Updated: May 10
Tottenham Hotspur’s marvellous maiden Champions League run ended last night with defeat against the best side we have played for years. We competed well against a Real Madrid side who pressed impressively and kept the ball excellently in a second leg that was already a challenge after our 4-0 loss last week. It’s been a thrilling run which has well and truly put Spurs back on the map and it’s been a reminder of what football should be about. And in this post I’m going to be unashamedly partisan and celebratory.
Not since Leeds’s run to the semi-final in 2001 has an English side caught the imagination of the wider footballing public in the way Spurs have during this campaign. It’s been anything but dull or predictable, that’s for sure. From the absolute catastrophes of trailing 3-0 on a plastic pitch in Switzerland and the Gomes sending off in Milan to the absolute joy of “Taxi for Maicon”, winning in the San Siro and the sublime first half against Werder Bremen and all points between, it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in over 40 years of supporting Spurs.
As well as the fantastic football the trips abroad have also been superb – even that cold night outside a rural German airport terminal was worth it, although the freezing hotel I had after a long and late-night train journey across the Netherlands in the snow did test me a bit. We’ve seen some great sights, with Madrid impressing me the most as a city, and the support has been big, loud and well-behaved. The numbers that travelled, despite the sometimes comparatively tiny ticket allocations, really says something about the support of this club.
That was on evidence again last night, with the vast majority staying to the end of a game that really became a friendly after Ronaldo’s goal, the support staying loud and no choruses of any dodgy songs. On and off the pitch we have so much to be proud of this season.
Spurs were expected to find it hard to adjust in our first season in the Champions League. Instead we lit up the competition. It will always be remembered as Gareth Bale’s campaign, and who but the bitterest Gooner could deny recognition to a player who is so good to watch, who brings joy to the game and who seems like such a throughly grounded and likeable person? But while Bale has caught the eye, Luka Modric has been consistently impressive – his mini-midfield general displays reminding me of Ardiles in his prime.
Mentions too for Peter Crouch, a player Spurs fans took time to warm to but who has undeniably done so much for the club in Europe, and Benny Assou-Ekotto, who has been consistently impressive – despite what Alan Hansen says. Then of course there’s Rafa and Aaron and Tom and Michael and William… There was some irritation with Gomes’s clanger last night, and it was a poor way to sign off, but as with Crouch’s moments of madness last week there seems to be a newly mature acceptance that sometimes these things happen and that we win as a team and lose as a team.
As I checked Twitter on my train journey home last night I was quite amused to see the number of Gooners who had managed to stop moaning about their manager for long enough to pile in with what they imagined were witty jibes against us in the wake of the defeat. Apparently we were “mugs”. Far better, presumably, to spend year after year struggling to get beyond the group stages, playing dull percentage football illuminated only by the occasional display of flair and then displaying the trademark stroppy indignation that has made your club a major irritant when you do get somewhere and the opposition have the audacity to beat you.
Compare the joy of Tottenham’s run to the arrogant sense of entitlement displayed by our neighbours, the embrace of adventure and quality to the spoilt demands for ever more. Of course there is some rivalry at play in my observations too, but one of the greatest things about this Champions League campaign for me has been that Tottenham have emerged as a very likeable team playing attractive football, while in contrast Arsenal look like a bunch of spiteful and petulant prima donnas. It’s something their fans may not have noticed as they seem to find it difficult to stay to the end these days. Another contrast – Spurs fans have shown what good support is all about.
So this year’s great adventure has finished. I still think we can make the top four and have another crack next year. We have a good, hungry young team that is a pleasure to watch and, just as long as we manage to avoid our trademark tendency to shot ourselves in the foot, a fine future ahead of us. Thanks Spurs, I wouldn’t change a minute of it.