I do not like North London derbies, especially when they are at Arsenal. In fact I used to make a point of getting out of town to avoid them. Cornwall. Glasgow. Chile. Anywhere. But even South American fishing villages watch the Premiership. The Eden Project may be an entirely different biosystem but it still has an O2 signal, I still check in every two minutes, and we still lose 3-0. There’s no escaping it. I hate them.
The knot that grows in the stomach in the lead up. The hope that briefly taunts at kick off. Every minute lasting a lifetime, clinging to nil-nil like it’s a dearly beloved friend, or any kind of prize to be won. I don’t even hate that we lose. I hate that fifty or sixty minutes where I picture the two nil turning into four five or worse nil. The bitter low of relief at three nil. Heavy defeat acceptable. Mild humiliation bearable. Put in our place but it could have been even worse. Nothing to do but move on.
Can there be anything worse than this ritual torture? Where swashbuckling lilywhites turn lily-livered and offer up their soft underbelly to be toyed with by a predator that isn’t even the biggest beast around these days.
Yes. There can. Fear of a thrashing is nothing compared to fear of a victory. A horrible feeling that I want to experience again and again. It’s the feeling that took hold as Vfondevfoort waited to take his penalty, and in the twenty seconds before I realised their third ‘goal’ was offside. The feeling that followed on once disbelief at Kaboul’s goal had subsided. Which remained for the last five minutes every time Arsenal got into the final third. A cocktail of hope, dread and disbelief, with a dominant top note of absolute conviction that victory was NOT going to happen. Because I wanted this so much that the only coping mechanism I could come up with was to understand that it had to go wrong. And to keep running out of the pub when it got too much.
Doesn’t sound much fun, but that’s how this game was for me. Mind you – the feeling since the final whistle went, and which has remained for. every. single. victory-soaked. second. since. was…. good. Really rather pleasant.
In fact Oog had a great day all round. Lady Oog’s childhood friends from her arty and mysterious black and white European school days were in London for a girly weekend, but with partners in tow. For once, a day with the boys in the pub fitted in very nicely thank you with her plans. All I had to do was man up about inevitable defeat and console myself with good company and plenty of beer.
The thing about watching football with friends who don’t really care about it is that they don’t understand how wrong they are about everything. Wise counsel was clearly needed. Gregg, you really do not want to waste even five pounds betting on a Spurs win. Caglar, you may be from Istanbul but you are not some kind of mystical good luck charm bringing victory. Roger, stop telling everyone that ‘Gerrard Crouch’ is going to score a hat-trick and that Essendon will win the FA Cup.
But sometimes an outsider can see things clearly. Or at least without your own time-worn neuroses. To my friends, it was very simple. If you play like losers you probably lose. If you play well, you probably win. There is no hoodoo. No jinx. There is luck, for sure, but it’s just a game of football between two mercurial outfits capable of brilliance or of going to sleep on the job. We can do it. They can do it. May the best team in white win. As a gooner friend of mine likes to say – you never know.
A sports bar in Clapham is not the best place to really follow the subtlety of the game, but I can be sure of this: Gallas has a temperament that can flip between inspiration or insanity but here he was properly switched on. We will never know if that tackle in the first minute helped us win the game – it’s not as if we went on from there to directly gain the upper hand – but it was as good a piece of defending as I have seen in a long long time. In more than one way, he was Solcampbellesque yesterday and somewhere in that inflammatory statement there is a compliment. He’ll never be my favourite, he’ll never be your favourite – but I’m glad he is a Tottenham player. Oh Capi – you left and they stopped winning derbies.
Talking of players who switch, Gomes is a real barometer for our team. If things are going badly he’s probably partly responsible. But if we win, you can be sure he’s been a star. On Saturday he was all seasons in one day – clearly to blame for the opener but solid in the second half when we needed him to be and brilliant when the, let’s face it, incomparable Fabregas tried to atone for his penalty brain freeze by slotting home a wonder goal at 2-2.
Obligatory VDV and Bale comments now follow. After twenty minutes I predicted Rafa would get himself sent off but instead he steadied the ship and changed the game. Not just the penalty but in creating (along with 3 metre Defoe) the first goal with 2 beautiful touches. Bale was Bale and I have nothing new to say about him. He’s getting boring. Even when he’s not brilliant he’s brilliant.
Better to go from the ridiculous to the sublime than the other way round, but why can’t we just stay at sublime or thereabouts? On MOTD Shearer thought we just needed a bit of belief to win the premier league. Hansen thought a bit of investment was required. The truth is that we need both, and that’s a premiership mile away. I’m not kidding myself. I think we are probably destined to be a bit like this current Arsenal team. Not consistent enough to win the big prizes, but good enough to create beautiful moments of stupendous football and ridiculous entertainment.
In a way this game showed us nothing new. We can be really good or really bad, quite often in the same game. If you give yourself mountains to climb all the time you sometimes scale them, you sometimes don’t, but there will always be other teams soaring above you. Arsenal fans must know this feeling too. As with them, the media is beginning to enjoy greeting our every victory as evidence of a ‘new found resilience’ that might yet win big prizes. Like us, their fans must read that type of hyperbole and think ‘what about West Brom / Newcastle?’ (or Wigan / Bolton). Resilience requires consistency, and we are both still falling short for now.
Anyway, enough about them! I hope I’m wrong and that Shearer, like a stopped clock, is somehow right. But if he’s not, and ‘moments’ are what our team is good for then Saturday was as magic a moment as you could wish for. After the lord mayor’s show we have another lord mayor’s show, a chance to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages. It’s all good, until it stops being good again.
How to celebrate such a monumental victory? We wanted to show my Turkish friend some more of British culture. So obviously off to Tooting bingo hall we went. Leave your cultural preconceptions at the art deco door. Turns out that the ugly brick monster ruining the view from my kitchen window houses a glorious converted 1930s cinema and one of the most beautiful interiors in London (seriously! Go!). Turns out bingo is unironic fun. Turns out they sell beer. Turns out that it’s worth putting yourself through potentially horrendous experiences because sometimes they turn out to be quite wonderful.
One of the reasons I write this blog is so that I can demonstrate that I am more than the screaming foaming-at-the-mouth manchild I can turn into at times like the final whistle of a 3-2 win at Arsenal. But inarticulate rambling has its place too.
Waheeey! Glory glory, glory glory can we have a DVD? Glory glory, glory glory I love you Tottenham eyes down full house over and out.