Oh no! The season is over! But fear not, Steff, Moby, Gareth and Ram (with interruptions from Tilly and Milo) get stuck into the lovely, final day smashing of “the people’s club”, address who has the greenest thumb, AND unveil the inaugural The Game Is About Glory Awards, with the lucky recipients receiving the mighty, much coveted Glory Glenn! Plus we revisit Dier’s doo-doo and Moby revels in the misery of his neighbours…there’s a ton more so don’t waste time, start listening now!
It is ironic that having written this article between Wednesday and Sunday last week about the impact of Recency Bias I now feel that the football world is a much happier place having beaten Leicester and finished above Arsenal. With this concept in mind I invite you back into my mind pre-Sunday……
In my Spurs supporting lifetime I can’t remember feeling any lower than I have since Wednesday night. I know I am not alone but the definitive conclusion of ‘never have felt more disconnected’ is likely to be the result of recency bias.
Let me firstly just try, for cathartic purposes, explain why I feel in such a loveless relationship. It was my first visit to watch a game since December and only the second in 15 months. Something that has been a routine in my life, certainly since buying my first season ticket in 2002, should have got me chomping at the bit to return. Yet, somehow has kick off approached I felt so little enthusiasm and excitement. Perhaps it was the terrible drive through rush hour traffic that didn’t help? No, the feeling of apathy had set in long before that.
My feelings of lethargy seemed to be matched by the players. From 15 minutes we became a more inferior team – confidence and energy sapped. There was a will to reverse the score but the palpable emotions on and off the pitch were of frustration and resentment. The chorus of boos at full-time I felt were not directly primarily at the players and not exclusively at Daniel Levy – it was an outpouring of helplessness and utter frustration.
I have expressed to many people since then my extreme feelings of disconnect with the club. The ESL decision is amongst that but it more the complete lack of proactive communication and the inability once again for ENIC to ‘read the room’ that hurts me. I am what is becoming known as a ‘legacy fan’ – I don’t feel that I am their target market segment and If I’m honest I haven’t done for as much as I can remember. However, this has never stopped me coming back and I’m embarrassed to admit that I renewed my season ticket the day applications opened.
However, it is the disconnect with the team that is my predominant emotional trigger. I am not pointing out anything that has not been observed and discussed by anyone else. The lack of intensity, the lack of a plan, the lack of confidence, the lack of belief. Subjectively we have a good but not outstanding group of players but a squad that with the right motivation and direction be challenging in and around 4th place. I think 5th is par and there is no disgrace in this though it is undoubtedly a regression on where we have been since 2017.
If we’re honest the bar that was set in 2017 was incredibly high and it was always going to be a challenge to maintain the standards of winning 86 points in a season. Sunday 13 May 2017 was the high point – both for on the field success but for a general feeling of togetherness between fans, players and manager and owners.
If ever there was going to be a breakout of “Daniel Levy he’s one of our own’ it would have been at this point. The send-off to White Hart Lane was a poignant one that had been planned and executed beautifully; it was ostensibly a send off to an iconic venue that for many of us had been a second home and one that provided cherished memories for both what we had seen on the pitch and more importantly the relationships we formed off it.
Part of me wonders what those celebrations would have looked and felt like had the timing been different – what if we’d finished 2016/17 season as we had this year? It is mostly a coincidence that the send off to our cherished home occurred in our most successful season on it.
Fast forward 4 years – the global pandemic has created several very obvious nuances that affected the feel of the final home game of the season just as they did in 2020 when a 3-0 victory over Leicester took place in front of an empty stadium – but the feeling around the club could not be at a more polar opposite. The ongoing speculation around Harry Kane creates another black cloud that circles above us and until a new manager is appointed it is hard to develop any excitement for what might come next.
However, my point is that we’ve been here before – that feeling of staleness and hopelessness. Unless you started following Spurs in 2015 you’ve definitely been through what you’re feeling now and whilst the memory of how good it was in 2017 is a stark reminder of the failures on and off the pitch since also remember that it didn’t take much to get us to that point.
Using the final home game of the season as a consistent time marker of despondency let me just share some of the bleak times that I have experienced and please use this list to reflect and finally just to remember that as a club we suffer peaks and troughs that unlike many of our contemporaries (Villa, West Ham, Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham Forest) only ever seem to flatline in midtable.
2014 – Aston Villa home 3-0
‘The Sherwood season’ – this was a depressing season that, again using recency bias, tends to be the most we benchmark the current season against. We’d actually started 2013/14 in the post Bale era under AVB relatively well on the pitch winning most games but in an undefined and unspectacular manner until several heavy defeats pre-Christmas saw Sherwood take over. Despite an initial bounce it soon became clear Sherwood was as much of a buffoon as feared and his self-aggrandisement and limited tactical approach meant that the second half meandered on with players and fans in a similar state of malaise. The introduction of young players Nabil Bentaleb and the clumsy looking forward Harry Kane provided some hope for the future but the season really couldn’t end quick enough.
The final day of the season did provide a comprehensive victory – in fact we had won our 4 final home games of the season (Southampton, Sunderland, Fulham and Villa) and maintained a top 6 finish.
2004 – Blackburn 1-0
What an endurance 2003/4 had become. It started with the Hoddle era running on fumes and then under the stewardship of David Pleat as a Caretaker manager widely ridiculed by players and fans alike the season. Daniel Levy, then in his embryonic period as Chairman, promised a big-name manager but that the appointment could wait until the end of the season (which coming in September meant that the season was effectively a write-off). That Woolwich would record their Invincible season made matters even worse but we were in serious danger of being sucked into a relegation battle as late as April. Therefore, the very end of the season provided enough feeling of genuine relief that the final game of the season against mid-table Blackburn provided a feeling of happy mediocrity.
2003 – Blackburn 0-4
The Hoddle era was beginning to unravel quickly. The 2002-3 season had begun positively but a series of injuries and a lack of intensity and physical condition amongst an ageing group of players (Sheringham and Poyet) meant that Keane and King aside 2003 became a real endurance. Were it not for Hoddle’s status feelings could have turned sourer even more quickly, The end of the season saw us go into our penultimate home game of the season actually wanting to lose at home to Manchester Utd in order to deny Woolwich a league title. Naturally United won comfortably 2-0. The final two games of the season resulted in a 5-1 defeat at Middlesbrough and then an ugly 0-4 reversal at home to Blackburn which included Poyet receiving a red card and young winder Matt Etherington involved in a verbal dispute with a fan in the East Lower. I’m sure this must have happened in other years but the touchline was littered with season ticket books at full-time – always a futile gesture when the book had already become superfluous by nature of it being the final game.
1997 – Coventry 1-2
This moment had parallels to now as well. Teddy Sheringham had been our talisman though he had missed much of this season through injury and had also found himself in a dysfunctional attacking system that even when on form was undone by some gormless defending and a lack of structure in midfield. Teddy’s demeanour during the latter half of the season was that of a player who felt he had outgrown the rest of the team around him and justifiably saw that his ambitions were more likely to be achieved elsewhere. For me the 1996/7 season was the benchmark for Spurs mediocrity during the period. There was no ability to string 3 results together, rarely did we show up outside of the M25 and the inevitable exit from the FA Cup signalled the end of the season. The team looked tired and uninspired and Coventry City, who almost 10 years to the day previous had enjoyed their most famous day at Spurs expense, came to White Hart lane knowing that even a win may not be enough to keep them in the division. If Social Media memes had been a thing in 1997 then Dr Tottenham would have trended in the days immediately prior and after the final match of the season. Coventry roared into a 2-0 lead for Paul McVeigh to score his one and only Spurs goal in response. There was little riding on the game for Spurs other than absent pride – another feature of the era.
Sheringham did depart the club that summer and went on to do rather well at Old Trafford before returning 4 years later.
On each occasion the manager at the time, if in place at all, has failed to turn around a sinking ship. It has taken an appointment like Redknapp, Jol or Poch to breathe life back into the team, but also to give the fans a hope and belief again. In all the latter examples (of the ENIC era) the darkest hour has always been followed a stark improvement not just to the results – though they undeniably have a knock-on effect – but to a wider positive feeling and we must hope that for all of us supporting Spurs will become fun again very soon.
What we are feeling now is not a new feeling and I challenge you reach the conclusion that you’ve had it worse in the past……and the reminder that football is cyclical. We’re all in for the long haul so we’ll feel it again too.
This week Steff, Milo, Gareth and Ricky look back at the 2-0 win over Wolves, unveil Pierre Emile Hojberg’s new position, create the ultimate Spurs manager (and kindly do the same for our fake neighbours in their time of need) whilst starting to go potty over the incoming man. All this, plus an appreciation of Europe’s only “real” working-class anti-cash true tournament plus an unexpected appreciation of “VAR my Lord, VAR…”
For the 31st consecutive year Spurs fans will wake up on the day of FA Cup Final with little, if any, interest or intrigue in the forthcoming showpiece event in the sporting calendar.
18th May 1991 was the last time FA Cup Final day was relevant for us when quite frankly the world was a very different place….Cher was top of the Charts with The Shoop Shoop Song, no homes in the UK had access to the world wide web and Harry Kane was not even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.
As a 10-year-old who was just into my third year as a fully-fledged Spurs (and football) supporter I assumed that this day would come around frequently. I was totally consumed by our successes in the competition going back to 1901. If you include replays the ten years prior to ‘91 provided 5 FA Cup Final Day’s to look forward to.
Since our last appearance in 1991 no fewer than 21 clubs’ set of fans have experienced seeing their team appear in an FA Cup Final. 21 clubs is just a little less than 25% of the entire Football League pyramid. Finalists since ’91 have included Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Millwall, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Wigan, Hull City, Crystal Palace and Watford – all of whom have spent at least half of that 30-year period outside of the top flight).
It is actually absurd that Spurs have not made one final – despite the ‘magic of the cup’ rhetoric the better teams tend to reach finals and win it. Spurs are one of only 6 clubs to appeared in the top division for each of those 30 intervening seasons and have mostly finished in the top half at least. They are a real outlier in a list of clubs not to have appeared in an FA Cup Final during the period. The only other clubs to have played in the Division 1/Premier League for 10 or more seasons and not to have reached a final are:
Blackburn Rovers (18 seasons)
Leeds United (14)
But what has happened that has prevented Spurs from building on their 1991 success which at the time was a record 8th occasion to have won the famous competition?
Why is the FA Cup relevant?
Firstly, let’s consider the importance and significance of winning the FA Cup. I have resigned myself, as a staunch traditionalist, that this is not a competition that ultimately progresses you as a Football Club. Since ENIC took over 20 years ago only seven different teams have won the competition – 5 of the established ‘Top 6’ and the other two being Portsmouth and Wigan – both have subsequently languished in the lower divisions. Even Arsenal’s recent FA Cup successes (4 since 2014) have not done anything to propel them back to the heights of English football – if anything that have acted as a detriment to their league form which has seen them drop out of the Top 4 positions since 2016.
To give a domestic real-life analogy putting all your eggs into the FA Cup basket is akin to wanting to book a Family Holiday to Disneyworld instead of having a new kitchen fitted. Two weeks in Orlando will be magnificent for the kids and you’ll remember it affectionately for a long time but the new kitchen will enable you to put a healthy meal on the table every night and ultimately will help you to sell the house in a few years’ time. The stars have not yet aligned in N17 for both to happen.
Speak to any football fan over 40 years old and they will tell you how they dreamed of scoring the winner in an FA Cup Final at Wembley, how FA Cup Final day was akin to Christmas Day with round the clock coverage on both the UK’s main terrestrial TV stations. It’s also worth remembering the football landscape and how it was consumed. Until the birth of the Premier League and Sky Sports’ involvement in 1992 armchair football fans would receive live on their televisions on average less than 1 live game per week.
There was no Champions League as we now know it with its predecessor, The European Cup, involving just one club per country and in a straight knock out format so once the English team were knocked out there was little further interest in the competition. Additionally, there was no European football for any English clubs between 1985 and 1990. So, apart from up to 30 live 1st division matches the only live football accessible on TV was one game per FA Cup round, the League Cup Semi-Finals and Final and the odd England game. Following ‘less is more theory’ the FA Cup Final was therefore something of a novelty often taking place on famously glorious sunny May Saturday afternoons. It was very likely the most significant live match on TV in the football calendar.
The current (pre Covid) broadcasting rights saw 160 live Premier League games in addition to each and every one of the 92 Champions League matches (from group stage onwards) plus Europa League Games and League Cup games before you even start to add in the 5+ games per round available from the FA Cup. Therefore, by the time middle May comes around even the most hardened armchair fan would be suffering from fatigue.
Without the carrot and incredible riches provided by the Champions League – once its participation was extended to 3 and then 4 clubs in England post 2001 – clubs were far less commercially driven and so success was far more tangible for its on-field achievements. By Christmas clubs invariably knew whether they have any chance of winning the league – but unless you were amongst one of maybe two or three times – the lure of winning the FA Cup could take precedence by the time the 3rd round weekend comes around in early January. There was little tangible difference between finishing 4th and 16th in the old Division 1.
Participation in the Champions League is of far greater financial importance than winning the FA Cup – there is perhaps even a case for extending that to Europa League qualification too. From a purely financial perspective there is simply no comparison:
|FA Cup Winners||£1.8m|
|Champions League Group Stage||£12m|
|Europa League Group Stage||£2.2m|
It’s got much harder to win
From looking at the winners of the FA Cup since 1991 and then comparing this to the same time period prior to 1991 you all see a huge difference in the pedigree of its winner.
|Number of Different Winner||Median Average League Place Finish of FA Cup Winner||Number of Winners that Finished in 1-4 in League||Number of Winners Finishing 11th or Lower|
It is also worth noting that three winners in the earlier period were second division teams (Sunderland 1973, Southampton 1976 and West Ham 1980).
If you consider that since 1992 we have only finished in the top 3 on three occasions (2016, 2017, 2018) and that in the latter two occasions we were beaten in a semi-final by a team who would finish above us then perhaps the most obvious reason why we haven’t won the FA Cup has been that sadly the bar has risen and we are still not quite good enough.
That is perhaps a ‘get out’ for 30 years of failure in the competition and it is still beyond belief that clubs such as Millwall, Stoke, Southampton, West Ham, Watford and Middlesbrough have all enjoyed a grand day out at Wembley (or Cardiff between 2000 and 2007).
The table below summarises Spurs’ progress in each FA Cup Competition since 1991.
|Year||Round||Team who knocked us out||Score|
The Ingredients needed to reach an FA Cup Final
I have identified what is I think is required to actually get to a Cup Final:
- LUCK OF THE DRAW
The role of random luck is often ignored in an age of micro-analysis and as such it is almost impossible to quantify exactly how significant luck is. The FA Cup’s very concept is based on the randomness of balls being drawn from a bag. Clearly avoiding the better teams can be very beneficial as can being drawn at home.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that our last successful FA Cup run in 1991 saw us drawn against four lower league opponents in Rounds 3-6 before playing Arsenal in the Semi-Final who admittedly were the champions elect that season. However, to play Nottingham Forest in the final (they had finished 1 place higher than us in 9th that season) was kinder than it could have been.
Looking through Winners and Runners Up progress since then is littered with good fortune – for example Man Utd’s run to the 2016 Final included no away games against PL opponents, none of the other ‘big 6’ teams, and three ties against lower league opponents before beating Everton and then Crystal Palace in the Semi-Final and Final.
Equally Cardiff (2008) and Millwall (2004) reached the Final as 2nd tier clubs but hadn’t been drawn against any Premier League teams all competition.
- RANDOM IN-GAME LUCK
Much like the point above random luck plays a crucial part. Unlike a league campaign where luck and randomness can even out over a 38-game campaign one bad decision or the spin of the ball is crucial in a knock out competition. I have identified some of the more obvious examples below. On each occasion there is no way of telling whether the incident in question would have resulted in a different outcome:
- Anderton not awarded penalty v Arsenal in 1993 SF at 0-0
- Not awarded penalty v Newcastle for clear handball in 1999 SF at 0-0
- Michael Dawson slipping on the shoddy Wembley turf v Portsmouth in 2010 SF at 0-0.
Injuries can come at bad times. In recent years Kane’s injury sustained in Jan 2019, and Son’s international duty meant neither were available at Crystal Palace in 2019 (perhaps they wouldn’t have been selected anyway?).
- BE ABLE TO BEAT THE BEST TEAMS IN ONE-OFF GAMES
You are more than likely going to meet one of the established other top 5 sides on route to a final. Since beating Liverpool in 6th round in 1995 we have lost all 15 ties against:
Man U x4 – 1997 (Round 3), 2008 (4), 2009 (4), 2018 (SF)
Chelsea x4 – 2002 (6), 2007 (6), 2012 (SF), 2017 (SF)
Arsenal x2 – 2001 (SF), 2014 (3)
Newcastle x3 – 1999 (SF), 2000 (3), 2005 (6)
Everton x2 – 1995 (SF), 2021 (5)
Additionally, we have lost our only ties against other fellow PL teams:
Crystal Palace x2 – 2016 (5), 2019 (4)
Portsmouth – 2010 (SF)
Man City – 2004 (4)
Nottingham F – 1995 (5)
Barnsley – 1998 (4)
Norwich City – 2020 (5)
Since that Liverpool victory we have won only 16/41 FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League teams. The most impressive was perhaps the 2-0 5th round replay victory against Leeds in 1999. Aside from the win at West Ham (6th Round 2001) and Leicester (3R 2016) the other 13 victories have come against teams we finished comfortably above at the end of that season:
Wimbledon (98/99), Charlton (2000/01), Bolton (01/02, 09/10, 11/12), WBA (04/05), Fulham (06/07, 09/10), Reading (07/08), Wigan (08/09), Burnley (14/15), Swansea (17/18), Southampton (19/20)
To put this into context this is the equivalent of gaining 44 points in a season – we have only gained less than 44 points twice during this period (93/4 and 97/8).
However, this is more frustrating as we had beaten the same opponent (who had knocked us out) in the league that season so knew how to beat them and/or were better than them at the time. It suggests that we are more committed to winning league games than FA Cup matches.
Apart from Man Utd’s aforementioned run to the 2016 FA Cup success and then Manchester City in 2019, the last 10 winners have beaten one of the other Top 5 teams:
|Year||Winner||Top 5 Teams Faced|
|2011||Manchester City||SF v Manchester United|
|2012||Chelsea||Final v Liverpool, SF v Spurs|
|2013||Wigan||Final v Manchester City|
|2014||Arsenal||5R v Liverpool, 3R v Spurs|
|2015||Arsenal||6R v Manchester United|
|2017||Arsenal||Final v Chelsea, SF v Manchester City|
|2018||Chelsea||Final v Manchester United|
|2020||Arsenal||Final v Chelsea, SF v Manchester City|
- BE ABLE TO MANAGE THE FA CUP SCHEDULE
In what is already a very congested domestic schedule the FA Cup campaign (for Spurs) begins post- Christmas. Even with the benefit of a kind draw and random in-game luck the timing of fixtures plays a crucial part particularly if we haven’t had a deep squad to pick from.
For every season since 2009 we have gone into the second half of the league season, either in or just around the Champions League places. Rightly or wrongly the revenues this creates will always take precedence.
In retrospect 2016 probably presented our best chance of progressing – having been drawn against Crystal Palace at home in Round 5 we rested Lloris, Alderweireld and Eriksen and lost 1-0. A victory would have seen us drawn against Reading and then Watford before a final against Manchester United. However, the week before the Palace tie we had won 2-1 at Manchester City to establish us as genuine League Title contenders.
Equally, European football resumes in February usually around the same time as the FA Cup 5th round. In 13 of the last 15 seasons dating back to 2007 we have had the latter stages of either the Champions League or UEFA Cup/Europa League to balance.
Whilst the FA Cup is still considered as a superior competition to the League Cup it is also worth noting that by January the latter is at the semi-final stage and therefore just two ties away from yielding trophy success – on five occasions since 2007 we have found ourselves in a League Cup Semi-Final where typically the second leg is scheduled in the midweek just before or after FA Cup 4th round. In 2008, 2015 and 2019 we exited the FA Cup.
- HOLDING YOUR NERVE (AND NOT BEING ‘SPURSY’)
Sorry – I hate the phrase as well and get how its constant use can perpetuate a vicious cycle if only just amongst a fanbase. Contrary to popular belief every team is a bit ‘Spursy’ – even Barcelona can lose 3-goal first leg victories and concede 8 goals in a semi-final.
However, in analysing why we’ve not won the FA Cup since 1991, or at least reached a final, ingredients 1-4 explain most but not all of our failures. There are still those years in which there was simply no better explanation than that we shot ourselves in the foot either in specific moments or approach to a one-off match which provides the ultimate jeopardy of elimination.
Most notably the 1995 and 2010 FA Cup Semi-Finals against Everton and Portsmouth come to mind. We went into both games as big favourites but managed to lose both in fairly humiliating fashion. On both occasions though it is worth remembering that had we won we’d have had to play Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
Does the FA Cup help to breed future success?
There remains the argument that to win The FA Cup (or League Cup) could act as a catalyst to greater things and would enhance our chances of going onto challenge for and win the Premier League or Champions League. Does anyone think that had we won the FA Cup in 2012 we’d have got over the line in the Leicester season, or had the know how to deal better with Liverpool in Madrid? There’s really no way of knowing. Can anyone say beyond any reasonable doubt that had City not won the 2011 FA Cup (with an uber dull 1-0 win over Stoke) they would not have gone on to record 4 league titles?
In summary the reasons for not adding a 9th FA Cup success is that for much of the 90’s and early 2000’s we weren’t very good and since 2006 it hasn’t been the priority.
This week Steff, Milo, Gareth and Awesome Dawson determine whether Bielsa knows Mason’s inside leg measurements, whether burgundy counts as red, if salmon pink is part of our club history and exactly what it takes to be classed as a full kit wanker. All this AND Dad jokes? Who said our season was ending quietly.
Steff, Moby, Ricky and Gareth sit down to discuss a rare match of comfortable joy with our 4-0 thumping of Sheffield United, there’s the relationship between fans and board, there’s a look back at the uneventful month of April, and VAR makes its pod debut for a vital call (no heads were trampled on during this process)…