Lazio at the Lane under the floodlights. It's not the Champions League, it's the Europa League and if we're not in Europe we're nothing. So the saying goes. There's a fair amount of anticipation for this game. For me at least, you might not be as excited. You might not care too much. You might be hoping for some rotation and no injuries. Or perhaps not, perhaps you're rubbing hands together gleefully.
I'm looking forward to seeing how we line-up, with Andre Villas-Boas wanting to take the competition seriously. There's a very decent cut of opposing clubs in this years competition. Most of them are going to take it very seriously, so there's no reason to be dismissive in approach and application, unless we want an early exit. Doubt yourself for a second and you'll be punished for it. What Villas-Boas truly envisages in Europe won't begin to play out until the whistle kicks off proceedings. But I'd like to believe he will use the squad with the express aim to win each game, taking into account the fixtures that follow the European encounters.
He's alluded to the fact that silverware is important. Something we tend to forget and rationalise as secondary in a world where a league placement is perceived as a far more relevant accolade. We are more gutted about losing out to say 4th spot or CL than we are failing to get to a cup final or losing one. That's the royal 'we'. I know not everyone thinks the same way. There are still some traditionalists that pump their chest for a good old fashion cup run. But I'll hazard many are conflicted. I know I've argued for both sides, because I like to think it's possible to have the best of both worlds. Although admittedly I'm sided ever so closer to the league runs in recent years believing that you can consolidate in strength and be fitter to challenge for those cups. The reality of this thought process is that you're gambling the present with a vision of the future that might not play out.
League placement is important if a club wants to be able to sustain that challenge in the top tier consistently. Such is the hierarchy of modern football blah blah blah, I've made this speech a dozen times before. If you harbour dreams for the title, as far away as this might seem what with other clubs in stronger financial positions to compete - if you want to realistically be in the mix you have to qualify for the elite competition and milk it for all it's worth. Money is the commodity clubs perceive as the gateway to success. Yet this vision of the future might never materialise and remain simply a dream forever out of reach.
But as we all know, such things do not get chronicled in the history books as success or as glory glory days. That's if all you do is finish in a place that grants you access rather than seeing your clubs ribbons on a bit of silver. Although playing against the best sides in Europe, even if all you get out of it is away trips, should not be frowned upon. As a supporter you'll always desire a little more than that.
We finished fourth last year. We've been heavily involved in that top tier for several seasons now. That's the bread and butter of our season. The league games. But when was the last time we had a massive dollop of jam spread across that bread? 2008? And before that in 1999? And further back in 1991? Not forgetting some continental in 1984? Yet too many times since and in-between our tea has gone cold waiting. It's time for a fry up. And there's no need for Marmite on the table.
The days of the Cup Kings and flirtations with the Twin Towers, that's history, some of it iconic never to be forgotten. These moments are truly the building blocks of a clubs identity and their traditions. We swaggered and might have gone on swaggering had we not hit a brick wall that left us bloody and bruised and nursing injuries we've only just recently recovered from. Rehabilitation has been a long and laborious journey. Whilst we began to walk again, others around us sprinted past, knocking us back down.
We all know the story.
The 1980s. The Big Five. On the verge of something greater. A young chairman with a heart bigger than his brain. Crippling decisions with development at the Lane and the baseball bat to the knees that was Hummel. We never stood a chance. Instead of being primed for the Premiership we were left struggling, on our knees and perilous close to financial ruin. Scholar tried to innovate but all we did was dehydrate. That's just how things panned out and in 1991 we anchored ourselves to survival by winning the FA Cup. Mostly thanks to Des Walker but more so thanks to a shy Geordie that practically dragged us into the final only to then implode. Cruciate ligaments raptured, his transfer to Italy delayed for a season. Another cliff-hanger of a finale in the roller-coaster ride that is THFC. Then into the wilderness we went. In many ways, so did Paul Gascogine. Both of us at the foot of the brick wall looking up, uncertain of the climb ahead.
I remember Sunday afternoons on Channel Four, James Richardson and the odd Gazza cameo and wonder goal. He only played around 40 games for the Rome club before ending up at Glasgow Rangers. The first player, the only player I ever idolised. I remember Hoddle and adored his effortless gliding and majestic arrogance but Gascogine was the one plastered all over my bedroom wall. Somewhere, at my parents home, I have a box full of cut outs of newspapers and magazines, practically all of the match reports, articles and interviews of the player and the coverage he got just before he joined us and whilst he wore Lilywhite. I remember 1990 very well. More so that fabled 91 season. All the cup games. The queuing for the semi-final for tickets. That free kick. It's just the FA Cup right? No, it's more than that. It's something that's untouchable that nobody can ever take away from you. It's Tottenham Hotspur.
So where am I going with all this? One thing is for certain, we're over that wall. Gascoigne too, but he's still sitting at the foot of it on the other side. We've left it behind us, from a jog to a run. We're not so easily knocked down any more either. But we've got plenty of shoulder bruising and there's one or two runners up ahead.
From Europa League to the seasoned question of silverware versus Champions League and long lost love for a breed of player that no longer exists. It's simply this: You can't create history that can be looked back on with pride if you let the present pass you by as an inconvenience.
It's not that supporters don't want to win cups it's just that so many of us prioritise the league and want that top four place more than anything else that we forget that there's no necessity for sacrifice. This won't be easy. The games come thick and fast. The recognition isn't what it was in bygone eras. You could even argue it's just a financial safety net for clubs falling out of that other more grand competition. Then again, if you win it you get to play the winner of that grander competition and that doesn't always turn out the way you expect.
To host Lazio, another club to have loved and lost Paul Gascogine, unbeaten and a dangerous opponent - it's a fine way to reignite a lust for a different type of momentum. One that can lead to moments in games that remain in memory forever. One that can lead to success, regardless of its downgraded stature, regardless that its perceived as an afterthought. Football is what you make it, not what someone else tells you it is. Those conflicted thoughts around what is or should be more important pale into insignificance. It should always be about Spurs and it should always be about glory.
How else can you define yourself as a winner if you don't actually win anything? More importantly, you can't add to those blocks of identity and tradition if you don't set out to build them to stand the test of time.
"It's full of history & different winners. It does not generate financial advantages but it generates emotions when you win it."
- Villas-Boas on the Europa League