1990 was a fantastic year.
I was still a teenager. I made enough money to get me through at least a couple of years of University, I moved to Devon, made lifelong friends, met the woman who I would ultimately marry and raise a family with, I looked like a cross between Tim Burgess and Ian Brown, had a better goal scoring record than Lineker, woke up to sea views every day, saw The Rolling Stones and This is Spinal Tap for the first time and learned how to play guitar.
Thatcher finally joined the swollen ranks of the unemployed and you could still watch Jim'll Fix It on a Saturday evening. No internet, no mobiles, no Twitter. Vinyl was still the preferred format for most "serious" music fans, the Hitman and Her was a big draw if the show rolled up in a venue near you, Noel Gallagher was a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets. Protests were about unfair taxes and education as a right and not a privilege, not trainers.
It doesn't seem that long ago in some ways, but 1990 was a different world. In football terms we saw a great World Cup in Italia ’90. England were a team you could care about, Gazza’s tears won the hearts of a nation, Waddle and Pearce missed but people didn’t burn effigies of players in England then, Sky were yet to turn football into a millionaires playground. Chelsea were still shit and we were the best team in London but we missed out on Europe because, well, you know why.
The best team in London, an achievement that we still have a good chance of realising this season. But we have to win eight of the last nine games to have even a whiff of this glory in league terms. The gap, as we knew in our heart of hearts it would, has evaporated. Much has been made of our recent slump, the key astute observations being around our supposedly want-away manager, putting our best players in their best positions, our truly lamentable set piece performance and our shortage of firepower up front. Pete Tong? More of an eight pipe bong. It's gone very, very wrong but it's not an irretrievable situation.
|Azza - please be fit!|
Stoke was a better result than it might have been, it could be the point that keeps us above Chelsea. That our 90+ minute goal was scored by a player who usually looks exhausted at the 60 minute mark was a big bonus, but it's difficult to be too pleased with a point at home to Stoke. Every trick in the book, diving, fouling, time-wasting, last-ditch, long-throwing Stoke. The anti-football team. We should always be better than a team like Stoke and we have been this year, but we have dropped five points to them. An age-old problem has come home to roost at the worst possible time, as we struggled to beat, then to salvage, an average team at home.
Our set pieces have been an issue for a long time, but scoring in open play has covered this flaw for some time until now. We can neither defend nor score when it comes to set pieces and, since our free-scoring form has dried up, this failure to rehearse something effective from a dead ball situation becomes increasingly embarrassing. It's a bit like discovering that the national side don't practice penalties, or not playing a substitute goalkeeper when you know need cover, it's an admission of failing to prepare and preparing to fail.
A reinvigorated Chelsea take on a worn-out, depleted and low on confidence Tottenham team. Harry’s already getting his excuses in with the ‘derbies mean nothing to foreign players’ line. Is this parochialism really the hallmark of an international manager? Anyway, if you believe most of the media, you'll concur that the Europa League spot will be ours as the new natural order of the Sky top four takes its shape for the run-in. A week or two ago, I saw this as a critical six pointer but, right now, would take one little point. Do we stick or twist? Will Redknapp gamble on the fitness of King, Lennon and Adebayor or save them for more winnable fixtures? I think you know what's coming.
Pavlyuchenko scored our last great set piece goal, Bassong would look strong with Kaboul. Corluka at right-back with Walker as a winger is not an option. Those who saw the transfer window as a sensible and suitably handled opportunity for squad modification (myself included) should cry into our shallow, craven, submissive hands. The club should have done better. Saha and Nelson are highly unlikely to either win the game for us or keep Chelsea at bay. We wondered what Pienaar was for. Pienaar was for now. Oops.
So it looks like 1990 will keep its sheen, we may lose today to save tomorrow but it could cost us third place for another year or maybe longer. Semi final revenge could be sweeter for it if we get there in a better state of repair. We might surprise ourselves, we've seen what hope, positive thinking and a determination to fight for life can do to turn around a seemingly terminal situation this week. A win at Chelsea would be a small achievement by comparison.