Chelsea 1 Tottenham 3
I was sat in front of the sofa, on the floor, facing the television. A metre and a bit away from the big screen. Behind me, sat others, all pretty much casual followers of football. My missus, her sister, her sisters fella, the father in law, the mother in law, a niece, my daughter was somewhere in the room too. It's a big sofa. We had family round just as the game kicked off. Impromptu visit I could have done without. But they understood I would not be partaking in their festive chit chat. I lifted up my hoodie and placed it over my head, as if it would help drown out the noise around me. At least this way I couldn't see them as I focused on the only noise that mattered. The noise transmitting digitally from West London to my living room.
Whilst they drank wine and beer and talked, I punctured their irreverence with screams of abuse or encouragement. When Chelsea took the lead, the two blokes offered their insight and I was practically forced to respond out of politeness.
"Sanchez positioning was all wrong"
"What was Hugo thinking? He mis-timed it"
Watching the replay...
"No, the cross was inch perfect, maybe if he stayed on his line he might have saved it"
I sighed and persisted with watching the game unravel knowing nobody in the room understood my turmoil. For them, it's something on the telly. For me, it's everything.
"I've never seen you like this", someone muttered. I wanted to rip their lungs out with my hands. How do you expect to see me? This is Tottenham ffs against Chelsea. You want me to whimsically watch the game through the corner of my eye? Get in the sea!
Of course, I said none of this as I internalised my anger and slowly and surely their voices became white noise as I fully synced back into the action.
Chelsea had the better of the first half and we looked decent without being that decent. Lots of movement but no finesse or trickery that would warrant more than a single solid opening. We contained rather than proactively seeking to dictate the tempo and ride the momentum. As the clock ticked away, I fantasised about us equalising in injury time. How a goal now would change things in our favour regardless of the previous forty-five minutes played. An escape that could instigate a victory. We know how fragile football can be in terms of narratives. The leading man can often forget his lines. Spurs have only come back to win once after being behind was this story's main plot highlight. I rubbed my head like I was expecting a genie to blow out of my ears.
Then Dele chases down a ball which looked lost, because this team have it ingrained in them to never give up. He chases and this leads to a Victor Moses error (with Ben Davies accompanying Dele in support) and the ball finding its way to the feet of Christian Eriksen. Like Jesus Christ resurrecting, Tottenham we're alive and my faith restored. The effort from the Dane was like a flash of lightning. The thunder that followed was deafening whether it was experienced in the Shed End, pub or your living room. In mine, I screamed with absolute venom and punched the air three, four, five times, still screaming 'come on, come on' and doing my utmost to censor expletives, biting my lips and slapping the radiator like an advertising banner in the ground. The way the ball rose high then dipped under the bar was as close I'll ever get to believing in God. Eriksen producing a moment of spanking genius exactly when we needed it.
1-1 is what I dreamt of.
I realised in this moment that you don't need to necessarily dream as a present day Spurs fan. You just wait. Just wait for them to give you a dose of reality. It's coming, you have to be patient. Only give up if they give up and they don't.
Half time was spent being normal. I almost had an actual conversation with one of our guests. I did contemplate my emotions during this brief break. Why was I carrying such a massive burden of expectancy for this game? I wasn't this nervous for the Arsenal encounter at Wembley. But then surely few of us were because we knew we'd dick'em and we did. But this fixture? This one in particular on their patch? Twenty-eight years. 1990. Gary Lineker. I guess that's the burden. Okay, sure, we've been muck for so many of the seasons since then and it's only in recent times we've found a competitive edge. But we've still failed to win there.
It's like there's a hard coded algorithm within the simulated universe we exist in that protects Chelsea from ever losing a game at Stamford Bridge against us. No matter what, we shall fail. It's simple impossible for us to win. It's the Matrix bossed by Agent Smiths with no Neo in sight.
There is a Neo.
Step forward Dele.
Step forward the player that is being moulded into a ready made scapegoat by pundits and rival fans thanks to their gutless, coward like backbone. We're a nation that expects then demands the failure of everything good we have because the lust to blame and hate and be unforgiving is greater than the hope it can bring.
Step forward Dele my son.
If my celebration of Eriksens divine goal was violent, then Dele Alli scoring our second was akin to a pan-dimensional entity ripping through the space time continuum and forcing a worm-hole to suck chunks of continent out of the planet and blast them into the darkest depths of the galaxy. Everyone in the room stopped and froze as I once more screamed like a madman, punching and punching and punching the space around me as I bounced like Napalm carpet bombing the fields of Vietnam. I then calmly sat back down on the floor like nothing happened. The noise levels dropping back down to a neighbourly level. Then my seven year kid taps my shoulder and looks for my face buried in my hoodie and asks;
"Are you okay daddy?"
I smiled (for the first time at that point in the game) and answered.
"Yes. Daddy is okay"
I only smiled for her. I was still utterly engrossed and beat up with what I was watching on the tv. We've turned it around, I said to myself. We're in a good position. But it's still them lot. It's still Stamford Bridge. I still hadn't realised at this point that if the infamous Battle of the Bridge was a defining moment that felt like a defeat, this would be a pillaging of equal measures of importance but one with a far more fulfilling outcome. Such was my desire for us to win this, I was draining the enjoyment out of it. The fact that Tottenham were proper ruthless during the second half period. I could see it, I could see how controlled and tenacious we looked. But I still found myself in the midst of self-preservation.
It's that want for redemption and an essential little footnote in our progression. The things they say we can't do because we haven't done them, that doing them is proving them wrong. I allowed myself to act like a sponge and soak in all the anxiety and pressures. I don't think I could have experienced the game any other way. I'm not comfortable with being cocky and arrogant, it's like my DNA whispers 'be cautious mate'.
The goal was sublime. The long direct pass from Eric Dier, spotting Dele's run remains a perfect example of how good this team is, how well coached they are to be alert to that split second, that angle of opportunity. In this case, both saw the space that could be invaded. Dier played a magnificently timed and weighted (direct) pass and Dele's control and finish was exceptional. His celebration iconic. All those faces of misery watching on as our number twenty taunts the crowd that hate him. Blissful.
Then it happened again. This time the third goal played out like a hacker trying to out smart and out code that algorithm to accept the team in white won. Son did his best to score when it was easier to lay the ball off to either Erik Lamela or Dele. This passage of play seemed to last forever. The latter moved into a position to somehow pull the ball away from the messy Chelsea defending, then pass it into the net. Pandemonium. The limbs in the away end. The screams from my mouth that could open a passage to hell, such was my demonic release of twenty eight years of abhorrent bullsh*t. It was glorious. Messy, but glorious - and worth noting it was birthed from the feet of the Dane, releasing a stunning pass out to Son on the wing.
When I composed myself for the replay, the moment I knew just how much I adore, love, this team - seeing both Eriksen and Lamela have a go at Son before they joined in with the celebrations. Peak professionalism. Whatever positive plaudit you want to tag on it, it's f**king great. Lads, it's only Tottenham.
Dele placing all the myths and fallacies about his form this season back into the box they belong in. He was an absolute don. They all were. Including the tactical reshuffle at half-time with Pochettino pushing Lamela in a forward role and Son out wide with Eriksen dropping into the centre and Dele on the right. I'm not going to pretend to understand or explain how many of those positions were false and made to strengthen our attacks and contain the hosts flank prowess. It worked. The movement had purpose and was incisive. Conte and his men had no answer to it, their first half missed opportunities perhaps the only way their seasoned narrative could have survived if only their finishing was smarter. Hundreds of millions of pounds and no unity in comparison to our shape and tactical astuteness. Money can't buy you love. Not this type of love.
Tottenham smashed 'em on their patch. In the end it was easy even if my consumption consisted of:
0-1 "We can't concede the next goal"
1-1 "We need to score the next goal"
2-1 "We're going to need another goal"
3-1 "We're going to need another goal"
10 min left "It's not over yet"
5 min left "It's not over yet"
Injury time "Can't celebrate yet"
Final whistle "I think the three points are safe now"
We had the composure, maturity and ability to brush them aside. We were clinical. This was Pochettino and his philosophy showcased. This was savage Spurs. With added Argentine spite. Lamela biting away at Cesc was a little throw back to past wars and an acceptable dose of naughtiness that I can't help but gravitate towards. Sanchez and Vertonghen displayed warrior traits keeping Hazard quiet and the team - together - was the complete antithesis of the classless short term culture that Chelsea build, destroy and build up again.
Of course, their short termism rewards them with silverware, even when swapping managers every couple of seasons. It's a model that has proven pedigree but no true identity that the supporters can embrace. They do embrace it but they're lying to themselves. It's a shallow existence and one that seems to favour many fans that simply want to be associated with success like it's the only measurable variable you can attain following your team.
It's like paying for sex. You get the sex but the passion and emotion isn't real. It's a fabrication. Sex with someone you love is something altogether different, headaches and drunken nights included. Money can't buy you love even if actual love means spending the night in the spare bedroom cause you got into a ruck with the missus.
I'm not saying not winning anything is fine or acceptable. What I'm stating is that winning something with a team that means something, a team where you felt every punch to the gut as they broke through all obstacles to reach the pinnacle - this will always, always feel better than what they and one or two others have. Perhaps this is why I'm uncomfortable with breaking wage structures in a way that leads us to become a magnet for every money mercenary in the game that fancies an alternative home in London.
This team hasn't even peaked yet. We're winning the league within the next two seasons.
After all of it, after twenty eight years, when the game ended and I managed my second smile of the afternoon, I nodded knowingly, that this isn't old Tottenham. There are no artefacts from the past. Sure, Toby hasn't signed and the season tickets cost a fair wedge and the club have announced record revenue...I don't care for all these things. I do, but not as much as the football. That isn't what defines Spurs to me. Every one of the goals scored against them is exactly what defines Spurs to me. That it was Chelsea, this it was twenty-eight years makes it even sweeter. It's in these moments that I'm thankful Tottenham choose me. I'm sure most supporters will say the same about their own club, but I couldn't imagine supporting anyone else. I doubt anyone else can come close to the heart pulling emotional tapestry this team weaves.
To watch social media implode in the aftermath as rival fans cite the past whilst ignoring the realities of the present day, this too fuels my appetite for us to keep pressing the buttons that mass produce salt mountains from the Kings Road to the streets of Islington and all the way up to the red half of Stanley Park and beyond. Spurs players knew this game was important, not because of history but to consolidate a Champions League position. History being re-written was a bonus. One for the fans to enjoy whilst the players keep plugging away at the places above them.
The rest of my evening was obviously grand. I hardly even registered Harry Kane's return and the edge this gives us for the remaining games (and semi-final). One man team hey? I think we all know with Kane in the side we play to support him but we've proven over the past few games we can produce the goods regardless of how we inter-change up top. To think we still have Lucas to work his way into the fold.
Once the footie coverage had finished, I activated my social graces and enjoyed the company of our guests. I had a few drinks. A bite to eat. Then when everyone was gone, I re-watched the whole game and spent a hefty amount of time rewinding the goals not only to enjoy those moments again but to see the faces of all the broken Chelsea fans in the stands and especially the celebrations of the Spurs fans present. I'd wager no matter where you were in the world, we all celebrated in the same bruising fashion.
I was now comfortably alone in the living room, no longer sat on the floor, legs stretched out on the sofa, rum and coke, totally relaxed and basking in the football porn glistening on the screen in front of me.
Never in doubt Tottenham, it was never in doubt :)