Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 19 September 2021.
I have said it before and I suspect that I will say it again and again; to me Tottenham is our biggest away game. It’s certainly the one that I look forward to more than no other. It has history. It has substance. It has animosity. It has hate. With Chelsea flying high, and Tottenham faltering, I couldn’t wait to set off for their new spanking stadium that soars over the more down-at-heel shops and houses on the Tottenham High Road and its associated neighbouring streets.
But first an FA Cup tie.
Yes, dear reader, this was another weekend of football that was to give me the twin gifts of League and Cup.
I assembled at Frome Town’s ground Badgers Hill for the 3pm kick-off on the Saturday for a game against National League South outfit Oxford City, a team that we had recently played in the same step of the football pyramid. Since then, the Hoops have advanced one step, while the Robins have descended one.
What transpired was a stunningly perfect afternoon of FA Cup football, played out under a mottled sky, warming sunshine and with a really gratifying attendance of almost six hundred spectators. Frome soaked up some steady pressure in the first-half and an Oxford goal was called back for offside. Two stunning breakaway goals by James Ollis and Joe O’Loughlin gave the home team a surprise 2-0 lead at the break. Frome then improved further, with more attacks, more efforts on goal. But just at the very moment that my mate Francis uttered the immortal words “they look like scoring” and I replied “you’re right” – they did.
Despite an increasingly nervous last quarter of an hour, manager Danny Greaves’ side held on to win 2-1.
My friend Steve, the newly-crowned club historian, believed this to be Frome’s first win in the Cup against a team two divisions higher than us since a 1984 win against Bath City.
So, into the Third Qualifying Round we go. I remember watching Frome Town play against Team Bath at the same stage around ten years ago; a 2-2 draw at home, a heavy 0-4 loss away, at Bath City’s Twerton Park.
We would await the draw on Monday with keen interest.
I collected PD and Parky at 9.15am on the Sunday morning and pointed my Chelsea Blue Chuckle Wagon eastwards. We tend to break up the journey with a Greggs breakfast – being on a diet ain’t easy with all of the miles we travel for football – just before the A303 meets the M3. The woman serving us at Popham Services – Eddie Large in drag – has got to know our ugly faces the past two seasons and there is usually a little football banter while we order baps, baguettes and slices. She’s a Liverpool fan. Yes, you can only imagine.
Just as I slid the car away, PD announced :
“Jimmy Greaves has died, then.”
Oh no. What sad news. I know that he had been ill for some time.
“Did he pass away today? Bloody strange if he did, what with Tottenham playing Chelsea.”
I ate up the miles, and we were parked up at Barons Court tube at 11.45am; as quick and as easy a journey in as I can remember. We would eventually hope to catch the 3pm over ground service from Liverpool Street up to White Hart Lane, but we didn’t particularly care to be surrounded by coke’d up wannabes in the pubs that cluster around that station for a few hours, drinking out of plastic glasses and under the eye of the OB. I fancied somewhere different. We changed from the Piccadilly to the Central at Holborn, then alighted at St. Paul’s.
We made “The Paternoster” our base for a couple of hours or so. In a break from the light drizzle and then steady showers, I sped outside for twenty minutes to take a few photographs of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. I looked up at the huge and impressive dome, and remembered tales of The Whispering Gallery. I had been past St. Paul’s Cathedral once or twice by bus in recent times, but the last time that I had actually stood outside it was on a family trip to London in 1981. While my parents and an aunt toured inside the cathedral, I just walked to Stamford Bridge. It seemed the most logical thing to do in the circumstances.
From one cathedral to another.
I can distinctly remember reading the Jimmy Greaves autobiography “This One’s On Me” around that same time and, thinking back, it was undoubtedly the first footballer’s autobiography that I ever read. I can remember reading how he hated his time in Milan after his forced move from Chelsea. His decline into alcoholism was quite harrowing for a sixteen-year-old to read.
I wasn’t going to have a single beer, but I bought a single “Peroni” to toast his memory.
“Oh, he did die today. How uncanny.”
There was a photograph on the internet of Jimmy Greaves, from around maybe fifteen years ago, being presented pitch side at Stamford Bridge. I must have been there, yet – alas – I have no recollection of it.
Outside, the rain, but only a few spots. At 2.40pm, we whizzed up to Liverpool Street, and then found an empty carriage at Liverpool Street for the last leg of the journey. It was the earliest that we would be arriving in N17 for ages. On the twenty-five-minute journey, PD surprised us all and began chatting to some Tottenham fans. Parky and I kept our silence. To be fair, they were decent lads and we wished each other well, although I am sure none of us fucking meant it.
I wanted to take a few photographs of the stadium, so excused myself. Let’s not waste any time here; the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is a stunner, an absolute beauty, surely the finest football stadium in Europe. That it sits cheek by jowl alongside the same fried chicken joints, nail shops, kebab houses and grimy pubs as the old White Hart Lane gives the place a very odd feeling, as uneven a setting as there is ever likely to be. It might be on The High Road, but it overlooks The Low Road.
Simple black and white images of Jimmy Greaves MBE appeared on the outside and inside of the stadium. His presence was everywhere. Again, how odd and yet fitting that he should pass away on the day of the derby between his two main teams. I was reminded of Dixie Dean passing away at Goodison during the Merseyside derby in 1980.
I whirled away, bumped into some Chelsea acquaintances from Bristol and New York on the High Road, then spun around to enter the away turnstiles in the north-eastern corner.
Just as I entered the away concourse, there was an almighty commotion and I couldn’t quite work out what was occurring.
United were winning 2-1 at West Ham, but there was a late penalty for the home team. Noble then missed. Bollocks.
How’s that for a match report?
This was Parky’s first visit to the new place. I looked at the towering South Stand and could hardly believe how high it extended.
The troops arrived.
Alan, Gary, Foxy and Drew from Dundee, Margaret and Pam, Calvin, Becky and Cath. There were a few chats with many of the usual suspects.
I had succumbed on Friday to a four-day trip to the home city of Juventus for our game in a couple of weeks’ time.
I chatted with Patrick, then Ali and Nick, then Alan, then Tim. There were differing levels of understanding of what testing and procedures were required. It would, no doubt, be a stressful time over the next week or so. Preparations for Porto proved to be a drain on my brain and I am sure Turin will be too.
The stadium filled. I couldn’t work out if the seats are all muted slate grey or a dull navy. Regardless, virtually all were filled. We were in row four, right down the front, not far from our spot in the 2019/20 season.
It shows how disconnected we were last season that neither Alan nor Gary nor myself could remember how we did at Tottenham last season.
One of the former players being interviewed for the in-house TV Channel was Gary Mabbutt, his Bristol twang taking me back to when he used to play for Bristol Rovers, then Tottenham, then England.
Gary : “Good player, Mabbutt.”
Chris : “His father, Ray, used to play for Frome.”
The team was announced. Not only no Mendy, but no Kante either.
Rudiger – Silva – Christensen
Dave – Jorginho – Kovacic – Alonso
Mount – Lukaku – Havertz
Just before kick-off, that same image of Jimmy Greaves appeared on the TV screens in the four corners of the stadium, high above the pitch. Both sets of fans roundly and solidly applauded his memory.
He was loved by the fans of both clubs and the whole of the football world.
Jimmy Greaves was the greatest ever goal scorer produced by the English nation.
I remembered that in 2019, Martin Peters – unlike Greaves, a player in the 1966 World Cup Final – was similarly remembered.
Glenn Hoddle appeared out of nowhere and was given a fine reception by the 3,000 Chelsea fans in the corner as he walked around the edge of the pitch.
The game began. Tottenham attacked our northern end. With them playing in navy socks this year, we were allowed to wear our white socks. I approved. I soon found myself being distracted a little by all of the constant messages being blitzed across the various balconies. Supporters clubs from all over the world were featured. One made me double-take.
Baku? Bloody hell. Probably just one bloke with a Tottenham mouse mat.
There is no denying it. Tottenham were quicker out of the traps than us in the first quarter of the game. We plodded along, and struggled to link passes through our midfield, whereas the home team looked sharper and created a little more.
With the home crowd singing “Oh when the Spurs”, Tottenham were given a central free-kick. The singing continued as the build-up seemed to take forever. Harry Kane was to take it. The singing grew louder.
“Fuck, if he scores now, after that song as a pre-curser, this place will bloody explode.”
He hit the wall.
A rapid break in the inside right channel involving Mason Mount got us on our toes – the rail seating is excellent at Tottenham, I was able to lean forward on many occasions – but after a messy one-two with Lukaku, the chance was spurned, pardon the pun.
This was a tight game, and the home team were edging it. Havertz looked out of sorts, and on too many occasions Tottenham were able to cut through us. However, the away support was full of all the old favourites which we love to air in this particular part of North London.
“We’re the only team in London…”
“We won 6-1 at The Lane…”
“And the shit from The Lane…”
Alas, the players were not as entertaining. Tottenham managed a few set pieces, but corners were steadfastly headed away by various defenders. It was all a little underwhelming. After Tottenham – players and fans alike – were found to be bellowing at any perceived Chelsea foul or piece of wrong-doing, the noise levels increased. Gary had his usual response.
“Fackinell. More appeals than Blue Peter.”
Kepa saved well at the feet of the raiding Son, and was injured. Thankfully he recovered. Then an errant back-pass by Rudiger had only just been despatched in time by Kepa. Only a couple of shots from distance – wide and blocked – were forthcoming from the Chelsea attack the entire half. Their ‘keeper Hugo Loris had hardly had a shot to save.
That would soon change.
I turned to Gary : “Well, they can’t play as well as that in the second-half.”
I returned a little late at the break and missed the restart.
“Kante on? Who’s off? Mount?”
As much as we all love Mason, he had not enjoyed a great half at all. In came our tigerish tackler to replace him. I couldn’t quite work out how the new addition would fit in alongside Jorginho and Kovacic, but soon into the second-half I didn’t care.
There soon followed a sublime piece of football that had me purring. Thiago Silva pinged a wonderful ball into space for the on-rushing Marcos Alonso. It cut out everyone. A trademark volley at an angle from the left wing-back was superbly saved by the cat-like reflexes of Loris.
“That’s more like it Chels. Come on!”
The Chelsea pressure mounted. A few corners were whipped in just in front of us by that man Alonso. One more corner was then aimed centrally, from the other side of the pitch, and the silver hair of Silva was seen to rise above all those around him and the ball flashed past Loris into the Tottenham goal.
The goal on film, I remained steady to capture his exuberant run towards the Chelsea fans who had now been let loose into a wild orgasmic frenzy of arms and legs, or “limbs” as the kids say. Such joy. Such happiness.
This is why we go to football.
Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now.”
Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”
Donna and Rachael suddenly appeared in front of us after having disappeared a few minutes before the break for some bevvies. They had missed the first goal. But they did not miss the second one. Just after Dier blocked a shot from Alonso on the goal-line, a shot from distance from N’Golo – it could only be termed, at its most optimistic, as “speculative” – took a wicked deflection off Dier. The ball spun goal wards, hit the base of the post nearest us, and we watched – eyes on stalks, balancing on toes – as the ball skewed itself over the line and into the goal.
Laugh? I almost bought a round of drinks.
Oh that was beautiful.
“Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again.”
Kante looked, of course, so bashful. Bless him.
Just twelve minutes into the second-half, and we were now well on top. The home fans were now completely muted.
The whispering gallery had been moved from inside the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral to the top tier at Tottenham.
One of the many messages flashed all over the LED displays on the balconies at Tottenham mentions the Spurs Skywalk. This takes the unfortunate supporter out onto the roof, where – if they look well – they can just make out the East Stand at Stamford Bridge, the home of the only club in London with not one, but two, European Cups.
I thought to myself :
“Those Tottenham players had best book themselves onto that skywalk. It’ll be the highest they will ever fucking get.”
Kante was everywhere and I mean everywhere. The whole team had been revitalised by his appearance at the start of the second period. Elsewhere, we suddenly had runners, and our attacking performance reached lovely levels.
A lone shot from the hidden, or hiding, Kane was well saved by Kepa. Silva, our man of the match, was foiled by Loris, who was easily the Tottenham man of the match. Yet more saves followed from Alonso – again! – and Timo Werner, a late substitute for Havertz. Lukaku enjoyed a late surge, running centrally on a few occasions at the disillusioned Tottenham defence, twisting and turning, turning defenders’ legs into jelly, Dier and Romeiro pleading for salvation, but Loris foiled both him and Kovacic. The Croatian was one of the stars of that second period. We were on fire.
If it had been the Bernabeu, white handkerchiefs would have been waved.
There was even time for a “Bouncy Bouncy” : how 2013.
Right at the end, with many of the home fans having decided that “enough was enough”, the ball was picked up and Timo Werner did ever so well to pull the ball back for Rudi to pick a corner and drill the ball in.
Tottenham 0 Chelsea 3.
The crowd erupted once more.
There was another ridiculously jubilant run by the scorer to our corner, and with Jorginho absolutely pissing himself, the photos were a joy to snap.
I turned to Gary again.
Parky and I met up with PD, who had enjoyed a great view in the back row of our section, and we slowly walked away from the ground. I overheard someone say “three league wins out of three here” – oh, it wasn’t a draw last season? – and maybe it is time to well-and-truly rename the new gaff Three Point Lane.
Our exit strategy was the same as at Christmas 2019; find a fast-food place for a chicken burger and wait for the crowds to disperse. We caught the 7.48pm train from White Hart Lane back into town, and the carriage was full of moaning Tottenham fans. A heavily made up woman with lips that looked like they had been filled with air was the main noisemaker :
“Right. I’ll say it. Don’t care. We are shit. We just gotta acclimatise ourselves into realising we ain’t that good.”
I looked at PD. Parky looked at me.
I whispered : “She’s got a point.”
On we go, Villa next, see you there.