The quality of television football coverage is regularly slated by fans, and rightly so. Commentators drone on uninterrupted save for the occasional clunky switch to their carefully scripted spontaneous remarks. Pundits jettison their years of experience and tell us the blindingly obvious, apparently oblivious of the fact that we too have TV sets. Shirt on MOTD, suit for Sky, just turn up and collect the cash. As Roy Walker so memorably told us every Saturday evening, say what you see.
There is one notable exception, however. The coverage of the final day of the season has become part of the game's iconography. When a box appears in the top corner of the screen, you know it's the build-up to a goal. If the director is really clever, or sadistic depending on your perception, the link begins with a midfield clash - which way will the ball go?! On Soccer Saturday there's the strangled cry off-screen as Jeff Stelling's frantic grimace hardens. A Merson groan or Nicholas gasp, Le Tiss perhaps with a little snort, we experts can tell the difference at the lowest volumes. 5Live prefer John Murray's bare 'a goal at...', simple but laden with delicious anticipation. For once the tension exceeds the hype and it's riveting.
If you are involved it's a different matter entirely. Good job I'll be at White Hart Lane on Sunday. I'll need something to take my mind off things. It will be a nightmare, naturally, but an escape from the television terror. Of waiting, hoping, wanting but not wanting to know, that moment of horrific expectation that lasts an age. Every possible combination flashes before you on a fraction of a second. Stomach-churning bile producing gut-wrenching fear. Can't be any worse than this entire week has been, just thinking about the last day.
I even have a connection with Fulham. My wife’s daughter’s ex-husband’s brother (stay with me) is the team doctor. Me, I’m virtually on the board.
The doomsday scenario that Spurs fans have been dreading for the past few weeks has finally conspired to become real. Consider this. There is the genuine possibility, without any freak results, that in this, the season where we played the best football of a Spurs generation, sprinted ten points clear of Arsenal and Chelsea to finally break the hegemony imposed by our bitter rivals, that we could end up 4th not on points, not on goal difference but on goals scored. The indignity is not complete, however, because this scant consolation could then be usurped if Chelsea win the Champions League final. And all after a cup semi-final with goals and sendings-off that weren't, going two up at the Emirates. Never mind Thursday night on Channel 5, the end of days is nigh.
In sharp contrast to this fear and loathing in N17, Fulham are just so nice. How can anyone dislike them? Chelsea fans must go through the motions but surely they can't feel the hate that's fundamental to proper derbies. They've over-achieved with an easy on the eye passing game. Awaydays begin and end with a relaxing beer by the river, and the atmosphere in that covered end is always rocking. It's so pleasant. Not like football at all.
I even have a connection with the club. My wife's daughter's ex-husband's brother (stay with me) is the team doctor. Me, I'm virtually on the board. He says that they are really, well, nice. Looked after him when he broke his leg, Murphy, Zamora and others called to help in any way they could, fine facilities and he gets everything he wants. I suppose they do have Diddy David Hamilton, though, but it's not quite enough to get the Spurs fans going, let alone the players, on an afternoon where everything has to be right.
We'll even welcome the opposition manager like he is one of our own. I love Martin Jol and Martin Jol loves me. Despite never reaching the top four as his successor has, Jol is well-liked because he holds a deep and lasting affection for the club. How Redknapp must despise him. He's taken us from rock bottom to the Champions League quarter final and this season has produced some breathtaking attacking football, the like of which hasn't been seen for a good thirty years. In Modric, Parker and Van der Vaart we have top class footballers, while Bale and Walker are thrillingly talented and powerful young men who will make a lasting impact on the world game, never mind the Premier League.
Redknapp may be the People’s Choice for England but for the most part grudging respect has been the best he can get from Spurs fans.
Above all, they perform with the panache and style that Spurs fans crave but for so long has been mere aspiration far removed from reality. For much of the time, football truly has been a thing of beauty, the way it should be played. I have precious memories to last a lifetime.
The other side of the Spurs tradition is that the wheels will fall off at some point, and so it came to pass. We gradually lost the rhythm and tempo that was our foundation, began to concede stupid goals and at the same time stopped scoring. Fancy-dan chokers grinding to a halt when the pressure is on, pretty boy losers who can't hack it with the big guns. The finger of blame was pointed at our manager.
Redknapp may be the People's Choice for England but for the most part grudging respect has been the best he can get from Spurs fans. The mood turned in adversity during his trial. Seeing a man with his back to the wall, we instinctively emphasised with his uncharacteristic vulnerability and the Lane echoed in support of their man. At last he was one of us: beating Newcastle 5-0 that night helped. However, released from that pressure, innocence allowed his mind to wander. Further distracted by the F.A., he began to fiddle with the tactics, which confused the players more than the opposition. This culminated in a reckless attacking set-up at the Emirates. Two up, Arsenal destroyed us 5-2 and we've never quite recovered.
In the middle of last month we hit a season's low at home to Norwich, a lacklustre display with HR totally outwitted by Paul Lambert. Afterwards, Redknapp was bewildered and befuddled, blaming his misguidedly open tactics on mysterious outside voices forcing him to go against his better instincts. Spurs fans can see through the image of cuddly ol' Uncle 'arry, the great motivator. He's hard as nails and rejects players just like that. Ask Bentley, Bent and Pavlychencko what they think about the arm round the shoulder. Or ask Pienaar, dumped by Redknapp and revitalising Everton when our midfield is tired and in sore need of rotation. Ask Corluka, also shunted out on loan leaving Walker as the only first team right back. He'll run all day and night but his legs appear to be held together by the strapping on his weary muscles. After Norwich, it looked like Redknapp had well and truly lost it.
One major reason for our recent decline is that other teams have inevitably sussed us out. Fall back, draw us on then swallow us up in a cluster of bodies in and around the box. I admire Bolton’s recent desire to play but we took them apart. Our possession statistics impress but we don't make enough chances and take even fewer. Last week we bombarded Villa with crosses, forgetting that we only have one striker. At least it saved the midlanders heading practice this week.
I don’t wish harm on any player but I confess I whooped with delight at the news that Clint Dempsey is out.
Fulham won't shut us down for the whole 90 minutes, which will suit our game. The wonderful Luka Modric must seize the initiative. He's had a decent season whilst seldom reaching his peak. At his finest the whole pace and flow of the game bows to his talents, just as the great Ossie Ardilles ran the midfield 30 years ago. One game, Luka, it may be your last for Spurs, so just for one game, we need you. Sandro, a world class prospect has finally recovered from a long injury. He has the capacity to be the perfect defensive midfielder, fearless in his own box, hard in the tackle and with the drive and power to set attacks in motion. With Parker doubtful, he could be our match-winner today.
The result will hinge on how Fulham exploit the couple of mistakes we always make at the back. I don't wish harm on any player but I confess I whooped with delight at the news that Clint Dempsey is out. Fulham fans, if it's any consolation, I hate myself. Friedel's assurance has been a remarkably calming and positive influence this season while Kaboul's growing maturity has made him the choice of many as player of the season. Gallas remains fiercely motivated even after all he has achieved but there's less bounce in his legs these days. One last effort, Willy, never have I revered an ex-gunner as much as you. And perhaps the spirit of the mighty Ledley King, the finest British centre half of his generation and an all-time Tottenham master, will add something where sadly his clapped out knees cannot.
Carelessly we have run out of left backs. Cult hero Benny Assou Ekotto is out with a strain injury, another victim of the cruel lack of rotation, while Rose is suspended. I'd opt for Bale - he's at his best coming from deep rather than hanging about further forward where he can't work up a head of steam. Two defensive midfielders to protect the defence and shuffle across when Bale and Walker go forward. Parker is doubtful, says Harry, but I find it best to take no notice of anything Redknapp says, so we'll see.
There is another scenario, of course. Spurs win, the other results go our way and we find redemption. The stakes are high. The local rivalries are profound enough but pale into insignificance compared with the impact of not qualifying for the Champions League. The vultures are circling for half our team, while the top quality defender and striker we require to sustain a challenge for the very top, already dissuaded by our prudent salary structure, will go elsewhere.
But the focus must be on Sunday alone. Never mind the rest, I want some reward for the glorious football we've seen this season, some of the very best in the 45 years I've watched this team. If we fail, that's what will hurt the most.
Check out Alan's blog at Tottenham On My Mind
And follow him on Twitter @spursblogger
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