Spurs ‘Who are you?’: on Gareth Bale and giants past

All poor Jeff Beck, famously a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, did was to receive an invitation to which he has not yet responded. A missed career break? Don’t worry Becks, we’ll fit you in for the return game. The silver lining is supplied by David Sapsted*. Sappers to his mates, of whom I am one. The top British journo, and one-time Spitting Image gagwriter, drools over some of the current White Hart Lane crop. We forgot to ask who ‘appy ‘arry gets to assume goalkeeper-maiming duties in Defoe’s absence …

Salut! Sunderland:
Why do you reckon Jeff Beck failed to answer our invitation to answer these questions?

Well, he’s everywhere and nowhere, baby. Besides, he’s even older than me and probably forgot.

So is Gareth Bale due a bad match?

I’ve been a massive fan of Bale’s since I first saw him a few years ago when he was playing for Southampton at QPR. He was about eight at the time. But while everyone raves – quite rightly – about his stunning performances against Inter, he had a quiet game at Manchester United and was effectively neutralised for most of the 90 minutes by Phil Neville during the Everton game at the Lane a fortnight or so back. So he has bad days, good days and some really great days. You Sunderland lot better hope that if he doesn’t have a bad day, then the worst you have to endure is merely one of his good days.

He must be quaking in his boots at the thought of coming up against Phil Bardsley or Kieran Richardson

Yeah, right. My understanding is that Harry is so worried at the prospect that he’s thinking of playing Bale on the right or, maybe, dropping him to the subs’ bench to spare the poor lad the humiliation. Mind you, as I recall lamenting in this august column a year or two ago, my main problem with Bale is that he’s Welsh. It is heartening to see that Wotsisname, the England manager, has now joined my ‘For Gawd’s Sake Get Bale English Citizenship’ campaign.

Exciting times at Spurs. What are your minimum and maximum expectation this season?

After literally decades of under-achievement, frustration and disappointment at the Lane, I don’t think anyone has expectations. It’s a week-to-week thing. Everyone is enjoying the Champions League ride but our league form has been, at best, patchy, mainly because our defence has looked so porous and our strikers have not been very striking in domestic competitions. As far as I can recall, the only clean sheet we’ve managed to keep this season was the 0-0 in the opener against Manchester City. The aim must be a top four finish and, of course, a 5-0 thrashing of Arsenal in the Champions League final.

Any chance you could add a couple of tonkings of Newcastle United later in the season?

I watched your encounter with Newcastle on the box and couldn’t believe Sunderland played so woefully. Our own record in recent times against Newcastle has not been good: I was at a game a few years ago at the Lane when we had, as I recall, 24 shots on goal and scored twice, and they had four shots on goal and scored thrice. So don’t hold your breath.

How does Bale rate with the best you’ve ever seen in Tottenham colours, and does anyone in the current squad compare with the worst you’ve seen?

I am so old that I recall vividly watching the double winning side of 60-61. Is Bale as good a winger as Cliff Jones? Time will tell, I guess, but he’s getting there. And all the attention that Bale’s getting tends to deflect the praise that the likes of Modric, Huddlestone and, particularly, Van der Vaart deserve. Think Blanchflower, Ardilles, Hoddle. And the worst? Let’s be honest, if you ended up with Crouch in your school playground team, you’d stick him in goal. I felt much the same about Sergei Rebrov, and he wasn’t even tall enough to be a goalkeeper.

Arsenal are a bit inconsistent this season, great results followed by poor ones, but are you still chasing them for north London bragging rights?

Arsenal? Are they still in the Premier League? My daughter – a Liverpool fan of all things – criticised me last week for supporting Shakhtar Donetsk, or whatever they’re called, in the Euro game against the Gunners. “You should be supporting British teams in the Champions League,” she told me. How ludicrous is that? Anyway, it is not a question of bragging rights: we know we’re better and always will be. It’s just an inconvenience that since the Premier League came into being, they’ve beaten us a lot more often than we’ve managed to beat them. That might now be changing…except I seem to have been saying that for a long, long time now.

Give me this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three

Chelsea, That Other Team From North London, Spurs, Manchester United. Bottom three: Stoke, West Ham, Wigan.

Where will Sunderland finish if not in either of those lists (I assume you had Spurs in the first one)?

Safely in mid-table. You must aim to be above Newcastle, whose own form is a model of inconsistency. But, really, this is turning out to be one of the best seasons I can remember if only because everyone, with the possible exception of Chelsea, looks vulnerable on any given day.

Is there anyone in our current team you’d welcome at White Hart Lane?

I know that Jordan Henderson is much coveted but, really, we have such a wealth of midfield talent sitting on our subs’ bench that I couldn’t see him getting a look-in. I think I’ve said before that Bent never got a fair crack of the whip at Tottenham but can you imagine how he might thrive now on those Bale and Lennon crosses, and Van der Vaart through balls?

Is it time to abandon high-minded principles of fair play and accept cheating – diving, Nani, feigning injury, Nani, trying to get opponents booked or sent off, Nani etc – as part of the modern game? If not, how do we stamp it out?

Sadly, you won’t stamp it out. Theoretically, it would help if refs started awarding penalties for cynical fouls and shirt-pulling in the box every time there’s a corner, but none of us would want to see a dozen penalties awarded in a game. Similarly, with the Nani incident and the one in the Liverpool game involving the free kick earlier this season, refs could send off the players for unsportsmanlike conduct. But unless we’re prepared a situation similar to the one in American football, when you seem to have almost as many officials on the pitch as there are players, it won’t happen.

You were looking forward to the World Cup. I bet you’re not especially looking forward to the next one.

To be honest, I feel like giving up on England. If the World Cup weren’t bad enough, the 0-0 draw with Montenegro left me suicidal. Montenegro, for Pete’s sake, with a population smaller than Leeds metropolitan district. Until Harry Redknapp becomes England manager, I might resurrect my Irish roots – my maternal grandfather was from Dublin – and support them.

Will you be at our game. If not how will you keep tabs? What will be the score?

I won’t be there – my bank manager reckons I’ve already spent too much on Champions League tickets recently. Sky seem to be doing the Midlands derby between Birmingham and Stoke, so I guess I’ll have to watch it on one of those dodgy Asian TV channels on my computer, complete with Spanish commentary. I’ll predict a 3-1 victory for Spurs – but, there again, I always do.

* Sappers – UK correspondent of
The National, Abu Dhabi and former news editor and New York man for The Daily Telegraph – on Sappers: I had no choice, really, about being a Spurs fan. My mum and dad were both from north London and devoted to Tottenham. As a girl, my mum used to go with her mother to see them EVERY week – the reserves used to play at the Lane on alternate Saturdays in those days. Oddly, at school in Romford, only one other of my classmates supported Spurs (50 years after we first met, he is still my closest pal) while most were fans of the Hammers or Manchester United…in Essex, for crying out loud. Although my daughter has turned out to be a wrong ‘un in terms of football loyalty, my two sons are keeping the Spurs line going. Trouble is, though they’re both in their 20s now, they still seem to think I should pay for the tickets.

Interview: Colin Randall

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