Watford 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1: A lackadaisical performance, but the FA Cup is ours to lose

Tonight’s match was difficult enough and important enough to merit an almost first choice XI, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Brad Friedel the only first choice players rested.

Tottenham didn’t really show up for a first half that was low on quality, but went in at half-time one-nil up with a 43rd minute Rafael van der Vaart 25-yard speculative effort that went straight through keeper Scott Loach.

Luka Modric had passed the ball haphazardly and didn’t come out for the second half, replaced by Aaron Lennon, but things didn’t change very much. Michael Dawson’s sloppiness at the back almost gifted Watford a goal, the youngster Sean Murray hitting a shot that Carlo Cudicini tipped on to the post. Troy Deeney squandered the follow up.

Kyle Walker had a header tipped over and Van der Vaart crashed a shot against the cross-bar, but the performance from the entire Spurs team was languid beyond belief and we were always just a kick away from facing a replay.

In the 80th minute Nyron Nosworthy and Deeney had the ball at their feet in the area within a matter of seconds, but neither buried the ball in the back of the net like they needed to, and shortly after Mark Yeates capitalised on a Younes Kaboul miskick but his shot hit Michael Dawson.

Chelsea are the bookies favourites for the FA Cup and Manchester United are the best team in it, but they could both be out by three o’clock tomorrow and even if they aren’t Tottenham are well capable of beating both and not just in a tokenistic ‘on their day’ way.

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This week on my podcast we selected an all-time South London XI. Scott Parker made it. Listen to South London Hardcore now.

Audere est facere – To dare is to do: Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2

On the way in to the stadium I passed Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira signing autographs and posing for photographs. The wind was so strong a hat blew off someone’s head and 20 yards down the pavement. A steward searched my bag and confiscated my Lancashire Sauce and anti-perspirant. A superstitious man might have seen these as bad omens.

Eastlands is gorgeous (although it could do without Manchester City’s misuse of the Helvetica typeface). The view from the upper tier is great and I began to fantasise about White Hart Lane’s redevelopment. There are plenty of stadiums bigger than White Hart Lane, but nobody has better screens.

It was bitterly cold, so much so that I wore my spare socks on my hands in lieu of gloves. So cold I was shivering and yearned for the chance to parody the Poznan in order to warm myself with a few moments of movement. A cough prevented me from as much singing as I’d like, but I had no trouble waving imaginary cards at the City fans.

Pre-match entertainment included live broadcasts of interviews with fans, so while the City players warmed up they had to listen to criticism over the public address system – Stefan Savic lacks experience, Samir Nasri hasn’t hit the heights he did at Arsenal.

In terms of selection Harry Redknapp only had one choice to make – Younes Kaboul kept his position and Ledley King took Michael Dawson’s place and the armband. For City Edin Dzeko was preferred to Mario Balotelli.

Nasri and Dzeko were the stars of City’s 5-1 win against us in August, but neither has shone regularly since. That result is a complete antithesis to the rest of our season, but City have continued in the same vein. Even when they aren’t steamrolling teams there is little doubt that they are the best team in England. Yaya and Kolo Toure are at the Africa Cup of Nations and Vincent Kompany is suspended, so these were just about the best circumstances to play City under.

The first half wasn’t much of a spectacle, but Sergio Aguero and David Silva caused a few problems, moving freely like wild mercury. The second half was much better entertainment and City took the lead with a fantastic Nasri finish. Silva played a devastating pass and the Spurs defence came apart like wet newspaper.

They doubled their lead a few minutes later as Lescott fell into the net with the ball. It was a slightly fortuitous lead and it didn’t last long.

Savic didn’t deal with Kaboul’s long ball, Defoe chested the ball past Joe Hart and finished from a tight angle, then Bale swept the ball into the net with a first-time strike from 20 yards. It was beautiful. He was wasted in the first half playing a free role, but was back on the wing and playing very well.

Four goals in nine minutes. The game had come to life.

Two incidents I didn’t notice in the ground and if I had I may have left in tears. First Joleon Lescott smashed his elbow into Kaboul’s face, then Balotelli stamped on Parker’s. Both should have been sent off. Neither were.

We were so close to completing the comeback when Bale broke down the wing and crossed for Defoe in the 91st minute. Defoe had the goal at his mercy, but he appeared to slow down a little and stretching to poke the ball it went inches wide.

Five minutes into injury time Balotelli burst into the box and Ledley King scissored him with a poor tackle. Balotelli coolly put the penalty into the bottom corner and a deafening roar broke out in a stadium that had previously been bereft of atmosphere. Bale collapsed to the ground when Howard Webb pointed to the spot seeing a man of the match performance (or the half at least) come to nothing.

Match of the Day promised impartial analysis, but Lee Dixon’s dismissal of Balotelli’s stamp was completely partisan. He and Alan Hansen were incredibly negative about Spurs after what was a very good performance. We went to the league’s top team and played to win and if the opposition’s violent actions had been properly punished we may well have done.

Despite the defeat, every player can walk with their head high.

Wins over West Brom and Cheltenham: The week in review

West Bromwich Albion 

So uninterested was I in the Europa League, and so poor is my sleep pattern, I’ve fallen asleep twice watching Tottenham this season. Once against Shamrock Rovers and once against Rubin Kazan. The same thing occurred on Tuesday during the West Bromwich Albion game. This time it wasn’t the perceived lack of importance, it was purely down to tiredness, but you don’t do yourself any favours if you lay down and cover yourself with a duvet.

I’ve since gone back to watch the second half, but the tension of a potential West Bromwich Albion equaliser is missing. We didn’t play well at all. We looked sluggish and the lacked the inspiration to cut through a team putting in a battling defensive performance. Still, we had the better of the chances and Jermaine Defoe turned one point into three with a swivel and a tidy finish. The commentator called his flick ‘a moment of inspiration’, but it looked more like a miscontrolled ball to me. Whatever it was Defoe is having a very good season providing vital goals that were sorely lacking last year.

The FA Cup 

This isn’t the forum to go on about how broke I am, but suffice to say I was not willing to pay £20-plus to watch the reserves play Cheltenham in the FA Cup 3rd round even though I was aware that it wasn’t being broadcast anywhere in the world so there wouldn’t be a stream.

Those that did go to White Hart Lane were saw a very decent line-up including Aaron Lennon and Michael Dawson trying to play their way back to fitness after injury lay-offs. An hour and a quarter into ITV’s highlights show they finally showed the Spurs goals.

First Niko Kranjcar put a lovely ball in to Giovani dos Santos. His dink was heading into the net before Defoe poached it. Roman Pavlyuchenko scored a tap in before Giovani added a third with a deflected shot.

With City losing the Manchester derby we’re already second favourites for competition. United go to Liverpool and Chelsea and Arsenal have potentially difficult ties in round 4.

It’ll require more effective rotation than the Europa League, but the domestic pot is not beyond us.

Swansea City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Spurs prove stoppable after all

Swansea came into the game having conceded a mere three goals in nine home games this season. It was easy to see why. They are well organised, tight at the back and if I can put it in the most patronising way possible, they pass the ball round like a proper top flight team. If they had another goalscorer in the squad they could easily be in the top half.

Spurs found it difficult and were second best most of the game. Swansea had a couple very good long-range efforts in the opening minutes, but it was Spurs that stole the lead on the stroke of half-time. Benoit Assou-Ekotto turned Jazz Richards inside out a couple of times and squared for Rafael van der Vaart. He received the ball from a deflection and his overhead kick was deflected in, but scruffy as it was he is the genius that makes things happen.

Swansea’s second-half pressure was constant. They created numerous chances (the ball sailing narrowly wide time after time, Luka Modric had to clear off the line as well). An equaliser was inevitable. In the 84th minute Younes Kaboul, William Gallas and Brad Friedel all went for the same ball and Scott Sinclair had to an empty net in front of him.

Results elsewhere – Manchester United and Chelsea losing at home to Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa respectively – are only relevant in the context of a 38-game season. We have three home games in a row (West Brom, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers) all of which we ought to win, followed by, what is on paper, the hardest game of the season, a trip to Manchester City.

Things are going so well there isn’t a great need for change, but Emmanuel Adebayor really ought to make staying onside his new year’s resolution. He is a brilliant footballer, but the amount of times he is flagged is ridiculous and shameful. I wasn’t aware of a reputation for it before he came to Spurs but at the moment he’s up there with Darren Bent and Fillipo Inzaghi, who was famously born offside.


You can’t take the Y word away from us

While football’s governing bodies across Europe do little to combat racism, imposing paltry fines (less than 50p per racist as Simon Jordan put it) for vile chants that happen with uncomfortable frequency, in Britain things are different. Racism is far from dead, but as one of the world’s most culturally integrated countries we pride ourselves on not tolerating such behaviour.

Having sat in the Park Lane end next to the away fans I’ve heard antisemitic abuse numerous times. (I will add that I’ve heard Spurs fans reply with equally heinous insults). It’s a strange thing to see, antisemitic abuse aimed at people that for the most part aren’t Jewish. Regardless, as decent human beings we find it disturbing that people will use one of the greatest crimes in human history as the basis for an insult. Hissing, imitating the gas chambers, is all too common.

According to John Efron in ‘When is a Yid not a Jew?’ from Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe the first instances of antisemitic abuse at Tottenham games date back to around 1974/75, particularly in the London derbies against West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal. Spurs fans adopted the Jewish identity for themselves to blunt the edge of the taunt and by the 1980-81 season ‘yiddo culture’ had started en masse. On one side Spurs fans, Jew and gentile, waved stars of David and referred to themselves as Yids, while opposition chants (now nationwide and internationally) ranged from gentle ribbing about foreskins and pork consumption to taunts about the holocaust.

There is a similar situation at Ajax. In 2004 the club appealed to fans to drop their pseudo-Jewish identity. According to Ajax fan Babette van Haaren, there are less Israeli flags and banners with the word ‘Joden’ (the Dutch word for Jews), but the chants still persist. The issue of antisemitism reared its ugly head recently when Den Haag’s Lex Immers was caught on video singing ‘we’re going hunting Jews’ in reference to a victory over the Amsterdam club, which prompted Ajax’s current chairman to make the plea again.

A statement from Tottenham Hotspur this week said, “A small number of both Jewish and non-Jewish Spurs fans use the Y word in what they consider to be an inoffensive manner”. Anyone who has been to White Hart Lane or seen a game on television will testify that this ‘small number’ must be incredibly vocal. This kind of misinformation is one of the reasons I’m forced to respond to comments and defend the name of my blog so often. Not getting the irony Alan Hansen referenceis understandable, but by You’ll Win Nothing With Yids I’m obviously not suggesting Jewish athletes are doomed to failure as couple of people have assumed.

It isn’t a minority that chant ‘yid army’ and ‘yiddo’, it’s almost as many as for ‘Come on you Spurs’. It is interesting that it was Ledley King in the video rather than Jermain Defoe. I don’t recall either coming out and saying they’d rather we didn’t sing ‘Jermain Defoe, he’s a yiddo’, which they hear every time they play.

The issue isn’t what the players are saying (although it is hard to take Gary Lineker seriously post-Brass Eye). The soundbites are good, reminiscent of Eric Cantona and Les Ferdinand doing ‘You see a black man, a French man?… I’d rather play football’, but not quite as good. The subtext seems to be that Spurs fans are somehow responsible for the antisemitism directed at them by using the word. If only we’d stop saying yids this would all go away. We are accused of legitimising the use of the word, but by that logic Dr Dre and Chris Rock only have themselves to blame if someone calls them a ‘nigger’.

The idea is to ‘raise awareness’ and it’s good that issue is getting some attention, but surely David and Ivor Baddiel surely aren’t suggesting that the mob singing ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Seig Heil, Hitler’s gonna gas ‘em again’ don’t understand the words they’re saying? Perhaps there are fans that need educating.

The 90-second video happily cuts from hateful taunts to a group of Spurs fans chanting ‘yiddo’ in support of their team, as if the two are in any way similar. “It’s against the law to call someone a y-word in the street”, Frank Lampard says. Of course it isn’t. I’ve done it and when I’m in my Tottenham shirt people shout it at me. As a Spurs fan you wouldn’t think of shouting anything else.

As the vast majority of Tottenham fans aren’t Jewish some say it isn’t possible for them to reclaim the word, but if we haven’t reclaimed it we’ve appropriated it at the very least and we aren’t giving it back. The NAACP would like to see the back of the word N word, but they have to be realistic and appreciate that to some extent, the rise in its usage in hip hop and African American culture generally, has taken a lot of the power out of the word.

The meaning of words can change, especially slang words, and while I acknowledge the issue is complicated and I don’t want to cause offence if it can be helped, it is my opinion that if you don’t like the use of ‘yids’ and ‘yiddos’ by Tottenham fans you will just have to lump it.