* I originally wrote this article on Wednesday 13th April 2011 (the day we were eliminated from the Champions League after our 1-0 loss at home to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals). This will explain why the article is almost 3 years old and out of date. Enjoy!
So that is it, our UEFA Champions League adventure is over. But what a 12 months it’s been…
We start at this time last year. We were looking to qualify for the Champions League. We had games where we did well e.g. Wigan at home. But we had games where we dropped points e.g. Wolves (H & A), Stoke (H), Everton (A). There was a lot of doubt over whether we could finish in the top 4 or not (so many people said we didn’t stand a chance). But then we played Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final. We lost 2-0, we thought that our season was going to fall apart but on the following Wednesday we played Arsenal (H) and we won 2-1, remember that screamer from Danny Rose? 3 days later we played Chelsea (H) and again we won 2-1. The next Saturday we were at home to Bolton and we won 1-0 (thanks to a rocket goal from Huddlestone) and then we played Man City (A) on 5 May 2010. It was like a Champions League play-off win and we would be in the play-off round of the Champions League, draw and it would go down to the final day and lose and it would be almost over. Peter Crouch headed in from a Kaboul cross in the 82nd minute to give us that crucial 1-0 win that made us qualify for the Champions League. How happy we were, we had done it!
Come August we were in the play-off round and we were drawn against Young Boys. We all thought, well this will be easy. 30 mins in and we were 3-0 down. All that hard work getting into the Champions League last season looked to have counted for nothing before Bassong and Pavlyuchenko scored two crucial away goals and in the return leg at the Lane we hammered them 4-0 thanks largely to a Peter Crouch hat-trick and we qualified for the group stages of the Champions League.
We were drawn with Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and FC Twente. I can remember Andy Gray saying that we had a tough group and that he thought we would find it difficult to progress to the knockout stages. Our first group game was away to Werder Bremen. We took a 2-0 lead early on and we were in dreamland but we let 2 in and had to settle for a draw. Our second group game was at home to FC Twente. In a crazy game where we had 3 penalties and Van der Vaart sent off we managed a 4-1 win. Then came our biggest test so far. Inter Milan away. The first half was nothing short of a nightmare when we went 4-0 down and had Gomes sent off, what would we do in the second half. One individual performance almost turned the game around and attracted interest from the whole of Europe, Gareth Bale scored a hat-trick and the game ended 4-3. We played Inter Milan at home a few weeks later and Bale put in a similar performance to the one 2 weeks before. He destroyed Maicon and we beat the reigning Champions League holders 3-1. We next played Werder Bremen at home and we won comfortably 3-0 to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Our final group game was away at FC Twente. We needed to equal or better Inter’s result to win the group, in an extraordinary game we drew 3-3 but we won the group and proved Andy Gray wrong.
In the Round of 16 draw we were paired with AC Milan. We returned to the San Siro wary of what happened when we last went there and we won 1-0 thanks to a Crouch goal on 79 minutes. Our first away win in the Champions League this season. We proved to everyone that we were a force. In the return leg at the Lane we proved that as well as attacking we could defend and see out a game and we held on to draw 0-0, knock out AC Milan and progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League (we actually got further then Arsenal in our first Champions League campaign!!!, how much that meant to us!!!). In the quarter-final draw we were drawn with Real Madrid. And in the semi-final draw a prospective tie against Barcelona or Shakhtar Donetsk. In the first leg at the Bernabéu we were well beaten 4-0. Our Champions League bubble had burst and our chances of making the semi-finals looked to be all but over. It seemed like we had an impossible task on our hands and in the second leg Ronaldo scored after a Gomes error to end our participation in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 1961-62.
Looking back we have played some of the biggest teams in Europe e.g. Inter Milan, AC Milan, Real Madrid. We have proven that against some of these teams we can give them a game, the Champions League is all about playing the best Europe has to offer and we proved to the whole of Europe against Inter & AC Milan that we can take on the big teams. Another point to make is that we actually got 4th last year, we proved many people wrong (even some our most pessimistic fans) and we have taken this Champions League opportunity with both hands and shown to the whole of Europe what we are about. It’s a very special feeling to be involved in such a prestigious competition and we were there. People complain about us, we are very lucky. Everton and Aston Villa would love to be where we are. Look where they are, how can we complain when those two teams have underachieved? We should be very grateful that our team gave us an amazing adventure in the Champions League. The sad thing is that we can’t expect Champions League football every season due to the size of White Hart Lane and the spending of teams around us (Chelsea, Man City). These clubs have bigger stadiums and can offer bigger wages than us. That is what football is about these days, we proved that a well-run club like ours that doesn’t take financial risks can make it to the Champions League without excessive spending. We have made about £20 million from this season’s Champions League. That is much more than if we were in the Europa League. That money could allow us to strengthen and attract players that we need to get to the next level. I want to thank everyone who got us 4th last year (the players, Redknapp, coaching staff, Levy etc) they have proven that we are club on the up and have taken us on an amazing journey that hopefully we can experience again very soon. We all want to be in the Champions League next season, we have to get 4th in order for that to happen. If we can reproduce the form that we showed at this time last season, then I feel that we can do it again.
We have been on an amazing Champions League journey, we have played in some of the biggest stadiums in Europe against some of the biggest teams in Europe. Just remember how lucky we are to have been on such a fantastic adventure and hopefully we will be in the Champions League next season if not in the very near future. We now know what it feels like to be in the Champions League, a very special feeling for all of us. A feeling that hopefully we will experience again in the very near future… To Dare Is to Do.
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