On Monday evening I close the door to my flat in Tooting, and an eight month journey to Wembley begins. I’m travelling on the ‘really massive circle line’ via Bremen and Milan and who knows where else. The first stop, though, is an overnight stay at the Bagels in Stoke Newington. He has deadlines and needs to be settled in an internet cafe by work o’clock, so its four hours sleep and a horribly early hop over Holland into the big time.
Bremen is wet. The Champions League is a steep learning curve, and I learn that I need a new pair of trainers. But this is the life I have chosen. You don’t win the battle if your foot soldiers can’t endure 4am starts and mild trenchfoot. To dare is to do.
Some realism. We aren’t contenders. Let’s enjoy our fifteen minutes, and stretch it out into a knockout round or two if we can. I’d love to get so used to this competition that the novelty wears off, but for now I’m still giddy. Everything feels sprinkled in extra-magical ultra-dusty magic dust. We did it. We’re here. I’m here. All those times I said “I’d just be happy to see us get there once”. Turns out I meant it. For now.
Apart from 47 minutes of nail-biting tension, Bremen was a delight. The beer and songs were flowing (led in one Bierkeller by a clearly enjoying himself Graham Roberts) but like the Polizei the fans were relaxed and good-humoured. With the exception of SV Hamburg, the Werder Bremen supporters clearly love all things football, and love talking about it with you. The local wurst is amazing.
And the game was not an anticlimax. This was the best half of football from Tottenham in a long time. Unfortunately, great halves (or great 43 minutes) do not make great wholes. Three up against United. Three up against City, with young Joey Barton showing his potential by getting sent off at half time. Milan giving Liverpool a lesson in the 2005 CL Final. I prefer my great to last 90 minutes.
It didn’t turn out the way we wanted but of course we didn’t actually lose, and we could have snatched it. There was a point after the equaliser where some of the Yid Army were clearly reliving previous traumas but like the team we rallied and showed heart. Man of the match to us. It was a pleasure to meet Nick – the wise man of the west stand – and his son Adam. And the other Adam, the other Adam, and the other Adam. Yiddos one and all.
I am also today announcing a new coconuts and alcohol campaign – “Sing it Second”. Next time you hear the latter part of “when the spurs go marching in” – do it.
On the pitch the positives are also clear. We didn’t freeze. Bale is just freakishly good and I’m not sure teams can really ‘work him out’ because at times he is unplayable. Jenas looked like a different player in a 4-5-1 formation but for old times sake I still blame him for everything. Fvondefvoort had a great game before his injury and could become a bit of a legend. Kaboul looked like the best sixth choice central defender in the world, which he is. Crouch can play in a 4-5-1. And for all that we ultimately Tottenhamed it up, for 43 minutes we were beautiful to watch, weren’t we?
There are some pretty big negatives though.
Cudicini – gone. He isn’t the only one culpable, but I blame him for both goals, along with the West Brom one last week. We’d have won 2-0 with Gomes.
Benoit and Lennon are concerns, but not major ones for me. Lennon is currently in a bad place on the Lennon Form Cycle but will come good. BAE is frustrating but as Stevie (or was it Paul?) will tell you, there is good and bad in everyone. For every two or three passes releasing Bale, there will be a shank to the corner flag resulting in a goal. He’s a weakness in the team. But not the glaring weakness.
Corluka. The man has no pace, but just enough guile to usually get by. Against the better teams – and that’s who we want to be mixing with – he’s going to be targeted and found out. Harry must be thinking that Younes’ future is at right back. I certainly am. Lastly, Keane was abject. Who knows why, he just was.
But overall – a point gained and just as importantly two home points dropped by Bremen. Afterwards, we get talking to Benjamin, Ralf und Tanja in a nearby bar and we talk fussball until 3 in the morning. Thanks for the scarf but I wish I’d turned down the cigarillos. This fantastic trip was all about introducing ourselves to Europe and making friends.
Against Twente it’s about three points. COYS