Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea : 6 November 2023
Not much happened in this game, eh?
Without further ado, let’s try and cobble together some sort of coherent description of a ridiculous night of football in North London, though I am not sure that I am going to be able to sufficiently contain it all in one piece. Maybe it will need several addendums, many edits, perhaps even a re-write.
After three home games – a draw, a loss, a win – we were now back on the road. The game at Tottenham – funny how we always call them Tottenham, but Tottenham often call themselves Spurs – was filling me, and I am sure countless others, with dread. Unbeaten in the league thus far, they were carving out a decent start to the season with Ange Postecoglou in charge. Chelsea, in comparison, had been patchy at best. I had commented to several mates that we were in the middle of a phony war thus far; many of our players were out injured, many of the teams that we had been paired against were not of a very high standard. The last few weeks had felt a little phony, a little false.
Tottenham away though. This was a bloody test alright.
With our game with them being moved to a Monday, it allowed me to drive up to the Malvern Hills on the Saturday to follow my local team. On a wet, then misty, then sunny afternoon, Frome Town won 3-1 away at Malvern Town. It was deeply enjoyable. I wasn’t quite so confident about the visit to N17.
I set the alarm for 4.30am to enable me to work a flexi-shift of 6am to 2pm. I was subdued and quiet throughout Monday as I battled a few logistical problems. I tried not to think too much about the upcoming game. The time flew past and at just after 2pm I picked up PD and Parky in the pub car-park opposite my place of work and then shot around to collect Sir Les from his house. I then drove south to collect Salisbury Steve from his gaff a few minutes after 3pm.
We were on our way.
“Take a draw now.”
“Be happy with nil-nil.”
Steve supplied me with Jelly Babies to keep me alert and I ate up the miles. The traffic was light and we were parked up at Barons Court tube just after 5pm. We dipped into a local café for some drinks before heading east and then north.
Barons Court to Holborn to Liverpool Street to White Hart Lane.
Tottenham away – “love it!” – is a familiar journey.
I had worked out that this would be my twenty-fifth away game against Tottenham, though this includes a few at Wembley Stadium too. My overall record was pretty decent.
Won : 9
Drew : 7
Lost : 8
I know that during the long unbeaten stretch, I veered away from going to White Hart Lane, convinced that my appearance would put the glorious run to an end; I didn’t show up from 2001 to 2008 at all.
But I have had some superb times in this part of London and a few of them flitted through my mind. These days we always alight at the White Hart Lane over ground station, though for all of the first half a dozen visits, I always used to get off at Seven Sisters tube and then walk up the High Road to the old stadium.
For some reason, the game in August 1987 – only my second-ever visit – came to mind. I travelled up with Glenn by train from Frome. It seems odd now, but we shot over to Upton Park and had some pie and mash at “Nathan’s” and even had a drink in “The Queens” pub on Green Street. I think Glenn just fancied some authentic East End food before our trip into north London. We had begun the season with two wins and Chelsea descended on White Hart Lane in huge numbers and with high hopes.
I remember walking into a pub with Glenn – halfway up the High Road – and being, obviously, wary, but then relishing the joy of being among many Chelsea fans who were dropping in for pre-match refreshments en route. We had huge numbers there that day; I had bought a seat in the Park Lane after the home opener the previous weekend while Glenn nabbed one from a tout outside. Thousands filled the pens in front. There looked like severe crushing until the police moved the away support into a section under The Shelf. It felt magnificent to be part of such a huge away support. The gate was a massive – for the time – 37,079 and we must have had 8,000. I remember we played in white shorts. We lost 0-1, fucking Nico Claesen with a very late goal at the Paxton Road End. Ten days later, at Old Trafford, I can remember similar scenes; Chelsea travelling in huge numbers and our away support being shuffled along into one of the side pens of the United Road Paddock, with the United fans outraged as they had to move along into another pen.
“What the fook is going on?”
Incredible times. Chelsea away in the ‘eighties. You had to be there.
Our escapade across London had gone well. At Liverpool Street, the tribes were amassing; a few shouts from a Chelsea crowd behind us, a few shouts of “Yid Army” on the platform. We just missed a train but caught the next one. I sat with PD. Les was by himself. I saw Parky talking to a Tottenham chap. I knew he wouldn’t give the game away. Steve was chatting away too, but I wasn’t sure if that bloke was Tottenham or not.
There is always a frisson of tension for this game.
At about 6.30pm we reached White Hart Lane station. Out onto the High Road, the huge stadium loomed large. The atmosphere, unlike a previous visit, wasn’t too prickly. As we sloped north towards the almost hidden approach to the away section, I spotted two away supporters, both with Chelsea tops, both with Chelsea scarves.
I could not help but think one word.
We were inside pretty quickly. It was easy too, despite having to go through a metal detector. Knowing this would be the case, I left my SLR at home and instead took along a small pocket camera. I placed this under my phone and wallet to the side of the frame of the detector and the security guard didn’t clock it; we were in.
I knew that my ticket was, as in the previous three league visits this fine stadium, down low in row three and I knew that my pocket camera would not be able to take too many decent photos. To make up for it, I had decided to turn the camera on us, the fans, and as I walked through the away concourse I began to snap away.
There was a surprise reunion with Andy and Steve-O from California and also Chopper from New York. The away support was in good form, singing defiantly. I hoped the singing would continue inside.
Down in our section – 118, nearest the home support, next to the pretentiously named East Atrium – the troops were amassing. I continued to click my camera, the focus on mates not millionaires.
The kick-off approached.
Nerves? Yeah, just a bit.
The lights dimmed in the stadium, and there was an instruction on the TV screens.
With that, thousands of mobile ‘phone torches were hoisted above heads in the towering South Stand and elsewhere.
“What’s this? A fucking Barry Manilow concert?”
To continue the cringe-fest, I spotted a flag in the opposite corner.
“We’re Loving Big Ange Instead.”
Barry Manilow. Robbie Williams.
For Fuck Sake.
But then the mood changed.
I very much approved of the way that Tottenham Hotspur marked the upcoming Remembrance Day. As the two teams lined up on the centre circle, two Chelsea Pensioners in bright red (usually so incongruous at a Tottenham versus Chelsea game, but on this occasion just right) placed two poppy wreaths on the turf. Well done Tottenham for inviting the Chelsea Pensioners; top marks. I was sure that the PA announced that there would be a rendition of “The Last Post” and then a minute of silence, but after the last few notes of the haunting tune finished, the crowd roared.
Tottenham in all white – but looking slightly off-white to my eyes – and Chelsea in all blue.
James – Silva – Disasi – Colwill
Caicedo – Enzo
Palmer – Gallagher – Sterling
Our seats were filled.
Standing behind me was Lee. I had not seen him for such a long time. He was there with his son Kayden. It was his boy’s first-ever away game. It was wonderful to see them both.
At 8pm, the game began.
I had, repeatedly, told others – not surprisingly – that we needed to keep them at bay in the first part of the game. Well, we could not have started more poorly. A Tottenham move down their left was then switched to their right and, horribly, I had a perfect view of what developed. The ball was played out via James Madison and then to Pape Matar Sarr to Dejan Kulusevski.
“Get closer, get closer.”
Sadly, Levi Colwill didn’t get closer and he allowed the Tottenham midfielder time to cut inside and shoot. His effort deflected off the defender and into the net.
Tottenham 1 Chelsea 0.
Only six minutes had gone.
Calvin sneaked into the row in front, standing alongside his father and uncle, and we shared some banter.
Chelsea were chasing shadows and other clichés in the opening part of the game and it wasn’t long before the home team pounced again. A flowing move down their left fed in Son Heung-Min who deftly flicked it low past Robert Sanchez.
A quarter of an hour gone and we were 0-2 down.
But then, a quick glance to my right and I, and others, spotted the raised yellow flag of the linesman a few yards away.
Please. Please. Please.
I honestly cannot remember if the VAR check was long or short, but the decision was upheld and so the score stayed at 0-1.
Behind me, there was the gravelly and rasping voice of a Chelsea fan who was singing alone and pleading others to do so too. He was irritating all of those around us. I am pretty sure the same bloke in virtually the same seat was doing the same last season too.
“And he fucked off after an hour” said John, and we smiled.
To be honest, the Chelsea choir had begun well and there were outbreaks of support, but the home areas, completely full, were in the ascendency with their, um, three songs.
“Oh when the Spurs…”
And then, imperceptibly, we slowly got into the game, especially with some progressive play down the wings. There had already been a half-chance for Nico Jackson, but as the half-progressed we had more of the ball.
I am not sure if I had a clear view of it, but the idiotically named Destiny Udogie went in recklessly on Raheem Sterling and VAR was called into action again; no red card, a yellow.
With a player from each side down, Caicedo exploited some space out on our left to find Sterling, who was increasingly involved. He ran through, and despite a couple of bobbles, lifted the ball into the net from an angle.
How we celebrated.
Alas, VAR was involved for the third time and judged that the ball had ricocheted back off a Tottenham defender and hit Sterling’s upper arm.
However, it was half-way through the half and we had improved.
It is worth noting that I had no idea that Romero had carried out a petulant kick at Colwill during the build-up. I was probably too busy doing one of ninety-seven other things.
We dominated the play with home attacks rare.
The Chelsea support was roused.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA. CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
On thirty-five minutes, a Chelsea move deep into their box and the ball was pin-balled around. It fell nicely to Moises Caicedo just outside the penalty area.
I uttered the immortal words :
“Hit it you fucker!”
Hit it, he did, and the ball flew into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Wild, and I mean wild, celebrations.
And then, and then, the awful realisation that there was a raised flag for offside over on the far side. It then became crazier. As crazy as it has ever been. The goal was cancelled, an offside somewhere, but then as we were getting our head around that, the TV screen signalled VAR for possible violent conduct and we stood bewildered and confused, and I suppose a little elated. I don’t know and I was there for fuck sake. It was mad, it was shite, it was all the things I knew that I would hate about video technology. After what seemed an age…five minutes, six minutes, seven minutes?…Christian Romero was sent off, not sure what for at the time, but a penalty was awarded to us too.
The ever confident Cole Palmer struck the ball goal wards and it cannoned in off the right upright.
Chelsea 1 Tottenham 1.
GET IN YOU FUCKING BEAUTY.
With Sterling dancing down the left wing, Chelsea continued to dominate the rest of the first-half. We had the ball in the net again, a break down the left, but Sterling had gone too soon, thus negating the eventual goal from Jackson due to an offside decision. Did that go to VAR? Not a clue.
By this stage, the little group of supporters in my immediate area were starting to chat away to each other; it felt like we were starting to initiate a self-help support group. There was chit-chat about our fortunes and misfortunes, smiles at the ludicrous nature of the match thus far, self-deprecating humour, hugs when goals were scored, glum faces when things went against us.
To my right, Parky, Gary, John, to my left a girl – voraciously swearing, I approved – with her boyfriend, in front Calvin and his father and his uncle, behind, Lee and his son, quietly taking it all in, then a smiley chap who I semi-recognised who was enthusiastically revelling in every second of the madness.
A ridiculous twelve extra minutes were added on to that first-half. It finished just before 9pm I guess. I felt exhausted. Phew.
I made my way out to the concourse – with an eye to more fan photos – and spoke to Noel from Brackley.
“I can’t watch that. We’re off.”
Noel is no fool. He is as level-headed as they come. I see him everywhere with his wife. Yet he was so disgusted by the farce of VAR that he had decided that enough was enough.
I was shocked, but maybe not. Just a few minutes before, another mate – Rob – had said that if we hadn’t scored that penalty after all those layered VAR decisions, he would have left too.
I hate VAR. Always have. Football is about passion and momentum. The ebb and flow of the game can be tantalising. It is a game that mustn’t be stopped in its tracks for the slightest misdemeanour. We might have gained something through VAR, but look what we have lost. VAR is killing football, the spectacle of football, and I fear that it might eventually turn me away from the professional game.
Nerds are taking over the game.
A substitution at the break :
Marc Cucarella for Colwill.
The game re-started with Chelsea attacking our end. Both John and I commented that Reece James, now in full vision in front of us, seemed to be playing within himself. His fragile body continues to worry us all.
We had much of the ball in the first part of the second-half. On fifty-five minutes, Sterling broke away centrally, Chelsea three on two, but a terrible pass outside to Palmer was hit right at Udogie. The ball became free, but Udogie then hacked Sterling down. Others around me had remembered that Udogie had been booked earlier and it soon became obvious that he would get his marching orders.
Tottenham were down to nine men with over half-an-hour to go. The game then reached a strange stage. It seemed that a win was almost sure to happen, and of course nothing was further from the truth. We relaxed a little bit too much and slowed our tempo. Tottenham’s defensive line was so high that at times they could have been queuing up for tickets at Seven Sisters.
But we did create chances.
From a lofted cross, Jackson, from under the bar, headed at Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg.
A shot from our Reece; wide.
Balls out of midfield into space were lazy.
Jackson, one on one against Guglielmo Vicario, but another good chance missed. The ‘keeper did well. The away end sighed three thousand sighs.
I made a bold statement to John : “Jackson will score, don’t worry.”
Marc Cucarella ran onto a ball over the top of the Tottenham line but spurned the chance to either shoot or pass to Sterling to his right. The Tottenham goalie was turning into our nemesis. Couldn’t he fuck off down to Seven Sisters too?
On the hour, Mykhailo Mudryk replaced Enzo.
On seventy-five minutes, with the Tottenham line still playing silly buggers, the ball was pushed forward for Sterling. I snapped his pass inside to Jackson, who – at last – slipped the ball easily past Vicario.
Now we exploded.
Such wild scenes in row three and throughout the away segment. Hugs with everyone.
But then. The inevitable VAR check. Was Sterling off?
Tottenham 1 Chelsea 2.
“Told you he would score, John.”
Calvin started to initiate a song.
“Spurs. Spurs are falling apart again.”
…mmm, that didn’t seem right using “Spurs.”
Malo Gusto for James.
Mudryk wasted virtually every chance that he was given…good grief, that boy can frustrate.
The drama continued. A Tottenham free-kick was lumped into the box. There was a knock on and a white-shirted body – Dier – thumped the ball in from beyond the far post.
I spotted another flag.
Then, Son shimmied into the box, and as he advanced I think we all expected the worst. He was forced a little wide but still managed to get a shot on target. The out-stretched dive of Sanchez saved the day.
I don’t think I noticed Les replace Raheem.
We continued to press on. There was no room for game management on this crazy night in North London. Conor Gallagher was set free and, just at the right moment, played the ball square to Jackson who finished with a fine finish.
Tottenham 1 Chelsea 3.
Deep into injury-time / VAR time, we were bouncing. Good old Chelsea had done it again. We serenaded the home fans and how :
“Tottenham get battered. Everywhere they go. Tottenham get battered. Everywhere they go.”
With that, and as we continued to sing this infamous song, another long ball pierced the Tottenham defence, this time releasing two. Jackson was in no mood to pass to Mudryk, who had already flashed one high over the bar, and rounded the ‘keeper to score.
Tottenham 1 Chelsea 4.
I was up on my seat now, bouncing, as were others.
“Tottenham Hotspur. It’s happened again.”
I grasped Lee’s hand.
“So good to see you mate.”
To be fair, credit where credit is due, the home fans stayed until the end and resolutely got behind their team with their songs of support.
At the final whistle, after eight minutes extra, joy unbounded.
Quite bizarrely, only right at the end, did the name Mauricio Pochettino flicker inside my head. What a night for him, eh?
During the day, an occasional thought about us beating Tottenham had entered my head – “just imagine!” – but I soon dismissed it as lunacy. But, against all odds and further clichés, we had done it. Sure, it wasn’t a convincing performance but this is a team that is still evolving. This team needs to be given a little slack. It needs time to grow.
I would later discover on the internet that some fans had been scathing of our performance, which I found a little unnerving, and I wondered if I had got carried away with the emotion of it all. I even read that some fellow couldn’t bring himself to cheering our third and fourth goal as he was so livid with our performance.
Me? Oh, I can forgive Chelsea for winning 4-1 at Tottenham.
Sometimes, football isn’t pretty. Sometimes it frustrates. But sometimes you have to just wonder at the madness of it – and the joy of beating Tottenham. Again.
We were in no rush to leave. We knew that the streets would be mobbed for a while. We enjoyed the moment. This was my fourth visit to their new digs and my record was pretty decent.
Won : 3
Drew : 0
Lost : 1
That meant that my overall record at Tottenham Away – “Love It!” – now stood at :
Won : 10
Drew : 7
Lost : 8
The Tottenham PA played a few songs; I thought initially that it was a cynical ploy to drown us out, but whatever.
The first one up was the Postecoglou- remix of “Angels.”
The residual Chelsea support gave it a special ending :
“We’re loving Chelsea instead.”
The five of us met up outside and drifted away into the night. We ate up some junk food on the High Road, then turned left onto White Hart Lane to join the residual queue at the train station. We caught the 11.18pm train to Liverpool Street and then made our way across London. We reached Barons Court at 12.30am. Last week against Blackburn, I got home at 12.45am. At that time on this night I was still in London.
We continued on. I dropped Steve off in Salisbury at 2.30am, I dropped the lads off in Melksham at just after 3am and I eventually got home at 3.40am.
It had been a great night.