Not a good day for Silvio Berlusconi. A wonderful evening in the history of Tottenham Hotspur.
And deliciously unexpected. Mourinho’s miracle excepted, Italian football has lost it’s sheen in recent years. The giants of calcio are a little diminished these days, whether through scandal or just increased competition from other financial superpowers. But AC Milan are on an upwards trajectory, and Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Pato are as good a front three as you will find anywhere. We didn’t just beat a great club, we beat a supposedly fantastic team.
And for once we did it the traditional way. Not through jumpers-for-goalposts we’ll-score-one-more-than-you attacking abandon. Through honest toil, team work and clever, controlled counter-attacking. And still scoring one more than you.
I love these big games, and how they bring the best out of us. But lord am I over Milan, the city. There’s nothing actually wrong with it. But it’s not loveable, it’s not particularly fun and this was my third trip in two years so it’s wasn’t even a novelty to be there. Counting my chickens before the chick that becomes the hen that lays the eggs they hatch from has even been hatched, I pray we don’t draw Inter in the semi-finals.
But still, from start to finish this was an enjoyable euro trip. You get a better class of fan on Lufthanse, you know, and it was a pleasure to talk Tottenham from take-off to landing with Kelvin, a friendly, informed and knowledgable Yiddo. Even if he is one of the breed I mentioned recently, a beat-the-trafficer. Maybe Spurs should take a leaf out of the Italians’ book and refuse to let him leave for an hour after the final whistle. He’d have certainly seen a lot more goals in recent years.
The pre-match build up started with some drinks in the lobby of the Principe de Savoia hotel near Repubblica station, where Charlie and his mum Gilly were staying. And also, it turned out, the entire Sky team. Souness, Stelling, Ray Wilkins, Redknapp jr. Oh, and Ossie Ardiles and Pat Jennings. Happy to report that Jenning still has huge hands and 1970s hair. Gilly, having more balls than either Charlie or myself, had a chat with Jamie Redknapp and you know what happens if Redknapp’s around. Err… He’s very smooth and pleasant apparently. Not particularly saliently, he said that ‘dad might not admit it but he’d take a 2-1 defeat’. A bit more saliently, he said Crouchie being fit would be a big boost. He knows his stuff, does Jamie. Always liked him. And his dad.
The general mood seemed to be one of realism. Keep in the tie, take them back to the Lane and with a fair wind and a fit Bale we would fancy our chances. But as soon as the game started, we looked comfortable. Unfazed. Everyone kept their head. Everyone stepped up. Special mention must go to the much maligned twins, much maligned Palacios and much maligned Sandro. We had much the better of the first fifteen minutes or so, kept our shape beautifully for the whole first half and apart from one careless moment by Corluka we also kept possession admirably. They had more of the ball but we had all the corners and all the shots on target. The 5000 strong away support were in good voice all night (less so this morning) but they took their cue from the little white dots far below – they played like they belonged in this stadium, we sang loudly enough to take it over.
In the second half, Milan upped the pressure but it was English-style pressure and Dawson and Gallas / Woodgate(!) were in their element. We conceded corner after corner but the defence held firm and when they did find their way through, Gomes was immaculate. Not even eccentric and immaculate. Just immaculate. He has the pick of thousands of Essex spouses today.
I want to join in the condemnation of Flamini but the truth is I haven’t seen it again yet and from so far away it was hard to tell what happened. I hear it was a shocker. To me it looked like they both kicked the ball very hard at the same time. What IS clear is that to scream about a player who you have just injured not leaving the pitch is a sign of real class. I wonder where he picked that up from. I don’t know where Hutton is but in any case let’s hope Vedran makes a speedy recovery.
And so the game became bitty and broken, which probably suited us. We were hanging on for a while but Milan’s desperation played into our hands. Lennon had been dangerous in the first half (what would Bale have been!) and when he broke forward late in the second you could feel something special was about to happen. In a flash it was only him and Crouch against one defender. The supporter to my left, spoke for the entire spurs family. ‘Don’t pass. DON’T PASS!!’. I was convinced a professional foul, red card and muffed free kick was coming but pass he did and with the goal gaping… Crouch scuffed it and it rolled agonizingly just past the… Huh? wha…? Mama mia! Was it a trick of the light? Is this what watching a game from space does? Everyone thought he had scuffed it but all the reports say it was a clean and tidy finish. Sorry for doubting you Peter. You don’t score many. But when you do, they tend to be really, really important ones.
What a feeling. Just a wonderful, wonderful moment. An already great performance had just turned into one that will be talked about for years.
After that it was a case of seeing the job through. A disallowed goal aside, it was reasonably comfortable. At the end Gattuso unleashed the Rangers player that lurks within by headbutting, of all people, Joe Jordan. I understand though. Sometimes it’s hard to accept: you’ve been beaten by the better team, and that’s all there is to it.
I’ll love this team regardless, but as the final whistle soundlessly blew a year below us, it felt like it was all for this moment. A million disappointments forgotten in a glowing, adrenaline-fuelled buzz. For years I’ve dreamed of just getting into this competition. All of a sudden it feels like this competition has been dreaming of having us! What a story.
I’m too happy. A final moan about the San Siro. This is not how football should be. From the disorganised scrum to get into the ground, to the shocking toilet facilities (at least they had some portaloos this time). The seating free for all and the stupid netting that gave me a headache to look through. The lab rat experience of spending twenty minutes walking round and round the poxy turrets. The posing Italian riot police. This is a wonderful stadium because of it’s sheer scale and iconic status, but they should put it in Germany so that the actual matchday experience does it justice.
Instead it was left to us lot to provide the unforgettable memories. There’s been so many of those recently I’m starting to forget some of them. The greatest team performance from a Tottenham team in my lifetime. Until the next one. We absolutely smashed it.
Let’s hope the second half is good too.