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Paul Hayward comments on Spurs-Liverpool match

Thursday, 29 November 2012 - 12:13pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Spurs' team aspire to the club's noble tradition but the past week has cast the grimmest of shadows.

The article of faith runs all around White Hart Lane: "The Game Is About Glory." This evocation of the Danny Blanchflower era has taken quite battering in the past week, with a Spurs fan taken to hospital with stab wounds in Rome and West Ham so-called supporters chanting about Hitler and Nazi saluting here on Sunday.

So where are we: the 1930s, with gangs of fascists ambushing people they assume to be "Jews" and the Final Solution a source of "comedy" rather than mortification?

In this mid-table engagement, it was disquieting to be among so many who have been on the wrong end of a week of reptilian behaviour. The word inside the club is that the attacks of London and Rome have indeed left bruises on the soul.

The 3-1 victory over West Ham may have helped by sending the blockheads home miserable and ending a run of three consecutive Premier League defeats. Not here to witness either the West Ham win or a rousing start against Liverpool was Ashley Mills, a Spurs fan recovering from "skull and thigh" injuries inflicted by marauding Ultras, two of whom haven been arrested.

Sunday's outrage prompted the West Ham-supporting David Rosenberg to write in the New Statesman: "Songs about Hitler, fascist salutes and a hissing sound mimicking gas chambers were directed towards our rivals - the Spurs 'Yids'. The media were shocked. I'm not. Just six days earlier, I watched West Ham play Stoke. As I left the ground one bonehead was leaping around, shouting: 'Who we got next, then?' When his mates replied 'Spurs', he screamed: 'The Yids! Gas 'em all! Gas 'em all!'?"

Fan chants make too many column inches these days, but to ignore what Spurs have endured home and away would be unforgivable. Of course no Tottenham season ticket would be required for a Jew living in Britain to experience a deep chill at the thought of the holocaust being used as "banter". Plenty of West Ham fans, such as Rosenberg, have said as much, as long with Yossi Benayoun, the club's Israel international.

While evidence was compiled in Rome and Tottenham, Liverpool's visit offered a chance to promote the Spurs tradition of expressive play.

Andre Villas-Boas, their coach, must be loving the thought of winter. His team will not face any of the big dogs until Manchester United on Jan 20. Between now and then they will meet Fulham, Everton, Swansea, Stoke, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Reading and Queens Park Rangers.

This string of enticing opportunities could be the making of Villas-Boas's reign, or it could get the fans on his back and extend the doubts about his suitability as Harry Redknapp's successor. On the evidence of the first half, Spurs are still capable of ripping teams apart. The first 15 minutes were a typical White Hart Lane blur of flashing white and thrilling downfield runs, with Gareth Bale to the fore.

His explosive break six minutes into this contest drew not one but two missed tackles from Steven Gerrard, who lost almost all his individual battles up to the interval.

All the talk of Gerrard's dip in form seemed justified by this initially subdued display. To see Jordan Henderson operate further forward than him must be galling, but a deeper starting position works for Gerrard with England - and it might work for Liverpool, too, provided he is still allowed to unleash his long sweeping passes from back to front.

The reservation about the Villas-Boas era Spurs is that they will devastate inferior opposition with their quick attacks but concede too cheaply against top-level rivals. The same doubt applied to the manager's Chelsea as he sought to push his centre-backs up, spread the team from flank to flank and attack at blinding speed.

Talent is not scarce. In central midfield Sandro and Mousa Dembele (starting for the first time since Oct 7) bossed Gerrard and Henderson about and Bale was unplayable in the early exchanges. First he ran from the halfway line to cross for an Aaron Lennon tap-in, then he clipped in a deflected free-kick to put Spurs 2-0 up.

White Hart Lane felt especially quiet. How hard it must be to experience, witness or hear about an Ultra ambush in Rome and a Nazi-venerating ear-bashing here at the Lane and carry on in the same old football-loving manner. The game itself - a thing of pride and beauty in these parts - must seem incidental to all but those with an exceptional ability to block out malevolence and stupidity.


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