It is hard to determine exactly when Tottenham first became so Spursy?
There are some who would claim they have always been so, but their ‘61 double-winning side – unquestionably one of the finest teams to ever grace English football – surely disqualifies that.
Most likely, the unfortunate tag, used to denote the club’s unfailing and sustained ability to snatch disaster from the jaws of glory stems from the two decades-long reputation the North-Londoners had for being a ‘cup team’.
That in itself, of course, was a derogatory term, implying no matter who was in charge, or which luminous talents were lighting up the Lane, consistency was still hopelessly beyond them. Instead, due to their lovely football and rollcall of wonderful midfielders, Tottenham could ‘beat anyone on their day’. Ergo a cup team. A team for moments and momentum but lacking the substance and minerals to do it week on week, month on month.
Only then Spurs stopped winning trophies, at the rate of roughly once every decade that was becoming the norm. In the 21st century they have just a solitary League Cup to their name while the last occasion they lifted a FA Cup prompts actual nostalgia for Gazza getting his suit measured and then spectacularly losing the plot.
Bluntly, it was now accepted that Tottenham could no longer do the one thing they were affectionately mocked for. How very Spursy.
Examples of their Spursiness in recent times are numerous and largely familiar to one and all so let’s rattle through just a few of them at pace.
In 2002 they somehow lost a Worthington Cup final to a shocking Blackburn team. In 2010 they went one better, losing a FA Cup semi to a shocking Portsmouth team that were relegated that season having accrued just 19 points. In between those near-misses Tottenham needed only a win against West Ham on the final day of the season to secure Champions League qualification at the expense of their loathed rivals Arsenal. Alas, a dodgy lasagne ate the night before left all but four of their first team squad with food poisoning resulting in an underwhelming loss and conspiracy theories that persist to this day.
Another FA Cup semi-final loss followed in 2017 when Tottenham were downed by Chelsea despite being much the better outfit throughout while four years ago heralded their most famous self-destruction when only 5000-1 outsiders Leicester stood between them and a title. Ultimately however, inevitably however, Spurs were Spurs.
Eighteen months later nobody was talking about them as title contenders until one particular week in December when their rivals all lost points and people woke up to the fact that Mauricio Pochettino’s men were flying with games in hand. How did they respond in their very next game to this newly burdened expectation? They lost at home to Wolves, after taking a first half lead.
All of which explains why ‘Spursy’ has become so firmly established in football’s lexicon. All of which also explains why Gary Neville damned them for being ‘spineless, soft and flaky’ in recent times; a more descriptive take on Tottenham’s engrained mental fragility than his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson bothered with many years back. Prior to a game at Old Trafford the Scot’s team-talk simply and famously consisted of the following: Lads, it’s Tottenham.
But you know all this already. It’s just fun for us neutrals to revisit it all. What really fascinates is to ponder if this highly undesirable trait will ever desert them, or if Tottenham are forever fated to fall at the last fence?
The arrival of Jose Mourinho was supposed to put a stop to this impediment that can fundamentally be put down to a lack of self-belief. Say what you like about the Portuguese scowler but he has self-belief by the bucketload while his managerial trademark has always been to either build impressive edifices to completion or burn them to the ground. He has very little time for the middle ground: for teams doing well but ultimately falling short. He certainly doesn’t countenance bottlers.
In his first game in charge Spurs surged to a three-goal lead away at West Ham and his reaction to this at half-time – as revealed in the fabulous Amazon documentary All Or Nothing – said everything. Don’t be Spursy. That is essentially what he told them, in a demonstrative and worried tone except Spurs were indeed Spursy that afternoon, or at least very nearly so. Conceding two late goals the visitors were hanging on for dear life at the end.
Okay, fair enough. On that date, Mourinho had been a club employee for precisely three days. What about now, eleven months on?
Last Sunday Tottenham once again encountered the Hammers and once again sailed into a three-goal advantage. Only this time the two late goals in response were added to by an injury-time equaliser. Spursiness – a condition that is the very antithesis of all that Mourinho holds true – has now evidently entered his bloodstream too.
It is an undermining trait that is seemingly entrenched in the club’s DNA. It can also be deemed a self-fulfilling prophesy because the players know full well that it exists and fear of its existence means their trigger-finger becomes panicky at the first clear sight of their target. So they yet again shoot themselves in the foot.
And now it’s reduced one of the most win-at-all-costs coaches of modern times to preside over a team that meekly folds at the sight of success. Is there any limit to how contagious Spursiness is? Is it so virulent that it infects any individual who steps through their doors?
The only way to get rid of this is to win some silverware. For that, don’t hold your breath anytime soon.