Fa Cup memories haunt Alex Milne and Saturday's result has done nothing to banish those ghosts.
This one really hurt. Dele Alli said it best after the match when he claimed “We have to stop doing this.” It used to be Spurs’ competition, the one we were proud to say we had won 8 times. When you think about the most iconic moments in our history, I’ll bet at least two of the top three are Villa’s goal v Man City and Gazza’s free kick against Arsenal, both memories from this special competition. Yet in my lifetime, the cup has brought nothing but semi-final pain.
My first semi-final following Spurs was the one against Arsenal in 2001, just a few days after George Graham had been sacked. I was young, sat in my living room dressed in the full kit and full of naïve hope, but could recognise that our bitter rivals were, unfortunately, a far superior side in those days, and so was disappointed but realistic when we lost 2-1.
The next two I attended were much harder to swallow: Portsmouth in 2010 (0-2) and Chelsea 2012 (1-5). Both saw pretty pathetic performances from our side, and after I trudged down Wembley Way, the taunts and cheers of the opposition fans still ringing in my ears, wondering if I’d ever feel happy in that soulless bowl of a stadium. Last season’s 4-2 loss to Chelsea was also horrible, but we could at least point to the fact that we had played very well, and were genuinely unlucky to lose.
And then there was Saturday. I approached the game with the same mentality as usual with any big match. I told people I wasn’t confident, that we’d probably lose, but inside there is always a part of you that thinks surely today is the day.
Alli’s opener sent me ballistic, and the first twenty minutes were a joy to watch. This is finally it, I thought, finally the day my beloved club step up to the plate and reach the final of the FA Cup, and this bright young team get what they deserve. Then United equalised from nowhere and we all know the rest.
The most gutting thing about it all is that it stops the general progression that we have shown under Poch each season. The first year was the League Cup final and 5th place, then 3rd place, then 2nd place. The next logical step would be top four and a cup win, but it looks like, unless we somehow snatch 2nd, it is the first season we have gone backwards under Pochettino. Sure, we can point to Wembley as a factor for our league form suffering, but really there is no excuse for this FA Cup loss, and our performance on Saturday was simply inexplicable.
I, like all fans, am tired of it. Eight semi-final losses in a row is just absurd. How much longer can we keep turning up at Wembley and being disappointed? The fact that our record here has generally been good all season, but that two of the five losses have come in crunch games against Juve and United shows that there is still something fundamentally wrong with us mentally, and I really don’t have a clue how we go about fixing it.
Of course we all have to pull together now to ensure we secure fourth spot, but I genuinely think even if we blew it now I’d still feel more disappointed about the FA Cup loss than losing out on Champions League football. It has become a competition that haunts me, with nothing but memories of let-downs and so-close-but-so-far scenarios. Pochettino is right in saying that a win wouldn’t change our status as a club, but we all know how much a win would mean to us supporters.
Just like any defeat, the pain will no doubt wear off in a few days, but at the moment it feels very difficult to get excited for the upcoming matches. And next season, when we scrape past the likes of Cambridge United and Barrow to reach another semi final, will us fans really be able to get up for it, knowing the history we have at that stage?
It may not mean much to the gaffer, but there is no denying the importance of the FA Cup to us fans, and every year it is becoming more and more like an albatross on our backs. 1991 certainly feels like a long, long time ago.