May 7, 2016

Battle of the Bridge – some vague thoughts

On this week’s Fighting Cock podcast we had a lengthy discussion about the Chelsea match, specifically the ‘antics’ of our players. I felt I needed to get it out of my system — I was really angry at their behaviour, and I used some strong language — ‘ashamed’ being one such word. I stand by it too.

The response I had on Twitter, on forums, in messages from friends and on the pod itself was… let’s say ‘mixed’! I’ve had messages from people saying that they agreed with me and that I articulated their own views. Equally, I’ve been called a disgrace, and more than one person has said that they actually switched off the podcast, so angry were they at my views, which were obviously the polar opposite of theirs (which is a pity, as if they had carried on listening, they would have heard Flav and Thelonious arguing with me vehemently and laughing off a lot of the incidents. Both sides were covered.).

I’ll preface this by saying that I totally *get* why the players were so wound up. There are many factors which undoubtedly played a part:

– The fact that it was a local derby.
– The pressure of being in a title challenge.
– The fact that we had given up a lead the previous week and, effectively, given up that title challenge.
– The comments of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas leading up to the match.
– The fact that the team are — on the whole — young.
– The fact that some of these players have had a few years of ‘big clubs’ winding up our players, surrounding and intimidating referees, and using the dark arts against us.
– Diego Costa. Enough said.

There are mitigating factors. Lots of them! I do understand that.

But our behaviour was, in my view, 1. unacceptable and 2. counter-productive.

Some of it was acceptable. We set out to wind up Diego Costa, hoping that he’d last out or, at least, lose focus. We went into challenges with that extra bit of fire in the belly. It’s a derby, and that is all understandable, excusable, and even potentially useful.

But it became unacceptable; we went too far. We were often the provocateurs, the antagonists, the troublemakers. I don’t need to list the offences — you all know what happened. But suffice to say that had the referee and/or his assistants seen everything clearly and correctly, we could have ended up with seven players on the field at the end of the game. Indeed, Eric Dier could have been sent off twice over (for two bookable offences and then a straight red card offence at the end).

People have excused it as the players ‘not giving in’ to Chelsea’s ways. That not only misrepresents the way that it went — i.e. we were more often the ones doing the winding up — but, for me, also doesn’t explain the levels of indiscipline. Setting a Premier League record for nine bookings in a match, as well as receiving a club charge for the melee at the end is shameful. To me, it came off as the players having a tantrum at Leicester winning the league more than anything else.

And it was counterproductive because when we lost our discipline, we also lost our tactical discipline, and subsequently lost our lead (okay, we didn’t just lose due to our indiscipline, but it contributed). So intent did we seem on kicking Chelsea’s players that we forgot to play like a team. Chelsea took advantage, mostly through a phenomenal second half performance from Eden Hazard, who not only reminded us of his ability, but also that he hasn’t shown up for nearly a whole season — shameful in itself.

So onto that shame word. The reason I was ashamed was that this was not the Tottenham Hotspur team that I know and have loved this season. I have never seen us play like that; with such venom, such aggression, such nastiness. I have not seen us react so strongly to decisions, or rear up at every flash point.

Some fans have justified this by saying that this is why we have not won anything in our recent history. That the reason we have not won leagues is because we have never shown this passion, aggression, fight, spirit. I could not disagree more; there have just been better teams.

This season we have shown more aggression — tactically, individually, collectively — than I have ever seen a Spurs team show. And it has mostly been on the right side of the line (bar a few Dele Alli and Erik Lamela moments). We have been so focussed, so disciplined, have shown bundles of belief, energy, self-control. Had we shown that same discipline against Chelsea, from start to finish, we would have won the match. At 2-0 up just show that same cold, calculating focus that we showed in other games, and see it out. It might be easier said than done, but we’ve done it for most of the season.

I was embarrassed watching us try to kick players for the last ten minutes because it felt desperate, it felt childish, and it felt like an outpouring of frustration of how the season had panned out, rather than a deliberate attempt to ‘send a message’ to Chelsea (and others) that they can’t just walk all over us any more.

And even if it were ‘a message’, it was the wrong one. What have Chelsea learned from that? That Spurs can very much be wound up. That we are emotionally vulnerable, liable to lose discipline and — in essence — very much susceptible to the dark arts.

Next season will see both fixtures hyped and billed as grudge matches, with a circus surrounding each. That will add extra pressure to an already big occasion, making it harder to simply beat Chelsea by being the better team — as we are at this moment in time.

Nobody said pre-match that we needed to show that we aren’t pushovers — that we need to go out and prove a point to Chelsea by being extra-physical. Because, frankly, we’ve done that across the entire season. We have steamrolled teams, we have had Alli and Lamela dishing out just-below-the-radar levels of spite, and we’ve had Eric Dier making strong challenges when it mattered. So to justify the behaviour based upon a need to assert ourselves is revisionist.

Another argument goes that the players showed that they care. That they went out with a fight. I just don’t buy this. They showed that they were angry, and they showed that they had a nasty streak. Is that showing that they care? Is losing a 2-0 lead going out with a fight? To me, showing that they care would have been following team instructions to the letter for 90 minutes, and then going over to applaud our travelling fans (who were utterly wonderful, once again by the way) at the end. That’s how the bond between players and fans has been built this season – hard work and focus from minute one to minute 95.

Having slept on it, I have mellowed on the Mousa Dembélé issue. On the podcast I got a little carried away and suggested that he deserved a ten-game ban. Actually, I think the FA got it right, and six games seems fair to me. But I stand by my other comments.

I’m not even going to get started on the ‘rise above it’ argument, because I imagine that many people are already finding this somewhat sanctimonious, and also that they enjoyed seeing us fire shots. Indeed, I feel a little bad going over this again, because I have loved this season. It has been up there with just about any other Spurs season in my memory, and to write this feels like a betrayal of what has been a thoroughly enjoyable year of football, which has left me feeling incredibly proud and optimistic about the direction of travel. But, equally, I don’t want to shy away from my opinion that this was not something I want to see repeated.

I love you, Spurs, but let’s learn from Monday and channel that aggression in a more productive way next time.

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  • Steve says:

    I don’t usually agree with the silly boys on the fighting cock but windy has it 100% correct in my opinion.

  • Russ says:

    What concerned me Windy was that you called our players “scum” and that is over the top. You should withdraw that comment.

    Also, to be ashamed is, I think, precious. It goes too far.

    I was gutted by the result, less for the impact it had in the Prem (Leciester had it in the bag, if not mathematically) than the fact we came close to ending the appalling record versus Chelsea at the Bridge.

    Viewed objectively our aggressive style of play backfired. We lost the lead, we lost a key player to suspension and possibly damaged our reputation.

    But football isn’t experienced objectively by fans, is it.

    I was enraged by Fabregas’ and Hazard’s comments. And I’m glad the players were too. I’d rather that than watch a team of bored millionaires who couldn’t care less.

    Our players may be wealthy (and good for them) but they also showed they deeply deeply cared.

    For years I’ve wished we had a player like Roy Keane. Now we have a team of them.

    If you want to win games (or not lose them) and win trophies and titles there has to be some devilment in the team. Play like bastards if we need to.

    I’m glad Hazard and Fabregas had a bit left on them at the end of the game. My only regret is that we didn’t win.

    • Mike says:

      Yes agree with this. Do not agree at all with Windy. Haven’t seen anywhere stated about the challenge on Rose by Willian which left Danny needing treatment. That should have been a red card in my opinion. Check it out.

    • Halfmoon says:

      Russ makes a good point

    • Surespur says:

      Very well said, Russ. COYS!

  • Santa Monica Yid says:

    I live in an ex pat community and the joy the rest of the country got, by Spurs finally falling away from the premier league title was staggering, no end of people have texted me , made snide comments , which didn’t piss me off but if truthfull irked me all the same, I am in my 50’s, imagine how that team that is less than half my age felt. Was I impressed by the boys trying to kick Chelski of the park for the last 15 mins, definitely not but I give the boys a pass, lets not forget in the first half we scored two goals with fluid quick movement, that was team work at its best. I think we have got better and better all season, the Chelski game was seasoned men winding boys up and we took the bait, another lesson learned for our young team and will only stand us in good stead for next season. I am normally the glass is half full as far as Spurs are concerned but not next year , the futures bright its lily-white and I think we will win the league next season . COYS

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi Windy, love your input on the pod and your articles about Spurs ! Yes you put a good point across to the devisiveness to the end result of the over aggression used by most of our players in the Chelsea game but I do believe that the 2 nil lead was also a result of those same tactics, the unfortunate part I would attribute to lack of leadership from the bench. Poch and his back room staff seemed to be leading from the front in getting the players too hyped up ie Poch racing onto the pitch and verbal battles continuing throughout the match. Half time should have seen us calm down, regroup and focus, but alas our excess aggression went unabated. I also believe rather than turn a blind eye to the early mis-demeanours the referee ( and I bear no blame upon him, although I hate referees with a passion,long story,he perhaps was trying too hard to understand the Spurs players emotions to the enormity of the match to them) should have clamped down hard early on and not let the match descend into the ill tempered affair it was. Do not judge too harshly, yes il-discipline was our downfall but let’s not forget we were playing the experts at the masters of the dark arts on a football pitch and we will learn. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger ! COYS

  • Michael Allen says:

    If the team wasn’t so young and inexperienced then I might agree, but they’re not and I don’t.

    The Spurs youngsters went into the game expecting the same treatment we received during the 5 goal smashing they received last season (Cahill booting Kane, upending Rose onto his head in the box whilst he scored, etc). They probably over exaggerated their expectation a little, but will have come out the otherside of the game with valued experience for the next campaign.

    Your defence of the Ref and his team is inexcusable though. Had Clattenberg had the balls to intervene more seriously early on then half of the shenanigans probably would not have followed suit.

    And whilst you shake your head at our players actions, it takes two to tango, and Chelsea are masters at doing so.

  • Halfmoon says:

    Spurs lost the plot in the 2nd half and stopped playing their game. This was Chelsea plan I think, as Spurs are the better team. We missed a good chance to beat Chelsea 5-0 by completely succumbing to the hateful atmosphere. Poch as well was swept away with the emotion. Lots for them to learn from this game.

  • DAVIE L says:

    Windy 100 per cent
    The ref admitted he should have acted sooner.Robust tackles became reckless tackles started and continued by Kyle Walker then Danny Rose and eventually Eric Dier.The one by Rose on Willian led to the scrum by the Teams and Dembalies ban.The players will need to keep discipline next Season if they are to win it.

  • Terry says:

    You need to withdraw some of those comments, ashamed is a word that I would also use….ashamed that you supposedly support the same club as me!

  • Danny says:

    Windy
    You’re entirely right about what happened on Monday. Spurs have over all the decades built up a good will for playing skillful and fair way. Yes, there’s a massive difference between giving as good as you get and that of instigating stuff.
    Aside from anything else, we have now compromised the start of next season.

  • Spencer says:

    It wouldn’t have mattered in we’d won our next two games 5-0 and Leicester did the same against Everton this Evening. As soon as Leicester rolled into Stamford Bridge it was game over. We knew that and the players knew that

  • Sheeten says:

    Dear All and especially the author (windy)of this original drivel,
    Learn to support your team and do not and I repeat do not, use words like ‘ashamed’ and ‘scum’ against the team you purport to support. If that’s how you feel, then you go ‘support’ someone else. You clearly have no passion or love for the Spurs.

    • Rutlandspur says:

      Dear Sheeten
      I happen to share Windy’s opinion 100%. And, since you addressed me in your comment, I’ve been supporting Spurs for 45 years, man and boy, through thick and thin. I don’t much care for twats telling me who I can or can’t support, or telling me how much ‘love’ I have for my club, or how I need to ‘learn to’ support them.

  • Overcspurs says:

    Disagree on amount of games ban on Dembele.In no way do I condone his action ,it must be made clear that it was no eye gouge! Otherwise Costa must have superhuman bullet proof eyes. Just think what the sentences would be if Suares, Torres and this case were contested in civil court?

  • AlSpur says:

    What wound me up most was that, when they equalized, there were still 15 mins on the clock…

    We tend to outlast teams and could easily have created chances to score the winner, if we hadn’t lost our focus and got involved in running battles, all over the pitch…

    I don’t think it would have won us the title, but it would have broken the Bridge hoodoo and been a big step towards securing second place.

  • GERRYinHONGKONG says:

    It appears that some people commenting here had not read my previous blogs.

    GERRYinHONGKONG says:
    May 2, 2016 at 23:36
    2-2 draw at Stamford bridge after a lead of 2-0.

    Some evil force is interfering with the team.

    So many Spurs players acted like they wanted to be sent off and suspended.

    Should we draw 2 more games, we won’t be runners-up.

    GERRYinHONGKONG says:
    May 3, 2016 at 15:00
    Spurs players are paid at the level of the high income category. Being at that level of the social stratum,it is reasonable for us to demand them to exercise good judgment as is expected of and equivalent to that social status.

    Yesterday I saw the unbelievable happened. It seemed , after going up 2-0, the team suddenly pressed the SELF-DESTRUCT button……..Rose charging into Willian, Dembele wiping Costa’s face, Dier’s rash sliding tackle, Lamela stomping on what?a hand?
    It was as if the players wanted Clattenburg to pull red and get themselves suspended for the season!

    The club should fine all those guilty of irresponsible foolishness. Fines heavy enough to make sure they don’t do anything silly again which could hinder our progress to glory next season and the ones after.

    I hope there are still players who put the club foremost whom Poch could muster for a win over S’ton this Saturday .

    COYS

  • Sweetsman says:

    The handwringing is pathetic. We did lose our heads, but please don’t give me this rubbish about some fall from a Corinthian peak. In the minds of the players, they had thrown away the chance to win the Premiership. They were probably angry at themselves and lost control. Clattenburg has escaped lightly, because it was a “difficult game”. That’s what he is paid to do, but he failed to control the game early on by letting too much go. We were stupid in not calming down and managing the game after their first goal. Mason missed a gilt-edged chance, but perhaps we didn’t need to be trying to bury the game at that point. We need to be better at game management when ahead, but that is something Pochettino will also learn as will the team.
    That said, we got away with it largely, so I’m fine with it. Yesterday’s loss against Southampton was disappointing, but it was against a form team and some of our deficiencies were highlighted. We need to now refocus for the last game: second is still in our hands.
    Sweetsman.

    • GERRYinHONGKONG says:

      Spurs has lost 7 precious points in the past 3 games in a most curious manner from winning starts, giving up a comfortable cushion between us and arsenal. This is unforgivable.

      The last game of the season is the LAST chance our players, besides Kane and Son, have to redeem themselves for the poor shows of the last 3 weeks and to let us regain the confidence that they are the Spurs players who got paid big money by THFC.

      btw Poch must arrange the coach to arrive at St James’ Park early enough on Sunday to avoid another excuse for losing there.

  • Judas Iscariot says:

    What also need to be taken in account is that Clattenberg lost control of the game from the start, when he didn’t book whoever it was flattened Rose and didn’t book any Chelsea players for crowding him it was obvious that this was now a no holds barred contest…..in that context although there was a few incidents of unacceptable behaviour I would rather an agressive response as opposed to the 5/6 goal losses we would have suffered in previous years.
    We don’t have a problem with ill disclipine as per our red card tally this season.
    So even though I disagree with you, don’t think there is anything to be ashmed about, far from it.
    (And we all still love your blog anyway you miserable old sod…:-) )

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