Spurs away in the 3rd round of the FA Cup always evokes memories of yesteryear. A time when the competition was at its very peak of importance. When going on a cup run was truly glorious. A time when giant killing was real and impactful, when top clubs played their very best starting eleven in all rounds.
As synonymous as Tottenham were once upon a time with winning this cup, we also suffered the indignity of many an upset. Remember when the 3rd round was usually met with trepidation? Would we survive? Would we get through it? I swear I couldn't sleep the night before thinking about the almost certain humiliation at school on the Monday. This was old football. The age before Sky Sports and the Champions League, when winning silverware was universally acknowledged as the set standard for any given club.
Before Hillsborough, before CCTV, before football agents and youth players earning 10k per week. Before these modern times and their often brilliant yet all encompassing clean cut match-day experiences; a time when it all felt more rustic and grassroots. That even if there was a gulf in quality between the aristocratic clubs of the old First Division and the lowly teams below, there was always a possibility of the magic of the cup dishing out the most unexpected of results.
Today it's different. Sure, there are still cup upsets, but they are less impactful thanks to rotation of players and the concentrated focus on other more financially beneficial competitions. A football clubs board prefers strong accountancy over romanticised notions. In fact, winning a domestic cup these-days is probably perceived as a bonus to squeeze more money out of sponsorship deals and to push those social media numbers up in foreign lands that are targeted to be conquered for more revenue streams.
The supporters want that day out, they want that piece of history because we are the ones that remember and respect the history. It binds us and births new young supporters that find association with a feint or a goal or a tackle. Yet like the coin Harvey Dent flicks, much like him, one side is disfigured. We also dismiss and diminish the domestic cups as an after thought because of how far the shift has dragged us away from those old days.
We end up aligning ourselves with the money men because it's no longer a game where the working class can become heroes for the working class chanting their names from the stands. We prioritise Top Four and Champs League. We do so because of how fragile the relationship is with a football club constantly attempting to hold onto their best players whilst their agent informs them of the best transfer options to help them improve their brand recognition.
I've had a love/not so much in love feeling with the cups for a long time now. I often look on with detachment because of the squad rotation. Because I know it's a necessity and that most of the time the rotation doesn't hurt the big clubs. Then when you find yourself in the quarter-finals, you get fired up and ignore the hypocrisy. Especially if you've beaten rival clubs on the way. 1991 was fantastic. 2008 was fantastic. That feeling. It matters above everything else because if you strip away all the rhetoric and footballing social constructs on what is perceived to be important, what are you left with?
With Spurs, it almost feels like we need it - the supporters and the players - because of the amount of times we've fallen at the semi-final stage. That when you do look back into history, we once owned the tag as 'Cup Kings'. That synonymous attachment has long since been replaced with consistent despondency. Redemption remains the fuel. Perhaps my love/not so much in love relationship is a way to protect myself from the likely disappointment that will probably once more play out.
There is a caveat to all this. This team, this side under Mauricio Pochettino. For me, they are iconic because of what they've aspired to become and how they inspire hope and belief. The often repeated label of failure that is thrown our way refers to '...but what have you won?' and I can't deny it. It hurts because I want Poch and his players to write themselves into history by consolidating the culture and progression achieved. Let's be honest, just because everyone at the club seeks to contend for the title (which makes us ballers by the way) it doesn't mean we've not managed to find ourselves in potential domestic bliss with the FA Cup before. We've fallen short. A game short of the final.
If this side existed in the old days they'd have won plenty. We often pretend and ignore just how high level the quality of football is at the top of the Premier League. That we can arguably state to be one of the best sides in England for many years and yet have no silverware to show for it. The money men would never allow Poch to prioritise a cup over the league. The money men isn't the chairman and board. It's the players and the manager too and for the most part the fans - the same ones that demand we retain a competitive edge which can only be attained with Champions League qualification. We are Harvey Dent after-all.
We can quite obviously compete on more than one front (regardless of prioritisation). Cup football is also partly supported by luck, in-game and with the draw. Management of a congested fixture list is where that aforementioned prioritisation can sometimes kick-in and spoil things.
Football should not be this complex.
It should be as easy as it was for Spurs away to Tranmere. No upset here. For all of the hosts fighting spirit, we picked them off with that gulf of class shining through seven times. It was a strut and a swagger and yet professional and respectful in execution. The magic of the cup is less surprising these-days but it can still be fairly spectacular when it dares to showcase itself. Spurs were magnificent. Tranmere were star-struck.
The prestige of this competition might be less glamorous today but then football as a whole is a more glamorous affair than it has ever been. I won't start dreaming of the final just yet. I won't even dream about it if we managed to get to the semi again. I'd prefer to hold off and live the dream if we finally made it past the psychological barrier we've failed to push through so many times before. In the moment, in the present, we need to get past the 4th round first. Before that happens we need to get past another semi-final in another competition.
Life isn't hard at the top. It's a marvellous privilege. The prestige is what we make it.