Welcome, one and all, to our new feature for the 2019/20 season, Losing My Favourite Game, where football fans from all walks of life come together to wallow in the one thing that unites us all: the pain of defeat. Every week this season, we’ll be asking prominent voices from the world of football and beyond to cast their minds back to the most crushing ninety minutes of their lives; where hopes were vanquished, dreams were shattered, and cruel reality reared its ugly head.
For this feature’s maiden voyage, we’re delighted to be joined by Dan Tracey. A freelance football writer and host of the E-Spurs and Real Football Cast podcasts, Dan has been a Tottenham Hotspur supporter since the days of Ossie Ardiles playing five up front. Charged with looking back over thirty years of disappointment, dross and despair, from Jose Dominguez to Noe Paramot and beyond, Dan finally landed on…the 1st June 2019. Or, to be more precise, the Champions League Final. The biggest game in Tottenham Hotspur’s 136-year history.
That Mauricio Pochettino’s side were in the final at all defied all logic. Theirs had been a run of astonishing great escapes. Having taken just a point from their opening three games in Group B, late winners against PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan saw Tottenham head to the Nou Camp on Matchday 6 knowing that if they matched the Nerazzurri’s result, they’d progress to the knockouts. Behind after seven minutes courtesy of Ousemane Dembele’s goal for the hosts, news filtered through from the San Siro that PSV had taken a shock lead. However unlikely it seemed, a draw might just be enough to see Spurs through. In a campaign that lacked reason throughout, Barca’s defence switched off five minutes from time, allowing Lucas Moura to level the scores. Inter too could only draw, and against the odds, Tottenham were through.
The round of sixteen threw up another meeting with Borussia Dortmund, the fifth and sixth times the two sides had faced each other in three years. On this occasion, luck had little to do with Tottenham’s progress, as the German side were blown away at Wembley. A 3-1 aggregate win set up a dreaded all-English affair with tournament favourites Manchester City, but once again fortune would favour North London.
Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss at Tottenham’s new stadium set the tone for a tie that City were destined to lose. Son Heung-Min ensured the slenderest of advantages when the teams resumed hostilities at the Etihad, where a bonkers opening twenty minutes saw Pep Guardiola’s team 3-2 up at half-time. Aguero’s 59th minute strike looked to have settled the tie, before Fernando Llorente bundled in a corner and the Gods of VAR smiled down on N17. Despite suggestions of a handball, the goal was given, and though wave after wave of City pressure thundered towards Hugo Lloris’ goal, City’s big chance wouldn’t arrive til deep in stoppage time. An errant pass from Eriksen, a flick on towards Aguero, a trademark finish from Sterling. The glorious pause of uncertainty from the home support, and the unforgettable hand motion from Cüneyt Çakır. Offside. Tottenham Hotspur through to the Champions League semi-finals.
By half-time of the second leg it looked like Pochettino’s dogged side had finally been finished off. A goal up from the first leg, the Ajax team that had suckerpunched some of Europe’s best on their way to the semis had run Tottenham ragged, scoring twice on the counter and leaving the visitors needing a miracle to prevent the Dutch side from reaching their first final since 1996. It arrived in the shape of Lucas Moura, as the Brazilian struck an incredible second-half hat-trick. The winner came with the last kick of the game. Spurs would meet Liverpool in the final, and for Dan Tracey there had never been a bigger occasion…
Tottenham Hotspur 0-2 Liverpool
Champions League Final
1st June 2019
Quite simply, it was the biggest game in Tottenham’s history, and it was the biggest game that I’ll ever likely experience. Barring a return to the final, a chance of lifting the Premier League on the final day, or England making it to the final of an international tournament, I’m not sure if it will ever be matched. The game also had added importance, because victory would have been the most unlikely end to the season – one where no-one really gave us a hope of anything, after failing to sign any new players in either of the two transfer windows. Truth be told, I just really wanted us to win and as we know, life as in football, sometimes has a habit of not going the way you want it to.
I was hopeful of getting a result going into the game, but of course there’s always that fear going up against Liverpool. In a weird sense the fact it was an all-English final took the gloss off of it slightly. Then again had we faced Barcelona I would have not had any optimism going into the game. As they say, when it comes to football, it always the hope that kills you.
I watched the game at the new stadium, as they had a big screen event. To be honest the atmosphere was flatter than I expected. It probably didn’t help that, on a hot summer’s day, everyone, including me, had been drinking all day. That coupled with 30 degree heat meant that a lot of fans had peaked before kick-off. Then, two minutes in, the atmosphere was even flatter. As far as the way the rest of the game panned out, I’ve erased it from my memory to be honest. I’ve not watched it back and I never plan to.
Having gone behind after two minutes, there was a sense that perhaps this wasn’t going to be our night. It was almost as if we’d used up all our good luck tokens in both Manchester and Amsterdam and although we’d always have those memories, ultimately we wouldn’t have a trophy to show for it. Although there was a late rally, the feeling soon dawned on me that this wasn’t going the way I had hoped.
In the aftermath of Madrid, I didn’t watch a single game of football for two months. Not because I was in a sulk about the result, I just thought now’s the time to break from the game, especially due to working in the industry. Having had that break, I feel like the passion is back. I genuinely craved football by the end of the hiatus, that’s the feeling you should have if you truly love this game.
As for the club, I would love to say that we looked at our weaknesses and went out and got the necessary signings over the course of the summer, but I do fear we have missed the opportunity to turn the final defeat into a platform to build on, just as Liverpool did after their defeat to Real Madrid twelve months earlier.
Having had a bit of time to reflect on the final, I’ve found some perspective. I’m 35 and as much as I love this game, I do have to remember that it has become a paid hobby for me and life goes on. So as frustrating as it is, we go around for another season with the trials and tribulations that will certainly come with it.
Thanks to Dan for sharing his memories of the 2019 Champions’ League Final. Dan’s latest project, Head To Head Stats, is now live, providing automated statistical infographs from the top eight major European leagues. You can follow Dan on Twitter.