There are a few things you can always count on in the English Premier League. A manager will be sacked before Boxing Day. An underdog team will put a good run together and make people think they could go places, before eventually dropping off. Arsene Wenger will get another extension at Woolwich. And Chelsea will beat Spurs at Stamford Bridge.
It’s foolish, really, to think it’ll ever be different. The richest league of the richest sport in the world, much like the English class system itself the Premier League abhors a social climber. Only once a generation–Blackburn Rovers in 1995, Leicester City in 2016–is the pattern allowed to be broken. But never for too long, only enough to give the outliers a bit of hope before, as one Chelsea-supporting acquaintance put it to me, order is restored.
Which is why, of course, it’s foolish to think Spurs can win this game. Sure, Chelsea haven’t been at their best this year, but they’ve got Antonio Conte, titan of a manager, bedecked in trophies to tell the story of a career well-earned. Alvaro Morata, Ngolo Kante, the magical football dwarf. The incisive free-kick boot of Marcos Alonso, which Spurs know all too well from their last meeting.
What do Spurs have? A manager who plays attractive football but hasn’t won anything with it. A one-man team whose one-trick pony is in the shop with banged up ligaments. So what if he’s on the bench. Mind-games, bluster, nothing else. A team of B-minus students, decent, maybe a bit above average, but nothing that can step to the defending Premier League champions. Order will be restored, you’ll see. They will be winning like a spin on the free slots machines.
For the first half hour, that seems to be the case. Morata gets a seamless header, turns it past Hugo Lloris. 1-0 to Chelsea and Stamford Bridge erupts. They know how it ends. How it’s supposed to be. Order will be restored.
Imagine, if you will, that string theory is correct, and all possibilities are occuring simultaneously across infinite parallel universes. In how many of those, down 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, with halftime approaching, do Spurs’ players drop their heads and let frustration creep in? How many more Battles of the Bridge, the 2016 shitshow of a 2-2 loss that confirmed Leicester City’s most improbable feat? You could practically hear the flashback to that day, the team losing its head, the Chelsea fans chanting without shame “Leicester, Leicester” as all the things everyone knew about Spurs were proven true. The chant. If we can’t have it, neither can you. Leicester may have the League but here, on our home turf, order will be restored.
But in the here and now, in our universe, something else happens. Christian Eriksen finds himself in space and with the ball, 30 or more yards out, and he does a rather hopeful or perhaps foolish thing with it. He shoots. It is the kind of shot nobody, save perhaps Matt Le Tissier, has any business seriously attempting. The sort of shot that only goes in in training sessions. The kind of shot that gets preceded in those sessions with the words “fiver says I hit this, you game?”
I would like to say, in the moment, that time stood still as that ball arced toward the net. Instead, the opposite happened: I couldn’t believe it had gone in until I saw the replay. A shot as aesthetically pleasing as anything you’ll ever see in the beautiful game of football, arcing and spinning as if guided along a string. Beautiful, but easy to save, hit directly at the Chelsea keeper. He’s planted on his line. His hands are up. He’ll stop this, of course he will. Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux will bang on for a bit about wasted chances, and we’ll go to halftime. Order will be restored.
At the last minute, for reasons unknown to any save himself, Willy Caballero pulls his hands in, and sets in motion the making of history.
61 minutes in, and Dele Alli, the 5-million-dollar-man from Milton Keynes, seals the deal with an effortless lob over Caballero. It is the Chelsea side who are in meltdown. Order, for them at least, will not be restored.
If ever there was a time for a win, here was it. A win like a visit to one of those Online Casino Sites. The week leading up to this game found me in a crisis of fandom. Afraid that the new stadium, and its ticket prices, would break the atmosphere and make us Woolwich. Afraid of seeing this team broken up a la Monaco, destined to be nothing but a memory of what almost was. Teams don’t just *become* good through hard work, not in this league. You need a sugar-daddy, a billionaire owner from a country where laws are just words on paper. You need sponsors, sponsors for everything, more money in so that you can assemble a squad of disinterested mercenaries and pay them a hundred grand a week to win you titles. You need to be everything except all the things Spurs are, that’s just how it is.
My crisis of faith in Tottenham Hotspur stemmed from fear. Fear of hope leading to disappointment. The words of Bill Nicholson departed my mind as I let the fear turn me off. Stopped going to the pub, tired of being the only one in lilywhite and jealous of the Chelsea fan club rolling up 30 deep, drowning out the crowd with their songs and celebration of inherent supremacy as they downed two dollar pints. Didn’t bet on the game. Every time I bet, I lose money, God’s way of telling me to stop spending it foolishly I suppose. Put the game on DVR, turned myself off from the world, went to church and told myself I was going to watch as a neutral. Didn’t even pray for Spurs, like I usually do. What’s a prayer going to do against Eden Hazard charging at Davinson with his eyes locked on the one place Lloris can’t reach in time?
I watched, and tried to suppress the smile that crept across my face whenever Spurs were on the ball. No, absolutely not. Football will not ruin my Easter. I watched the whole game, emotions in check, cheering for nobody, thinking to myself that maybe I could force myself to like Chelsea, anything to have that group watching experience back, and then I realized the futility of fighting it. Spurs are my club. Fear aside, trepidation aside, uncertainty of the future aside, this is my club, my one and only club, and I love it.
There is still work to do, a whole season next season looming ahead. Maybe we’ll keep going as we have. Maybe we’ll become Monaco. But years from now, when my kids ask me when I knew I was a Spurs fan, I’ll dust off the DVR and show them this.