The Agony and the Ecstasy – A Year with Tottenham Hotspur

“Belief is the most important thing in football. Not quality, running, or being strong, but belief, faith, and fight.”

– Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur manager

Belief is something that requires faith to start and fight to maintain. Pochettino, or Poch as he is often lovingly referred to by the Spurs faithful, is no stranger to wisdom, and his comment encapsulates my experience following the club this year: a lot of belief, a lot of faith, and an awful lot of fight.

In the past, I had casually followed soccer (or football to the rest of the world), mostly around the US National teams and the World Cup. While this was exciting, my level of interest and support would fade as the qualifiers and the Cup would end. As I grew to understand the game (thanks to the help of my former roommate and a lot of games of Fifa) my interest grew as well. I slowly found myself falling in love with the sport and I decided to make a commitment to consistently follow the English Premier League, namely the team known as Tottenham Hotspur.

The reasons behind this choice were numerous:

  • Their interesting blue-collar history and their connection to the Jewish community was really fascinating.
  • I’ve always found the coach, Pochettino, to be inspiring, exciting, and his style of play was aggressive and fast-paced.
  • The eclectic collection of personalities and players on the team, many of whom I was familiar with through their roles on their various national teams in the 2018 World Cup and my casual following of the team over the last couple of seasons (admittedly kickstarted by this video ).
  • Their history as a team on the rise who so far had never gotten over the hump but always played hard and always was in contention for the top 4.

On August 11, 2018, the campaign began, and what followed was a roller coaster of highs and lows. Highs like their smashing of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Everton, Jan Vertonghen’s masterclass in the slaughter of Dortmund, the nail-biting tie against Barcelona that secured advancement in the Champions League, the VAR divine intervention to knock out Manchester City, and the high point of the season, the Moura Miracle in Amsterdam. Then you had to deal with lows like their month-long stretch of losses, the 4-2 loss to bitter rival Arsenal, the Champions League opening rounds that took the team to the knife’s edge of elimination, the continuous string of injuries and setbacks, and the disappointing domestic cup exits to Crystal Palace and Chelsea. A lifetime of fandom of the University of Tennessee football program had more than prepared me for the idea of disappointment (check out their past decade of collective mediocrity), but what I wasn’t prepared for was how the investment into the players and the team made each win and loss all the more emotionally taxing. In American football, certain players are celebrated or talked about far more than others game by game (most football fans couldn’t name their favorite team’s backup left tackle, or even the starting one), but in soccer, no player can really hide on the field. You learn all about them, see real evidence of their skill and heart, and once you see and learn these things, chemistry and camaraderie become intoxicating when it’s seen in its highest forms, yet painfully depressing when you see it’s absence. On the American football field, it’s often hard to see real individual personalities – in soccer, they are impossible to ignore, and because of this you become more connected to and invested in the players and the team. When it comes to a team with personality, heart, chemistry, and camaraderie, Spurs are a dynamic and exciting example.

The Belgian defense duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Aldereireld could replace my home security system and I would sleep even more soundly at night. I would want Danny Rose to walk beside down a dark alley because I know he would fight to the end. Lucas Moura is a human energizer bunny who never gives less than 110% (And would later prove to be the hero in their epic Champions League Semifinal comeback against Ajax). Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen would make the best wingman duo of all time on and off the field. Moussa Sissoko is a human tank that over the course of the season morphed from laughingstock to cult hero (with songs in the stands about him to boot). Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris could be injected into my veins and he would fight off every infection and disease known to man. Striker and English captain Harry Kane is the big man on campus and has consistently lived up to the billing. However, this season, one man has risen above the rest, at least in my mind – South Korean miracle man Son Heung-min.

The Beloved Son

Son has stepped up repeatedly in the most desperate of circumstances and delivered time and time again. Son had become a fan favorite at Spurs due to his immense talent and technical skill, but what turned him into an idol has been his infectious joy and personality on and off the field. Always smiling, always positive (Apart from his ejection in the crapstorm that was the match against Bournemouth… let’s not talk about it), a model teammate and citizen, Son has already solidified himself as a legend. In a season full of bad luck and injuries (the Spurs “Fab Four” of Kane, Dele, Eriksen, and Son have only started together in 10 out of 55 games at the time of this writing), Son rose to the challenge and has become the team’s second-leading scorer even after missing almost an entire MONTH leading his South Korean national team to victory in the Asian Games (which also guaranteed his exemption from mandatory military service). Over the course of the season, he has scored memorable and vital goals, but none are as satisfying as his magical strike against Chelsea, especially when you add the majesty of Celine Dion (make sure your sound is on). All in all, if I had a daughter, I’d rip off both of my thumbs to have her marry Son.

The team managed to reach the finals of UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious tournament in club soccer through a mixture of last-minute heroics, blind luck, iron determination, and a dash of what some could call destiny. Even though they ultimately failed to lift the trophy in the final against Liverpool (largely because of Liverpool’s world-class defense after an early lead due to what many have called a “harsh” penalty call), Spurs fought fiercely to the end and did the name proud.

In a time where for many spending has equaled success, Spurs managed to succeed over traditional powerhouses on a fraction of the budget and dragged themselves by sheer will and heart to the very cusp of glory in spite of injuries, mishaps, and misfortunes. Every step of it was a memorable journey. The Spur’s official motto for over 100 years has been Audeat est facere, or put more simply, To Dare is to Do. This team has dared, this team has done, and in the process, they have captured the heart of this former soccer hater.

COME ON YOU SPURS

 

2 Comments

  1. Sam Flanagan says:

    Jarrod,

    This was a joy to read. I’m so excited about your love of soccer (especially considering our late-into-the-night sessions of GameDay 99 that I still remember vividly). I, too, am now a huge soccer fan, and a self-professing Chelsea fan at that. I did, however, absolutely cheer for Tottenham in the UCL final (the early penalty truly was a heartbreak). I feel like you summed up very well one of the most exciting teams in European soccer in 2018-19 (the only year that I’ve religiously followed so far), with the lone possible exceptions of the trials of the ever-to-be-redeemed Kieran Trippier and the inevitable mancrush Harry Winks. You really get this game, and I enjoyed reading about your love for this team. (Side note, if you’re missing soccer and are at all interested in finding an MLS team to root for, may I suggest Atlanta United? I love them so, so much and could certainly give you impassioned explanations.) I’ve not seen your blog before, but I’m glad I saw your Facebook post about it this time. I hope to read more about your love of the Spurs in the future (and if you’re ever in Knoxville, let’s watch a game together)!

    Sam Flanagan

  2. Pingback: O Holy… Monday?

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