Monday, October 29, 2012

William (Gallas), it was really nothing

Perhaps it is our cross to bear that many of the good things we do are not appreciated in life. This was rarely more true than in the case of Tottenham captain William Gallas.

The 35-year-old veteran has been an absolute steal for Spurs since moving on a free transfer from North London’s second best team two-and-a-half years ago. The Gallas goal line clearance is now a standard feature in games, but his last ditch inventions too often remain uncredited by Spurs fans. Yet when ‘Mad Bill’ made several uncharacteristic mistakes against Chelsea (he was not alone in this regard) these were widely highlighted by his detractors.

Emerging star Steven Caulker has paid tribute to the po-faced veteran, affectionately known as ‘Mad Bill’ on this blog (Read William’s 2010 open letter here), and told of how the Frenchman calms his nerves and talks him through games. There is little doubt that the experience and nous of Gallas has played a significant part in the maturing Caulker’s fine displays this season.

Gallas was at his absolute best in Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Southampton on Sunday. It was a classic Spurs performance; dominating the first half and holding on for grim death in the second. I’ve lost count of how many comfortable two nil leads we've surrendered in second halves over the years. That’s just how we roll.

Tom Huddlestone’s clever dink created Gareth Bale’s headed opener, but after the hairy behemoth was replaced by Jake Livermore in the second half the midfield floodgates opened alarmingly and Southampton took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was suddenly backs-to-the-wall stuff. Jay Rodriguez’s reply had seemed virtually inconceivable when Clint Dempsey put Spurs 2-0 up on 39 minutes.

Despite his adroit header, Bale was quieter than an Arsenal fan on Tottenham High Road and Spurs leaned heavily on the fizz of Aaron Lennon on the flanks. Defoe’s shooting was painfully awry and, given Emmanuel Adebayor’s injury and eventual departure for the African Nations Cup, our lack of striker options remain a valid concern. Nothing changes.

Sandro was his usual bestial self in midfield, but his tireless tackling could not compensate for the large Dembele-sized hole in the centre of the park. The Belgian is a big miss, as if you didn’t know that already. Heartbeats quickened and collective blood pressures rose, but Spurs withstood Southampton’s late barrage, thanks to the desperate blocks of Gallas and co. Cue widespread homo-eroticism as the Spurs team stripped off and threw their shirts into the crowd, sparking a surreal and comical tug-of-war between two old geezers for Brad Friedel’s bright yellow jersey.

Wrapped up in the moment, I started peeling off my five layers of clothing, hurling them into the air in a celebratory tornado of designer garments. They fell harmlessly to the ground. No-one fought for them. Not even the cold people or women with limited dating options. Shrugging off the autumn chill, I picked up my clothing as uncomfortably as Spurs had picked up the points. But I was smiling. Three points on the road always warms the soul.

*The game marked my dad’s 50th anniversary of attending Spurs games. Somehow his vintage heart has withstood half a century of this madness. The old man’s first match was way back on November 1962, a 4-0 win over Leicester City at White Hart Lane. Apparently, the game was played in ‘black and white’ and the fans were still applauding a Jimmy Greaves goal long after Leicester kicked off again. Congratulations on the milestone, dad!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Charles Manson and Spurs, hardcore in Maribor

It was a trip of Charles Manson proportions. My outbound journey took 15.5 hours, four cities, three flights and I still didn’t make it to Maribor. Fortunately, mine was not the standard Manson experience. There were no technicolour Jan Vertonghens imploring me to ‘ruin’ Jack Wilshere. I might have listened.

My flight from Heathrow was heinously delayed for several hours meaning I missed the connection in Munich. A dough-faced Lufthansa employee then told me in clipped English to fly to Frankfurt where I could pick up a late night flight to Graz. As she printed my replacement tickets, I stopped myself from yelling, “Why can’t people in your city take a f**king penalty?!” Almost inevitably, my plane from Frankfurt to Graz was delayed further due to a ‘Manson sympathiser’ refusing to leave the previous flight. I rolled into Graz at 12.30am a near broken man. All for the love of Spurs. Andre better not be playing John Obika as the lone frontman.

The onward journey to Maribor was less taxing. An innocuous two-train journey across the Austrian border into Slovenia delivered us to the European City of Culture 2012, a small but pretty city with friendly locals and an indie, hipster vibe in places. Dressed in standard Stone Island clobber, we had to rectify that situation and (pwopa nawty) we tipped over the al fresco tables of a nearby café and smashed up a local bar with a hail of flying chairs* (*fictional event, did not take place). Seriously, it was as peaceful a European trip as I can remember without the slightest hint of trouble. Maribor is definitely worth a repeat visit if we play there again.

Bizarrely, at breakfast on the day of the game, my hotel restaurant was peppered with Charles Manson lookalikes. They love a wild, untamed beard in Slovenia and, as I gazed across my table at a hairy man with mad, rolling eyes, I wondered what the night might have in store.

What followed was a satisfactory point that keeps Spurs unbeaten and alive in the group. The involvement of Bale, Dembele and Adebayor would have certainly secured the win, but the maturing Steven Caulker was an encouraging standout. The performance was often scrappy, toothless and unpleasing to the eye, but we’re in the qualification business not a beauty contest and two home victories (crucially) against Maribor and then Panathinaikos will almost certainly see our beloved club progress to the Europa League knockout stages in 2013. The remaining fixtures are tipped in our favour.

One disappointing aspect of the trip was the sparse number of Spurs fans in attendance. Around 440 tickets were sold, way below allocation, and not everyone with a ticket was in Maribor (an ultimately unsuccessful ploy for extra loyalty points). I estimated that there were no more than 390 Spurs fans in the away end. Regardless of numbers, we made our voices heard. ‘AVB’s Blue and White Army’ was sung non-stop for over 10 minutes in the second-half in stark contrast to the increasingly funereal atmosphere at many Premier League games.

Simple economics, as well as heightened work and domestic responsibilities, mean the days of thousands of Spurs supporters flooding into European cities are no more. Champions League or marquee opposition would inevitably deliver more fans, but as a youthful veteran of 27 European away trips it feels like the passing of something special.

When Spurs returned to European competition in 2006 after a painful seven-year absence, the away end was always rammed to capacity. Fans sung until their lungs burst as an exuberant Tottenham army swept into Europe. The city centre would be heaving with packs of geezerish individuals on the prowl for spare tickets, but those halcyon days are no more. Now we are left with several hundred die-hards of mostly Bruce Willis vintage. The two trips to PAOK and Panathinaikos brought no more than 230 away fans. That’s a Greek tragedy Euripides would appreciate.

It was a noticeably ‘old’ support in attendance in Maribor with a significant over 40s demographic. The Tottenham youth are currently potless, modern life and football has priced them out of the game's Eurotrip. Hopefully, progression to the knockout stages and better times will entice them back into the fold. We need their passion and enthusiasm. They are Spurs' heartbeat of tomorrow.

Just don’t fly with Lufthansa.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kyle Walker and the Zen Geezer Movement

My old boxing pal Dominic Negus once told me, ‘If you spent your time knocking out the wankers in life you’d never do anything else’. This inspiring moment of ‘Zen Geezerism’ immediately entered my head in the fallout of Spurs’ 2-4 reverse against a clinical Chelsea.

After likeable full-back Kyle Walker’s fallow form continued against a sharp Blues’ outfit, packed with a trio of talented and highly-paid midfielders, a few faceless keyboard warriors were almost inevitably directing abuse at the rookie defender from behind the shield of a laptop screen. Walker duly deleted his Twitter account which in the best case scenario may concentrate his mind on more important matters like defending.

But footballers, we must remember, are not infallible, computerised drones. They have problems, too. FIFA13 has fooled us. The sheer brilliance of Lionel Messi makes it seem as if players can perform flawlessly without error, but they are people dealing with the same mind-bending domestic problems as the rest of us. Walker has been poor since the tail end of last season, for whatever reason, but he’s talented, young and will surely find form in time. He will certainly play more effectively and positively with our encouragement rather than guileless cyber-derision or mindless stick from recent lobotomy patients in the stands.

Gareth Bale’s decision to miss the game to attend the birth of his child was also met with criticism. It was a personal choice and one most people will respect. Bale does appear to be a rare British footballer in a long-term and loving relationship so his reasons were nothing but sincere. The great news is Gareth’s good lady will not be dropping a 7lb wing wizard on the day of the Europa League and FA Cup finals. If someone can put a contract out on Charlie Adam, the Welshman might actually play at the scenes of our double trophy triumphs. Don’t wake me up from that dream!

An unfortunate complication of ‘baby mama drama’ meant I was bizarrely at home with the miniature doctor rather than beating my chest like a wildman at White Hart Lane and therefore I (thankfully) missed this league fixture for the first time in 14 years. Given the reserve heavy line-up, a draw seemed the best case scenario. It was not to be.

The starting XI sent shivers down my spine. Tom Huddlestone lacks the mobility to influence a game against clever, mobile, high quality midfielders like Hazard, Mata and Oscar and his decision to grow his hair until he scores means he will probably end the season looking like Captain Caveman. The midfield was the key battlefield in this fixture and shorn of the drive of Dembele, bite of Parker and electricity of Bale, Spurs often looked second best despite fashioning a creditable number of chances.

But we should remember that Chelsea top the table for a reason and, given the inequality of the first half, the response in the second was worth appreciating. A blank chequebook is an almost unbeatable opponent at the best of times. Spurs gutted it out in the trenches and made a game of it and pressing for a late equaliser always leaves a team vulnerable at the back.

The AVB revolution is a work in progress. We must greet the downs with resolve and not a whining sense of entitlement. Foundations are being laid for something progressive and potentially special. Let’s show true support and not turn off our loyalty like a tap after a single setback.

We remain fifth and North London’s premier team. That ain’t too shabby. Ask any zen geezer.

***For those who missed it, I was a guest on the stellar Fighting Cock podcast this week. You can listen to me losing the plot (standard behaviour!) at

It’s a fantastic show created and driven by people with a pure love of Spurs at heart. Listen and love.

Monday, October 8, 2012

‘Mad’ Friedel bodyslams AVB in vicious UFC style smackdown


The sensational headline above only tells part of the story. The untrue part.

Displaced goalkeeper Brad Friedel watched his 310 consecutive Premier League game playing streak cruelly ended by unpopular boss Andre Villas-Boas against Aston Villa on Sunday and then flipped like an American style pancake.

Ripping his substitute goalkeeper's jersey apart with a flex of his yoga-toned muscles, the feral 41-year-old bodyslammed the weasel-faced Portuguese in Tottenham's West Stand car park as his ‘revolting’ teammates whooped and cheered, ‘The Sun’ can exclusively reveal.

Ever the Frenchman, replacement Hugo Lloris fled the scene with a girlish Gallic jog. The fresh garlic fancier was later found cowering behind a notorious Paxton End burger van and only discovered when its geezerish proprietor shouted: “Come and have a look at this!”

Friedel’s incredible Premier League run dated back to the days of black and white television when children fidgeted uncomfortably on beanbags with Jimmy Saville and hoped for the best. Back then the American sported a furry Fellaini style barnet which he used to expertly pluck goalbound screamers from just under the post.

Yet the ancient American’s goalkeeping pedigree and high standing in the game counted for nothing in the eyes of the conniving Villas-Boas. And last night, as disbelieving fans left scarves and lit candles in honour of Friedel’s departed streak, the Chelsea failure remained aloof and unrepentant.

“Brad took his rage to another dimension,” confessed a sheepish Villas-Boas after Spurs' 2-0 win that ensured his job safety for another fortnight. “He understands the project of me dropping his prehistoric arse and, after he clotheslined me in the dressing room and held my finely coiffured head down a flushing toilet, we shook hands like men.

“I told Brad we look forward to him playing again soon. In a behind closed doors friendly with the likes of Jon Obika. Here he can show his merit as an individual and I hope the opportunity incentivates him to accept Michael Parkinson’s life insurance offer. I understand you receive a Parker pen just for calling. Daniel Levy made 14 calls from different numbers and received 14 pens. That’s an immense stationery contribution and more than Manchester United manage in a season.”

While Spurs were labouring to break down a stout Villa defence, former manager Harry Redknapp was enjoying a traditional roast dinner cooked by beloved wife Sandra.

The scent of Sandra’s expertly cooked beef wafted over Sandbanks to the mutual delight of passing pooches and their salivating dog walkers.

“Cor, I told you Sandra was better than Darren Bent,“ winked the cheeky chappy ex-manager and Sun columnist. “I wish Pavlyuchenko had run around like those peas. Triffic movement off the fork. Let’s hope they pass better than Pav!”