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We did that: a Champions League story in three acts

This really happened. I was there and saw it all.

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I

“People are always coming up to me,” said Jimmy Greaves, a Tottenham Hotspur star of the 1960s. “‘Jim, can you remember that goal against West Brom in 1968?’ and I say, ‘No.’” He continues: “But that’s all right because they only want to tell you about what happened to them, anyway. ‘Well, you had the ball on the halfway line, and I remember that because I was with Charlie and we’d just got two pies …’ and it turns out the real story is about Charlie dropping his pie and what you did wasn’t all that important anyway. And I prefer that, really.”

(Clark, para 1, 2019)

May 5, 2010

Imagine an outdated classroom as the day’s classes near their end. In the corner I sit feverishly refreshing and its game feed. My students are working independently and, may I add, quietly for once. Without them knowing it, I am caught between two worlds. This second-floor classroom in middle America and Eastlands. As the second half forges on, our boys, Tottenham Hotspur, are locked in a 0-0 stalemate with the blue half of Manchester. With fourth place on the line, the uncertainty of that nil-nil made it difficult to concentrate. That game, in retrospect, can feel inevitable. The triumphs of Manchester City and the ascendency of Spurs were the future then. The future was anything but certain that evening. Each move ended in nothing but another minute gone. Agonizingly, Ledley King actually had a goal disallowed. At that point, I could not have been the only one to think it’s not going to come off.

But come off it did.

Seeing that little soccer ball pop up was liberation. Goal. Tottenham Hotspur. Peter Crouch. I didn’t dare scream and upset the motley band of teenagers who were actually on task for once.

I just stood there, blood surging. The tightness in my chest releasing in a spreading warmth across my limbs. I didn’t know who to talk to: I didn’t know any other Spurs supporters; I’d been following in isolation for years. Yet there I stood as my team, Spurs, the team that always cocks it up... didn’t. Standing there, glowing from the inside out, I remembered the improbable Arsenal and Chelsea victories. I added Manchester City to that list.

Like I said, I didn’t actually know anyone, but the thought of my fellow Spurs supporters singing, dancing, and hugging was enough. I may not have known them and they did not know me, but I imagined us together, aligned. I was part of a “we.” And, most assuredly, we were kings and queens that night. We, and we alone, did that.

May 8, 2019

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become grumpier. Perhaps some of that is being more secure in knowing what I like. Perhaps I’ve lost patience and can’t be bothered. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

One of the biggest issues the 38 year old version of me faces as a football fan is for as much as I cannot stand watching the biggest matches alone, paradoxically, I cannot stand watching them in big crowds either.

The loneliness of watching recorded Champions League matches in my apartment, Heineken in hand, buoyed only by the reality that — I’ll never stop pinching myself — we are in the Champions League. So week after week, I sit and watch matches that the rest of the world already did, my scarf, my hat, my heart reminding me I’m Tottenham through and through.

A much worse alternative to the isolation, however, is the banter that comes with watching in mixed bars. On match day I don’t want to talk about my club to people who aren’t associated with my club. I don’t care why they don’t like my club. I don’t care if they respect my club. None of that matters to me. Tottenham Hotspur are the beginning and end.

Which isn’t to say that all bars are created equally. Shouts to the throngs of supporters clubs around the world, full of shirts, flags, and banners with that beautiful cock on ball; they are indeed magical, community spaces born of strangers with only football in common.

The places I have been lucky enough to frequent and the people I have met are burned into my memory and I will always cherish them. As I do my time on this site. The club brought me to this site, which brought me so many friends who have made my life exponentially better.

That being said, no matter how sentimental I may be for community, it does not explain the existential dread I have of feeling sad in public. And when Spurs lose big matches, I get sad. Like, “are you okay?” type sad.†

So I had a choice on Wednesday, as I did not have to work: go to Flannery’s — NY Spurs bar — for the scenes, stay in my living room and ready myself in the fetal position, or watch with friends.

In the end I chose my friends Caley, Sam, and Max. I hope they will always remember the conversations we had, the song we taught Sam, and how it felt when we pushed our first goal across, injecting a bit of hope into the tie. The remaining 40 minutes are part and parcel of an emotional, Tottenham Big Bang and I’m not sure I want to try to relay them to you logically. My body and mind, stripped of logic, weren’t operating on that level and that’s the beauty of it all. Because just like those atoms mixed and bounced around the universe so many billions of years ago, our boys careened about the pitch, doing what they did for that moment. That glorious moment when everything changed.

When that ball bounced sweetly off the outside of Dele’s right boot, it seemed to almost pause on the grass — a pause of possibility for us, a pause of pain for Ajax — and when Lucas put his foot through it, and I saw it gliding into that corner, I swear I achieved double consciousness. My internal dialogue stuck on the reality of we’ve scored we’re going through we’ve scored we did it we scored while my corporal body could express nothing but guttural screams. I screamed in a low, deep register that the logical, analytical parts of me did not recognize as my own, and only after moments of delirium did I realize I was being hugged by my friends. I think I was even holding Max’s arms at one point. I don’t know why. We watched the goal dozens of times, ate cake, and ordered Chinese. Texts poured in. Calls came along.

And the message was the same. We, and we alone, did that. I wanted to bend time to make the night last forever.

May 9, 2019

I’m sitting in a chat room with my friends and Dustin mentions how much content we could pump out today. I’m not really a writer around here anymore. I’m a retired old-head who just gets to be a Spurs fan now. However, when I think about Kevin Clark’s piece for The Ringer last night, I start to consider that I might have something to share, arrogant as that may be.

As I start to develop a concept, some possible themes, “A Favor House Atlantic” comes on the playlist and I laugh, thinking of Lucas. “Good eye sniper / I shoot, you run…”

My fingers start to move over the keyboard. We are doing this.

Credit to Kevin Clark and his piece “Spursy” Is Dead: How Tottenham Killed the Narrative by Advancing to the Champions League Final for the Jimmy Greaves quote that served as this article’s inspiration.

† — After Chelsea did what they did to claim the 2012 Champions League title, knocking us out of the next year’s competition in the process, I walked to a bar and proceeded to drink heavily, dangerously if I’m being honest, and put myself into such a twisted state that a bar regular, a real drunk mind you, said this to me in the most sincere manner. I do not remember exactly what I said but “f*ck off” is definitely a polite version of my reaction. So, yeah, maybe now you understand that living out my disappointments around strangers, no matter how well intentioned while alcohol flows isn’t a real option for me. I’m not saying this to make light. My friend Ben was there. He can vouch for it. Nobody should live that way because another team scored more goals than yours.