As a boring old git who has now followed Spurs for 51 of his 63 years on the planet, I can remember a time when the knees of a famous Argentinian servant of the club went “all trembley”, as the Chas ‘n’ Dave song of the time had it, at the prospect of a Wembley appearance. And, of course, Ossie Ardiles’s bearded buccaneering compatriot, one
Ricky Villa, suggested, with his famous solo cup final replay winning goal in 1981, that said trembling knees were a sign of excitement, an adrenaline rush, not fear. Yes, younger readers – once upon a time we had a team who didn’t turn up at Wembley with the idea that overturning a one-goal deficit to a team sitting eighth in the mighty Belgian League was a veritable Everest to climb.
Our current famous Argentinian servant (and, of course, I’m talking not of Erik Lamela, whose absence remains worryingly unexplained and is certainly not merely down to, as has been reported, a mysterious hip injury, but of our manager) has made it clear that we need to learn to treat Wembley as our home, given that that is what it will be as our new super-stadium, complete with its own micro-brewery and an artisan cheese-board to die for ( what would Roy Keane say about that, I wonder?), is completed next season. Our players have clearly taken this on board, with performances that have ensured that we have only been able to play the minimum possible, four games, there this season (OK, if you want to split hairs we could have reduced that to three if we had lost our last Champions’ League game and failed to qualify for the Europa booby-prize, but you get the point, right?).
Now, Mauricio has said that he can tell within the first 50 seconds if our team is ‘up’ for the challenge in front of them. I think it’s fair to say that that also goes for anyone who saw the Monaco or Bayer Leverkusen Champions’ League group games. I didn’t see the first but have it on good authority from a mate who has followed Spurs for even longer than I have that we were terrible and I did see the second, where we spent the first few minutes thinking that pissing around, passing the ball square across our own box then back to Lloris with an opposition forward virtually attached would somehow signify that we were cool, fearless, and unfazed, rather than uncool, clueless and distinctly fazed. I know we won our last game against CSKA, but by then it didn’t count. And then, Thursday night, when it did count – at least if you think the Europa, full as it is of teams from places that most people would struggle to pick out on a map, counts – we struggle to draw against a mid-table Belgian side, scoring real (Harry Kane’s header) and metaphorical (Alli’s sending off) own goals in the process. I only saw the highlights, and I’ve read match reports that said we were up for it, gave it a real go etc. etc. but, come on – Gent!!??
Soon, we’ll be taking on the might of Millwall for the chance to again play at our new home pitch. As Millwall have already deposited three Premiership sides out of the cup, our recent form, the Fulham game apart, suggests we could – maybe should – be considered the underdogs. But supposing, just supposing, the natural order is restored and we don’t self-destruct – by, I don’t know, something like Hugo Lloris being beaten by a 200 m.p.h Walker back pass just as he’s tucking into a giant pasty as a bet – what next, eh? A semi-final at that place we’ve grown to love, Wembley. And, given we’d be likely to face Arsenal, Chelsea, Man. City or a resurgent Man. Utd, I’d rather bet on Hugo eating a pie mid-match than on us passing that test and earning another shot at a decent Wembley performance.
Now, I know the FA Cup has become devalued – in the eyes of club owners and managers, if not the poor fans. These days, everything is about the Premiership and the money it guarantees. If you’re not in it, everything’s about getting into it, to the extent that Championship teams will field weakened sides to preserve their players’ legs for the promotion challenge. If you are in it, you must stay in it, hence it’s imperative you field a weakened side in the FA Cup. If you are in mid-table, but unlikely to challenge for the top four or get sucked into the relegation struggle, seemingly you must also play a weakened side in the cup – fuck knows why, but there you go. And if you are in the top five or six – well you all know the answer to that one. So, we haven’t won the FA Cup, or even appeared in a final, since 1991. Funny, though, isn’t it, how, the odd Wigan apart, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man. Utd, Man. City and Liverpool somehow manage to show it enough respect to pass it around amongst themselves most years and stick a trophy or two in their cabinets.
But then, where do trophies get you, anyway? Ask Claudio Ranieri, who committed the awful crime of giving the fans of Leicester, erstwhile perennial relegation fodder, the season of their lives last year. Meanwhile, our manager, who, while, credit where credit is due, has made us fitter, harder to beat (if sometimes harder to watch) and given youth its head, and who is apparently coveted by the great and (morally) not so good of the European elite, has yet to put a trophy in the cabinet anywhere he’s been. Maybe in years to come the money earned by finishing third or fourth in the Premiership will be considered an honour and a framed cheque will appear alongside dusty old cups in the cabinet, with my equivalent old gits many years in the future reminiscing fondly about that great third place or whatever. But, to me, that’s not what the game should be about.
Anyway, back to our manager and what I anticipate will be his stirring pre-match team talk before the Millwall game, when he will surely highlight the golden opportunity to play at Wembley again. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one. Or a pie in the goalkeeper’s kit-bag. Win, and we can get out the old song-sheet. Not the Chas ‘n’ Dave one but the one that goes: “Wemberleee, Wemberleee, we’re on our way to Wembley and we’re gonna win fuck-all.”
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