The buzz word on the lips of all Spurs fans since the dawn of time (well since around 1995), is ‘style’. We only really started to talk about it when we stopped seeing it. The older generation will harp on about the style-laden side of the 60s, while those of my generation will reminisce about growing up watching the 1980s teams of Hoddle, Ardiles, Gascoigne, Waddle and Andy Gray.
Since Ossie’s dream turned into everyone’s nightmare during his stint as manager, we haven’t seen too much style at the Lane. Gerry Francis’ hot and cold reign as manager was never one containing much style or substance, while Christian Gross and George Graham have failed likewise to produce a fluent passing machine.
But do we really miss the style, or do we miss success more? Is the current lack of success under George Graham the real reason why he gets so much stick from Spurs fans for being a ‘gooner’ and not playing the beautiful game the way Spurs fans have been brought up?
The Charlton Syndrome
In February 1986, a similar decision to the one taken by Alan Sugar and the board at Spurs, was taken by the FAI (Football Association of Ireland). They appointed English World Cup winner, Jack Charlton, as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland. Ireland were never a nation who garnered respect in the footballing world, despite only missing out on qualification for the 1982 World Cup on goal difference. But with attendences and interest in the national team waning, the FAI took a brave step in appointing Charlton.
The first problem was that Charlton was an Englishman. Never before had a non-Irishman held the position. Now if Charlton was from Trinidad or Lithuania, then there may not have been as much of a fuss made, but to appoint an Englishman as manager of the working classes great team was seen as a massive faux pas.
The second problem (and this was to be proven in the next ten years) was that Charlton did not play the beautiful game as paying punters might like to have seen it. Now Ireland, poor a team as they were, did have players who oozed class such as Liam Brady, Ronnie Whelan and Paul McGrath. How would Charlton incorporate these players into the team?
It’s late 1998 and Spurs are a team in disrepair. Relegation has become a bit of a worry far too often in the preceding years and Chairman Alan Sugar needs to act. Having just released the suffering Christian Gross from his managerial duties, Sugar knew that this time he could afford no mistakes. He made a brave decision on the 1st October 1998 when he appointed former Arsenal legend, George Graham, as new manager of Spurs. The outcry was audible in Trinidad and Lithuania.
The first problem was that Graham was a Gooner, an Arsenal man. Ok so there had been Terry Neil’s hugely unsuccessful stint in charge in the 1970s, but this was now and this was real.
The second problem was that Graham did not play the beautiful game as the Spurs fan would like to see it. Now Spurs, poor a team as they were, did have players who oozed class such as David Ginola and … eh … well you get the point.
Ok, so in order to look at this analogy we have to be able to compare apples and oranges, or international and club football, if you like. But it’s not that difficult as the principle factors are the same…football, dodgy manager, ethical issues and paying punters.
That brings me back to whether or not it is style or success we miss at Spurs. The two are not mutually exclusive, true, but imagine you had to choose one or the other.
Jack the God
When Jack Charlton had his defence pump the long ball to his chosen forward (Stapleton, Cascarino, Quinn), who in turn knocked it down to the attacking midfielder (Galvin, Houghton, Townsend), it wasn’t pretty. But despite the dull-as-dishwater approach, he brought unparalleled success to the country, the likes of which will never be seen again. Lansdowne Road was sold out every game, the fans were unwavering in their support for the Boys in Green.
And that wasn’t all. Charlton quickly bumped out crowd favourites like David O’Leary and Liam Brady – not because they weren’t good enough, but because he didn’t like them, or they didn’t suit his gameplan. Liam Brady was the most naturally talented players Ireland had ever had, and indeed in his younger days was one of the best in Europe. To shun the midfield legend was a bold step, but it was one that Irish fans took in their stride. Charlton is a complete and utter God on this island. And why? Success.
George the Anti-Christ
And as George Graham pumps the long ball to Ferdinand and sells Spurs most naturally talented player, how come he is reviled rather than revered? Again the answer is success, or lack of it.
It’s easy for Spurs fans to sit there and mouth off about how George is a gooner and they would never accept him despite how much success he brings. I don’t think it’s true, because there is nothing but a bout of success to change one’s outlook on life.
All those Irish fans who were apathetic regarding the Irish team were quickly converted despite the Brady situation, and despite the dull football. When it came down to it, the arrival of relative success was an adrenaline rush that no Irish person could resist getting caught up in. Likewise if George Graham brought Tottenham Champions League football with a string of 1-0 victories, those Spurs fans would forget about the direct passing, and soon put aside their Arsenal prejudices.
And don’t sit there telling me it’s not true because you can’t possible know either way until it happens!
He’s been described as ‘an accident waiting to happen’, and in the FA Cup Fourth Round game between Manchester United and West Ham, that projected accident occurred in the most bizarre of circumstances.
When Paolo Di Canio beat the offside trap to coolly slot past Fabien Barthez in a one-on-one situation, one might not normally blame a goalkeeper. But when your goalkeeper stands there, a hand arrogantly raised appealing for a non-existent offside, you should throw the book at him. United’s treble dreams are destroyed now due to this one moment of lunacy.
What will Alex Ferguson’s reaction be? Drop Barthez? Make him play with the reserves? Sell him? No doubt Ferguson had a quiet word, but he wouldn’t want to publicly criticise one of his star signings. He reserves that sort of treatment for others.
And I’m sure Bosnich was sitting at home, eating chocolates, have a great old laugh.