The Pilgrimage – 02/10/2014 & 05/10/2014
When the Europa League group stage draw was being made I was hoping for a home game on Thursday October 2 which, among other things, happens to be Jean’s birthday. Thankfully the UEFA gods were kind, giving me the perfect birthday present, and completed my pilgrimage match itinerary with an early-October Tottenham Hotspur double-header.
Spurs v Besiktas, Europa League, 02/10/2014
We checked into our hotel at a town called Harlow (rhymes with…) on Thursday afternoon. It was a short train ride in to Northumberland Park station, one of the main stations servicing White Hart Lane, and the ride in was peaceful as, not surprisingly, I wanted to get to the ground early. We were there a couple of hours before the 8.05pm kick-off and it was great to be back after nearly seven years.
We had a walk around the stadium and then wandered through the Megastore. I was half keen to get buy a shirt or two but they’re so bloody expensive, and I’m past the shirt collecting phase of my life, so I settled for a half and half scarf and a soft toy for each of the boys. Still not cheap, though.
Being a mid-week Europa League game, decent tickets were easy to get. We got ourselves a spot in the lower East Stand, almost on halfway. It was close enough to see the players and far enough away to see most of the match and we were in our seats as soon as the turnstiles opened. That meant a bit of mucking around, particularly as I had to entertain a seven year old who is not entirely into his football.
Night games are always special and the atmosphere was good, even though the ground wasn’t full. The visiting fans were clearly up for it and what they lacked in numbers they made up for in volume, along with the obligatory Turkish flare.
Spurs had their cup side out, with Hugo Lloris in goal the only player due to start the Premier League match three days later. The performance wasn’t great but young Spurs product, Harry Kane, scored a nice goal from distance during the first half and the team looked like holding on until some shambolic late defending from Vlad Chiriches. He mis-kicked then handled the ball under little pressure to give away a pretty soft penalty, which was comfortably converted by ex-Premier League player Demba Ba.
Besiktas looked the better side on the night and deserved their point. If it wasn’t for Lloris they would have had more. I’ve made a bit about me being a good luck charm for Spurs, with my 100% live game record and all, and I reckon I’ll claim this one too. I’m sure if I hadn’t been there Spurs would have lost.
I also reckon Besiktas looked more like a Mauricio Pochettino side than Mauricio Pochettino’s own side. They pressed and countered with pace while Spurs had most of the ball but played with it in their own half almost all evening. It’s clear Spurs are still a work in progress and there are some players, Chiriches among them, I don’t expect will be at the club for too much longer. I guess it takes a while for a new manager’s philosophy to bed in and I just hope Daniel Levy, Tottenham’s notoriously trigger happy chairman, gives the manager a chance.
Promisingly, Nathan didn’t fall asleep during this match, even though we were out later than our previous match.
Spurs v Southampton, Premier League, 05/10/2014
After a couple of tourist days, including a visit to Legoland as well as a couple of nights in the small village of Groombridge, south of London, we zipped back round the M25 to our hotel at Harlow then on to the train again for the afternoon kick-off against Southampton.
I slightly misjudged the train schedule so we didn’t arrive at the stadium until about 45 minutes before the start. That precluded the temptation of a visit to the Megastore and instead we headed straight upstairs to our seats in the far right corner of the East Stand. Being a Premier League game, seats were much harder to get and far more expensive. With Spurs putting out their first XI that value was about to be tested.
Southampton, Pochettino’s previous club, were sitting in second so the promise of a stunner was there. That’s not quite how things turned out, but at least Spurs managed a 1-0 win thanks to a sweet strike from Christian Eriksen. It was a disjointed old match but at least Spurs looked better organised at the back and a bit more fluid going forward. They certainly don’t look like a top four side at the moment but, again, work in progress and hopefully that will come. Hopefully they can scratch out the results to stay in touch in the meantime.
Emmanuel Adebayor probably added himself to the list of players who won’t be at the Lane for much longer. He was shite in this match – lazy and constantly off-side – and looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. That’s where the manager should send him.
White Hart Lane is starting to look like a tired old stadium. The club definitely needs its new ground, and not only for the added capacity. Don’t get me wrong; it’s clean, tidy, functional and home, but having watched football in some incredibly modern stadiums it’s clear that’s what the club needs. Hopefully the redevelopment project doesn’t drag on forever.
And so just like that, my time at White Hart Lane was over. I’m not sure if our two visits have totally convinced Nathan on the merits of Spurs, or football for that matter, as he spent most of his time at the Lane playing Plants versus Zombies on my phone. I guess another visit when he’s a couple of years older will have to do the trick.