FOOTBALL in May shouldn’t be like this. Drenching rain, a cold wind, and hundreds waiting on a platform for a train that never seems to arrive. A departing crowd making their way home after a fixture with nothing at stake. Getting pissed on in all kinds of senses, following another fruitless, financially extortionate season of disappointment, resentments and rancour.
It all seems wrong. This is the time of the year when the trophies should be won, on balmy nights when the floodlights aren’t required from the off, and the crowd are in a deafening frenzy. When you dare to hope the campaign will end with some glittery shiny thing, but won’t be too distraught if it doesn’t. It shouldn’t be a long trudge home in the aftermath of damp-squib end of a season – a campaign of drift and wasted opportunity when nothing much happened apart from the usual off-pitch turmoil, chaos and money-obsessed bollocks.
Yet looking around, all you can see are smiling faces, laughter and animated talk. A Spurs win being pored over with glee. Slightly over-awed kids clutching programmes, with mums and dads reminding them of the stellar talents they’ve just seen.
It speaks volumes about the Tottenham Hotspur of 2014 that the most enjoyable bit of the season came only after it ended. Ledley King’s testimonial was a cockle-warming pleasure from start to finish. A full house of 36,500 – many had apparently been turned away – saw Spurs stars current and past laying on the entertainment.
It was all fancy flicks and shimmies that often came to nothing but got the oohs and aahs they deserved. A midfield of Anderton, Davids and Ginola with Sheringham and Berbatov up front. Sign ‘em up, please, Mr Levy. There were loads of goals (forget the score), some re-assuringly inept Spurs defending, and a good old sing song, mercifully free of the bitterness and spite that has characterised far too much of recent times.
Even referee Howard Webb was revealed to be a member of the human race, joining in the spirit of the occasion. At one stage he took matters into his own feet and dribbled with the ball, before being kicked in the air by Lewis Holtby and then laughing it off as the crowd roared approval and applauded. Hell had frozen over.
It was only the friendliest of friendlies of course, with absolutely nothing at stake. A Ledley King Spurs XI played a Spurs XI, with the latter decked out in all-Lilywhite but on the receiving end of good natured boos. Every King touch was cheered. When the opposition went through the pantomime of conceding a first-half penalty, King was inevitably invited to step up and score in front of the Park Lane end and receive the acclaim
He did so with that customary element of shyness. To be truthful, he looked ever-so-slightly uncomfortable throughout. It was a reminder that while this was a charity-funding celebration, it was also a something of a memorial service for the passing of A great footballer’s brilliant, but in part unfulfilled career. “That’s life,” said King when Paul Coyte asked him after the final whistle about the cruel injuries that had robbed this magnificent defender of the hundreds more games he should have played. This was a bittersweet night at the Lane, all about memories, all-too fading glories, and what might have been.
But back to what had been. Coyte’s excellent master of ceremonies shift came into its own during a recreation of the 1984 UEFA Cup penalty shoot out. A team of MPs took on the role of Anderlecht (no, I don’t know why either) and were obligingly useless. Local MP David Lammy got a few jeers but mostly respectful applause for one of the worst pens ever. A video message from Boris Johnson was roundly booed.
For Spurs 1984, Graham Roberts did a Klinsmann dive in celebration, Micky Hazard came through the cramp barrier to score, Martin Chivers shot home while holding an umbrella, and Tony Parks set off in a recreation of his famous victory run but wisely thought better of it and pulled up after a few yards.
Such laughs. It was a telling illustration of how this club can get it right when it puts it’s mind to it. This was very well done by all concerned. Good organisation, and excellent value, with notably lots of kids and, at a guess, plenty of locals able to bypass the usual ticket logjam and come to the Lane.
The crowd did their bit too, save for the abominable Mexican wave. But that attendance and the reports that others couldn’t get in is worth noting again: on a dreadful Monday night of lashing wind and rain, following a season of expense, rows, and miserable thrashings, tens of thousands had shown up to pay tribute to the captain they loved and stayed to the very late end. An East London reared, home-grown defender who will forever be dear to fans’ hearts got the send off he deserved. A proper legend. Something for Sol Campbell to ponder, perhaps.
Yet for all the unashamed Spurs love-in, this was a night tinged with poignancy as well. During the half time penalty sketch, Ledley’s son Coby got to take part and he finished with accomplished ease. He’ll probably end up playing for Chelsea as they purchase their 7th European Super League Title in the future, but for that brief moment last night it was very touching to see the son of a Spur knock one in and take the acclaim of the White Hart Lane crowd.
I should be too old and too cynical for this sort of sentimentality. At the back of my mind was the thought that if Coby’s dad had stayed fit he might not have done the 10 years at Tottenham. But the sight of the two together struck a chord. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, players and supporters. The extended Tottenham family.
If only football could always be like this.