…a personal journey, via 2008 and some forced metaphors.
2008 was a bad year for me. It began with the collapse of a 10-year relationship – I lost my soulmate, the love of my life, the person I never considered would be anything other than the one I’d start a family with, grow old with and, after a long and happy life together, shuffle off this mortal coil in the arms of – and ended with Harry Redknapp becoming Spurs manager. It’s hard to say which was worse.
There are many wretched consequences of separating from the person who has been the nucleus around which your life has revolved for a decade, but in my experience the hardest one to come to terms with is, simply: TIME. Time can become a precious commodity when in the midst of a relationship, particularly if the other half of the equation doesn’t share your interests. The balance between what you love and who you love is hard to maintain when the two are strangers to each other.
“Sorry, darling, but Aaron Lennon’s just put us 2-1 up, and we literally haven’t beaten Chelsea in living memory. I’m sure your friends will understand. Promise we’ll leave soon…
*Muttering under breath to 50kbps RealPlayer stream* …Stop buffering, you bastard.”
“Am I seeing you on Friday?”
“Well, I was planning to stay in, so…”
“Oh, that could be good. Shall we watch a film or something?”
“Erm, actually, it’s the European U19 Championships, so I was going to watch Switzerland v Ukraine. We’ve announced we’re signing this Ziegler lad, you see, and I’m curious if he’s going to slot in at left-back or further forw… it’s probably not going to be your thing, to be honest.”
“It’s such a nice day, shall we go for a walk down to the river? Take a picnic?”
*Without raising head from computer screen* “Maybe later? I’m sure this is the season I lead Spurs to the quintuple. Robbie Keane has just won European Footballer of the Year, and with Ronaldinho and Tonton Zola Moukoko alongside him, I think we can finally go the whole season without conceding a goal. I’ll only be another eight hours or so.”
On the other hand, when a relationship ends, the sudden ubiquity of free time becomes a constant reminder of the gaps that were previously filled by the one you loved. A vacuum of possibilities, which left unchecked simply becomes filled with thoughts of regret and sorrow.
So the first thing I found myself having to deal with, once the paralysing despair and self-loathing had abated somewhat, was finding something to do that would eat up enough of my time and attention to give me some respite from the nagging feeling that if I had my time over I’d change it all. Weekends tended to be fine, but the weeknights that would otherwise have been spent traipsing across London to meet up, or cooking a good meal in anticipation of their arrival at mine for the night, were suddenly daunting, monolithic blocks of time.
I flirted with various pursuits, trying to find something that could develop into a regular way of banishing the evening hours: I glugged down 2-litre bottles of £1.25 Tesco cider and started arguments with my housemate’s annoying South African boyfriend, I went to gigs of local bands that I didn’t really like so I could shout withering responses to their awkward between-song banter, I even started running for the first time in my life (as a form of exercise, rather than a means of escape from irate South Africans and pissweak indie bands), and I went to watch the Spurs Reserves…
I had caught the odd Reserve game in the past, but this constituted a solid commitment on my part to attend every home game and away games against London opposition, and thus, with one deft manoeuvre, remove Monday nights from the diary of despair. There was something appropriate, given my state of mind, about the bleak desolation of trudging to Brisbane Road to sit with the twenty or so ‘real’ punters who weren’t friends and family of the younger players or exasperated agents of the seniors who had been banished to the stiffs for various reasons, usually centring around having been bought by some rogue member of the infamous ‘Transfer Committee’. And oh, how terribly bleak it was.
Incompetence, underinvestment and stagnant practices in the youth setup over the preceding decade had wrought stark dividends, leaving a reserve side largely populated by players who would struggle to make it as professionals at any level, never mind the Premier League. These were the ‘Children of Pleat’ (not literally, one hopes, though the possibility can not be entirely discounted), a man who, for all his flair for drawing tactical diagrams in The Guardian and mangling foreigners’ surnames, when it came to youth development, couldn’t organise a piss-up in Vlad Chiriches’ pantry. To give some idea of the level of quality, Danny Hutchins and David Hutton, who I thought were two of the more promising academy graduates in the stiffs at this time, are these days both toiling at non-league level in the seventh tier of English football.
But, at a time in my life when I was open to self-flagellation, there was something masochistically satisfying about exposing myself to, for example, the unique goalkeeping style of Ben Alnwick, a man whose DNA tests reveal a 78% correlation with the genetic makeup of a hamburger. Watching him (at times, literally) throw the ball into his own goal, week in, week out, afforded me the opportunity to eat further time out of my evenings, as I pondered for hour upon hour whether Alnwick was the worst professional footballer I had ever seen. Yes, was the inevitable conclusion, and furthermore, that he was actually the worst goalkeeper I had ever encountered. Not just amongst professionals, but at all levels, right down to eager dads wilfully letting their toddlers knock a plastic ball past them in the park to try and pique a nascent interest in the beautiful game.
Ben Alnwick during happier times.
The reserve side was managed by Clive Allen, a bona fide Spurs legend, but a simply godawful football coach, at least going by this evidence. Any man, myself included, who has long departed the tender bosom of youth, will recognise the uncontrollable urge to shout abuse at the kids of today for ‘doing it wrong’, but Clive had turned this into an artform; spending the entire game fragging his young charges from the sideline with expletive-laden footballing clichés, pausing only to occasionally question the marital status of the referee’s parents or perform the ceremonial kicking of the Lucozade bucket. If this was football management, I often thought, any pathological misanthrope with mild tourettes could make a decent stab at it. So, at least I was halfway there.
The three most high profile players plying their trade in the Reserves at this time were the enigmatic Adel Taarabt (‘enigmatic’ here meaning ‘surly, inconsistent and liable to produce a single moment of magic worth the £5 admission alone’), the enigmatic Kevin-Prince Boateng (‘enigmatic’ here meaning ‘strutting, useless and constantly looking to start a fist fight’), and the enigmatic Danny Rose (‘enigmatic’ here meaning ‘from Doncaster’). Taarabt, the subject of 90% of Clive Allen’s cumulative ire, and Boateng, who was only there to keep up fitness for his Fairlop Powerleague appearances, were always on the fringes of the first team, but Rose, a relatively high profile acquisition from Leeds United’s youth team, had only made one appearance on the bench since joining and wasn’t even training with the main squad, despite a lack of options in his natural, left-wing position.
At some point, someone on the development staff had decided to convert Rose from a pacey wide player into a stolid box-to-box central midfielder, and he was clearly struggling to come to grips with the demands of the role, both on and off the ball. In this reserve side, he was being paired with Jake Livermore, a player best described at this time as a less mobile Tom Huddlestone minus the passing ability, together forming the most mind-numbing centrifuge since the head-breeching scene in ‘Driller Killer’. Watching the two of them lumber around the centre of the pitch became almost transcendent, as each botched challenge, each misplaced pass, each fluffed shot, became indistinguishable from the next, and moment-to-moment, game-to-game, time and my own place in its continuum ceased to be perceivable. Yes, it certainly helped my situation, but I feared for theirs. Rose seemed to have some guts and a desire to win, often spilling over into dissent, so I could see him forging a career as a lower league defensive midfield clogger, but Livermore didn’t seem to have much future in football unless Huddlestone employed him as a stunt double when Juande Ramos tried to serve him light salad as a main course.
And so it went. I had my Monday night distraction, which helped occupy my mind and my time. Football becoming a reassuring escape from the bad things real life was meting out. Then the 2008/09 season began, and the bad things came to football too. The road Ramos was driving us down became increasingly bumpy as the wheels were sold from under him, and people who had no rudimentary understanding of how long a league season lasted for declared that, with eight games gone, Spurs were in danger of being relegated. Panic in the boardroom, panic in the stands, and rather than take the customary six month, caretaker time-out to leisurely consider how the club should move forward, Daniel Levy immediately appointed Harry ‘Houdini’ Redknapp to save us from the drop.
Evil taketh form.
My dislike of Redknapp long predates his involvement with Spurs, and I’m not going to go into it here, as it will end up doubling the word length of an already self-indulgent, unwieldy piece of writing. Many others, fans of clubs he managed as well as those who have never had the pleasure, have covered why he is not the universally loved character the media always maintain he is. Read them. I agree with virtually all of it. For the purposes of this story, I’d simply ask you to consider how you’d feel if the person in football you despise the most ended up at your club. I mean, just imagine if Sol Campbell had turned up at Spur… wait, that’s wrong.
Anyway, following Redknapp’s arrival I almost immediately felt distanced from the first team in a way I hadn’t since the George Graham era, a period where I virtually lost all interest in football. Given that the game was providing me with an important sanctuary at this moment, I was reluctant to allow that to happen again, and so I delved further into the world away from the senior team, and as well as following the Reserves I also started going to youth team games.
The Academy side were virtually the opposite of the Reserves. The much maligned Damien Comolli, as well as predecessor Frank Arnesen, had overseen a gradual overhaul of the Academy of Pleat’s tenure, and the latest crop of youngsters were the first products of that setup, which was now inspired more by the Ajax Academy and Sporting CP’s renowned approach to youth development. Crucial to this change had been Ricardo Moniz, who was actually appointed by Martin Jol (another unsung hero of this minor revolution), who before his departure when Jol was sacked, had brought a new technique-focused system of training to all the youth age groups.
The Academy side were attacking, fluid, skilful and led by a bright young coach, Alex Inglethorpe, whose touchline approach was discrete and individual-focused – an arm around the shoulder to calmly impart some wisdom, rather than the spasmodic public dressing-downs favoured by Clive Allen. It was a balanced team, with quality in all positions, playing a short-passing possession game, usually in some permutation of system-du-jour, 4-3-3, in stark contrast to the Reserves’ agricultural, 4-4-fucking-2 approach.
The first player that really caught my eye was a sleight kid named Ryan Mason. He was elegant, technical and beguilingly intelligent in his reading of the game for someone so young. He would glide around the pitch, popping up in the areas behind the main striker, usually Jon Obika, making the kind of cute passes and runs that suggested he studied the game with a diligence and enthusiasm that most lads his age reserved for a Nuts magazine Hollyoaks pictorial. Mason seemed a curious combination of tradition and modernity. A throwback to an era where football was a boy’s sole distraction, and he’d want to immerse himself in it, in the way only a young hobbyist can, until he understood all of it. Yet, at the same time, he possessed the technical chops, versatility and work rate of a very modern ‘number 10’. And he scored. Always. It was invariably a case of ‘how many’ Mason would score today, not ‘if’.
There was plenty to admire elsewhere in this side. Andros Townsend was a pacey, precocious winger, who was so technically adept that he would take set pieces with whichever foot was best suited to the situation, something I hadn’t seen from a Spurs player since David Ginola. Anchoring the midfield, Yaser Kasim was similar to Mason – impressive technique allied with an ability to read the game that belied his inexperience – and a particular joy to watch, since his enthusiasm for both the nuts and bolts tasks of holding midfield and the creative side of being the first point of an attack was something not seen in the Spurs first team since we let Manchester United take Michael Carrick off our hands.
In defence, Calum Butcher and Steven Caulker were the classic centreback partnership – a quick, covering player combined with a gutsy ball-winner – and Adam Smith was a speedy right-back, solid defensively with genuine variety in his attacking play, equally happy overlapping on the outside to get a cross in or coming inside to attack the box. Left-back was usually occupied by Sam Cox, one of those players that compensate for their limitations by squeezing everything they can from their talent through hard work and dedication, and are appreciated by teammates and fans alike as a result.
They were, as a team, a joy to watch most of the time, and following them I found myself enthused in a way I certainly wasn’t by the Spurs first team. Their style of football, their togetherness and their attitude seemed so removed from those elements of the adult professional game that induces a cynicism in all of us at times. Here was an opportunity to enjoy a football that seemed more ‘pure’, in the same way that lower/non-league football can, yet still cloaked in the technical excellence of the elite game.
My enthusiasm for the Academy team, and morbid curiosity towards the Reserve side, had led me to begin writing match reports (again a useful way of eating up more of the time that was still not scarce enough for my liking), and as a result I was asked, along with Chris ‘WindyCOYS’ Miller of future Chris ‘WindyCOYS’ Miller fame, to interview Academy Director John McDermott and striker Jon Obika for a feature on the Come On You Spurs forum ahead of the 2009 FA Youth Cup semi-final against Arsenal. The first team were absent from Spurs Lodge on the day we got to pretend to be proper journalists, thus saving me the potentially awkward scenario of having to be cordial to my saggy-faced arch-nemesis, although the Nathan Barley-esque media officer who was our guide would prove an able deputy across our dealings with him over the coming weeks as we tried to get the Club’s permission to publish the article. As an aside, apart from the interviews themselves, no great revelations came from the privilege of being granted access to the inner sanctum of Spurs Lodge. If I had to sum it up in word, it would be: chipboard.
Sat in the stands for that FA Youth Cup semi-final, under the lights at White Hart Lane with twenty thousand fans in attendance, I felt closer and more connected to a Spurs team than at any time I could remember. When Jon Obika, the shy, nervous and very likeable kid I’d been posing questions to in McDermott’s office, scored to level the game at 1-1, I jumped to my feet and screamed in celebration at a Spurs goal with a zealous passion I hadn’t experienced before. At least, not that I could remember. That’s when it sunk in – I cared more about this game, this team, because I cared more about the players. This profound allegiance I was feeling must be borne out of a proximity to them as a group. The barriers that exist between player and fan in the (E) Premier League era – be they virtual ones resulting from most interactions being filtered through a caustic media that requires them to speak like politicians, or the physical separation that comes as a consequence their extreme wealth – gradually erode our enthusiasm. How could it not? But here was an opportunity to revel in the unbridled joy of a cynicism-free moment, where for once in the modern game the guy on the pitch and the guy in the stand weren’t utterly alienated from each other. To borrow a phrase, we were “all in this together”. At least in the mind of the guy in the stand.
Of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, the Academy side went on to lose the semi-final. Arsenal deserved the 2-1 victory, as they dominated most of the game; the Spurs midfield unbalanced by the (I suspect political) decision to drop Kasim to accommodate high profile youth signings Dean Parrett and John Bostock in such a glamour tie. We certainly looked better once Kasim came on as a second half sub, and as a silver lining he became only the second Spurs player (after Fredi Kanoute) I’d seen successfully execute a flip-flap/elastico at White Hart Lane.
That interview with John McDermott was the first time I heard the name ‘Harry Kane’. He was an under-16 player, and at that time it was virtually impossible to get information on players in age groups below the Academy side, but McDermott mentioned him, apropos of nothing, as a big prospect. This was evidenced by his involvement, ahead of schedule, with the Academy team in a recent overseas tournament. The following season, Kane was to be a regular at that level, affording those fifty or so of us who traipsed over to Spurs Lodge on Saturday mornings a chance to see him in action for the first time.
Immediately he seemed an anomaly – the build of an unrefined, English-style target man, but more happy coming deep to receive the ball at his feet; the face of someone that hasn’t quite grasped why when we jump we don’t just keep going up and up, yet blessed with an impressive football IQ. The first thing I ever saw Kane do was drop deep into wide midfield and hit a 50-yard pass to the feet of his fullback on the opposite flank. Clearly this boy had talent. He also had knack for scoring goals, and was a reliable finisher inside and around the box.
I, like most who were regular Academy watchers at this time, were incredibly confident that, after so many fallow years, Spurs would finally start producing our own first team players, and in a sustained, systematic way, not the kind of happy accident that yielded the likes of Ledley King. John McDermott had, after all, told us that this was the most talented group he’d ever worked with, and his no-nonsense persona suggested he wasn’t the type to resort to hyperbole to try and impress a couple of no-mark fans. The difference with this crop of players was never more evident than when they made their first steps into adult football, finally turning out for the aforementioned Reserve side. Watching them warm up in their own group with short passing drills and ‘Rondos’, whilst elsewhere Reserve regulars like Livermore and Rose mindlessly hoofed the ball across the pitch at each other, the different coaching culture that divided the adjacent age groups was apparent. Their in-game performances were also promising – even the waif-like Mason proving capable of simultaneously making the physical step up while still playing the game in his own way; the way that had made him stand out in youth football.
However, things were about to change. Redknapp shut down the Reserve side, and somewhere amongst the coterie of family men he had staffed the offices of Spurs Lodge with, a decision was made that young players would be sent en masse to the lower leagues once graduating from the Academy. Denied the crutch of my Monday night fix of Clive Allen’s Effing Army, and with time becoming less of a weight on my shoulders and more the thing that heals all wounds, I began drifting away from Spurs’ ‘other’ teams.
Having bravely escaped relegation in 2008/09, the senior team under ‘Arry ‘Oudini were – by modern ‘top-four’s-our-everything’ rather than fancy-dan, foreign, Ramos-esque, winning trophies criteria – enjoying as triumphant a period as anything seen in the Levy era. Of course, I enjoyed all of that, but watching Spurs’ success for me during this time was very much like seeing on Facebook that your ex has settled down and started a family – you’re happy about it, but in a very detached way, and can’t help but hope that the person who helped facilitate it receives a custodial sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for tax evasion.
Some proper football men, picture here knowing the game.
As the months, and then years, passed, I found myself going to fewer youth games. My life returned to a more even keel, and that old adversary, time, got filled with other things. Meanwhile, wider interest grew in the youth team, driven by greater dissemination of information on it via the tireless work of people like Chris, the club themselves (whose approach to publicising the Academy has shifted notably), and later, mass fan involvement through the ‘1882’ movement. As that interest grew, youth football to me personally felt less like a sanctuary from the iniquities of the senior game. I do think that growing enthusiasm has been better for the players, the club, the fans and youth development generally, but it made it less appealing to me. As the last traces of Redknapp were purged from the club, I was sufficiently re-engaged with the first team to no longer ‘need’ youth football. We simply drifted further and further apart, until the moment I finally drew a line, said “it’s not you, it’s me”, and walked away like a callous lover.
Over the next few years, I watched from a distance as all that promise from the talented Academy side began to seem less a new dawn and more a hallucinatory oasis in a familiar, barren desert. A classy ‘10’ like Mason sent on a succession of lower league loans to play in midfield to ‘toughen him up’, resulting only in a series of injuries that threatened his hopes of a professional career. Caulker, at one point seriously being spoken of as an heir to Ledley King failing, either through poor coaching or his own lack of focus, to live up to his promise. Kane, Townsend and Adam Smith seemingly forever condemned to short term residencies in the lower leagues that appeared to be achieving little beyond extending the length of their Wikipedia pages. Butcher, Kasim and another favourite, Paul-Jose M’Poku, departing altogether. I admit, I lost faith. Not least because neither Redknapp or his successor, Andre Villas-Boas, seemed to have any interest in using these youngsters as anything other than fodder in competitions they weren’t prioritising, and even then having to use the second tier players, because the bigger talents were out on loan. When there was a shortage in a position, rather than trust in youth, we were bringing in journeymen or playing players out of position.
What should have been a tidal wave of optimism overcoming Spurs supporters, as the talent of our young players became apparent, was actually a burgeoning cynicism. The gradual involvement of the likes of Townsend and Kane with the first team inspired nothing but impatient criticism and exhaustive message board dissections of their flaws. Kane in particular was quickly dismissed as a useless, immobile lump with a poor first touch. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, and those of us who had proclaimed to our peers that things had changed in the Academy, and that we would soon reap the benefits, started to look like fantasists.
The defining moment of the 2014/15 season came in the 93rd minute of the first game. We didn’t realise it then, but practically and symbolically, everything changed from that point. Harry Kane, on for the last ten minutes in place of the ineffectual Emmanuel Adebayor, received the ball with his back to goal, just ahead of the West Ham back four. As he turned to face them, he raised his head and in a fraction of a second assessed his options. Ignoring the easy pass to Lewis Holtby, or a square ball wide to Andros Townsend, Kane slipped a perfectly weighted, disguised through ball to Eric Dier, who rounded the ‘keeper and secured the three points. Kane ran to the jubilant away supporters with one arm around Dier and the other pumping a fist to the heavens.
This wasn’t Kane’s first moment in the spotlight. Tim Sherwood, to his credit, had eventually given him a run in the side (Kane’s first start came 17 games into Sherwood’s brief tenure), and he had become the first Spurs player to score in three successive matches since Gareth Bale. Where such a run would usually be greeted with untold fan hype, in Kane’s case it had largely been dismissed as a purple patch at the tail end of a season when most opposition defences already had one foot on the beach. Many minds had already long been made up – Kane was a lump who may grab a few goals if given enough chances; probably OK as a third choice, backup striker, if we couldn’t secure our main transfer targets. Nothing more.
That moment against West Ham not only worked as a prelude to Kane’s transition from a saviour within the context of a single game to a full blown messiah, but was also the first time most fans saw him working in the same context he had operated in youth football. It was perhaps an introductory glimpse to the doubters that Kane was a player of skill and vision, forged and raised by a modern coaching culture focused on versatility, technique and intelligence; not a one-dimensional throwback to the days when strikers were strikers, tackles were tackles, men were men and women were half-time entertainment.
As the season went on, the Spurs story became the Harry Kane story. A fantastical tale that seemed to be borrowing liberally from both Roy Of The Rovers (ask your dad, kids) and the New Testament (ask your grandad, kids). As he graduated from essential component of the Europa League sideshow to one-man wrecking ball in the main event Premier League triumphs over Chelsea and Arsenal, Kane’s coming of age was talked of in increasingly hyperbolic terms. Buried amidst the barnstorming zero-to-hero yarn, was the story of a player who was always a highly promising, talented youngster, fulfilling his potential through a combination of a coach, in Mauricio Pochettino, who trusted him and could identify and rectify the weaknesses in his game (mainly mobility), and his own hard work and dedication. The sudden transformation narrative was, of course, more convenient because it saved face for those that had written Kane off ludicrously early in his fledgling career, but to frame his rise as some kind of unforeseeable, supernatural accident is to do a disservice to the years of work that went into his development by various, rarely credited coaches and the player himself.
The 2014/15 season will, no doubt, come to be remembered as Harry Kane’s season, and rightly so. That story in itself would be enough to make last term worthy of dewy-eyed future nostalgia, but it was not the only one.
I was otherwise engaged the evening Ryan Mason scored his first senior goal for Tottenham Hotspur. Towards the end of the night, I looked down at my phone to see a flurry of notifications and messages asking whether I felt like a proud dad, or sarcastically berating me for not having hyped Mason enough. I presumed that he had done something substantial, and so it proved.
The signs had been there in pre-season – Pochettino had tended to pick Mason as a starter in central midfield where possible – but, as ever, team selections in that period are often driven more by fitness and availability than the manager’s long-term plans. Still, it was enough for me to get excited, if only because after years of loans, injuries and a gradual retreat into a deeper role, I was simply curious as to whether Mason was still the same player that had once so impressed me. Those friendlies certainly suggested he’d lost none of that intelligence and awareness, and his passing was still positive and ambitious. Although he still looked like he may shatter at the first sign of contact with another human being, there was a steely determination to get involved off the ball that was probably a combination of the rough and tumble of his time in the lower leagues and a realisation that this was, in all truth, his last chance to impress at Spurs. I carried some cautious optimism that Mason may get some game time in the cups under Pochettino, but that was quickly tempered by another injury that ruled him out of the season opening. Pochettino’s much vaunted obsession with fitness would surely now put paid to the slight chance that Mason could be kept around the squad.
I treated that spectacular goal against Forest as a beautiful swansong. The transfer window had closed, and Mason had been retained, but deep down I confess that I still expected him to end up out on loan before permanently leaving the club, either at the end of the season or in January. His post-match interview was as emotional as I’d even been whilst watching Spurs TV, unless you count as an emotion the fervent desire to kill I experienced that time they got some mascots to do keepie-uppies with an invisible ball. When Ryan was asked about his celebration, and he replied that he was “so used to playing in the reserves in front of nobody” that he wasn’t sure what to do, an actual tear made its way down my face. “I’ve waited a long time for this.” You and me both, lad. You and me both.
What seemed to be merely a poignant final chapter actually turned out to be a beginning. Pochettino showed that his flirtation with Mason in a central midfield role was, in fact, all part of his masterplan to add dynamism and faster movement of the ball from defence to attack, by starting him in the next Premier League game – the North London Derby. He became an essential cog in this machine, and to most it became apparent just how important when injury or fatigue meant replacing him with one of the twenty-eight or so other central midfielders on our books and Pochettino’s system suddenly looked less effective as a result. Mason, alongside Nabil Bentaleb (not an Academy product, as such, but as an eighteen-year-old recruit having spent his first few years in the company of these youngsters in the Development Squad, cut from some of the same cloth), now formed the spine of this new Spurs team, and along with Kane, its heart. Local lads, supporters even, with the club since before their voices broke, now living out the dream of every fan.
This was something different after years of squads populated by footballers that were somewhat hard to love. The honest, journeymen pros, who you admire as fundamentally decent blokes, but pass so quickly through that you can’t develop much of an affinity with. Similarly, those brought through on ENIC’s speculative transfer policy, who turn up for a season or two, make some sub appearances, engage in some Spurs TV banter, then trot off on loan with an option for a permanent deal. The high potential players using us as a stepping stone to an elite Champions League side, a joy to watch but for the sake of avoiding heartache, best not to get too attached to, and worse still, those hoping to achieve that big move but unable to, due to not being quite good enough – the Jan Vertonghens of this world, who play every game with an expression of mild disappointment etched on their face, like a man permanently haunted by the realisation that the ‘59p off your next shop’ coupon in his wallet has expired.
Finally a team with a nucleus of players who want to be here, or at least who have had their own fortunes intertwined with the club’s for long enough to understand that they should respectfully pretend that they do. They are the ones driving this team now, with a seemingly uncomplicated love for the game, and maybe even the club itself, that as a fan is easy to relate to. One overlooked positive in the endless complaints that it’s much tougher for English players to breakthrough these days is that those kids do seem to appreciate it more when they actually buck the trend and make an impact at the club they grew up in.
Even Rose, who long-time readers will recall I spent many words here (not to mention in other places over the past few years) being rude about, can be counted amongst the feel-good stories of last season – from a figure of ridicule to emerging as one of the best players we’ve had in his position for decades. If, like me, you love an underdog-coming-good story, there’s no greater underdog that the one you yourself have written off. We should all be happy to be wrong about players. It’s important as fans to remember that we’re not politicians – we’re allowed to be wrong and we’re allowed to change our mind. That’s not a sign of weakness, but implies that maybe, just maybe, we football fans are capable of rationally accepting the evidence before us.
2014/15’s final moment of beauty came with the 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Both of the Spurs goals in that game were scored and created by Spurs supporters who had grown up in the club – Harry Kane converting two chances created by Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend. Maybe I’m just too young, or too forgetful, to remember the last time this happened, but it felt like something rare and precious, to be enjoyed without cynicism, much like the season as a whole, which for me was full of emotions I hadn’t experienced before, and due to the various twists on my own path that it took to reach them, won’t ever experience again.
I loved last season. It was the best of times, precisely because it felt like the happy conclusion of a story that began in the worst of times. I’ll miss it.
I’ll move on, but I’ll miss it.