One more fixture. Ninety minutes plus stoppage time of the 2012/13 season to go and then its two months of watching sports that are not the Beautiful Game.
And, with so much riding on the final match against Sunderland, I will take fifth position in the Premier League. There, I said it.
I will be OK with finishing in the Thursday night European spot, I will not complain about watching games on a Sunday and I believe that it will be just reward for our efforts this year.
There will be some who disagree. I accept that. I expect to get slaughtered on social media and told by the latest generation of Spurs fans that I don’t know what I am talking about.
That if we don’t get Champions League football next season, Young Gareth will leave, nobody of any real quality will want to join us and that we will be forced to pay over-the-top prices for players who will happily accept high wages for the chance to get Spurs into the holy grail/cash cow of European football for the 2014/15 season.
They might be right.
But I believe that finishing behind the Manchesters, the Roman Empire and the Nomads will be a true reflection of our season. And if every Spurs fan is honest with themselves, they would have taken finishing 5th as a significant achievement bearing in mind the players that left the club in the close season and the appointment of AVB in what we all expected to be another one of our transitional seasons.
There is another reason why I think that we probably deserve fifth place.
Because we haven’t played consistently well enough through the season to secure the 3rd or 4th place that some fans consider to be our rightful position. They aren’t delusional, they are passionate and committed to the club – as we all are – but a healthy reality check is in order.
In the years since Sky TV irreparably changed the face of the game in 1992, we have finished higher than 7th on five occasions. Three of those have been in the last three seasons, and the other two were back-to-back 5th place spots overseen by Marin Jol in 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 campaigns – before he was disgracefully removed to make way for the short tenure of Juande Ramos.
With the exception of those years, the most we had achieved was to take 7th in 1994/95 – with the help of a certain German striker and our very own Teddy bear – but apart from that, we have spent the majority of our Premiership life enjoying mid-table obscurity and an end-of-season game that means little to us.
Just for the record, I don’t want those days to return. Bob Marley once said that “in this bright future, you can’t forget your past,” and I have to agree. We need to know where we came from to appreciate what we have achieved this season and (hopefully) where we will be going.
In October 2008, we were bottom of the league. Two points from eight games. Staring up the table instead of looking down. Then The Badger rode in on his second-hand and slightly dodgy off-white horse and saved us. We got to a cup final and finished a respectable 8th.
The next season, we finished 4th. It was an unbelievable achievement. We looked forward to the Champions League in the same way that a starving man looks at the array of cakes in a baker’s window. And, as we all know, we did quite well in our CL debut season.
We did so well, that our Premier League form suffered a bit and we finished the season in 5th position. But we had tasted the nectar of the footballing gods and, understandably, we wanted more.
Harry wheeled and dealed his way through the summer of 2011, persuaded some players who wanted to go to stay and was lucky enough to have a player on the books who was on his way to being a superstar. History shows that we held on to a coveted 4th place – despite our manager being distracted and what some pundits feel is our now traditional dip in form - and that if it wasn’t for a freak occurrence in Munich, we would have spent the summer of 2012 dreaming of the treats that awaited us in the following season.
But this is Tottenham Hotspur. We don’t like to make things easy.
Seemingly annoyed by his failure to bring the cream of the football world to N17, The Chairman dispensed with The Badger and brought in AVB – who had spent a few months watching the players who refused to play for him at Chelsea seemingly happy to add silverware to the cabinet of a bloke who had been sacked by West Brom.
Transitional season was the first thought that ran through my head after AVBs appointment.
This was repeated again when I watched the team in a pre-season game at Baltimore and once more when we sold Modric, let Van Der Vaart try to patch up his marriage in Hamburg and sadly waved goodbye to the King.
For the first few weeks of the season, we looked like a team that was coming to terms with not playing in the Champions League by making sure that we got nowhere near it this time. The new signings – with the exception of Big Jan – were not setting the Lane alight and we had the unedifying spectacle of having to see Chelsea perform so badly in the defense of their trophy that the Roman decided to get rid of the manager who won it for him.
Then we seemed to get it together. The results started to get a bit better – including a fantastic win at Manure – and we were doing OK in the Europa League. It got a bit shitty in November, losing to Wigan at home was followed by a battering at the Nomads and defeat by the other Manchester, but then we moved into another gear and moved up the table.
A defeat by Everton in injury time aside, once we got into the top four, we played (for the most part) as if we should be there. However, the consecutive defeats by Liverpool and then Fulham in March sent my spidey-sense into overdrive. A seven-point gap over the Nomads was quickly charged down and we have been (to my mind anyway) clinging on as opposed to stamping our authority on the European spots.
It has helped that the majority of the Premier League care less about going on a European Tour and more about avoiding a trip around the Championship. If you look at the current league table, we are 21 points clear of West Brom (8th) who are themselves 9 points ahead of Sunderland in 17th.
While this is great for the clubs at the top of the tree, it is not healthy for English football. We all know that there are now only three or four teams that have the financial resources to win the title, with perhaps three others who may fight over the scraps. The Manchesters and Chelsea are the most likely to stay at the top of the tree leaving us, the Nomads and Liverpool and potentially Everton (depends on the post-Moyes era) as the ones-most-likely-to-be-there-or-thereabouts.
I want to stress that I am not unhappy with this situation.
As I said, I don’t want us to return to the days when the chances of making Europe rested with a successful cup run – something that we have also failed miserably in since the formation of the Premier League. Two League Cups is not a good return for a club with our supposed cup reputation, while not even making the FA Cup Final since 1991 is (quite frankly) pathetic.
But in terms of where the club is heading, I am confident that we are on the right track. The signings are getting better and we have players that can light up the league in the same way that Hoddle, Gascoigne, Lineker, Ginola, Waddle and Ardiles did in the pre-Premier League days.
We are financially secure and haven’t fallen into the trap of overpaying our stars, despite the obvious disparity in wages between our boys and those at clubs being bankrolled by foreigners. The new stadium will see more people come to N17 to watch the team, a knock-on effect that will help the community as a whole. The Chairman may still be playing hardball in terms of what he is willing to spend for players, but there is a healthy glow coming from the Lane these days.
So if we don’t get that last Champions League spot this year, it won’t be the end of the world. The naysayers will moan that Gareth will leave us and that another year of Europa League is not where we deserve to be. I disagree.
Finishing 5th will be a reflection on the season and the team as a whole. One that I expected little from and instead got to watch one of the best players I have ever seen in a Spurs shirt terrorize opposition on a regular basis, while knowing that we have potentially over-achieved in terms of the playing staff available.
Put it this way. If someone in that stadium in Baltimore in July had told me that 5th was the least we could get on the last day of the season, I would have bitten his or her hand off.
But 4th would be nice.