DURING their double-winning season of 1960/61, a 1-1 draw with Manchester City brought Tottenham Hotspur’s 11-game winning run to an end. Spurs had an almost ludicrous 39 attempts on goal during the match, and City’s equaliser might have been disallowed for handball. But in the next game, Bill Nicholson’s side despatched Nottingham Forest 4-0, prompting The People scribe Ralph Finn to award every Spurs player an unprecedented 10 out of 10 rating.
No such 10 out of 10 ratings were awarded to any Tottenham players after their 1-1 draw with Sunderland last November. That Tuesday night fixture won’t feature high on the list of highlights for most Spurs fans. But as it coincided with my first trip to White Hart Lane, I’m the exception that proves the rule. The snippet mentioned in the first paragraph (contained in the match programme from the Sunderland game) was more entertaining what occurred on the field that night. Spurs took the lead when Gareth Bale’s cross found Peter Crouch, who set up Rafael van der Vaart for the opener. But some comically bad defending allowed Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan in for an almost instant equaliser.
The performance of referee Howard Webb came in for criticism. Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole escaped with a yellow card for a dangerous challenge on Luka Modric, while David Bentley was harshly booked for diving when it looked like he might have won Spurs a penalty. “It’s like Haulie Byrne all over again,” complained the Ballintubber man beside me, though that comparison was lost on the rest of the crowd.
A trip to the club shop beforehand had brought me face to face with someone who had gone to my alma mater, Presentation College, Headford. Tempted as I was to buy a Tottenham Hotspur Legends version of the Monopoly board game, I made do with a cap and a scarf.
Ricky Villa popped up at half time to publicise his autobiography, entitled ‘And Still Ricky Villa’, a line John Motson used in his commentary of Villa’s famous goal in the 1981 FA Cup final replay against Manchester City.
Afterwards, over pints in The Bricklayers on Tottenham’s High Road, there was a chance to review the ups and downs of the day. A tree on the railway line between Stansted Airport and London made for a baptism of fire on the Underground. Later, something got lost in translation when my hotel ordered a taxi on my behalf, with the result that the driver wanted to know exactly where “Tottenham Hospital” was and why I wanted to go there.
A week on from the demolition of Inter Milan, there were boos at full time from the home fans. It was the kind of night when you couldn’t help but think of Martin McDonagh’s movie ‘In Bruges’. Looking at the Hieronymus Bosch painting ‘Last Judgement’ with Ken (Brendan Gleeson), Ray (Colin Farrell) says Purgatory is “kind of like the in-betweeny one … you weren’t really s***, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.” Hopefully that’s changing.