Turns out we are allowed nice things
Ajax 2 Tottenham 3 (3-3 on agg, Spurs win on away goals)
Three days on and it still feels like it happened three seconds ago.
Truly, this football club. I just can't breathe. It’s unreal. It's impossible. It's everything. Poch holding back the tears whilst they stream down my face, then he lets it all go too. How many times did we almost get knocked out of this competition? What a second half. I'm dreaming right?
Someone explain to me how I’m meant to feel because I can’t comprehend this emotion.
I decided to wait before finally sitting down to write this blog. I usually find it relatively easy to scribble something post-match, whether we’ve won or lost. This time, I’ve struggled with the majesty of the result. I’m still trying to process it. It might appear to be small-time, celebrating a semi-final victory. We’ve not actually won anything right? At least the cynical, jealous lot will be quick to point this out. But that’s the magic of this unfathomable moment. It’s the Champions League. It’s that thing we always want to qualify for but know we can’t ever possibly come close to winning.
Yet here we are.
So, yes, we have won. We’ve won because we belong to this glorious football club. Celebrating something that was inconceivable should be celebrated in exactly the type of manner we’ve been doing so since Wednesday evening. We deserve this iconic, epic moment. We deserve all of it. The disbelief is beautiful and I can’t get enough of it.
You know me. I don’t delve too deep into the analysis of a football match. There are better tactical writers out there for that. I prefer the emotive aspects of what football does to the senses. I’m a back-alley philosopher forever lost in an existential crisis. Spurs have birthed the mother of all mental states. A sense of wonderment and the impossible realised in the most enthralling of ways.
It happened in the 96th minute. The final opportunity for history. I had already given up when Jan struck the crossbar.
"That was it”, I sighed. “That was the moment”.
But it wasn’t. It wasn’t the moment.
It happened. It actually happened. The actual moment, in the 96th minute.
The goal. Direct. Spiritual. From the last conceivable attack. Nando’s awareness, Dele sensing the movement from Lucas.
The collapse of white and red shirts, the sound of shocked, stunned silence from the home support, a pocket of euphoria from the away fans.
Hugo running the full length of the pitch to join in with the bundle.
It’s sheer poetry, the journey undertaken, for us to reach the final of the Champions League. This isn’t even peak Pochettino in terms of the football we’ve played and the players available. It isn’t Spurs from a few seasons back. The pulsating pressing swarming beast of a side that might have won the title in any other given year. This is bare bones Tottenham. Injuries, no new signings for two transfer windows, running out of fuel, in a dire state of league form (especially away from home). Add to it the long running saga of the new Stadium. This season has felt like the current business model is about to expire. It’s been stop start. Consistently inconsistent, top players dipping in and out of form whilst others have quietly held us together. Poch running out of rabbits to pull out of his hat.
It almost feels like a HBO series. A fifth and final season. Script writers have jumped the shark, gonna go out with a bang. No dragons here though, just gratuitous desire, cutting the throats of Ajax in a brutal parody of the Red Wedding.
How did we survive this long to make it this far?
We languished at the bottom of our group with a single point from the opening three games. Then a minute away from being knocked out of the competition by PSV (Kane 78, 89). Eriksen (80) with a late goal against Inter to keep the improbable alive. Then another late goal (Lucas 85) away to Barcelona whilst the Dutch side defended like possessed animals fighting off the predators against Inter. The late late show against Dortmund (83, 86). Tenacity at home to City (Son 78), VAR and Nando (73) in the return leg.
Then the madness of coming back from 3-0 down.
It was the greatest escape in Amsterdam since the day I mistakenly walked into a Kamer with a blue light. It was the greatest comeback since, well, I guess since the Tuesday before when Liverpool smashed Barcelona 4-0.
This doesn’t happen to Tottenham. This doesn’t happen to Spurs fans. We’re not allowed nice things.
Well it turns out we are allowed nice things.
On the night that Spursy got redefined, on the night that right-footed Lucas Moura scored a hat-trick with his left foot, on the night that Spurs turned round a three goal deficit in forty-five inspirational minutes. On the night, it was a glory glory night. Perhaps our greatest.
For three days I feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of mind-bending chaos. Tremendous chaos smashing into every single molecule that shapes my very existence and pushing me into a flux between parallel dimensions. I found an old Europa League ticket the other day, back of the drawer. Anzi Makhachkala in the group stage. December 2013. Is this really the same club that wondered around the wilderness for decades searching for the Promised Land? Yes. And guess what. We’ve found it. It’s Madrid. Not quite what the media predicted when they said Kane is going there in the summer.
When I see graphics from news outlets stating ‘Champions League Final: Tottenham v Liverpool’, it doesn’t compute. All the years we’ve sat back and watched Messi and Ronaldo and scoffed at the possibility that little old us would one day be walking out, ninety minutes or so away from maybe, possibly, hopefully having our ribbons tied to the bulky European Cup trophy.
Yet here we are. Supporters making dizzying travel plans to get to Spain via alternative cost-cutting routes. We’re an anomaly. A freak of nature going against the proven template for sustained success. Leading us, Mauricio Pochettino, the man with an ethos. In the aftermath he’s dropped epiphany bombs towards Daniel Levy suggesting we need a plan. That for the next five years we’re going to need to formulate a more methodical approach in how to sustain a challenge rather than stretch one out. It will break us. It already has - which makes the miracle in Amsterdam even greater.
”I am not open to start a new chapter with no plan, with no clear idea, with not being transparent”
Wallop. Back him Mr Chairman.
Look at the work Liverpool have produced to plug the holes and improve tenfold. Poch wants new tools. Levy needs to buy him a new tool box too. But this discussion is for the summer. For the next three weeks I’m going to live in the last second of the game against Ajax. Beyond injury time, Sissoko lumping it forward. Llorente, Dele, Lucas…not seen surrealism this good since Salvador Dali. A far cry from the despondency of the first half.
Before the game, I was confident but perhaps not with true conviction. Ajax have been a sensation, fluid and positively sexual with their one touch youthful brilliance. At 2-0 up it was over. In my head, it was done. Even though Spurs have a habit of late goals, it just didn’t fit this narrative. Even after the night before and the Anfield masterclass, it didn’t seem likely. This was a Spurs side suffering. In came the changes at half-time. Unbeknown at the time, Harry Kane made a dash to the dressing room and give the players the hairdryer treatment.
Danny Rose marching off the pitch, over to the tunnel to demand the home side players make their way to the centre at the start of the second 45. Spurs had engaged their full mettle jacket.
Llorente, an imperative wildcard in our march to the final, excellent and pivotal with his hold up play and chesting of the ball; the catalyst for the comeback. Sissoko a revelation with the ball at his feet, driving forward with relentless might. Absolutely incredible passion and belief, the ilk of which many expect from their club but don’t necessarily get. In a world of orchestrated social media pretence and disloyal PR, these players care. They’re family. They believed in themselves even if we didn’t quite believe they could do it.
The second half was the antithesis of the first. It seemed an age away that we suffered two naive lapses to let the already dangerous Ajax forward line to slap us down. It seemed so unlikely we’d find a way back. Yet we contained them and we attacked them and they couldn’t handle it. Spurs woke up and bullied the kids, snatching away their pocket money to go spend it on smokes.
The tempo was ours to dictate. Lucas with two swift goals but no third was forthcoming. The first was a decisive swaggering move. The second, after a super save and a spill, saw Lucas dance away from defenders to finding the net with neat venom. After the woodwork, it was done right? That was the chance. That was the moment.
Ajax fans counting down the seconds, flags flying. Davies challenges for the ball. Sissoko sends it directly up the field. Llorente flicks it. Dele with yet another deft touch and Lucas, Lucas and that legendary left foot.
The celebrations for the goal and the celebrations that followed continue to leave me utterly speechless. The tears of Pochettino have given me the eternal feels. What it means to him and what it means to these players, this collective he has built and is responsible for. The connection that has been forged effortless between the team and the supporters. It’s poetry because even though we’ve yet to see this team and this manager claim a trophy, the bond we have because of the journey undertaken will live on forever. History books list winners and and silverware but you wont find caveats for the emotion and the sense of belonging.
Find me a Spurs fan that would replace the way they felt when Lucas scored with a League Cup or even FA Cup final win. Find me this Spurs fan and I’ll denounce him as one. Football is what you make of it. It’s personal, especially to a particular tribe. As much as we lose ourselves to the gloating and the ‘banter’, none of it is relevant. Not really. What another club achieve should never impact or influence how you experience your own club. Why? Because only you can experience what your club dishes out, in victory or defeat.
Spurs, for all the semi-final woe and bottle job tags, have defied the Gods and have given us a slice of history we never expected but fully deserve. The reason this game will live on in memory is because of everything we’ve attempted and failed at. Because of that journey we’ve undertaken, often shifting around aimlessly with no destination.
We deserve it because we dared to dream it. We get flack from rival fans because they perceive our dreams as self-entitlement. It’s not. It’s purely the desire, the want to be blessed with glory. Even if it’s once a decade, once a generation. We dream because what’s the bloody point if we don’t?
We’re hardly doing it the easy way either.
This club man, it’s one of a kind. Even as a giant in terms of tradition and history we’re still not elite but we love to gatecrash even if we end up getting chucked out the party early. Rose swinging a bottle of beer, giving zero f*cks. Poch breaking down. His son giving him a kiss on the forehead. Kane looking perplexed with Dele giving him a warm cuddle in response. Jan and Toby, the Bentley and Rolls Royce, getting the polish their careers deserve. The away fans losing it. The whole squad, kit-man and all, soaking it all in. Poch pointing to the players, informing the fans they deserve all the credit. For all his faults, the ones often brought up to dismiss his qualities, the reason I love him so much, the reason we all love him so much is because he’s one of us. He’s grown with us. He’s learning with us. He’s making mistakes with us.
That’s pretty much the personification of Tottenham. A perfect imperfection.
We’re an Erik Lamela trying to dribble his way out of the corner of the pitch in the 97th minute. We’re a Moussa Sissoko, a colossal out of nowhere. It’s a paradoxical headache that you can’t do without because the pounding inside your head is the beat of a drum we relentlessly dance to. We belong, we self-deprecate, we scapegoat but pull the rhetoric aside and you’re left with a reflection of yourself; When you look at Spurs, it’s you looking back.
As supporters, we don’t like being told what to think. We are completely in tune with our identity. This side has been reflective of everything that is wonderful about supporting Spurs. The Boys from the Lane, Part II. The 80s was a very different time and perhaps easier to be rewarded with cups and the like because the margins were not so big. Spurs failure is not spending £200M and some on players every window. The romantic in me is almost (almost) alright with this failure because of the togetherness we have and the reality that the elite are financially on another level to the rest of us. We don’t need £200M. But we do need consolidation and it will cost us one way or another.
His (Poch) journey is one and the same as the club and the fan-base have been part of. Together, over-achieving, sticking two fingers up at the world and taking ever single gut punch that gets thrown our way.
For all the pain, we’ve got our moment in the sun.
All thanks to Lucas, borrowing the Leg of God for the most famous of hat-tricks. My heart and mind was shaken. Special mention to Hugo’s save moments earlier. Ajax hitting the woodwork, coming close a couple of times with lashings of shots at goal, but no. Not this time. This time, it was our turn, finally our turn.
I can’t even consider the actual final. It’s too early to attempt to rationalise how the game will play out. For any of the haters waiting in the shadows for Spurs to lose to bring up the seasoned banter about ‘bottling it’ and ‘never won anything’, go ahead. For anyone saying if Spurs don’t win it, it won’t be considered a successful/decent season, go ahead again. Of course, winning it would just be…it would be ridiculous.
The fact that we can all sit here and consider this and that it’s more than possible, is glory in itself. But to deny us this final (before the result), like I’ve stated, the emotion and the feeling…the sheer magnitude of release is bigger and better than any other club winning a trophy this season because of how we’ve been made to feel. After the City game and now the Ajax game. Those feelings are exactly what football is about. They are only made possible because of all the hurtful misery we’ve had to endure over the years. The bad times make the good times better.
For a club like Spurs, because of the lack of ‘success’ and silverware, moments like this are amplified further. So enjoy the next three weeks or so before June 1st. Enjoy every waking second and be lucid for every sleeping second. We’ve never had it so good. Poch and his players have created history. We’re in a European Cup final. Lap it up. Soak it in. The Poch era has got itself a narrative bursting conclusion (to this particular chapter before the next one starts) with a sublime showcasing finale. The greatest twist the world has ever seen. This grand olde team has finally arrived. For all the emotional punishment and kick in the nuts, we have ourselves the biggest game we’re ever going to play.
We still have some time to align the reality that getting to the Champions League final equates to the possibility that we might, could actually win it.
I’m still in disbelief.