Another 36 Hours: A tale of ‘A’ roads and reassessed ambitions
From 10am on Sunday to 10pm on Monday my sporting life seemed to be a story of long running bad spells and teams in red. The revisiting of a lower league rivalry and a self-fulfilling Premier League prophecy. For 36 hours I would be slightly hypnotised by both sides of my own footballing coin. My first trip away with Oxford United and Tottenham Hotspur’s opening game of the league season.
Upon reading the League Two fixture list when it was released earlier in the summer I had blithely committed to joining a friend on Oxford United’s first trip to play Swindon Town since the 2000-01 season. I hadn’t really thought about the “derby of the A420″ until I attended Oxford’s last match before big game, it was only then that I realised what a serious event this would be. Even earplugs would struggle to keep out the noise the made by anti-Swindon Town songs regularly bellowed at United’s Kassam Stadium but when I learnt that some fans would not be travelling due to fears over safety I did start to wonder what I had got involved in.
Luckily the game seemed to pass without any major off-field incidents, (other than Paolo Di Canio being sent to the stands). There was the usual name calling and questioning of parentage but beyond that it was far from the nastiest game I’ve ever been to. Our vantage point of the advertising hoardings behind one goal meant that it would be tough to give a coruscating blow-by-blow account of the game. I saw the net at the other end of the pitch ripple twice, (a good thing) in the first half and saw it not rippling, (also a good thing) in the second half. We were close enough to the touch-line for me to believe that Swindon striker Raffaele De Vita was actually eyeballing me when he screamed “f*** off!” at the Oxford fans following Town’s equaliser.
Despite the post-match statistics proving me to be a buffoon it felt like we stood there for almost 5 hours watching wave after wave of Swindon attacks threaten to ruin our day. In the end it was Oxford United that missed the best second half chances but the team held on to win at the County Ground for the first time since Donny Osmond topped the charts with Young Love in 1973.
Oxford United weren’t the only team to be battling a long hoodoo in this early round of league games. My true footballing love, Tottenham Hotspur had the usual daunting trip to Old Trafford to look forward to. Unlike the Oxford game, if you like football and haven’t spent the last 24 hours under a rock there is a good chance that you’ll know how things played out between Spurs and Manchester United. We may have seen the beginnings of Alex Ferguson’s latest team reincarnation but it’s the issues surrounding Tottenham Hotspur Football club that left me with far more to think about.
Spurs haven’t won at Old Trafford since Arthur Rowe was a player and whilst this might be a slight exaggeration it feels as though it has been that long. Every season when this game happens I lose all hope. In recent memory there have been bad decisions, (the Pedro Mendes “goal”), contentious decisions, (the Gomes/Carrick penalty) and downright baffling decisions, (Nani’s goal last season) but in the majority of these games the rule of thumb is that Spurs generally roll over and take their beating and the latest meeting was no exception. Personally I think that Monday night put paid to the myth that Spurs have a strong squad. What they actually have is a lot of players and there’s a huge difference between the two but it all boils down to one thing, ambition. Where exactly do the board and the manager want the club to be?
In the past 16 months I have heard Harry Redknapp say, (about the same group of players) that Spurs could qualify for the Champions League, win the Premier League and then be lucky to finish in sixth place but that we as fans should be thankful for it. The frustrating thing is that I think he might have had a point. All of these remarks can be directly linked to a particular subject, the transfer dealings of the teams around Tottenham and the dealings of the club itself.
With the exception of Arsenal, (which is a different can of worms altogether) all of the teams that are likely to be ahead of Spurs in the league have strengthened their squads significantly in the last eight months while Tottenham have been left behind. It’s worth noting that the only attacking player of substance purchased by the club in two years, (despite its three frontline strikers managing just seventeen league goals between them last season) is Rafael Van der Vaart, a player that Redknapp laughingly told us he didn’t need but that the Dutchman was a gift from his chairman.
All of this smacks of either blistering ignorance on the part of the people running the club, including Redknapp himself, or a tacit admission that Spurs just can’t afford to challenge the top four. With no new stadium plans in place and a vocalised desire from the board not to break the club’s wage structure perhaps it’s time we Spurs fans finally admitted that the upper echelons of the Premier League are a fast fading dream.
Follow George on Twitter @george_ogier