Saturday, 22 September 2012

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Lazio 0

An unexpected Brucey Bonus match courtesy of a very generous donation from *Europa League sponsor* that came through the office on Wednesday. The scene unfolded something like this:

Friendly Mail mailman doing daily rounds drops envelope on Deputy Editor’s desk. Deputy Editor opens envelope and produces four complimentary tickets from *Europa League sponsor* for Thursday night match at White Hart Lane. 

Deputy Editor (after a moment’s deliberation, fiddling with tickets in hands): Adam, what are you doing on Thursday night?
Shergold (having already seen tickets but with deadpan delivery): I’m going to White Hart Lane with you.
Deputy Editor (slightly taken aback): Erm...ah...well...oh right I see! So you’d like a ticket then?

So, I’d like to thank *Europa League sponsor* for the gift of going to Thursday night’s “Gazza Derby”. Of course, this is the minor “Gazza Derby” - the proper one was Boston United (glimpses of old genius but generally bored, unhealthily obsessed with fitness/Bran Flakes) against Kettering Town (disastrously short-lived management spell, bad alcohol problems) on Saturday, but I can’t be too fussy.

We had excellent seats, right above the Lazio fans, who were the main talking point of the evening given the paucity of actual goalscoring opportunities/excitement that seems to explain why fans are turned so easily off the Europa League. 

As those who stuck it out on ITV4 already know, the “Gazza Derby” was a bore draw, but it was still a very enjoyable experience to visit White Hart Lane for the first time, especially when it’s unexpected. 

It is a fine venue and I was struck by how tight and compact the stadium is, meaning the fans can almost feel the breath of the players as they gallop by. I imagine it is also very atmospheric when full and Tottenham are doing slightly better than they are this season. 

The best opportunity for the hosts - whose perma-crouching, Blackberry bashing, Burberry trench wearing manager Andre Villas-Boas has vowed to take this competition seriously - came when Clint Dempsey (the striker who takes the number two shirt) had a header disallowed for a very dubious offside. 

Lazio, who had come for a point, struck the crossbar late in the first half through Gonzalez but were generally content to hassle and harry and limit Tottenham’s touches on the ball, something they did with great success.

And Spurs were just unable to break through the Roman legions. Aaron Lennon looked lively on the right and Sandro likewise through the centre, but there was no polished final ball and absolutely nothing from set-pieces to the extent that Dan, my Spurs-supporting colleague, audibly complained every time they won a corner or a free-kick. 

So the main entertainment was the 3,000 immaculately choreographed, bouncing, wildly gesticulating, wolf whistling, scarf twirling Italians down below. They weren’t messing around in getting behind their team and sung throughout with heart and passion. 

There was loud appreciation for Gazza from both sets of fans, though the Lazio ones seemed to have coined a rather comical way of honouring him by pumping their arm and shouting: “Paul Gascoigne ole ole ole.” It was all kinds of good. 

But Friday’s headlines were about allegations of monkey chants directed at Jermain Defoe and Lennon and I hate to admit that a minority were making the ugly noises. It was not the “hundreds” mentioned by the papers, but maybe a pocket of 20 or 30 down at the front when Defoe were careering into the sponsor boards early in the second-half and later when Lennon came over to take a corner. 

There were also Palestinian and German flags being waved and quite a few straight arm salutes, though I believe the police did caution some supporters against this at various points during the evening. 

The attention on these incidents was inevitably more intense for the lack of action on the field and I believe UEFA are to look into the claims. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve encountered racist abuse at any football match and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. 

Still, at least I didn’t pay to hear it...

Next Match: Hopefully a midweek League Cup tie, if not it’s Fulham v Manchester City on Saturday.