I don’t do friendlies –
the club get enough of my money as it is and I object to paying through
the nose for the privilege of watching a practice match. But it’s
almost three whole months without a lilywhite fix and the anticipation
of a new season is building up a head of steam inside my scrambled
brain. Nothing if not inconsistent, the Spurs XI fixture against Fisher
Athletic was too good to miss.
Fisher are my
non-league team for reasons obvious to those of you with surnames such
as Kilmarnock, Dunfermline and Yeovil. It’s a narrow, sad universe
I inhabit, but, hey, it’s mine and I like it here. They were also
for many years the team closest to my then home in south-east London,
their compact little ground tucked hidden away in the depths of
The attraction of the
lower leagues lies in the close connection between the fan and the club,
rather the football itself, much of which is enthusiastic but frankly
dire. Games are an occasion for socialising, with a beer in the
bar, which in non-league grounds often overlooks the pitch, and players
chat to spectators before and during the match. A far cry this
from our relationship with the premiership demi-gods. We fans feel
we are an intrinsic part of the football experience but in reality
premiership clubs make strenuous efforts to keep us at arms length.
This proximity provides
enormous entertainment value. The first time I went to Fisher they
were roundly abused for the opening fifteen minutes from the back of the
small main stand. When I turned round to identify the culprit, I
discovered it was in fact their then manager, the former Millwall centre
half Keith ‘Rhino’ Stevens. Those new fangled management and
motivation courses were not his style. This onslaught was however
nothing in comparison with the language dished out by the players
towards the referee during the entire game. Hugely amusing to
fans, why anyone wants to take that every Saturday afternoon is beyond
me. They must genuinely love the game.
Sometimes this intimacy
between crowd and players becomes too close for comfort. A couple
of years ago the Fisher full-back exorcised his frustrations at a 3-0
defeat by scything down his opposite number in the closing minutes.
The winger lay still amongst a cluster of concerned team-mates and the
ref blew early to end the game. Exiting Fisher fans felt compelled
to share their doubts about the voracity of the injury in the strongest
possible terms, with the result that the opposition players waded in to
sort them out. Now that’s what I call value for my fiver’s
Fisher are on the up
now, having been promoted into the Conference South under the guidance
of their new manager, Justin Edinburgh, whose links to Spurs were
celebrated in the programme by a few blurry photos of his finest hour in
our colours, namely his sending off in the League Cup Final against
Leicester. The game represented a useful test for the Spurs XI,
which comprised mostly young reserves plus a few of the first team squad
who are working their way back towards match fitness, notably Jenas,
Gardner and Zeigler. Fisher play very much in Edinburgh’s image,
hard working and energetic without too much finesse.
Spurs started brightly,
moving the ball round well and creating space. O’Hara opened the
scoring after eight minutes with an excellent goal, driving through from
midfield and holding off a number of challenges before curling the ball
into the top corner. His league experience on loan last year was
evident in a strong first half performance. Like Ifil and Defendi,
he has something to prove this year as a young fringe player, who must
have the confidence of the management in that they have returned from
loan spells with new contracts and for O’Hara and Ifil a squad number.
We continued to look
the better team even though Fisher equalised with a cross that neither
defence nor goalkeeper dealt with and it drifted apologetically into the
net. Jenas seems to just enjoy running, assiduously polishing his
timing with a series of runs in the box from deep, but crosses failed to
find him, and in general the busyness of players like Barcham did not
translate into a quality final ball. Ziegler was frankly dreadful,
with even his own captain telling him to hold onto the ball - “eight
times Reto, eight times” was the count of him giving the ball away and
the first half was nowhere near over.
He was replaced
at half time by Maghoma,
about whom I know absolutely nothing. He was our best player in
the second half, skilful and poised on the left of our 4-3-3, using the
ball intelligently. Just as the game was drawing to a close,
Barcham moved to a more central area and took two similar chances in
quick succession, stroking the ball past the keeper. One was set
up by Maghoma. Defendi
replaced Gardner for the last 15 minutes.
It’s tempting to
extract pointers for the season. Ziegler was poor and Gardner was
scarily unsettled by strikers who play in a league five tiers below the
Premiership. Maybe 4-3-3 will be adopted throughout the club – we
certainly have the squad to put this into practice. Spurs' best
player was captain Charlie Lee at centre half, but I’m not sure on this
showing that he’s ready for the first team and the same can be said for
other hopefuls like O’Hara and Ifil. Lewis did a solid job in
front of the back four and it will be interesting to see if Defendi is
ready to step up after a year in Italy.
In the end, though,
such speculation is unfair. It was after all just a pre-season
friendly, although both teams took it seriously. Clive Allen was
warned by the referee for comments he made to a linesman after a
dreadful tackle on Daniels, whilst last week Edinburgh kept his team
locked in the dressing room for three hours after another friendly
because they were not trying hard enough.
It was a pleasant,
comfortable evening. Park ten yards from the ground, sit where you
like and the players happily signed autographs and posed for photos,
Jenas being commendably generous with his time and attention. Just
before the game, I glanced sideways and saw a bear of a man, tanned,
relaxed, a little slimmer perhaps, smiling as the team took the field.
Unnoticed at this point by the crowd, I nudged my son and after a
moment’s hesitation in the presence of greatness, he slid along and
Marin Jol happily signed the programme and warmly shook his hand.
Like I said, non-league is different.