The prospect of two beautiful days in short sleeves and flip flops. Cold beer and mountains of tortilla in Retiro Park. We arrived in Madrid to a cloudless twenty six degree day. I’d secured a ticket to the game without being ripped off by a tout. I was not in Milan.
A relaxing build up, and then Tottenham spent ninety minutes tying a huge knot in my stomach.
Just the sight of the Bernabeu gave me goosebumps. For the first time in one of the European super-stadia (San Siro. Stadio Olimpico. St James’ Park) I was not up in the gods. Our seats were secondtiertastic and the atmosphere was first rate. As fizzing as a De Maria drive into the far corner.
Reactionary crypto-fascist oppressors they may be, but I rather liked the Madridistas the Bagel and I were sat with. Except for the constant shovelling into mouth and spraying onto floor of sunflower seeds. By the final whistle the Bernabeu resembled the bottom of a budgerigar’s cage, and not just because we were in the shit. They were good sports and joined in with the banter in our bizarrely mixed zone. They also had the good grace to leave well alone as the goals flew in.
As for the result? Fans like to talk about where their club should be, and what they should be achieving. Most of the time it’s utter tosh:
‘We should be challenging for the league’;
‘We should be playing this [insert name of multiple European cup winning team here] off the park at our place’;
‘We should be buying [insert name of player who has pick of all Europe’s top clubs]’.
Its not quite like that though. The reality is that if we go down to ten men, we should lose four nil at the Bernabeu. Especially when the standard tactic for a ten man Tottenham is to lump it up to the fella who’s just been dismissed.
I’m writing this on the flight back and in just that short space of time, I have heard fans moaning about Harry bringing Defoe on instead of Pav. About not telling the players to get stuck into the Madrid players to provoke retaliation and a levelling up of the numbers. Of Corluka being a liability. That Redknapp should have told Lennon to shut up and get out on the pitch. I don’t agree with any of those points. Roman Pavlyuchenko would not have made an iota of difference. If there was a magic option on the bench, we’d have used it. If a player says he feels weak, it might just be that he has a bug rather than an attitude problem.
It’s simple. Eleven men were up against it. Ten men were valiant up to a point but couldn’t live with a powerful and slick Real. That’s it. It happened. There’s no angle needed to explain it. We’re going out. We aren’t going to win the Champions League. But we were never going to. If ten men were to have a chance our striker needed to be able to hold the ball up. Defoe or Pav in the form of their life wouldn’t be good enough to do that job against this opposition. I am generally critical of both, but it’s not their fault they aren’t Ibrahimovic or Drogba.
So we never got to properly see the eleven versus eleven that, even at one nil down, might still have produced an interesting spectacle. We have no-one but ourselves to blame. Crouch decided this tie as surely as he decided the last. Moments of madness. Unnecessary lunges that invited – demanded – two yellows. I’ll forgive him. It’s not a popular view but he’s the one striker in our squad I wouldn’t be looking to ship out this summer.
I’m finding it harder to forgive Van der Vaart. These days our hotheaded genius is simply a hothead. I’m sure he was angry when he was subbed at half time but he needs to cut out the stupid bookings and remind us all of how good he can be. He also missed what looked like one of our only two half-chances, when a long Bale throw-in caught out the Madrid defence. Perhaps it was too tight and hard to control – but that’s why he’s in the team and an equaliser would have given us a glimmer of hope for the second half onslaught. I can forgive any player a miss, but kicking the ball away petulantly was as in character as Crouch’s tackles were out. It made me more angry than the sending off, even if ultimately it mattered far less.
Once Crouch slouched lankily off the pitch, head held as low as it can go, we were always going to be ripped apart. Either side we conceded cheap headers. Redknapp might not be perfect. Lennon’s illness was unfortunate. But Madrid were always going to make light of us.
Gawd bless the Bagel. he can’t quite bring himself to say it. I can. We’re out. He insists that freak results happen. Istanbul. Arsenal v Newcastle. He’s right, one in a million games by definition do happen. There’s a chance there’s a chance there’s a chance.
Nah. We’re out. There we go. We can’t mope about it. We need a win in the league this weekend, then let’s give it one hell of a go against Real in the second leg. Let’s get an early goal. Convince ourselves we could, possibly, maybe, just somehow pull this off. Ultimately fall well short but get a morale boosting one-off victory anyway. Then go on from there to get fourth. And do the Champions League all again, with a year’s experience and better strikers. City too far ahead, you say? That’s how we all felt after the Pompey cup defeat this time last year. I feel strangely, unjustifiably, optimistic!
The Champions League journey has been wonderful. Emotional, even. I’ve had an incredible time following my team, and doing it with good friends. But I’m getting married in the summer. We want kids. Realistically this is probably the peak of Following-Tottenham-fever for me, and it couldn’t have been better timed. I won’t ever shake the bug totally, of course. I’ll hang on to my season ticket even if I move to the other side of the world (or even if Spurs do). And my actual Tottenham fever is happily incurable. But this is the end of a great adventure. Don’t be too down, my friends. Here’s to all the great adventures yet to come.