That classic Danny Blanchflower quote about the game being "about glory, about doing things in style, with a flourish" has stuck to Spurs like a resolute man-marker. You see, it's always been their way. Just as football folklore decrees that Arsenal are dogged and dull (this season apart), Newcastle cavalier and Liverpool slick, so it's cast in stone that Spurs are flamboyant and flash, if too often flawed. That they no longer are constitutes a crisis down the Lane.
The problems on the field are as clear. A defence over-reliant on Sol Campbell (it has already conceded 25 goals, at this stage last season the figure was 13), a lightweight midfield, a lacklustre attack, a manager seemingly devoid of inventive ideas and (according to Sugar) a lack of fighting spirit so painfully manifest in the 6-1 defeat at Bolton. Gerry Francis should heed the belief of the former Tottenham striker Garth Crooks that, "entertainment has always been an important feature of Spurs' game which the fans demand. They can never get away from that. If they did, it'd bring down the management".
Francis, however, claims not to understand the talk of "traditional Tottenham football" which I find hard to believe of a man who grew up watching the 1961 Double-winning side: "That sort of talk disappoints me," he says.
Well, can you imagine how it distresses fans brought up on Blanchflower, Gilzean, Hoddle, Waddle, Ardiles and Gascoigne to see players with the skill of McManaman, Berger and Bergkamp playing for the opposition; to see long balls being pumped forward on the ground where "push and run" football was born; to see Armstrong running down the blind alleys where Chivers, Greaves, Allen and Lineker once hunted so profitably; and to see Arsenal playing Tottenham-style football with Tottenham-style players? "He's got too much skill for Spurs," said our former hero Chris Waddle of one top foreigner linked with the club. Ouch, that hurts.
However, the problems are not just on the field but also, as is customary with Tottenham Hotspur plc, in the boardroom where in five years there have been no trophies, no top six finish, no European place, not so much as a whiff of the championship. Recently, the Tottenham Action Group, fearful that Sugar's reluctance to compete for players at the top end of the market is more short-sighted than prudent have urged Spurs fans to boycott White Hart Lane, club merchandise, Amstrad products and the products of any associated companies in the hope that the negative publicity will persuade Sugar either to rethink his policy - or sell up and ship out.
If he did so, it would be at a vast profit. His 40 per cent stake, purchased for pounds 8m, is now worth an estimated pounds 40m, with Spurs' value having quadrupled to around pounds 100m. In his defence it must be said that he's restored business credibility to a club whose finances were in as much of a mess as Fergie's.
But the issue is not so much the money, but whether Francis will spend what money he's given on the kind of players who will bring back the glory days. His expenditure already amounts to pounds 13m-plus on players (Fox, Sinton, Nielsen, Armstrong) whose impact has been as ineffectual as a long ball in a force nine gale. Meanwhile Steffen Iversen is pure potential, and Scales' influence remains to be seen.
Waddle echoes the sentiments of many fans when he says Spurs need "a creative playmaker: a Hoddle, a Gascoigne, a player like Kinkladze", but acknowledges that Francis's task is not an enviable one. "To me," Waddle says, "the White Hart Lane crowd seemed spoilt. We could be 4-0 up, playing great and keeping possession and they'd be slow hand-clapping, moaning, wanting more. And that was with Glenn and Ossie in the side."
But if the fans are demanding, they're also long-suffering. Spurs is a club which seems to be in a state of perpetual crisis. In his 1990 preface to The Glory Game Hunter Davies admitted he'd grown to hate Spurs, had become infuriated by the bland programme, the accent on merchandising. "It seems that we were no longer a football club," Davies wrote, "just another branch of the leisure industry and what mattered most were the interests of the wealthiest supporters and most strident sponsors."
Stuart Mutler, writing four years on in the final issue of The Spur, said: "I've had enough... for the way we've been treated. Tottenham doesn't deserve players or fans anymore. Be wary. Be very wary indeed. For the Spurs are not what they seem."
Nor, in 1996's winter of discontent, a patch on what they used to be. Coming out of the hat away to Man United in the FA Cup third round draw was simply par for the course in a troubled season. It's scant consolation that the last time they played an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, in 1980, a sublime Ardiles curler secured a 1-0 victory: because Ardiles is no longer around, and "Allan Nielsen's going to Wembley" doesn't have quite the same ring about it...Reuse content