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Fan Diary #2: Watching The Spurs Match With Mum

While I tell myself it’s a long season and one result cannot shape the year, I can’t help but look to the opening fixture for a sign of what’s to come. I mean, I’ve been waiting all summer for this! Let me know with some great football that this is going to be a great season!

2008/09 was Liverpool’s best season in ages but it was full of frustration as well. The opening match against Sunderland set the tone, in a way. It was a painful, goalless match until the 83rd minute, a prelude to a season that would be full of Red attacks against the walls of ten-men-behind-the-ball defenses. Then Torres scored the only goal. His deft turn and his shot from distance felt like a miracle to behold. Perhaps he was letting us know 2008/09 would be full of shocking late-winners. Our patience with Liverpool through the dry spells would be rewarded again and again. Maybe he wanted that surprising burst of joy to hint to us that Liverpool would beat Chelsea, United and Real Madrid twice each before the year was over. He was preparing us early so we wouldn’t die of shock when Ryan Babel fired in the exploding winner on September 13th.

Coming into the match yesterday, I knew all the other top four clubs had secured maximum points. Chelsea overcame a determined Hull with Didier Drogba’s last gasp goal (further solidifying his status as my new arch-villain, filling Ronaldo’s game-changing boots). Arsenal demolished Everton in a all-out-goal-scoring deluge. United kept a clean sheet against Birmingham with Rooney’s goal proving enough for the win.

I felt we deserved full points as well. It would be a sign we can endure the loss of Xabi Alonso. It would show us our injury-ridden defense has the pluck to keep it together from the start.

But Spurs had given Liverpool troubles last season. They went from being the worst team in the league to being Harry Redknapp’s bundle of promise. They beat us 2-1 in London and broke our 17-match unbeaten streak. Shortly thereafter they knocked us out of the Carling Cup.

Spurs, who always seemed to buy strikers and never defenders, should be a guaranteed win in my mind. Only problem is: they finally bought a defender. Bassong. He’s good. And Ledley King was fit and starting. Suddenly the Spurs’ defense didn’t seem so porous.

I told myself it didn’t matter. This was a new season. Rafa knows what he is doing. Our players would be determined to stamp their mark on the year from the first day. We would win this.

I went to the pub full of bravado. I was ready to sing and jump and scream for each of our goals and I was sure we’d score three. I told everybody Robbie Keane would score a “you should have kept me, Rafa” goal. Then Torres, Kuyt and Benayoun would each find the back of the net.

Our pub on opening day is like going back to school after summer break. You ended the previous year promising everybody you’d still all hang out even though the matches aren’t on. You exchange numbers. Promise to catch some international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. Then you spend the summer not calling each other.

Now the games are back on. The pub is full. Its all hugs and handshakes and “How was your summer?” The excitement of seeing everybody together again adds to the feeling that it’s going to be a good result.

I mingled. I commiserated. I fretted.

There were lots of new faces which was great. Games against United, Chelsea and Arsenal were always standing room only. But we longed to pack the place for the other matches as well. More newcomers on opening day gave us hope toward this end. Also, my mother had come down from New Hampshire to watch the match with me. She had been to the pub before, but that was a quiet late-season match against West Ham. She had yet to experience the packed scene on opening day. I warned her she was bound to see sides of me she hadn’t seen before. The bitter desolation if we gave up a goal. The insane celebration if we scored one.

“You’ll keep your clothes on, right?” she asked.

I went to the bar and ordered her a beer. “Can I have a shandy, please?”

“God,” said Pete, an English friend. “I haven’t heard those words since I was sixteen! What’s next a snakebite?”

“It’s for my mother,” I explained.

“Riiiiight,” said Pete.

We found our places and the match kicked off. We were buoyed by Steven Gerrard’s presence. He’d been an injury worry all week.

15 minutes in saw Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel go for the same ball. Carra’s head slammed into Skrtel’s jaw and they both fell to the ground. Oh sh*t, I said. Forgetting my mother was sitting next to me and that it was Sunday.
My biggest concern coming into the new season was the fitness of our centre-backs. Agger was having back problems. Skrtel was just coming off injury and Carra had come out of the Atletico match with a knock. Now Skrtel and Carra had taken each other down. Carra’s head was bleeding. Skrtel was holding his jaw. If I’d come looking for signs of what the season was to hold, I was in big trouble.
They both stayed in the match. Skrtel probably said to the physio, “It’s only my jaw. What do I need it for?” So he won’t be eating attackers alive as much this match. Carra came back on with a World War II military surplus head wrap.
A half hour in, Pepe Reina made an insane save off Robbie Keane’s shot. He did it again 34 minutes later. Keane was not to get his goal (although his attempts in the match were far better than anything I’d see him try in a red shirt last season). The place went wild both times. “Does the keeper have his own song,” asked my mother. I shook my head, trying to think of one.
Then the roof fell in.
Just as I was telling myself, we just need to get to halftime and Rafa gives a riviting Istanbul-like halftime speech and we’ll be fine, Assou-Ekotto, having packed his boots with TNT, blasts the ball from distance. Spurs were up.
I kept up my bravado during the break. The goal will wake us up, I said. We’re still going to score three.

On 55 minutes my hope was restored when a blistering, twisting run from Glen Johnson ended in a clear foul when Gomes took him down. Gerrard stepped up to take the penalty. We were all on our feet. Gerrard smacked it into the back of the net. I kissed my mother on the forehead as if to say, excuse me while I turn into a chimpanzee for a few minutes and I ran across the room to jump into a throng of friends who were jumping and screaming and singing:

Steve Gerrard Gerrard! He’s big and he’s f*cking hard!

This was it. We’d be fine. The comeback was in progress.

But then on 59 minutes, Bassong headed home a perfect Modric free-kick. We were down again. Because our set piece defending is about as convincing as George W Bush insisting he wrote all his own speeches.
The non-sporting highlight of the day was an exchange between my friend Scott and I after Torres took one of Gomes’s boots in the face and got up with a visible bruise.
Me: (shouting across the room) He’s still pretty!

Scott: (shouting back) He’s prettier than your mum!

Me: Shut your mouth! My mum’s right here!

That’s when Pete turns to Scott: “He’s serious. That’s his mother.”

Scott turns as red as the home kit, looks around as the place grows quiet, then dashes across the room to give my mother a big hug. “I didn’t mean it!” he said. “You’re dead gorgeous!”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything nearly as entertaining left for us in the match.

The ref waived off a penalty after Voronin was taken down in the box and another after the ball struck Ekotto’s arm. Then he sent off Sammy Lee from the bench who obviously had some thoughts on those calls.

The final whistle blew and my heart sunk. 90 minutes gone and not a point to show for it.

It was our defense, I thought. They’ve been struggling with injuries, they’ve got no chemistry right now. Johnson looked good when he got forward, but didn’t feel confident in going forward often enough because Skrtel and Carra were shaken up (Skrtel eventually came off, still holding his jaw). Then the midfield: Mash didn’t impose himself the way his usually does and while Lucas looks stronger than last season, he needs more of a psychic ball if he’s to truly fill in for Xabi (he’s got three or four more weeks to audition until Aquilani enters the mix). Gerrard didn’t look himself except for a few great bursts and Torres seemed to stutter in instances when he normally turns his man and carves open an acre of space for himself.

I can easily get hung up on this result. Stick with my feeling that we’ve set the tone for the season. But what’s the point of supporting your team if you let a little disaster at White Hart Lane get you down from the start? We just need to demolish Stoke midweek and then slap Villa around next Monday and I’ll feel all better.

Coming out of the first weekend one might think Arsenal will take the league and Liverpool will flounder. But I don’t really believe those things. A couple goals from Torres and a clean sheet or two for Reina (he was unbelievable yesterday!) and I’ll bring back the bravado.

And next week, Scott will take a look around the room before he spouts his next mother joke. His words to me after the match: “What are the odds of saying something about someone’s mum and having her actually be there?”

Pretty slim, Scott. We couldn’t have scripted that one better.

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  1. Hebb

    August 18, 2009 at 11:49 am

    With the defense shaken by injury, they were off their marks on the second goal. I wasn’t to disheartened by the match when the second half tipped in Liverpool’s balance, especially with the energy of Benayoun after his substitution. One thing that i thought was a good indication of problems was seeing Johnson get more action on the wings than either Babel or Kuyt. I think the lack of play making on the wings left Gerrard and Torres twiddling their thumbs in the middle. In the same way, I got the impression that most of the counter attacks by Spurs took advantage of dispossessions down the sides. For me, Johnson’s play left me looking forward to watching him in action this season.

    I am waiting to see how the addition of Aquilani changes the playing dynamic. I think Torres will play much better feeding off another striker, and letting Gerrard blaze in to score when the center is split by good action on the wings.


  2. James

    August 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Voronin and Babel for 15mil each? Really?

    • Gaz

      August 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

      Yeah, as much as that would love that… not going to happen.

      10mil each? Maybe.

  3. kiko

    August 18, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I think it isnt much to be worried about but the loss of solid defence and a playmaker in midfield definitley is a BIG cause for worry. I mean what about the next four to six weeks where Aquilani is absent, we’re gona have Lucas dictating the ball, and everyone knows he is not worthy of wearin that shirt. Rafa needs a Michael Turner from Hull, he’s experienced, young, tough and he can clear ball effectively. Also we need David Silva, he can score goals, pass good balls and play in lots of positions. Sell Voronin to Hertha Berlin for 15mill and Babel to PSV for the same price. Why isnt he doing anything to prove we will be title contenders. The next few weeks will tell.

  4. forweg

    August 18, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Amazing how Gomes almost single-handedly blew the win for Spurs.

  5. Keith

    August 18, 2009 at 3:00 am

    Dubai Spur here, didn’t recognise that liverpool team, totally disjointed, looked like they had 5 minute chat in the pub before kick off, your mum (ifs she’s not available then Arry’s wife is good second bet) should take over from Benitez who is tactically enept and if he is going to rely on blaming penalty decisions that seem to go against LFC you’re in for a rough ride this season. Can’t wait for Fergie to get in his head again!! Carragher should not be playing central defence he is much better at fullback and Mascherano needs to stop feigning injury and jabbering at all and sundry at every little decision and get on and put some effort in.
    There is clearly some back room stuff going on at LFC and the lack of strength in depth is going to tell, time Benitez went and you got yourself a manager who can motivate some very lacklustre players. Liverpool are better than this. Bassong and King were rocks in defence and if Spurs can off load some of their second tier players and buy Young from AV we will have an extremely potent squad.

  6. Stevie M

    August 18, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Great diary. I’m a LIverpool fan also and although there’s really no cause for panic yet I have to say i’m slightly worried at the unsettled look the team had. I can’t help thinking that there’s something else going on there. Gerrard and Torres could have been 2 completely different players when they’re usually so strong mentally and Masch and Carragher had a very unusual lack of composure.

    Well Wednesday night will tell all I suppose… if it’s back to winning ways then it should go down as a blip. Unfortunately it’s not going to be shown in the US until Thursday night.

    Wonder if I can go a day and a half without looking up the score lol

  7. utePhan

    August 17, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Not only did ESPN pick up EPL matches, but they are in HD! Glorious!

    Oh yeah, and glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur! Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur! Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur! And Spurs go marching on!

  8. Drew

    August 17, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Gaffer, around 2 or 3 weeks ago I said something like this to your comment about ESPN picking up EPL.

    “your wet dream about ESPN getting EPL is not going to happen”

    You were right, I was wrong……….

    I apologize you evil bastard

  9. Gaz

    August 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Not sure if my Mum would be happy with my behavior during a match. You’re brave. 🙂

    Very disappointed with Liverpool’s performance. Nothing to worry about yet but it does put some unneeded pressure on us.

    Even though Liverpool played poorly, credit is due to Spurs. They played very well and looked pretty solid. Here’s hoping they’re good enough to steal some points from the other top 4 (fingers crossed).

  10. The Gaffer

    August 17, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I’ve only watched a game once with my Mum. And that was when my Mum and Dad went with me to a Miami Fusion game in 2001. They were there along with my friends to watch me propose to my then girlfriend, now wife on the pitch at halftime.

    My parents seemed to quite enjoy the match. She’s got nothing against football.

    The Gaffer

  11. Drew

    August 17, 2009 at 10:06 pm


    As a LFC supporter and also a long time admirer of Spurs, I think you got it right with your comment.

    I see good things for Spurs this season, I was nearly wishing for LFC to have some options like Crouch & Pavlyuchenko sitting on our bench during the game.

    Instead LFC had Benayoun on the bench, but even he should have started, Babel & Lucas are not the type of quality players that should be starting for a team in the top 4.

    Your “perilously thin” statement is completely correct. Even if you look at the signing of Aquilani, who I admit I know little about, this is a guy who has appeared in less than 50 games in the Serie A in the last 3 seasons because of injuries. Hardly the type of player that Liverpool needs when they don’t have many options to replace him if he gets injured.

    I don’t know, i think one of the main problems I have noticed with LFC the past few years is that when all the main players are fit and everything is going good they are one of the best teams.

    Its almost like supporters start to get doubts and then all the main players are fit and everything starts going good. I think this could be a double edged sword, maybe this is what is prolonging the problems with the team.

    When I watch a Man United games they have a number of players that seem to be able to come on in a close game and get a goal. The same type of games with LFC there really is not a players to do that.

    I ultimately think that is the difference, not sure who the blame or if I am correct.

    Hopefully they can turn it around Tuesday…..

  12. JimB

    August 17, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    @ Ethan and MarkB

    Spurs fan here. Couple of things….it’s a myth that Spurs haven’t got a decent defence. After Harry Redknapp arrived last season, Spurs’ defensive record at White Hart Lane was miserly, to say the very least. In 15 home Premier League games after Harry’s arrival, Spurs conceded a total of a mere 5 goals. And that included games against Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton.

    As to Ledley King, he played in the majority of Spurs’ Premier League games after Harry’s arrival. He was only rested for cup games or if there were two Premier League games within a week. So it isn’t really a rare occurrence for him to play, as you claim. The incredible thing is that he doesn’t train during the week. He doesn’t kick a ball other than during competitive matches. Truly, he is a rarely gifted footballer. He would be up there with Rio Ferdinand as England’s best central defender (and one of the very best in the world) if it wasn’t for his chronic injury problems.

    Jonathan Woodgate – another of England’s best central defenders – was also a regular in the Spurs defence last season. And we had Michael Dawson and Vedran Corluka (a real quality player) as back ups. That’s as strong a centre back line up as any club outside the top four (and probably stronger than Arsenal’s last season). At right back, we had a plethora of riches: Corluka, Alan Hutton and Pascal Chimbonda. At left back, we had the vastly improved Benoit Assou Ekotto and Gareth Bale. So I don’t know where you get the idea that Spurs don’t buy defenders! That said, I’d agree with you that Bassong might prove to be a very astute purchase.

    As to the penalty shouts, just to clear a couple of things up:

    Yes, Ekotto’s shoulder barge on Voronin could have been punished by a penalty. But it would have been a huge injustice. Because only 15 seconds earlier, Jamie Carragher had clearly fouled Peter Crouch in the Liverpool penalty area and Spurs should have been awarded a penalty. And, if that had transpired, the Voronin penalty appeal would never have occurred.

    With regard to the handball claim, the ref and linesman got it spot on. The ball was kicked at Ekotto from close range. He had no time to move his hand out of the way of the ball. It was ball to hand. Not vice versa. If Ekotto’s arm had been stretched out in an attempt to block the cross, then a penalty would have been justified. But his hand was against his chest. So definitely not a penalty.

    Despite your team’s wholly unconvincing performance, it’s far too early for anyone connected with Liverpool to be panicking yet. Liverpool will still be serious title challengers this season. How can they not be when they have two world class players like Gerrard and Torres? And they won’t face many harder games than Spurs away all season. Rafa does, however, need to get busy before the transfer window closes. His squad looks perilously thin. It was telling that a a quick glance at the two benches showed that Tottenham (challenging for 6th or 5th, perhaps) had greater quality in reserve than Liverpool (challenging for the title).

  13. Beluga

    August 17, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Great diary and description of the local pub and the atmosphere. Give your mum some slack I’m sure she was just smiling at your antics and not really shocked 🙂
    Spurs fan from Wood Green here and we usually have a very mixed crowd in the pubs with lots of Arsenal fans hoping to see Spurs lose so they can gloat some more, but, of course it’s all par for the game, we’ve given them a few surprise results recently to keep them from being too uppity.

    This was another surprise for most people and I am still not sure how it came about. Is it really down to the loss of Xavi or is Harry really finally getting some balance into the Spurs team?

    I hope for the later because everybody enjoys to see a good Liverpool side in the Premier league, and the league also needs the passion of Spurs.

    Good luck for the rest of the season, hope you’ll stay top four and give Woolwich a good drubbing…

  14. Lyle

    August 17, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    This game reminded me of Arsenal’s loss at Fulham last year. If this is who Liverpool is going to be this year, they’re not going to win anything this year.

    Very, very early days of course and Manchester United doesn’t look swell either at the moment, nor Aston Villa, so who knows, but things will need to change in a hurry cause dropping points is dropping points. Stoke is probably smelling blood in the water and might put up a monster effort mid-week and get a draw, or heck even win.

  15. Adam Childress

    August 17, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I hope we never see Veronin on the pitch again

    • Lyle

      August 17, 2009 at 8:42 pm

      Veronin almost drew a penalty though and he played well in the Bundesliga last season. I’m sure he is serviceable at Liverpool, here and there.

  16. MarkB

    August 17, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Granted, Torres and Gerrard both looked pretty poor yesterday. However, neither Babel or Lucas contributed anything worthwhile and were obviously the two worst players out there. Honorable mention could also go to Gomes who, to me, is one of the worst players in the EPL. Spurs gameplan worked to perfection: totally control the game and make sure not even Gomes can screw it up by having to do. Also it was unfortunate to catch Spurs on one of the occasions when Ledley King was 100% as he dominated Torres the few times he actually did see the ball. As to the non call on Voronin, these things usually tend to equal out over the course of the season and as well as Spurs played a draw would not have done them justice. I just hope we’ll be able to find some way to break Stoke down and score one or two. A fit Riera would help by offering a decent threat down the left which was sorely lacking with Babel.

    • MarkB

      August 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm

      should read: can screw it up by having anything to do.

  17. Tyson

    August 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    This was all predicted why is anybody shocked.

    Take away Xavi and Iniesta from Barcelona and see how many goals they score this season.

    This match the worse 2 players on the pitch were Torres and Gerrard.

    They are both two very good solid players but they can’t do anything when they are not getting the ball.

    With Xabi Alonso gone who is going to plant the ball in Torres and Gerrards feet so they can do what they want?

    I know most people only know and care about strikers but midfielders are just as important if not even more important than strikers. Fact of the matter is Xabi Alonso is the man who practically created most of the opportunities Gerrard and Torres had.

    Now that hes gone the two are just running back and forth with the ball not coming their way.

  18. rob banks

    August 17, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    a beautiful disaster for liverpool all around. torres & gerrard were the worst two players on the pitch, followed closely by babel. and rafa is still too stupid to use the only good player he has, benayoun. if liverpool keeps playing like this man city will be about 15 points clear to win 4th place. on the bright side, liverpool might be able to qualify for the europa league and rafa can add another trophy no-one wants!

  19. OxfordSpurs

    August 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Is everyone in your pub a Liverpool fan? It is so much more fun when you get a mixed crowd.

    Last year, same score but we mugged you for all three points. This year the points were fully deserved, and the big difference….

    Liverpool – Alonso
    Spurs + Palacious

    • Ethan Armstrong

      August 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      The Liverpool fans make up the largest regular contingent. But plenty of other fans go. There didn’t seem to be as many Spurs supporters there yesterday as I’d expected. There are a bunch of Spurs regulars I see there throughout the year.

      I enjoy bantering with other supporters on matchday as long as things don’t get too heated.

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