Believe - 2015/16 review, 2016/17 preview

Wijnaldum. Mitrović. Wijnaldum again. Aarons. Janmaat. The five goals out of a nightmare, the demons that cast an unmoving shadow over what could have been a perfect nine months. I could say that I avoided facing this and writing about it because of my exams, because I haven’t had the time. The truth is that it hurt too much. 

A happy and cheerful season review was the plan after securing second at St James’ Park, before I knuckled down to concentrate fully on revision. Then the unthinkable happened. Unthinkable, but depressingly inevitable. 

It’s still so painful to relive, to try and contemplate how it happened again. The optimism and glory and joy, that had been so justifiably earned, came crumbling down around us. And it cut so deep because that nagging doubt had been torturously chipping away ever since the dream died at Stamford Bridge.

We knew it could happen because we’ve had it all before. I sometimes feel unjust in ever complaining about my life as a Spurs fan. I didn’t have to bear the dejection of relegation in 1977 or the drab and desolate decade of the ‘90s. I’m lucky in that I haven’t really had to experience it when it’s been really bad. Yet, I’ve been treated to perhaps some of the most humiliating and unbelievable turns in the club’s 134-year history.

The first season I became fully invested in was in 2005/06. I remember the blue sleeves of the obnoxiously tight Kappa kit – I got Defoe 18 on the back of my own; I remember my dad crowing over the talents of Michael Carrick; I remember the furore over the arrival of Edgar Davids, the cartwheel and roll of Robbie Keane, the cup exits to Grimsby and Leicester, the heated tensions at Highbury. It was also the year I first walked up those steps into the stands at White Hart Lane, for a 2-0 pre-season friendly win over FC Porto. By May, I had become engrossed in every minute of every game – whether following on Teletext, radio, or sometimes lucky enough to watch live on Sky when my dad would allow a bump in the monthly television bill. 

Of course, it ended in heartbreak. I wasn’t fully aware of what the Champions League was, the history behind it, or how it could change the future of the club. But I did know what happened was terrible. I can still see the black and green pages of Teletext scrolling through and showing Yossi Benayoun’s name on the score-sheet to seal our fate. Even then, at eight years old, I felt hurt. The first year I became fully interested in Tottenham Hotspur and it had all ended in agony because of a dodgy lasagne. 

Since then, I’ve grown to recognise these occurrences as part of the fabric of modern Tottenham, as ‘Spursy’ and ‘Doctor Tottenham’ became a natural part of the lexicon around White Hart Lane. The two points from eight games in 2008, the ‘1-1 at Newcastle’ in 2013 and the most sickening and regretful of all – Munich 2012. Of course, I’ve been incredibly lucky in some of the experiences I have enjoyed, the reasons that keep you going. Those searing wounds never fully heal though.

This latest one still sends you into a negative spiral of regret and misery if you think about it for too long. England have done their best to stunt any recovery too. It was only today that I could finally face the annual season review put together by YidVids on YouTube. It allowed me to look back on last season with a wider lens and that is of course how it should be viewed.

That one result will always hang over 2015/16, but it is a huge disservice to the work done by Mauricio Pochettino, his coaching staff and the players to judge a season based on one catastrophic car crash of a performance. We were given months of joy and elation, arguably playing the best football in the land, with an inspiringly driven man at the helm and likeable, young, hungry players expressing themselves on the pitch. We were allowed to enjoy Tottenham again. More than that, we were allowed to believe. 

The ethic was very much about the cohesive team throughout the campaign, but the role of certain individuals was captivating. Somehow, Pochettino had plugged the biggest hole in the squad with a young English centre-back raised in Portugal. The potential of Mousa Dembélé to become one of the most domineering midfielders in Europe was finally realised. A boy from Milton Keynes became a star. And Harry Kane, teetering dangerously towards a terminal case of second-season-syndrome, shrugged off the doubts and rampaged his way towards the golden boot.

Every aspect came together under the leadership of our softly-spoken Argentine leader to birth an experience that most of us have never had before. Tottenham Hotspur had an identity again. One that had become tangled and lost in the shipwreck left by André Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. How heart-swelling it feels to have a group that would show passion and fight for every second of a game. Wring out their shirts after ninety minutes and you’d have enough sweat to fill eleven buckets.

The massacre at Chelsea in May continues to divide opinion, but you certainly can’t accuse this group of lacking heart and fight, even if they are yet to learn the nous to channel it properly. Before that, we had the image at Vicarage Road that became a Twitter header for thousands, after Heung-Min Son’s late winner demonstrated a togetherness and connection between the players and fans that hasn’t been apparent in decades. A rare luxury that we should cherish – few other fan-bases are currently so lucky.

Perhaps ahead of all other images, the one that just stands out above the rest are those few minutes after the full-time whistle at the Etihad on Valentine’s Day. Pinned back by what is still a very strong Manchester City, despite their disappointing league position, it seemed that the winner would only go one way. Yet, we were treated to another showing of desire and will blended with skill and daring when the resurrected Érik Lamela carved open the City defence, allowing Christian Eriksen to uncork the jubilation. 

The emotions we tasted in the match were intensified with what came after. The whole squad came to greet the raucous away end, encouraged by their leader and mentor, the man embracing every single one of his young followers, challenging us to rid ourselves of the inhibitions that are socialised into the mind of every one of us as Spurs fans and to instead believe. 

We were finally able to fulfil the words played before every match at White Hart Lane, so eloquently and rousingly spoken by one of our own, the late Roger Lloyd-Pack. ‘Daring to try. Daring to risk. Daring to dream.’ Never in my lifetime has a manager and a group of players embraced the ideology of Audere est Facere quite like Mauricio Pochettino and his squad. 

It was after that sumptuous win over a Manchester City side that has provided so much torment in recent times – the miss at the back post from Jermain Defoe is another one of those haunting images that lasts forever – that convinced many people to join the believers. The weeks trundled on far too slowly, all we wanted was the weekend to swing back around. And each week, the naysayers dwindled and Pochettino’s believing apostles grew, unable to ignore the continuous streak of impressive performances.

There is no doubt about it, we were well and truly in that title race. Actually, properly in it. Once again, it ended in tears, but it was the journey of a lifetime. Recounting those wonderful moments at the Etihad and Vicarage Road, as well as ‘Lamelaaaaaaaargh’ against United, Alli’s preposterous goal at Palace and Kane’s stadium-rattling goal against the enemy brings a smile back to the lips and a lump back in the throat. Many of us have never had it so good. 

Some of the players have begun to return to the training ground and the added treat of summer tournament football is almost over, so it’s time to start thinking about Tottenham again. The addition of Victor Wanyama provides good cover for a role that Eric Dier so wonderfully made his own last year. Now, we just have to get a striker. Shock.

We should face up to the travesty that was that 5-1 loss because it’s never going to go away. More importantly though, we should focus on the successes of last season, of which there were many more than there were failures. It may be repeating rhetoric, but we are just at the beginning. The youngest squad in the league under one of the most talented managers, with a new stadium to come. You’d think their experiences from last season will only tutor them and fuel them to go even further. There’s no one looking to get out of White Hart Lane this summer. 

It’s going to be another journey. It might be more heartbreak. But everything is there to make it even better this time around. So, why not dare to dream again?

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