The cupboard was bare
It was the weekend of the Supporters Club trip to London. We ‘d looked at the fixture and the trip and thought yep let’s go and see the wondrous new stadium and how the other half live. It seemed a good idea at the time, but that was before the defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester City. The first one, hmmm, they do seem to be a bit of a bogey side, plus they had Zaha, a player in fine form at the moment. Miffed at the defeat yes, but not disheartened. The City defeat, hmmm, a different kettle of fish, a game in which we offered no competition whatsoever, no fight, nothing, nowt, zilch, with a lame 4 5 1 approach. That was a defeat that made me think why on earth have I bothered coming all this way.
But never mind, we turned up for the Spurs trip in good heart, good to see old friends that we pal up with once a year on these jaunts, gin and tonics at London prices, big breakfasts to look forward to, the joys of Banbury, the delights of olde Windsor, a good old natter on the coach and as a bonus in Banbury on the way down for the 2-hour stop, we found they were doing gin tasting in Debenhams organised by the Oxford Artisan Distillery no less. The blurb says they harness the power of curiosity to drive the pursuit of perfection. So, never mind the waffle, who were we to ignore a pleasant 30 minutes tasting all the different gins and then weaving our way back to the coach through the streets more or less totally populated by shifty looking Eastern Europeans these days?
A fine journey down then, no hold-ups, the usual complementary glasses of wine on the coach with the lunch provided, a big fat beef teacake and two pork pies each. I have to confess Mrs T and moi took our pork pies out to the streets of Banbury with the good intention to give them to someone who looked cold and hungry, and believe me the doorways of Banbury have their fair share of homeless folks. The pork pies therefore did a bit of good.
With the memories of the Man City debacle fresh in our minds it has to be said there was no great optimism that miracles would be seen at White Hart Lane, other than beer glasses that fill from the underneath. How do they do that? It was with some relief that we saw that SD had reverted to 4 4 2, most of us still baffled why we didn’t start that way against City, not entirely setting the world on fire at the moment, with their dodgy make-shift central defenders, and at least have a go at them?
But that was all done and dusted, this was here and now, and filled with buffet breakfast off we headed round the M25 from Heathrow to N London. The Crowne Plaza Hotel the night before was the scene of a works Christmas Party, London Council guys and gals letting their hair down. Going down for dinner we buzzed for the lift, the doors slid open and my jaw dropped wide open agog and this was agog that was off the scale. It was absolutely filled with the young and beautiful, dolled up in their finery, more jewellery than Pandora, more bare flesh than a Bob Lord butcher’s shop, heaving bosoms and long-legged glamour that you usually only see on the Hollywood red carpet. Boy I headed straight for it. And then Mrs T said we’ll wait for the next one. She was probably right. I don’t think I would ever have come out.
A hotel buffet breakfast, by the way, is a wonder to behold when it is a good one and well presented as was this one. You pile up the plate to a degree that you would never do at home. My theory is that we do this because there is the illusion that it is free. All that lovely grub and you just go and help yourself to as much as you want as often as you want. It is one of man’s greatest inventions. Or, should we say woman’s greatest invention these days?
Wonderful stadium, but pity about the infrastructure. We whizzed round the M25 and then crawled the remaining few miles to the stadium through narrow streets jammed with traffic. Negotiate that and you fight your way through the lower away fan concourse jammed solid with hundreds of milling bodies. Programmes you buy from the bars. So, you fight your way to the front of a bar to be told sorry sold out. I got one at the third attempt somewhere upstairs thanks to a helpful steward. And the coach parking is a lesson in geography as you wind your way through various back streets hoping to strike lucky and find the coaches after the game. Clearly, we did. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sat here writing this.
And the game: SD said afterwards, this isn’t like us, what do you expect if you give the ball away five times. I would modify that a tad. I’d say what do you expect with the players at our disposal, poor recruitment in the last two windows, and no plan to change things at HT when you are three goals down and you send the same players out to perform more of the same. Not that there was much to choose from on the bench. By the time Vydra and Lennon were brought on all I could think was, just what is the point? Lennon, bless him, given a wonderful reception by the Spurs fans, is, one has to say yesterday’s man. And Vydra, just what was he supposed to achieve in the time he had available? Buying him in the first place seems a bit of mystery to most of us. Drinkwater remained unused.
Anyway: Burnley looked excellent, competed well, held their own, slugged it out toe to toe, things were looking good…for the first three minutes. And then it all went to pieces. Kane scored a wonder goal from 35 yards, more or less allowed to run into position, line up his shot and then release a thunderbolt strike. Any game plan vanished at that point. With Taylor, Barnes and Westwood all missing (do you count Bardsley as well) this was for sure a weakened team but it just evaporated completely from that point on. Wood and Barnes need each other. They are like Starsky and Hutch, Bangers and Mash, Rhubarb and Custard. Take one away and there’s not a lot to enjoy.
Was it just Burnley bad luck that they went to Tottenham on a day when Spurs could do no wrong and Son and Kane gave a master class? Even Spurs fans were saying this was one of the best ever. Or was it just that Burnley had no answer to the pace and running of a Spurs side that moved and ran and found space at breakneck speed that left leaden-footed Burnley players trailing in their wake. Pace is unknown in this Burnley side. Speed of thought and positioning absent. Only McNeil valiantly made the effort to beat a man and get a cross over throughout the game.
The pace of Son in scoring his goal left every Burnley player who attempted to chase him gasping for air. He received the ball somehow from Tarkowski a couple of yards away from his own penalty area. He set off, and ran and ran and kept on going, the length of the pitch, passing Burnley players, evading others, swerving round others and Hendrick who was 5 yards in front of him at one point ended up ten yards behind him. At one point he was surrounded by FOUR Burnley players and still breezed his way through them. This was Son at sonic speed. Drubbing it may have been but we were witness to one of the finest goals ever seen.
We should have brought the buggar down, said Dyche afterwards, although he said it rather more professionally. ’We should have committed the technical foul.’ And in this way is good old fashioned rough-house defending given jargonesque respectability.
But for all this criticism, at 2-0 down had Brady had a little more luck with his header that hit crossbar and post, the complexion of the game might have changed. At 3-0 down had Rodriguez buried a gift of a header instead of aiming it wide, there might have been the glimmer of a fight back. But it was not to be and with more poor defending Spurs went 5-0 up. We can only say a prayer of thanks it wasn’t more. Funnily enough I can’t say we left the stadium dejected or angry at what we had seen. There had been a sort of grim inevitability about the whole thing that we just sort of shrugged and accepted, as if to say, well just what do you expect at the moment.
In that dazzling stadium, this was carthorses against thoroughbreds. This was artisans against skilled professionals. This was a Sunday morning runner against Usain Bolt. We’d seen a brand of football that we cannot even begin to aspire to at little old Burnley. It is what it is.
Having tramped through miles of back streets we found the coaches and managed to remain cheerful and bright even after a 5-0 stuffing. There was a sort of resigned acceptance that this had been on the cards all afternoon, that the chickens were now coming home to roost, that the cupboard was bare and this was the best we could now expect. Every now and then with the full team fit, there might be a couple of wins but in between there will be more stuffings. But we might scrape enough points to survive.
On the coach it led to a bit of a discussion. Is it better to be in the Championship properly competing, or be in the Prem just surviving and watching us lose embarrassingly? Answers on a postcard please.
Put ten folks, average age 70, round a table in the evening at dinner with a few drinks after a 5-0 mauling, and conversation doesn’t dwell on football for too long. There are better things to talk about. And: Brexit, Corbyn and Pinocchio weren’t mentioned either. This was Memory Lane time.
We lived in a two up, two down, no we lived in a hole in the road, that kind of thing. Ice on the windows in winter, outside toilets you had to queue up for, newspaper squares hung on a nail on the wall. Shoes were hand me downs, with newspaper shoved in them if they were too big, the Corona man selling bottles of pop, corner shops, bread and dripping, Stanley Matthews and standing for the National Anthem in the cinema. What was that TV programme called…oh yeh…What’s My Line with David Nixon, Gilbert Harding and Isobel Barnett. Which of us remembered Muffin the Mule? Laugh… we nearly died. Football was not on the agenda.
Another huge Sunday morning buffet breakfast. I judge a place by its scrambled eggs. This place I awarded a gold star. Jimmy White was on a nearby table, someone dressed in a Star Wars outfit on another. One lass came down in her pyjamas and another in hair curlers not something you see that often even in zany London. The glamour girls from the other night had all gone.
The journey home was via Windsor. The Queen was in. Last time we were there a few folks saw her in the car coming back from somewhere. Prince Andrew was nowhere to be seen. The tat shops had removed every sign of his existence. Somewhere there is a huge warehouse filled with unsaleable tea towels, tins of biscuits, mugs, T shirts and tin trays. We spent a pleasant half hour in the Choc Factory a small shop and café that specialised in Hot Chocolate; and then a fine old pub, the Duchess of Something or other opposite the castle. Pubs were heaving and this was the third we tried. At last we blagged our way on to a table with two empty places. Two South African guys who ran Game Reserves over there welcomed us. They told us of their star tracker who can spot a chameleon in a tree from 100 yards away. We told them we had just spent a Saturday afternoon, spotting comedians in football shirts from 10 yards away. They regaled us with tales of snakes you find in the bathroom, lions sleeping in trees and celebs who complain because their tent has a resident spider.
‘You must come out,’ they said. For a moment I thought it was a free invitation. But sadly no.
We had a friend who ran a Greek travel business with upper end villas. He got endless complaints about lizards in the kitchen. ‘You’re in Greece for heaven’s sake,’ he would grumble at them in Victor Meldrew mode, customer relations not his strong point. They tended not to book a second time.
The football fan is an eternal optimist. We grumble and groan and moan and whinge. Then we look at the next wo fixtures. Hey, Newcastle and Bournemouth. Surely, play to strengths and we can beat them, we say. With a full team there is no reason why not. But Spurs, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, just sit back and close your eyes. Even in gloom there is light and laughter. Sack Dyche and get Benitez said one Burnley fan who rang Talksport. As if…
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