up there playing with his mates; why he looks so serious, on this his birthday. She offers popcorn, sweets and a sip of fizzy pop, but nothing seems to wake him from his near trance.
“Come on” she says. “Don’t be sad, do you not want to see the film?”
“It’s not that Mum”
“Well, what is it then?”
“Mum. How are we going to stop Enzo Scifo?”
Some of that has been Hollywoodized for the narrative to introduce this piece, but I did spend the afternoon of my ninth birthday watching the Fox and Hounds at the Curzon. I can’t really recall much about the film, it wasn’t until I saw it on video some months later that I realised the fox…. Well, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.
Only one memory burns bright from that day, and “If you know your history” the opening sentence to this piece will tell you everything you need to know.
It’s been all too easy to think of negative things to write about Spurs for my contributions to this site over the last month or so. I don’t get down to as many games as Spooky, so compiling match previews or reports is a bit of an ask, given that we often have to rely on the incomprehensible ‘Mers’ on Soccer Saturday, to fill in the blanks in the wilds of the North.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t change tack. To look both forwards and back; to be like a nine year old again – both anxious and giddy with emotions at the prospect of another massive European night of football for the Spurs.
"It's magnificent to be in Europe and this club - a club like Tottenham Hotspur - if we're not in Europe.... we're nothing. We’re nothing."
That quote comes directly from Bill Nicholson. He’s right. Some would say he was always right where Spurs were concerned. The year after that majestic night in 1984, we had another good run – falling agonisingly short to the eventual champions Real Madrid by the odd goal in the Quarter-Final. We’ve had some moments since then, including the Inter Milan game at home this year – but they have been all too few and far between. We’ve been hopeless in both getting in to Europe, and re-establishing our place once we get there. But it used to be all so different.
There will be people reading this that weren’t born in 1984, let alone got to see that penalty shoot out – who will remember Tony Parks the player rather than the goalkeeping coach. A player, much like Newcastle’s Steve Harper, who spent eight fairly unproductive years as back up keeper – amassing the sort of game time Gomes will do in a less than a season this term. But no one cares about that. All those that saw the game can remember is his one great game. The sight of him diving to his right, getting both hands to substitute Arnór Guðjohnsen’s penalty and pushing it out towards the west stand; reeling off with both hands in the air, before being mobbed by his team mates.
It was our third major cup success in four years (to add to the 1981 and 1982 FA Cups) and I couldn’t imagine it being any different as a Spurs fan. How wrong could I be? Thanks first to Heysel and then one poor mid-table side after another, we only managed two further appearances in Europe in the nineties – neither of which amounted to much; especially given the own goal Stephen Carr conceded in the last minute to send us out away to Kaiserslautern.
Since then we’ve had a couple of decent runs in the now defunct UEFA Cup; but the Jol era aside, it has never really felt as though we were really 100% committed to the task in hand.
That is until this season.
A terrible start to the campaign seems to have shaped our season a touch – hopeless in the opening phase of the first half away from home. But at home, in front of our fans – what a joy it has been to watch European football again at the Lane. Young boys, Twente, Internazionale and Werder Bremen - all blown away by the sort of attacking, entertaining and heart lifting football we’ve craved since those Glory, Glory nights of the 60s, 70s and 80s. We’ve played with a spirit that shows we fear no one, even during those calamitous passages of play – but do pray to whatever sporting or religious deities you hold dear, that no on dives in for a reckless challenge in our box in the opening 10 minutes tonight.
To have the chance to play AC Milan, at the Giuseppe Meazza on one of our biggest European nights since that fateful birthday back in 1984, I can’t but help paraphrase Bill Nicholson’s quote. For it is magnificent to be in Europe, and this club – a club like Tottenham Hotspur to be playing the Italian league Leader in Europe without fear proves we’re something. For even though the internet appears to have written our chances off for tonight at least, especially with the absence of key players – for once, we as fans still all seem to believe. How great is that!
So today, as I sit at work – slightly fed up, slightly distant – looking south east out of the window towards Milan I can’t but help being transported back to that cinema seat in 1984. As my mum leans in, nudges me on the arm and asks why I’ve not completed the Project Plan I should have had done by lunch time…
“Come on” she says. “Can’t you do your work?”
“It’s not that Mum.”
“Well, what is it then?”
“Mum. Let me tell you how we’re going to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic…”