Oct 2, 2010

My eyes have (finally) seen the glory...

By Gary Paul

Memory can do the strangest of things.

My earliest football related memory dates back to 1981, and more specifically the F.A. Cup final replay which has the name "Ricky Villa" indelibly writ large across our collective football consciousness. I was six years old. I certainly remember going to school, drawing a picture and writing about "what I did." what I did of course was enjoy Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 2.

But can I really, genuinely, remember the match? Probably not. I'm sure my memory has been "topped up" by the numerous re-runs and F.A. Cup final build-ups.

I can recall slightly more of the scene the following year when Spurs (of whom by which time I was an avid supporter) drew with Queens Park Rangers, before of course beating them in the replay.

If ever I am asked how I ended up supporting Tottenham, coming from a village in mid-Bedfordshire, my answer has been an unequivocal "I grew up spoilt by watching the sheer textbook perfection that was Glenn Hoddle."

I'm not sure how well honed my grasp of the beautiful game would have been by the time Hoddle left for Monaco, a few months after my twelfth birthday. I do know though that after Hoddle left (gutted) the nettle was soon grasped by Paul Gascoigne, and I had myself a new hero, the two now vying for greatest prominence in my all time heroes archive.

And so to the Glory, Glory nights. I certainly remember the most recent of those: Anderlecht, and Tony Parks. But I guess it is true to say that I remember it through the now thirty-five year old eyes of the nine-year-old boy I was, and furthermore I remember it through the news clips and press stories rather than being there.

So you'll forgive me if I appear at all over-enthusiastic about Wednesday night's 4-1 win over FC Twente. From where I sat (right in the corner, lower tier, where the East stand meets South), the match, performance, and atmosphere were all superb. We are, as you'll all know, "the Shelf Side," and it has been some time since I have experienced the intensity with which the crowd saluted Rafael van deer Vaart as he ran to the corner flag, his face contorted with a potent mix of anguish, determination, commitment and borderline despair, shirt clenched, as his dipping volley was pushed away by the Twente goalkeeper.

This was of course mere moments after van deer Vaart's penalty had been saved (illegally due to encroachment), itself coming after a considerable delay following one of the most disgusting three-minute periods of gamesmanship. If the second and third penalties were questionable, it is hard to have any sympathy for Twente after episodes like that, and a later incident where their large, proverbial out-house of a central defender suffered a delayed reaction before being poleaxed by a Benoit Assou-Ekotto clearance.

But I do not wish to moan. It is just that moments like these can galvanise a crowd. The cheating riled us, but the passion from one of our own new heroes inspired us, and we, if it is not too self-servicing, would like to think that we helped lift him. Maybe too much, judging by the rash challenge that led to a second yellow card soon after Chadli had pulled a goal back for the visitors. But, as the gentleman sat next to me put it, "it wouldn't be Spurs if we didn't do this."

The hairs have always stood up on the back of the neck and the arms when the crowd are in full song, and they were again from start to finish on Wednesday. I, as an unfortunately all too infrequent visitor to the Lane, have always enjoyed the verbal ping pong between Shelf Side and Park Lane. We are Tottenham; super Tottenham; and you know where we are from. Yes, he only has one knee, and in our opinion, "oh Ledley Ledley" is better than JohnTerry. No tune is more stirring for me than the slow, restrained "oh when the Spurs..." And, of course, we all know the word we use to acknowledge one of our own, as was voiced to Rafael towards the end of the first half.

Two days later, the dust settled, we have a new hero in the making. Whether VdV goes on to be held in the same esteem as Messrs Hoddle and Gascoigne, amongst others, time will tell. He has certainly taken a big step though.

Whilst Wednesday's first foray into Europe's premier club competition since the days of Billy Nick, and its demolition of Twente has not as yet brought back one of "the cups," I feel privileged to be able to say that in some small way, finally, my eyes have seen the glory.

Or at least a glimmer of it...

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