Glory days yet to return to the High Road
It’s hard to tell where last year’s riots stopped in their march north along Tottenham High Road, such is the general look of neglect of the shops and pubs that line this sad causeway. Those old 1960s “Spurs Double” players could step off the bus opposite the ground, as they once must have, and feel right at home.
Although today’s shops and pubs are all shutters and cameras, those old gods would recognise the poor surroundings, the buildings that shroud both sides of the street have all the attraction and appearance of a row of broken teeth. Through the freezing rain, the usual detritus of a matchday is in evidence in the litter, horseshit and discarded plastic bottles while the rusty beams of the stadium rearing above it appear like some “Manga” baddie about to devour the lot. [*Fftd, see last page]
Fancying a pint and a chance to sound out the local voice, I try a couple of pubs where I feel as welcome as a “Supergrass” and viewed with suspicion by some dangerous looking drinkers. Paranoia? I don’t stay long enough to find out. Instead, I find a place to put a TSF sticker outside the Spurs shop.
At present, Tottenham are a club in transition, with Sir Harry of Hotspur yet to state his long-term allegiance (or not) and the new stadium on hold while finances are sorted and planning orders addressed. The area would doubtless benefit greatly from redevelopment as Tottenham doesn’t appear to have much else in its favour, having none of the cache of neighbouring Arsenals’ posh/edgy borough of Islington.
The last hold-up regarding a new Tottenham stadium concerns a few 18th century townhouses in the way of progress and, as much as I admire all things historical, the next time they fancy a riot, if I were a Spurs supporter, I may take judicious aim with my petrol bombs. By the way, TSF does not condone the use of petrol bombs to affect change. Paranoia again? You bet!
Perversely, it is these fine, perfectly proportioned old buildings that give the lie to their surrounds. They have been repointed and painted, now standing grandly defiant in a kind of stately stand-off – 18th Century 1, 21st Century 0. [*Fftd]
Tottenham Hotspur have a very illustrious history and their fans, some old enough to remember Arthur Rowe’s “Push-and-Run” side, expect entertainment mainly in the form of a sometimes reckless kamikaze attack as they will the glory days to return. Speak to all but the youngest fans and the conversation soon throws up footballing giants – Mackay, Blanchflower, White, Jones, Greaves, Hoddle, Waddle, Gascoigne and Lineker. In recent years, Tottenham have not so much rested on their laurels as fallen into a coma and their awful chant of “Come on you Spurs” is sung as a suitable dirge.
This season, a resurgent Spurs have been having their best season after years of playing second fiddle to fierce rivals Arsenal – that being until last week, when “The Gooners” did the unthinkable and beat them 5-2. So determined am I not to mention this score that I nearly blurt it out when someone asks me the time!
Harry Redknapp has surrendered the fight to be top of the pile for this season but, after Arsenal’s smash-and-grab against Liverpool, he still has the bragging rights of North London to consider. Today’s game is a toughie, Spurs are without their chief of Bomber Command Scott Parker (banned) and flying winger Gareth Bale (sick). The Reds have Wayne Rooney back at full strength (after a throat infection … cough cough … which excluded, not surprisingly, his appearing for England) and it’s hard to see an under-strength Tottenham getting a result.
Spurs pass the ball backwards and forwards across the pitch in a sterile attempt to penetrate the United defence, the Reds sit back and soak it up. The Spurs defence tower like giants over Nani and Rooney and both teams have few chances. The home side miss the pace of Bale but Aaron Lennon is a thorn in United’s left and Emmanuel Adebayor shows a masterclass in holding the ball at the front, Jake Livermore rules the middle like an old-fashioned centre half with some good distribution right and left. Tottenham are running the show and a disallowed goal only indicates their superiority. United look clueless and sterile.
Rooney plays in the astoundingly large hole just in front of the Tottenham back four but is getting no service and barely touches the ball for 44 minutes and it’s looking like a set-piece may be United’s best chance to break the deadlock. Sure enough, just before half time, Nani whips in a corner that dips below the heads of Spurs’ giant defenders at exactly the right height for little Wayne to bury. If it was planned, then it is sheer genius. United have been on the end of a battering and go in at half time one up with their first strike on goal.
Up until this point, the Mancs have looked deceptively ordinary but it could have been a wonderful exhibition of patience, something that the Spurs fans run out of too quickly. I have seldom been to a first-class match where the home fans’ cheers have turned so readily to moans. Astoundingly, it’s almost as if the Tottenham fans expect their team to ultimately let them down and can’t wait to vent their mass disapproval. [*Fftd]
The second half sees Spurs repeat their assault, forcing David De Gea into a good save from Livermore before seeing his bar clipped by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. History proves that chances against United are squandered at cost and, on 60 minutes, Fergie’s men show why they are title contenders as Nani crosses a ball that Spurs fail to deal with. It eventually falls to Ashley Young, who buries it from an almost impossible angle.
The life is sucked out of Spurs, both players and fans, as a realisation of the inevitable slowly sinks in. The United fans finally find a voice as, incredibly, a home fan near me urges the Spurs’ boss: “You might as well sign for England, Harry. You‘ve done all you can here.”
United find the will to do more, however, and within ten minutes Young collects the ball from Patrice Evra and, as the Tottenham defence obligingly back off, sends a wonderful shot into Brad Friedel’s top corner. That’s eight goals in just over a week that the Spurs defence have shipped! Both sides have visibly had enough but Jermain Defoe, who should have come on for more than the last ten minutes, nets a less than consolation goal on 89.
I’m expecting a classic, and understandable, “We wuz robbed” as I talk to Spurs fans on the way out but the talk is already about the next manager, with Jose Mourinho being favourite. As we once again hit the sorry looking High Road, I make a huge mistake when I ask why the fans are so quick to jump on the backs of their heros when things go wrong. One gnarly shaven-head thrusts his face into mine: “Cos we’re sick of fucking things going wrong around here, mate”.
He’s got a point. Roll on the new manager and the new stadium.
I have driven to Hertford North (easy parking, £1.50) and caught the train to White Hart Lane (return, £8.50), 35 minutes each way. I have a surreal moment when, in the company of thousands of wet, cold and disappointed Spurs fans, I pass under the station bridge on my way home.
The surging crowd parts to spare the life of a large frog making its way to the safety of the curb. I am expecting someone to make the connection with a certain Frenchman and await the splat of a heavy foot that doesn’t come. A little bit of magic in a bleak borough.
NB: I have included *Fftd (Feel free to disagree) where suitable. I encourage readers to do just that.