It is, without a doubt, the greatest thing to happen to my football club in years. So much more meaningful than a League Cup triumph, it erases the bitter memories of the Tale of the Tainted Lasagne and represents an important achievement in sporting and business terms that could mean a brighter, better future for Tottenham Hotspur. It may only be the guarantee of a fourth-place finish, but to a third-generation supporter whose best Spurs memories date from more than two decades ago, this was magical. There’s already a St. Hotspur Day, but Cinco de Mayo must, from now on, also be known as The Day Crouch’s Header Put Spurs in the Champions League.
Much like the restless ’Arry, I was nervous as hell before this one, and remained so throughout most of the first half. I seethed when Steve Bennett disallowed King’s goal for jumping over Barry, pushing off far less than King had done when he scored against the Red Mancs just weeks before. Superstition told me if I watched one TV in the bar and not another that Tottenham’s defence would play better and it seemed to work, so I endured it even though I was now watching a fuzzier picture.
Spurs shook off their own fuzz of the first 20 minutes and started to take control, with Gomes bailing them out beautifully the few times they slipped. Thank God it was Toure, and not any of City’s more capable options, who got free in the box three times.
Buoyed by the big game turnout, the Spurs Supporters Club was in even better voice than the Carling Cup win over Chelsea, providing ‘Super Tottenham from the Lane’ a vocal boost from thousands of miles away as the teams came out after the break. Halfway to a draw, my nerves eased.
Tottenham were clearly the better side in the second half, even though it took a while for the goal to come. Having looked more and more likely, they finally hit home when Younes Kaboul skipped past Craig Bellamy and fired a shot that Martin Fulop could only deflect to Crouch, who finished the easy header and danced off behind the net in celebration.
I’m still too giddy to write coherently about what this means for Spurs in a league where Liverpool has a boatload of troubles, Arsenal is dealing with a lengthening silverware drought and Manchester City is still paying through the nose for each step on the long road to serious success. Tottenham have been improving all year, but they can’t slack off now. There’s still likely to be a tricky qualification round before the group stages and no one wants to pull an Everton, and be done with the whole thing far too soon. Furthermore, to maintain their newfound Top Four status, Spurs must survive another 38-game marathon through the planet’s toughest domestic league next season. This is a time to keep building. Top players must be retained, not sold off to rivals for profit.
But all those things are matters for another day. This was reason to open up a bottle of whisky and toast a truly special season. Welcome to the big time, Tottenham. You’re not the Cream of the Crap anymore.