It was a Uefa Cup match in 2007 and, from a distance, Martin Jol seemed overcome by tears. It was not because the Tottenham Hotspur side he had spent three years building was being beaten by the La Liga outfit Getafe. Instead, the emotion seemed to spring from hearing his name chanted all around White Hart Lane. The supporters knew he had been sacked, the players had been told; the only one in ignorance was the victim himself, who (depending upon which story you believe) was informed later by a text message from his nephew.
The tears, he said afterwards, were entirely illusory. "I really didn't know. They say I was crying but it must have been a windy night."
It was still and spring-like in Hamburg yesterday with blossom along the banks of the Alster as Jol prepared for another night of emotion in the Uefa Cup, this time against Manchester City, a team he beat six times out of six while at Spurs.
When he reflected upon his dismissal, Jol said he would miss not just Tottenham, whose progress he followed while growing up in The Hague, but English football. In December he did not try too hard to distance himself from reports touting him as a replacement first for Roy Keane at Sunderland and then Paul Ince at Blackburn Rovers.
"Hopefully, I will stay here for one or two years, I want to build a good side at Hamburg but if a good opportunity from an English club with ambitions in Europe came along I would consider it," he said. He has kept his house in Essex with its modern art and, during the German winter break, he returned and briefly thought about going to St James' Park to watch Tottenham before deciding Newcastle was too far. In any case, Spurs lost.
The city Hamburg most resembles is Liverpool, where there is the same naked passion for the game. Tonight's encounter in the 57,000-capacity Nordbank Arena is sold out. Hamburg have built a cemetery for their fans, where for €2,500 (£2,259) you can be buried in earshot of the stadium. A further €2,333 (£2,108) will buy you a coffin in the blue and white of the club, while a more modest €350 (£316) gets you an urn.
But there are other links. The historic competition between the great liners of Cunard and Hamburg-Amerika for Atlantic passengers. The Beatles learning their trade in the bars along the Grosse Freiheit. Kevin Keegan, his tie at half-mast, waving the Bundesliga shield in 1979 – the year Jol was in Bayern Munich's defence. The same nostalgia for the late 1970s and 1980s when football in both cities was at its zenith.
However, in football terms, the part of Merseyside Hamburg most resembles is not Anfield but Goodison Park and not just because of the blue and white logos. Both Everton and Hamburg display an inordinate pride in the length of time they have played top-flight football. Hamburg are the only team never to have been relegated from the Bundesliga and this morning their website will boast of their 45 years and 228 days of continuous top-flight football. And there are other similarities – such as lack of serious money, plenty of injuries and thus the reliance on a promising youth policy.
Jol has sold €55m (£49.7m) worth of players, including Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong to Manchester City (both of whom will be missing for City tonight – Kompany is injured and De Jong cup-tied) and Rafael van der Vaart to Real Madrid. Ivica Olic, without whose goals Hamburg would be neither second in the Bundesliga nor in a Uefa Cup quarter-final, has signed a pre-contract with Bayern. Yesterday's headlines suggested their 25-year-old playmaker Piotr Trochowski was wanted by Juventus.
"I am not sure if it is always a good idea to leave Hamburg," Jol said yesterday. "A few players have done so in the past because they thought they were moving to a bigger club but something significant is developing here."
This season's Bundesliga campaign has been, frankly, all over the place. Hoffenheim, the "village team" backed by the enormous wealth of software mogul Dietmar Hopp, set the pace. Bayern Munich, as thrilling and erratic as the Tottenham side Jürgen Klinsmann played for, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg, led by Felix Magath, a hero of Hamburg's 1983 European Cup triumph, have all led. And so has Jol, whose sole managerial trophy is the Dutch version of the FA Cup with JC Roda. This season he might win three.
He succeeded another Dutchman, Huub Stevens, whose dry, cheerless football made Howard Wilkinson look like Ossie Ardiles and in three of his first four games Hamburg recovered from two goals down, "playing like tigers with big balls", in their manager's colourful phrase.
The result that took them to the last eight was perhaps the most staggering recovery. Galatasaray drew 1-1 at the Nordbank and were two up in the fierce atmosphere of the Ali Sami Yen. Milan Baros and Harry Kewell, veterans of Liverpool's European Cup triumph in Istanbul, were in the Galatasaray side but they were about to drink from Milan's cup. First Hamburg's Peruvian striker, Paolo Guerrero, scored twice, then in the 90th minute, Olic stole a third. The well-endowed tigers had clawed again.
Hamburg (probable 4-4-2): Rost; Benjamin, Gravgaard, Mathijsen, Aogo; Pitroipa, Jarolim, Ringon, Jansen; Petric, Mladic.
Manchester City (probable 4-4-2): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, Zabaleta, Ireland, Robinho, Bellamy, Benjani.
Referee: O Benquerenca (Portugal)
Highs and lows: Jol at Spurs
Guides Tottenham to successive fifth-placed finishes in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Leads club to first league victory over Chelsea in 17 years in November 2006. Reaches Uefa Cup quarter-finals in 2007.
Sees half of squad succumb to food poisoning before final match of 2005-06 at West Ham. Spurs lose and fail to reach Champions League. Juande Ramos claims Spurs offered him Jol's job. Jol sacked during Uefa cup defeat to Getafe in October 2007.Reuse content