tony clarke

New contributor Tony Clarke of writes on his view of the happenings at White Hart Lane



Can’t Smile Without You

I’m suffering at the moment.  Life is difficult and, I’d hazard a guess, many of you reading these words can feel my pain too because we all know what’s to blame.  It is the coming of long, hot summer that’s responsible for our collective melancholic state.  “Close Season” – quite possibly the two most disheartening words in the English language for a football fan. 

It’s not as if we are unreasonable as a mass - we accept that it would not be feasible (or, indeed, physically possible) for footballer’s to work all year round like the rest of us are expected to.  But, even with this practicality accepted, it doesn’t make this time of year any easier to bear.  The terrible truth is plain to see: We are addicts suffering the debilitating symptoms of withdrawal.

There was at least one scant consolation this time round; what with this being an even-numbered year, we footie junkies had the solace of an international football tournament to counter the painful effects of the twelve-week-long serving of cold turkey.  And, in spite of Eng-go-land’s undeniably dismal showing, the World Cup did at least provide us with an oasis of comfort in the vast beautiful game desert also known as months May through to August. Yet, even with the punctuation of a midway, month-long, footie-fest, there still remains a void, and it’s a hole that at times feels as cavernous as the Grand Canyon.  

In season, we concern ourselves with the really important issues of existence.  We ponder if the adoption a diamond in midfield might result in more frequent goal-scoring chances.  We fret and worry over whether or not our star striker will recover from that knock he took in time to show out – and, with any luck, show up - our most bitter rivals. These are the big (as in; BIG) issues. But when football stops, we find ourselves reluctantly capitulated into the real world; a place altogether uglier than the Neville brothers and more profoundly depressing than Chelski’s available transfer kitty.

Soon, we’re doing things no self-respecting Beautiful Game devotee would ever do ordinarily; we find ourselves reading newspaper’s from the front or tuning into Channel Four News and, suddenly, we’re confronted with the unspeakable horror that is a glimpse of how the world would be without football.

How do people that profess not to like the game manage?  Here, right off the top of my head, are a litany of Reasons To Be Cheerless that are surely guaranteed to make even the most well-adjusted, free-thinking person reach - urgently - for the Prozac:  The War on Terror; Russell Brand; the recent spate of (un)natural disasters around the globe; processed food; the U.K.'s astronomical consumer debt (currently just over £1 trillion and; the cost and dire inefficiency of our public transport system; escalating gun crime; property prices; Richard Littlejohn; the obesity epidemic; the plethora of reality television shows; Pete Doherty; NHS waiting lists; the perpetual, heart-breaking poverty endured by those who inhabit the Developing World; Jodie Marsh;  gleeful corporate announcements of - yet more and even bigger - multi-million pound profits…it’s enough to wipe the smug smile off the face of a rollover week lottery winner.  In the name of God, can’t you see? We need football! Give us football!!!

But there is none…so what are we meant to do in the meantime? That is the question. Thanks largely to the Internet; metaphorical methadone is at least on offer.  We can consume stories of perspective transfer target’s of our respective clubs – whether real, speculative or completely tabloid-created.   We can (over) analyse the formations employed by The Gaffer in ultimately meaningless pre-season friendlies.  We can chat for hours on end in fan forums…but whatever we do to kill time it’s still there, isn’t it?  An emptiness that you know will not go away until it all starts afresh.

I suppose if there is positive point, it is this: in order to protect our sanity in an increasing mad, bad and sad world, we all - as human beings, being human - need coping devices. And regardless of whether or not we choose to consciously acknowledge it, for many of us it is football that serves this purpose.  Through our current pain, we can therefore console ourselves with the knowledge that it could be worse.  Much, much worse - we might be using drugs or drink as emotional crutches instead…

… Roll on the new season. Roll on when Saturday (19th August) comes.



Martin Jol - Renaissance Man

“Tottenham is a big club and I feel very privileged to be its coach. It is still early in the season, I know the players and they know me and I feel strongly that there is a lot we can achieve together. Yesterday all the players and I were at the Memorial Service for Bill Nicholson and we could not help but be inspired by the values and standards that he set and which we must try to regain."

Those were the words of Martin Jol following his appointment as Head Coach at Tottenham in November 2004.  An incumbent invoking the memory of the club’s most successful manager distant glories (glories) was depressingly nothing new for long-suffering Spurs fans.  Perennial Premiership underachievers, many of those that take joy in deriding the north London club, viewed the appointment of the unknown Dutchman – following the bewildering and never-to-this-day-fully-explained departure of his predecessor, Jacques Santini - as the rising of yet another false dawn at White Hart Lane.   But those detractor’s were incorrect. In fact, as things turned out, they were very, very, wrong indeed. 

In Jol, Tottenham had found (albeit, by the default of circumstance) a manager with the necessary passion, verve, and, most importantly, nouse to drive the club onward and upward. And whilst he had had the good fortune to inherit a team of promise, the part he has played in transforming raw potential into actual realisation should not be understated.  

Martin Jol stands unique amongst Premiership first-team coaches. While he displays many of the facets of a modern day EPL coach – he’s foreign, forward-thinking and highly-intelligent – his continental roots are betrayed in that he projects quintessentially English characteristics of an old school, Shankly-esque football manager.  He’s like Sam Allerdyce except (and with all due respect to Big Sam) he has a greater appreciation of the beauty of the passing game and reads Kafka in his spare time.  The gruff, no-nonsense, and - sometimes - brutally honest mutterings he offers in post-match interviews have won him many admirer’s outside of those that follow the club he manages.  Ask yourself, could you imagine Sir Alex or Wenger or – God forbid! – José Mourinho displaying such genuine humility after watching their respective side(s) denied a CL place on the final game of the season?  Me neither. One thing is clear: this man certainly isn’t your run-of-the-mill Johnny Foreigner football manager. 

Suddenly, everyone is taking Tottenham seriously as a Premiership force. Even Chelski. And perhaps this fact goes some way to explaining the recent Damien Duff transfer fiasco.  It’s pure speculation on my part but it certainly makes sense.  Clearly, it wasn’t in the strategic interest of Abramovich, Kenyon et al to strengthen The Team Most Likely To break the cartel of The Big Four next time out.  But regardless of the why’s, wherefores and what-on-earth’s concerning Duff’s decision to move North-east, Jol’s summer’s acquisition’s thus far - prolific striker, Dimitar Berbatov, tough-tackling Ivory Coast star, Didier Zakora, and Cameroonian starlet, Benoit Assou-Ekotto - can only bide well for the challenge of the coming campaign.  It is a reflection of the success Jol has enjoyed in less than two full season’s at the helm that, for the first time in a long time, the words “Great Expectations” and “Tottenham Hotspur” no longer seem strange bedfellow’s. 

On departing the club in 1984, the second most successful Spurs manager of the modern era, Keith Burkinshaw, famously – and somewhat disparagingly – declared, “There used to be a football club over there…”  For so long it seemed those words rung ominously true but now, with the new season dawning and optimism sky-high following last term’s showing, Martin Jol and his charges may yet prove the good times are about to make a long, overdue reappearance in N17.  Watch this space.


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