How exciting. I’m watching Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League from the comfort of my own flat. I’ve never done this before. I’m not cold and I’ve made some awesome sausage casserole. You don’t get that at the San Siro (they don’t have the paprika). My sofa is comfortable and the Italian authorities are not here to allow someone else to occupy it, nor to direct me to another part of the room with a worse view of the telly. And of course, since Lady Oog housetrained me, I can settle down for the game without having to negotiate any rivers of steaming urine on the way.
Ah, Lady Oog. With her loveable and exotic lack of interest in any sport whatsoever. Except ice hockey. You see, Lady Oog is from Finland. It’s a small mythical country just this side of Middle Earth. You can get there on Easyjet but it’s much quicker to hop through the back of your wardrobe. A land of giants, pixies and future in-laws.
On Tuesday morning I woke early to speed watch the cricket, which I’d recorded overnight, before work. As my beloved walked in, she found me cheering another wicket by Swann. The camera was focused on the latest Australian bunny to disappear, tail between legs.
‘Why are you celebrating something bad happening to someone?’
‘I’m not, I’m celebrating a wicket for England’
‘But you’re laughing at something bad happening to that man’
Bless. They don’t play cricket in Finland. There’s too much leaf litter on the forest floor, and the ball might do serious damage to the Moomins.
How can you explain sport to someone who doesn’t buy into it? I quite admire people who don’t have that base desire to laugh at other peoples’ misfortune (I believe the Germans call it “laughing at other peoples’ misfortune”). Those of us who do usually recognise it as an unworthy emotion and so bury it in a firmly compartmentalised part of our life. For me, it’s in the watching of professional sport. For Lady Oog, it just doesn’t seem to exist. What a curious creature!
Later that day, for once, we are watching the football together. I often say that I like it when she does this. But if even laughing at an Australian isn’t fair play, you can imagine the moral issues I raise by leaping up to celebrate our merited, played for and clinically executed opening goal.
What can I say? I find it really enjoyable to see such dumb luck go our way. Maybe all fans think like this but it seems to happen to us way more than for us, so I’m going to enjoy it when I can. I think Twente’s 40 year old goalkeeper probably has broad enough shoulders to, err, take it on the chin. But Lady Oog has made her stand, which (if only she knew) is basically that what I’m doing is “just not cricket”. I can’t really argue with her point but through actions if not words I’m going to make mine. I’m going to shout and swear at the TV. For 90 minutes I’m going to be an unreasonable and irrational idiot from the comfort of my living room. It’s what I didn’t go to Holland to do.
And what a perfect choice of game to wallow in idiocy. In a way, just a typical bat-shit mental Spurs performance in the Champions League. Other than 45 minutes in Italy, it was our worst performance in the group stages. Disjointed, sloppy, all over the shop. I didn’t watch Young Boys away, but I imagine that it was on the same abject spectrum, although doubtless a lot further along. I’m going to pick on Benoit here, I thought he had a stinker and not even because of the penalty. Every pass seemed to be misplaced. I’m not sure he earned his money tonight. He wasn’t alone. Wonderbale was poor by his own standards. Even when he’s below par he gets into dangerous positions and can terrify the opposition, but too often he tried to beat players from standing starts and gave possession away cheaply. He just didn’t seem his usual self. Overall we just invited pressure on ourselves and relied on quick mini breaks to get us our goals . Nothing wrong with that as a tactic – we’re great going forward, so it works – but if you can’t actually soak up the pressure you will end up losing goals as well. In a funny way this result was not a surprise at all. It was exactly what we deserved.
We weren’t helped by a crazy referee. Can’t complain too much about the penalty, particularly when we profited from precisely such generous officiating to win our spotkicks against Twente at the Lane. If anything I blame Gomes for letting such a soft one in. I know that’s harsh but has he saved a single penalty for us yet (genuine question)? However, the free kick for their third equaliser was for nothing, and Jenas’ harsh yellow card for ‘doing a Carragher’ means he misses our second round first leg game. These days, that’s actually a miss. Sounds like we may have Scott Parker to fill in by then though.
Doubtless this was an enjoyable game for the neutral (whoever you are) and I should be celebrating coming top of the group. I suppose I am, but we got very lucky – Benitez apparently deciding that first place was no prize at all and putting out a weakened Inter side. I wanted to win first place, not have it served to us by the waiter. Perhaps we knew we were safe because the game petered out in the last twenty minutes. There was one more glorious bit of buffoonery by the referee right at the death, stopping play for an ‘injury’ (it was a dive) to a Twente player a whole minute after he went down (clutching his leg) and just as we looked like we might actually get the winner.
Last night’s game was full of such annoyances. I don’t mind celebrating when other teams make mistakes. I just find it hard to celebrate when we make so many. Especially when it’s the same basic problem that threatens to hold us back in the league – our inability to soak up pressure away from home. I’m sure I’ll have chilled out by 1200 CET December 17 when Sir Bobby Charlton decides our fate. Based on 2nd place teams at time of writing I think we can get any of the following:
Copenhagen. Valencia. Roma. Marseille. AC Milan. Lyon. Not a bad trip among them.
Living room, you were lovely. But Europe – I missed you. See you in February