In our second monthly review, we take a look back at the month of March and take a more considered view of how it went. The regular pods are an immediate reaction to a game. This is an attempt to be more reflective and look at the bigger picture.
Covid19 has robbed us of going to see Spurs play live. It’s also robbed us of the journeys to games which are mainstays of our lives. Steff laments the loss and counts down the clock to a return.
There’s a wise old phrase, it’s either deep scholastic philosophy or I read it on a fortune cookie, whatever, it is golden; it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. In the case of many of us, never were truer words expressed.
Going to football is quite simply about so much more than the 90-plus minutes watching the team. Of course that’s the main attraction, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (well, more so under Poch but there we go), however that rainbow carries it’s own vital arc in the day.
The alarm goes off early on match-day morning, and getting dressed is a little easier because you spent the previous evening choosing the right clothing combinations. Home games will usually involve some sort of track top, t-shirt or more overt set of colours whilst away games will offer the merest hint of affiliation. Most of us are hopefully too old for anything close to Full Kit Wanker territory, yet most of us still try to remember the t-shirt, socks and underwear we wore last time we saw a live game win. It’s then all about exiting the abode ASAP to catch the train to meet up with your mates.
Said-train journey will always involve a paper or two amidst some low-flying butterflies, and you’ll also be slowly stewing in that wonderful marinade of all-enveloping focus on the forthcoming game and seeing the gang. One thing about matchday; it’s your time to escape the boss, the build-up of work, the commute, the squawking kids, the persistent missus, the grumpy neighbour and that annoying prat from the floor below who always thinks you’ve got time to banter with them about stupid shit. They all vanish as the train, bus, car or whatever wheelage is transporting you arrives at the first destination, which for home games will be your local of choice.
Admittedly the new stadium is a fine place to spend pre-match time, however it is undeniable that nothing beats meeting up with your mates at the local. It doesn’t always have to be in the pub, it can just be at a coffee shop, for some it might even be the Chick-King on the High Road across from the ground, the point is you’re with your people and immediately, the chat is about players, form, positions and a myriad of Spurs-related matters. Smart people have already turned ringers off, switched off any alerts and deactivated the silent buzzer on their smartphones because this is not the time to be interrupted about a dirty dish left by the sofa, or one of the kids ripping their pants on the playground. No. This is your escape, your holiday, your joy and your therapy.
Away games are a little different in so much as you’re either in the car or on a train, which carry their own tremendous joys. I personally love the motorway caff coffee and sandwich enroute, or the buffet car trip, and perhaps the added advantage of away games is that you’re with your mates for a considerably longer amount of time. Either way, by the time kick-off is upon you, squad issues have been solved, managers second-guessed with confidence, a few drinks enjoyed and your throat is in the process of emitting all sorts of choral terrace tunes (you think you sound like Tom Jones but you probably don’t even sound like Tom Thumb).
The game? Of course it is an epicenter, and of course it will dictate how your post-match goes (a bad defeat will lessen the social after-hang, a big win and you’d best be sure that phone stays in silent mode because you won’t want to answer the missus at 11pm from the local Ruby). But the journeys, the social side, the pure joyful ritualistic escape of match-days are every bit as much what we’ve all missed as the pitch and players. Even that tosser two rows down and three seats across who screams globs of nonsensical abuse for 90 minutes is missed at this point.
Still, soon we’ll be vaccinated and this normal service can resume. By God I cannot wait, and I know you can’t either…
This week, with the help of Villa-supporting guest Barney Greenway of Napalm Death, the team tackles tactics, trackies, turkeys and cheese amidst a detailed view of Spurs 2-0 victory at Villa Park…and yes, we do discuss that night in Zagreb too!
Thursday night’s result in Zagreb was very much a ‘humiliation’ – there are several ingredients to a ‘humiliation’ – its invariably a self-inflicted result and generally one that makes you feel as though you’ve just been spotted naked meaning you want to lock yourself away for days to avoid the mocking eyes of your contemporaries. To be a humiliation it’s not just your standard regulation defeat – it’s either:
- a spectacular collapse,
- a heavy defeat that would see the opponents score written in letters not numbers or
- a defeat created through hubris against a team of undoubted inferior ability
- a particularly upsetting defeat at hands of our biggest rivals.
….or perhaps a combination of all four.
Have no doubt Thursday night’s collapse that seemed inevitable the moment Zagreb scored their first goal was a humiliation. I have the luxury of being able to work from home and I stay off social media but even on my lunchtime walk around The Lea Valley Park yesterday I was paranoid that other pedestrians may have known I was a Spurs fan and been pointing at me laughing.
Let’s not forget that every club has to deal with its share of humiliations – we’ve even been the ones to dish them out – think 6-1 at Old Trafford, pegging back the Goons to 4-4 after an incredible display of hubris even by their standards.
The post mortem that has followed the defeat in Zagreb is about more than just a defeat on the night; it is the nadir of what has been largely a rotten two and a half years; it’s the wholly unexpected early departure from a competition that only 24 hours ago we were considered as tournament favourites; it was a realistic route to ‘glory’ through the tangible means of a trophy. It was perhaps a lifeline for Jose Mourinho’s diminishing reputation.
To lose 3-0 was a statistical achievement in itself – in over 200 games since the start of the 2017/18 season we have only lost by three goals on 5 occasions (twice at Emirates Marketing Project, against Bayern and Leipzig and then the infamous defeat at Brighton in 2019). It felt, in retrospect like one of those nights that Spurs would find a way to be humiliated – had the first leg finished 4-0 I have a feeling we’d have managed to lose 5-0 last night.
But where will tis rank amongst other humiliations? I’ve categorised some my Spurs supporting lifetime (hence no reference of the 1987 FA Cup Final) them so you can pick one from each. Zegreb could easily fit into any of the first three categories.
Type A: The Spectacular Collapses:
Spurs 3-5 Man Utd Sept 2001 – Premiership
3-0 up at half time in one of the best Spurs 45 minute performances. This was the birth of the ‘Lads it’s Tottenham’ meme. Well at least we’d learned our lesson and couldn’t possibly lose a 3-0 half-time lead against a team from Manchester again….
Spurs 3-4 Man City Feb 2004 FA Cup 4th Round Replay
Well at least this wasn’t the same as that United game 3 years earlier…no City were mediocre at best and were reduced to 10 men at half time already 3 goals behind. Remember the name Jon Macken?
Spurs 3-3 West Ham October 2020 – Premier League
The only non-defeat listed here. We broke all league records by surrendering a 3-goal lead after 83 minutes! This makes the list principally because of the opposition.
Dishonourable mention for the ‘Mind the Gap’ 2-0 up to 2-5 defeat at The Emirates in 2012.
Type B: CupSets and Hubris
Notts County 3-0 Spurs October 1994 – League Cup 3rd Round
We swaggered into this game with Klinsmann, Teddy et al against a team bottom of the second tier. At this point the league cup was our only route to a trophy that season. 2-0 down in 20 minutes and then Dumitrescu sent off before half time. The result ultimately cost Ossie Ardiles his job.
Everton 4-1 Spurs April 1995 – FA Cup Semi Final
Having been reinstated to the FA Cup and then having won at Anfield in the Quarter Final ‘our name was on the Cup’ this year. At least Everton, as a name, are a formidable opponent even if their league position and the fact that there best player Duncan Ferguson was injured. Any Spurs fan who had the misfortune to travel to Elland Road will clearly remember the smell of shit on and off the pitch.
Blackburn 2-1 Spurs Feb 2002 – League Cup Final
Having beaten Chelsea in a highly emotional semi-final surely they’ll just give us the trophy and the Hoddle era will blast off into the stratosphere right? We’ll be able to overcome a team with 37 year old Mark Hughes in midfield right? Chelsea fans wont sing “5-1 and you won fudge all” whilst going on to beat us 4-0 twice in 4 days within 3 weeks of the final right?
Portsmouth 2-0 Spurs April 2010 FA Cup Semi-Final
This was particularly humiliating because of the supreme confidence we had coming into the game. There are some mitigating factors here – namely the Wembley pitch surface was a shocker and it was this that caused Dawson to slip allowing Picquionne to score the first goal in Extra Time. Then Crouch had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed before Portsmouth hit us on the break to score a second late on. That we would then go on to beat Arsenal and Chelsea within 6 days and then qualify for the Champions League for the first time a few weeks later somewhat softened the blow.
Dishonourable mentions also for the 1-0 League Cup defeat at Grimsby (Sept 2005), losing 3-2 at second division Leicester in the 2006 Fa Cup 3rd round having been 2-0 up and the Everton FA Cup Semi-Final of 1995.
Type C: The Heavy defeats
Newcastle 5-1 Spurs Final Day of the 2015/16 season
I still maintain that had any team other than Woolwich leapfrogged us into second place this result would have been far more palatable. It is the combination of losing against an already relegated team; the size of the score, the fact that they had 10 men for the final 30 minutes of the game with the score just 1-2; giving Woolwich an unexpected St Wankerfest Day; that it was just after the emotionally charged Battle of the Bridge and that goody goody Leicester had become the darlings of the nation at our expense.
Spurs 2-7 (seven) Bayern Munich October 2019 Champions League
First time we’d conceded seven in a home game. Perhaps unfair to list this game – after all we were bloody good for 43 minutes and this was the free scoring Bayern team that would go on to score 8 against Barcelona. Still, you lose 7-2 at home and you’re gonna be the subject of a few memes.
Dishonourable mention for the 1-6 home defeat to Chelsea in Christian Gross’ first home game. Our record Premier League defeats – losing 6-0 at Sheffield United in 1993 and 7-1 at Newcastle in 1996. The 6-1 loss at Bolton (then of the second tier) in 1996 could fit into either of the last two categories. I’m not old enough to have seen the 0-5 home defeat to Woolwich in 1978 nor the 7-0 hammering at Anfield the same season.
Type D: Local Pride
Lasagnegate – West Ham 2-1 Spurs May 2006
This is actually a very different type of humiliation for a couple of reasons. It really wasn’t self inflicted. We should never have been made to play that game at that time; it was the perfect storm of it being the final weekend of the season (and therefore had to be played at exactly the same time as all the others) and that the two perpretrators and beneficiaries were our most immediate rivals. Also worth throwing into the mix that in the home fixture West Ham equalised with a 95th minute goal. 2 extra points that day and Lasagnegate would have been irrelevant.
Chelsea 1-1 Bayern Munich May 2012 Champions League Final
Again, this was only somewhat a self inflicted humiliation. Had we held on to 3rd place this would have been irrelevant. That again the two beneficiaries of our misfortune were two hated rivalries rankled even more. I’m sure no-one had it harder than Harry Redknapp (perhaps the architect of ours and his own downfall) who had to endure walking around pitchside in Munich to be greeted with ‘Thursday Night Channel 5 chants’ from the gleeful Chelsea fans.
Spurs 0-4 Chelsea 4-0 Spurs March 2002 (FA Cup and Premiership)
Having beaten Chelsea 5-1 in the 2002 League Cup Semi-final we had not only reached a final against Blackburn that we were huge favourites for but we’d beaten Chelsea for the first time in 12 years and 25 games. To be drawn against them in the FA Cup QF just 3 weeks after the humiliation in Cardiff raised alarm bells. Not only did we lose the FA Cup tie 4-0 but we then went and lost by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge 72 hours later. Chelsea fans were very quick to remind us that ‘Normal Service had resumed”.
In conclusion I do hope that this reflection exercise has acted as a cathartic activity for you and just a reminder that these seem to occur quite a bit more often than they should…Zagreb is now 12 major ones in just over 30 years for me -christ that’s one every 2 ½ years. If we reach September 2023 without an other one we should be relieved!
Picking through the Death Star ruins, the team touch on filth, Shakespeare, fatigue, mohawks, universally exciting bonas and the sorts of extreme highs and lows which come with the territory in N17.
FA Cup Quarter-Final, Anfield, March 11th 1995
Liverpool 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
(Fowler – 39) (Sheringham 44, Klinsmann 89)
Attendance – 39,592
Referee – Martin Bodenham
My first marriage was about to end.
It had been a rough couple of years, and these were the final few months as we worked out how to finish it.
I was not in a great place.
I needed something huge to happen, a boost, a bolt of hope from eternally dark grey skies.
On paper, an FA Cup quarter-final at Liverpool was not it…
…I did the journey alone, meeting an old Liverpudlian friend Brian and his Dad on Merseyside. They’d invited me for a pre-match lunch at theirs, and I gratefully accepted.
I needed the away day to start as early as possible.
I needed something.
I got an early train from Euston to Lime St, a bag of nerves both excited and, well, nervous.
About the game.
About my life.
About the game again.
I brought my sports Walkman and loaded it with the Oasis debut Definitely Maybe, an album I was in love with it, in particular the song “Columbia” which had a driving, circular riff of incalculable might. It was, despite the hits, my favourite.
As the train whistled through the likes of Nuneaton and Tamworth, I found myself not just playing the album repeatedly, but specifically “Columbia”. My spine shook. My skin tingled. Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Anderton, I needed them to do it today, I ached for it, I needed light, happiness, a sign that life would be alright, and I needed my lifelong partner Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to deliver it today. And the more I played “Columbia”, the more I became convinced that they would not let me down, despite nearly a decade to the contrary, every spin generating a deeper sense of unfathomable belief.
As the train pulled into Lime St Station, I was literally vibrating with electricity. It was on. It was going to happen. Surely they wouldn’t let me down in my hour of need, surely they’d find a way. I got the taxi to Brian’s, and had a fine lunch with him and his family at a house not too far from Anfield as I remember. Truth be told, I don’t recall a whole lot about the meal because my head was manically focused on getting into the ground.
As is the way in the cup, we had the whole end.
I was half-way up just to the right of centre behind the goal, and for some reason, I found myself engaged in a passionate exchange of sign language with a Liverpool supporter in the main stand to my right, seated a little along the touchline from the corner flag. When they went one up, it was as though the crowd around us both receded to fade, he was 20ft tall and throwing me a finger and wanker sign. My body shook with anger and adrenaline. It was nearly insufferable. My life was a fucking mess and now this, this! I could barely tolerate the swirling sea of Koppites staring back at us, laughing and seemingly taunting, from behind the opposite goal.
On the stroke of half-time, David Howells played a good ball inside to Klinsmann. He seemed to have got the ball caught in his feet, yet turned his back to goal smoothly and saw Sheringham on his left, striding into the right-hand channel. A perfect square pass, into Teddy’s stride, and Sheringham curled a delicious shot from 25 yards around James’ despairing dive, gently kissing the inside of the post as it went in.
Sign-language plus, and a roar of delight at the sheer beauty of Sheringham’s finish. He stood in a near sumo-crouch, pumping his arms, drinking the moment as well he deserved to. It was brilliant! I cannot remember what half-time was about, but I know that my life suddenly seemed a whole lot better again, that maybe it was going to happen after all, that maybe they wouldn’t let me down.
The second-half was tense. I think we were on top but I cannot remember for sure. I do know that as we approached the 89th minute, I thought we’d probably hold out for a draw and replay, not quite what I’d hoped and prayed for, not quite what a dozen plus spins of “Columbia” had said would happen, but at least we wouldn’t lose.
A throw-in got cleared, the ball landed at Anderton’s feet, he threaded a pass to Sheringham who had his back to goal but produced the deftest of flicks to the empty left-hand channel and from nowhere, Klinsmann was onto it, racing into the box, bearing down on James before placing it firmly into the bottom right-hand corner.
PANDEMONIUM! LEAPING! BRUISES ON LEGS BANGING THEM INTO SEATS! JUMPING ON SEATS! TUMBLING DOWN ROWS! HUGGING EVERYONE IN SIGHT! SCREAMING SHOUTING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES, LOOKING TO THE SKIES AND THANKING THANKING THANKING EVERY-FUCKING-THING, but most of all, THANKING TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, JURGEN KLINSMANN, TEDDY SHERINGHAM, GERRY FRANCIS, ALL OF THEM THE BEAUTIFUL BASTARDS, because in my greatest hour of need, at the moment in my life where I genuinely needed their sign, THEY HAD NOT LET ME DOWN!
I remember the Liverpool supporters on the Kop applauding at the end of the match, and soon after I walked, literally shaking, outside to wait across the Anfield Road for Brian and his Dad. I hid my scarf, fearing that any utterance of joy would result in trouble. If I thought I’d been buzzing before, you could’ve wired the city with my energy at that moment.
I saw them both appear through the waves of Liverpool supporters.
Brian’s Dad waved from about 20ft, and loudly said, “Well done the Spurs, well played, go on lad, let it out!”
And I did.
I screamed at the top of my voice, punching the air with both fists, happiness, relief, more joy, so many emotions spewing uncontrollably out.
He smiled broadly.
I write this now, I will never ever forget that most human of gestures.
It remains an utterly unforgettable away day, a deliverance of faith, hope and love which I can still access at any time by listening to “Columbia” and watching those goals again, an instant time machine back to the day I actually prayed for Tottenham Hotspur to deliver, to the day they dutifully did…praise be for that.
Bale’s brilliance, Kane’s klassic, Davo’s dominance and Moura’s marauding are all discussed in this week’s look back at 4-1 pummelling of Palace, plus we pause to remember the unfortunate day Scott Parker got goosed at Bicester Village and James Alexander Milo narrates the football scores. All this and acapella renditions of the Football Gazetta Italia theme song? You know you want it!
There were many things to get excited about during the Crystal Palace game on Sunday evening; Kane’s wonder goal, the developing chemistry of Kane, Bale and Son or even that we’re starting to look more settled in the centre of defence.
However, from the moment I saw the team sheet my mind became obsessed with not the names on the team sheet but their numbers.
As if to highlight the discrepancy Word formatted this list automatically assuming that the eleventh number to add after ‘Kane’ would be ‘11’ and wont allow me to align #27 underneath the others listed. That’s right ten of our starting XI were wearing shirt numbers #1 – #10 with iust our #11 Lamela not on the teamsheet.
Now traditionalists, like me, may have craved for a #1 – #11 in the same way that we crave matches to kick off at 3pm on a Saturday or most frustratingly for teams to only change kit in away matches when there is a genuine colour clash.
In fact the matter utterly consumed me to the extent that the thought of Lamela replacing Lucas as our first sub became my principal desire for the rest of the match which was only dashed when Bale and Winks were withdrawn thus rendering the #1 – #11 dream over for this week.
Strangely we actually have a #1 – #11 that would be functional though clearly not our best XI. I suspect most observers would prefer Aurier (#24) to Doherty (#2) and our central defensive options (Alderwerield #4, Sanchez #6, Rodon #14, Dier #15, and Tanganga #25) are subject to much debate. Additionally you’ll go a long way to find many that would select Winks (#8) over Ndombele (#28).
So, the answer that I’m yet to receive a definitive answer to (email has been sent to official THFC historian) is when was the last time a Spurs starting XI was made up exclusively of #1 – #11?
I’m almost certain it would have been the final game of the 1992/93 season; from the start of the 1993/94 season squad numbers were introduced. Our final match of 92/3 was the largely forgotten 3-1 victory at Highbury on Tuesday 11th May which secured a very rare and indeed our most recent league double over Woolwich. I will let you think who was in that starting XI and will reveal at the end of the blog – Clue – there are a couple of real randoms in there!
When squad numbers were introduced for the start of the 1993/94 season its possible that many clubs would have filled these traditional numbers with a functional starting XI. Indeed our #1 – #11 could have existed as a team:
1 Thorstvedt, 2 Austin; 3 Edinburgh; 4 Samways; 5 Calderwood; 6 Mabbutt; 7 Barmby; 8 Durie; 9 Anderton; 10 Sheringham; 11 Allen
Our Starting XI on the opening day – a 1-0 victory over newly promoted Newcastle contained seven of those – Paul Allen and Gordon Durie would however leave the club soon into the season and Nick Barmby missed the start of the season through injury only returning for the game against Manchester United in October in which Teddy Sheringham picked up a knee injury that kept him out until April. Steve Sedgley (#14) was our only ever-present with Sol Campbell (#23) and Jason Dozzell (#12) all playing in a majority of games which meant it was impossible to field a #1 – #11.
As the 90’s progressed some of our better and more important regular starters like Klinsmann (#18), Ginola (#14) wearing higher numbers ensured the phenomenom would not occur. There was a reset of numbers ahead of the 99/00 season which for the first, and last time until now, meant there was at least a functional set of numbers in place:
1 Walker; 2 Carr; 3 Taricco; 4 Freund; 5 Campbell; 6 Perry; 7 Anderton; 8 Sherwood; 9 Ferdinand; 10 Iversen; 11 Korsten
However, Ferdinand (#9) and Korsten (#11) started only 4 games each throughout the season.
In the twenty years since then there have been many occasions where #1 – #11 numbers have been completely vacated which included the 2011/12 season where Brad Friedel started every PL game wearing #24 (Gomes having been allocated #1 went out on a season-long loan) and Dimitar Berbatov has been our only outstanding #9 who has been regularly selected in the starting XI .
As was the case in the mid 90’s many of our most influential or reliable players have occupied higher numbers – Modric (#14), Eriksen (#23), Dawson (#20), King (#26) Dembele (#19), Dele (#20) to name but a few. With players personal brands becoming more significant and of course with so few of the current professionals even born before squad numbers were introduced it feels it will be a long while, if at all, before we see a straight flush of #1 – #11 on the pitch in lilywhite again. It would be somewhat ironic given my traditionalist desires that if it does happen we will be playing in a third choice kit of pink/black stripes away at Everton on a Monday lunchtime Kick Off!
I’d be intrigued to know what traditions you would like to see return to football?
Anyway, here’s that starting XI in #1 – #11 from May 1993:
1 Walker; 2 David McDonald; 3. Van Den Hauwe; 4. Danny Hill; 5. Mabbutt; 6. Ruddock; 7. Sedgley; 8 John Hendry; 9. Anderton; 10. Sheringham; 11 Allen
This is a little different to a normal episode, a look back at the month of February and taking a more considered view of how it went. The regular pods are an immediate reaction to a game. This is an attempt to be more reflective and look at the bigger picture. This is something that we are planning to do every month, so let’s hope it works!
…For more than one day. Sometimes the most entertaining players are the more unlikely ones. STEFF discusses the value of a great club cult hero.
I was at Wembley for that night in 1981.
I was on the Shelf for that night in 1984.
However there is a goal which rather perversely stands -if not shoulder to shoulder with those moments- most certainly a couple of bodies along in the same queue.
It was Sunday, April 8th 2001, and it occurred at Old Trafford during the FA Cup semi-final, in the 13th minute. I was seated in the huge main stand, lower tier, about five seats from the fan divide when Steffen Iversen got hold of a loose ball and leathered it goalwards. Well not quite. It was on par to hit some punter in the fifth row about 20 yards from the left-hand post, when suddenly an unlikely ginger head got in the way, deflecting the ball like a missile inside said-left hand post to put us 1-0 up.
It was such an utterly unlikely moment.
We had been under the cosh for the first 10 minutes of the match, and the scorer -Gary Doherty- was, to say the least, an unlikely hero. In fact, he was such an unlikely hero that even he knew it, his celebration being one of total bewilderment, as if to say, “these things don’t come from me because I am at best a cult figure”. It took me five minutes to sit down and stop taunting the Gooners a few seats across, and even as I write, I remember the explosive, volatile eruption of joy Doherty’s goal provided. It was the birth of a superb nickname -The Ginger Pele- and tragically, there is not one supporter I know who believes he meant to cushion that bullet into the net as he did. Instead everyone, to a man, woman and child, knows it simply bounced off his bonce.
Doherty was a classic example of the Spurs cult-hero.
A jack of two trades and master of none (he was deployed at centre-half and centre-forward), Doherty was a willful but not especially skillful trier who went out of his way to throw his body on the line for the club, procuring the odd moment of glory (as above), or more frequently, clownery, as with his incredible own goal chip against Leicester in 2004.
Yet when we look back, a major question arises. Does the cult hero really have to be an average-to-donkey class player, or is it permissible that the cult hero has silky smooth skills with more than a dash of insouciant inconsistency? It isn’t a straight-forward answer.
Take Alfie Conn, that mid-70’s Roy Wood/Billy Connelly hybrid midfield maestro who could light a match with his right foot (as in for your cigarette!) yet was also prone to bouts of outrageous clownery such as sitting on the ball mid-match. On his day, Conn made Michel Platini look like Gary Waddock, but sadly, his day didn’t happen with any consistency whatsoever, thus rendering him memorable as much for that explosion of hair and moustache as skill. John Lacy, a centre-half in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, had a giraffe like presence and was probably unfairly remembered as a gaffe machine, one of those names which elicited a groan when his name was announced over the tannoy and equally, someone who somehow become a comfortable “cult figure” for supporters to whinge on about. For entirely different reasons, you could argue that the rotund rocket Gary Brooke was another cult hero, his ability to super-sub onto the pitch and launch his generous frame into a howitzer which would end up breaking the net, becoming semi-legendary in the Burkinshaw days.
It continues to get tricky as you look through the eras.
Nayim was undoubtably a cult hero, but more for what he did from the halfway line in another shirt against Arsenal than anything he did for us, and then there’s Nicola Berti, who via nothing more than reputation, nationality and good looks became an instant love for us all, and who also had one of the greatest player songs ever with “My name is Nicola Berti…” Thinking about it now, is it possible that Nicola Berti is a golden example of a cult hero despite doing next to nothing of note in our shirt other than looking suave?
Steffen Freund acolytes would fiercely argue that notion.
Unglamorous, determined and grimly physical without any silk (or flairy skills for that matter), Freund was revered for his terrier-like space invader qualities, which saw him flying around pitches with scant regard for anything other than winning the ball. You’d debate that any team needs a Freund-figure -we currently have Hojberg- but compared to Freundy, Pierre looks more like Pele or Pirlo than plodder, and besides, there was something about the way Steff wore his hair and carried himself which just screamed “cult hero”…he also enhanced that legend tenfold by popping up on the terraces with us at away games. Thus was born, “I love Steffen Freund, Steffen Freund loves me.”
I know I’m missing dozens, from the dynamic Jose Dominguez to the indolent Stephane Dalmat, and I haven’t even investigated the notion that to be a cult hero you need to have a song (a mate and I once spent an entire, admittedly drunken, half at Man City away applying every player song from the decades to Clint Dempsey, a cult hero surely). Take Peter Crouch, who delivered another moment of I-was-there ultra-joy for me at Eastlands in 2009 when he nodded us into the Champions League for the first time. I mean, isn’t Crouchy too good to be a cult-hero? Can you be too good? However, when it comes to finding a current example of a universally-agreed, quintessential cult hero par excellence, it’s actually rather easy.
I understand the half cases for Clinton N’Jie and perhaps even more Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, but it is Sissoko who epitomizes everything a true cult hero is. Not especially masterful at anything, yet gloriously committed to the cause, he is a player who has sacrificed himself repeatedly at the altar of versatility in order to serve the team, a player who did not get a sniff of his best position for two years, instead filling in wherever duty called. He endured, to my mind, disgraceful abuse for some time as he gave his all in such situations, yet finally he started to win fans over. It started with the “wake me up before you go go/who needs Bale when you’ve got Sissoko” song of endearment, and continued to mushroom to the point where he ascended to having his own firm, direct song; “Ooooh Moussa Sissoko (repeat)”. And in many ways, just like the Ginger Pele in 2001, it is a Sissoko moment which will forever live in my memory as long as any glory night…
…There I was, on June 1st 2019 in Madrid, minutes before the CL Final kick-off, engaged in a the fullest of fulsome renditions of “Ooooooh Moussa Sissko” which rang out around the Wanda Stadium as the game kicked off. Within 30 second, it was Sissoko who had been (harshly to say the least) dinged for a handball and penalty. I put my arms around my friends, looked to the sky and uttered, “We’re not allowed to have nice things.” I will never, ever forget seeing the evening sky through the wanda outer roof, barely able to watch the penalty being taken, so many emotions coursing through my veins, my pre-match prediction that he would score the winner and thus become immortal suddenly looking as ludicrous as when I’d said it.
If ever a cult hero’s definition, and perhaps dichotomy, was defined, this was surely it. Because remember, had Sissoko not floated that ball 50 yards forward in the 95th minute during the semi-final second leg in Amsterdam, we would not even have been in the Final to start with.
His cult-hero statue outside the new Lane is surely guaranteed.