Every now and then we...fall apart
The D-word. Defeat. We don't hear it often these-days. When we do, it hurts. Which is better than accepting it as normality. Defeat is something you can live with if it's rare or a learning curve. I'd be more concerned with that other D-word. 'Defeated'. There's no return from that.
This is the first real test of our character, resolve and ability to regain our confidence and spirit. I'm talking about us, the supporters. The players already have this test spelt out for them and they're going to fail if they don't collectively get their sh*t together.
The defeat at Wembley* was turgid. Lacklustre. This wasn't old Tottenham, it was new Tottenham in the midst of no man's land. A game at home - away from home - and looking more like uninvited guests than hosts. That's not to say we would have won at the Lane. This wasn't about our surroundings. On this form, were not winning anywhere.
I'm not going to analyse the game, break it down and just repeat everything that's already been discussed and written (especially in the weeks leading up to this). It's unfair to single out individuals when - as a team - it was a mess. It's fair to share the criticism evenly. They should all be accountable. Mauricio Pochettino included. They are self-aware enough to acknowledge the problems, so I don't care for the official club soundbites. The reassuring voices of hope. I want to see evidence of improvement. A spike or three and no low heart beat nearing a flatline.
The reality is that it might not happen quick enough, which means more immediate torment to suffer through. This can potentially create a new unforgiving timeline that sends us on a downward spiral (trademark infringement). Or it might not. Such is the unpredictability of this game that we love and hate in equal measures. An unexpected win changes it. It's a strange predicament. Defeats were the ones tagged as unexpected in recent times.
This congested month of games is proving to be utterly brutal, an unwanted sensory overload of dejection and negativity. It wasn't meant to be a defining month. It looks like it's on course to being just that, only for the wrong reasons.
If you're pushing for the manager to be sacked because you've given up on him and think he's run out of ideas and everything achieved in his tenure has been a fluke or can be erased or replaced and upgraded...well, stick on a Lilywhite shirt. With that attitude you wouldn't look out of place in the Spurs team. Gutless and fearful. Surrendering to the first unwelcoming slice of adversity encountered. Go on, wave that white flag. Give up. Bravery takes bottle.
If you want to understand my personal perspective then read the last few match-day write-ups. We've lost our spark, aggression and focus. Everything that glues together the players, the crux of synergy, it's dried up. The ingredients you add to flavour your favourite dish, to give it some spice, it's been left on the shelf. Ignored. Spurs are tasteless and there's no kick to our football.
We can debate missing players and there's no doubt that we've had a less than fortuitous start to the season in terms of pivotal selection options, but it's hardly been a disaster. We still have enough about us - in theory. In practice, the theory is getting quashed. The evidence for now is circumstantial.
I'm still not going to knee-jerk. I know some are more than comfortable with channelling their frustrations in the only way they deem to be emotionally viable. Abuse and the rest of the bile that follows it. Tottenham are not cutting it at the moment but I'm far from cutting myself because of it.
It wasn't that long ago we all gleefully jigged at the contracts being signed. The goldfish mindset still rules the roost for so many.
For all the solutions that writers and fans will speculate over, it's all inconsequential. The players and the manager and coaches are more than aware of why this is happening and only they have the means to repair the minor damage being inflicted. Minor can still become major and the damage can then become insurmountable. Spurs transformed into something superior than what we had to start with, what we've pretended to be in the past. Having that and then attempting to attain the momentum in forward progressions, that's altogether a new position to fight from.
Spurs have set the benchmark which is why we expect so much more and why we're so disappointed with this run of no-wins. We're stuck in a limbo, we are neither decent or really woeful. Just not good enough to win and not terrible enough to be overrun but just about poor enough to lose if the opposing team give it a right old go. You can tell it's beginning to effect the players. Some have disappeared further within, retracting like a shrivelled penis in sub zero temperatures. Others are making uncharacteristic errors. The defence, especially, looks like it's about to hit the brick wall.
Got to say, our backline has been the immaculate success it deserves to be called since Pochettino's arrival. It was the first thing he built and it's allowed us to add more mettle to the foundations. Now there's cracks and stress fractures appearing. The paint work is looking a little dirty and the furniture needs dusting. Too many house parties and nobody is taking responsibility for the clean up.
That famous trait from last season, the manner in which we could bounce-back and pull ourselves up from the ground...it's MIA. It's concerning because if you pull the results together along with the degrading performances, it doesn't make for good reading (regardless of how close we've got to winning some of the games whilst playing quite poorly compared to the standard we can produce). We're not winning and we're not scoring from open play. We look like a counterfeit peak THFC, blagging our way through matches without an ounce of the effort and discipline we've become accustomed to.
Our identity is in momentary flux.
This test is the first wobble we've had under Poch. Or (controversially) a continuation of last seasons end of season switch-off. It's not a crisis like the Ramos season and it's not the undeniable mediocrity of any given 90s torture session. Thanks to the benchmark, it's still not acceptable. It's not good enough but the players know that right? Or course they do, because the alternative is the culture of comfort we buried deep when we ascended into contenders, digging its way out like a zombie hellbent with feasting on our flesh.
We're a young side, it's not an excuse, it's a fact. We do have experienced players. We also have key players that are erratic with influence. There isn't one specific problem here. It's a multitude of several. Management of players, rotation and tactical reshuffles/substitutions, individual management of specific roles...it all adds up and takes shape as pressure that the supporters indulge and weak players engulf. It was easier for the manager to mould his team as they matured and immersed themselves with the new methodology and style. It was easier to play when your best eleven picked themselves. Not so easy now, when further adaption is required - as a collective and individually.
Where's the strength gone Tottenham? We need it back.
We've got them lot down the road on Saturday. There's no evidence to suggest we can score let alone win. Muscle memory is fatigued. Tactics are foggy. We're on the ropes, throwing punches at a target we can't see.
Football is a game of inches. It's also a game of blame. More than anything, it's a game of unbridled passion. Ninety minutes, one special result and everything flips. It all changes. Football is also reliant on confidence. We know we have the players, we know what they're capable of. So either they turn this around with hard ugly graft over the next few games, not always giving us the box office swagger we desire, but doing enough to get us back on track. Working in the right direction to rediscover it all. Or they do something spectacular to instantly wipe away the doom and gloom and magic form out of absolutely nowhere. A hard reset, a shot of electricity that hot-wires the life back into everyone. A miracle, a rebirth. Slightly dramatic, but Spurs need the drama.
The Poch philosophy, cities passion and running and working hard. Aggressive, swarming football with quick footwork and clever passing.
We need it back. All of it.
I hate that I'm not hyped for the North London Derby. I hate that I'm fearful. That isn't me and that isn't the Tottenham of the past two seasons. At the time of writing, we could be without Jan Vertonghen, Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele. Add to them, Toby Alderweireld and quite possibly the returning (but not soon enough) Harry Kane.
Regardless of it all and because of everything, we still haven't capitulated. We haven't fallen apart. Not yet. I hope never. We are not a push-over or easy to beat. We're just soft with our approach, nowhere near to full capacity. No buzz, no sting. No fluidity and powerful punch. According to some we are perilously approaching a complete collapse. To others, tentatively close to waking up. Purgatory, my dear old friend, I don't miss you. Hope you f**k off soon.
The slump won't be eradicated until we're all erect again. Fighting cocks, not limp chickens.
Are we defeated? No. Never. The day we admit we are, it's over.
*Wembley, the cash cow, the ultimate cash grab.
Could we have played Champions League football at the Lane with a reduced capacity? Yes. We can play all league games there, so there isn't an issue when it comes to the most important element of any stadium: Its support from the stands. So why not stay indoors? Home sweet home instead of seeking rented accommodation?
Maybe I'm making it up but there might have been a UEFA regulation at play with remaining home that basically said 'no you can't'. Whether it's a club ploy to market a bigger crowd, moving would mean accommodating all season ticket holders, members and the rest of the semi-regulars. We've got a year away from N17 incoming and the national stadium was the only viable option (MK Dons or ground sharing with another rival club in London would have been a logistically nightmare).
Of course it isn't home. Of course there's an element of detachment. It's the same discomfort we had when Stratford was supposedly an option for a more permanent move. Wembley is short term and it's tough for both the players and fans to adjust to it. Before the Monaco game, the hype was ridiculously high - from all involved. The football let us down. Whether it's psychological or it's the acoustics, I'm sure a solid win would have eliminated almost all of the pessimism connected with playing there. Even if deep down, it just doesn't feel right.
To suggest it's a curse or that we'll never find our groove there, well, that's a grim abyss you've found to drown yourself in. A full pelt Spurs would have taken advantage, perhaps still requiring an unavoidable transition to the bigger pitch, but ultimately we would make it home away home. That can still happen. It has to. We have no choice. Unless the club backtrack and opt for a smaller venue. Highly unlikely thanks to record breaking ticket sales (although league games won't be Wembley capacity and limited to 50k - 55k).
We have to make it work. To suggest otherwise (that we can't make it work) is to believe that a full pelt Spurs has deserted us forever. Really? Get a grip lads. We'll dig ourselves out of this hole soon enough.
I never said I loved the idea of Wembley. I accepted it. I'd much rather we use jumper for goalposts and play medieval football in the streets outside White Hart Lane next season. Mob versus mob. One giant football rolling from one end of the high road to the other. Not sure we'll get away with it as an alternative. Goal line technology would struggle a touch although no woodwork means we might score the odd goal.
So how do you please all supporters?
You can't. It's impossible. As much as the romanticised notion says playing at the Lane is the utopia we all lust, in this instance, it was unavoidable. The supporters don't get what they want from the perspective of what we love and define as important to our experience. We get given what the ones that own football clubs and run football want and perceive as being the best option for the mainstream as a whole (rather than what pockets of the fan-base might prefer).
We have to move next season. There's no running away from it. It's naive to also think that a businessman will opt out of an opportunity to make more money. However, not loving the idea means you're well within your rights to hate it and not bother going. This was never going to be easy. We're rebuilding and moving next door to WHL, we're not moving away to another location altogether. Geography >
A sabbatical looks likely for the disapproving until the new Lane opens up and then we can all be splintered again, arguing over NFL and the soulless stench of corporate boxes. Add to it the intrusive stadium re-brand. Which is probably why there was news recently about paying to rename the train station to 'Tottenham Hotspur' so that any potential suitor can remove all remnants of 'White Hart Lane' from the local area. Replacing history with their company logo. I trust we - the fans - can all agree we won't be calling the new place after some US based conglomerate? The Lane is the Lane, even if it's shifted its position a little north to where it was birthed.
Of course playing football at Wembley (other than for cup finals) isn't on par with N17 and White Hart Lane. Nothing ever will be. Like a punch to the gut you can't dodge, you take the pain. A sacrifice isn't meant to feel great.
A blog from October 2014 with the same title.
A reminder that nothing should be taken for granted or be considered an entitlement. You've got to work for everything. Once you have it, you have to work even harder.
Until the next heartbreak, I'll leave you with a whispered COYS.