Suffice to say, every season as a Spurs fan is dramatic from start to finish. There have been many occasions over the years when I have wished I was one of those people who had no interest in football and could enjoy my weekends with other hobbies; it would all be so much simpler.
This season, it seemed, that after a few years of almost competing, we finally had a squad who could really challenge the, so-called, ‘Top Four’. This for me holds the key. Spurs at last, seemed to have a squad rather than eleven good players. Previously, if we had one or two first team players injured, we would have to resort to inexperienced fringe players who could not stand up to Premier League football week in week out. With the development of players like Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, Spurs showed their youth development has really paid off. I was over the moon when Walker received PFA Young Player of the year. Biased I may be, but he was able to demonstrate a true natural ability for the game in so many crucial matches this year.
For me there were two significant signings by Tottenham over the summer transfer period, which truly changed the dynamics of the whole team. Firstly, the signing of Brad Friedel from Villa was monumental for us. Any follower of football will know that Spurs have struggled to find a consistent goalkeeper over the last couple of seasons. Heurelio Gomes would frequently go from the sublime to the ridiculous and as much as Carlo Cuddicini was a solid force in goal for us, he didn’t show the real presence to dictate from the back. Friedel with his experience and brilliant ability to organise the defence in front of him has given us a true foundation to play the attacking football we enjoy.
Secondly, and quite possibly the most considerable move from Spurs, was the acquisition of Scott Parker from West Ham. For many years I have been admirer of Parker and thought he showed so much knowledge for the game. We finally had a player to rival the likes of Gareth Barry and Michael Essien as a talented, holding midfielder. This season, Parker has shown he can organise and dictate play from that position, bringing in the likes of Bale and Modric whilst remaining solid and supportive in defence.
The last few seasons for Spurs have given us a real glimpse into what could be, but inevitably; always what ‘could’ be. Spurs fans have been found guilty of false hope on so many occasions, but no one can argue that the start we had this year, showed real promise. I have to admit, that after the 3-0 opening day defeat at the hands of Manchester Utd followed by a 5-1 away defeat by Manchester City, I, like so many Spurs fans feared the worst. However, Spurs had a change in fortunes and strung together a club-record equalling eleven unbeaten Premier League games (including a very pleasing 2-1 home win against Arsenal!).This came to an abrupt end, sadly, at the hands of Stoke in early December, but Spurs showed something I haven’t seem too much of in recent seasons; resilience. The players were receiving all the plaudits, deservedly so, and many who had previously been so critical of the team appeared to be eating their words.
It would be wrong not to mention our exploits in the Europa League, but I have to admit, for me, it came as an unwelcome distraction from the bigger prize of the league. We made it through the play-off rounds, beating Hearts 5-0 on aggregate, but unfortunately failed to reach the knock-out stages; finishing third in our group behind PAOK and Rubin Kazan. It was at least an opportunity for some more inexperienced players to get a game, as it seemed (like the fans) for Harry, eyes were firmly on the Premier League.
Spurs’ good fortunes in the league continued during December with good results away at Norwich and a hard fought 1-1 draw against Chelsea. At Christmas, we found ourselves third behind the two Manchester clubs and more importantly ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal. The tide, however, seemed to turn in early 2012.
One match that sticks in the mind took place on January 22nd this year; away to Manchester City; a game, if we were honest, we didn’t hold out too much hope in gaining much from. The ever controversial Mario Balotelli scored an injury time penalty to earn City the 3 points, despite a brilliant performance from Gareth Bale getting Spurs back into the game. The incident left that all too familiar bitter taste in the mouths of Spurs fans as it appeared that the Italian had stamped on Scott Parker before his match winning strike. It was one of those ‘deep breath and move on’ moments in football; we try not to dwell on these incidents, but we do seem to have an awful lot of them.
February was a dramatic month in the football year with the resignation of Fabio Capello. This event proved to be the catalyst in turning Spurs’ season from promising to potentially disastrous. As soon as the news broke of Capello’s resignation from the England manager’s position, the predictable rumour mill churned out a list of his potential successors. Top of the FA’s list: (allegedly) Harry Rednapp. As much as both Harry and Spurs continued to release statements stating Harry’s commitment to the club, the controversy had clearly rattled the players and the manager. Results began to turn sour with a heavy 5-2 away defeat to our North London rivals; only to be followed by a painful 3-1 home defeat against Manchester United. This was the moment I think all Spurs fans began to think ‘I knew it was too good to be true’. Our 12 point lead over Arsenal was beginning to fall away and with the likes of Chelsea and Newcastle showing signs of top four contention, the familiar feeling of ‘another season bites the dust’ was beginning to settle in.
After Spurs spectacularly crashed out of the FA Cup to Chelsea – a game I have coincidentally wiped from my memory, all attention was firmly on the league. All the expectation from earlier in the season seemed to all come down to the final couple of months. With the speculation of the England position still very much in the minds, all focus had to be on securing a top four finish; a factor a few months previous I would have thought inevitable, but now seemed doubtful.
Compared to our nearest competitors, our run in to the end of the season seemed relatively good. Home games against Swansea, Norwich and struggling Blackburn gave that faint glimmer of hope that we would still be able to turn our fate around. What we needed to allow for, however, was an end of season surge from Arsenal. Robin Van Persie’s goal scoring boots resulted in them creeping steadily up the table, clawing back the lead we once had.
Predictably, all had to rest on the last day of the season with the question of Arsenal or Spurs for third place. With Chelsea getting to the final of the Champions League, we all knew that the only secure spot for Champions League football next season was third. Never have so many results come down to the last day of the season. Title winners, champions league qualifiers and relegation; all would be decided on this dramatic of all days. I got that familiar knot in my stomach as 3pm hit. I was elated when Adebayor scored in only the second minute to get Spurs up and running and it appeared that Arsenal were struggling against West Brom.
For 43 glorious minutes the Premier League table saw Spurs sat in third and Arsenal in fourth. We had managed to gain a 2-0 lead against Fulham and Arsenal were drawing 2-2 with West Brom. Being a Spurs fan for a long while now, I have learned never to get premature in celebrating anything until that final whistle. A 54th minute, Koscielny goal sealed our fate. Fourth position is was to be and an agonising six day wait to see if we would gain that coveted fourth Champions League spot.
As far as Spurs were concerned, we did what we had to do – we won our final game. It is never comfortable knowing that you depend on other results, but that’s the nature of the game. I could finish by stringing off a list of excuses why Spurs failed to contend throughout the whole season but that would be pointless. There are clearly a number of factors which contributed to our fate this season; from the start where we promised so much; the middle when it all seemed to be wasted effort, to the end when our last push of form returned.
The fact remains; Spurs need to be able to show consistency from day one right through till the end that, they failed to do this year. The spark and energy shown by Bale, Modric, Parker etc at the beginning of the season seemed to dwindle and they seemed to lose their desire and spirit. There can be no doubt that Harry Rednapp’s involvement with the England job controversy was a factor in Spurs’ issues this season but it cannot be solely responsible. (It can’t be a coincidence, however, that when Roy Hodgson was given the job, Spurs seemed to find their form again!).
The players need to be held accountable and understand that with the weight of expectation comes the need to perform. If we are to realistically contend with the ‘big’ clubs in England, money needs to be spent and our players need to show commitment to the club. Time will tell whether our stars will choose to stay or go; so much of that depends on the Champions League final next weekend.
To the most negative and cynical fans, fourth almost seems disappointing, but considering our dip in form, I truly believe this has been a good season for Tottenham. To end on a positive note, with the likes of Kyle Walker, Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul (a player I have failed to mention thus far, but one I feel has developed into a great player this season), Spurs have developed a competitive team playing some great attacking football. I eagerly await the summer transfer market to get a real idea of the chairman’s ambitions for the club.
Roll on 18th August!