Sunderland supporters in the away end at White Hart Lane on the 23rd of August 2008 were an optimistic bunch.
It had been a long time since we had won there. The last time I remember was when Chris Turner beat them in the League Cup back in December 1984. I had stayed up late on a school night to watch Midweek Sports Special, or maybe Sportsnight. As well as playing brilliantly throughout, Turner saved a penalty on the eighty-first minute.
Less euphorically, I remember drawing 3-3 with Spurs in 1990. I wasn’t at that game either. The TV announced we had won, but Lineker scored very late and the mini-printer confirmed the disappointment.
We were hopeful in August 2008. Roy Keane had got us promoted and kept us up. We had played Liverpool in our first game of the season, the previous week, and four new signings starred: Chimbonda, Tainio, Diouf and Malbranque. One of those is very fondly remembered. Three of them had played for Spurs.
We lost 1-0 to Liverpool. We had played well enough but they were an impressive team and this was when Torres was good. He had taken the only half chance presented to him in the game and scored. Liverpool ended the season second in the league. There was no disgrace in the defeat.
I had taken my son, David: it was his first game. He was too young to be very interested but he did introduce me to one new experience at the match.
I have often wondered why people keep getting up during play and causing that restless, sluggish Mexican wave of half standing whilst everybody moves to let them out of the row. I mean, it’s only forty-five minutes. And it costs to go to games so you would think people would want to watch it.
Round about thirty minutes of the first half David really wanted some chips. By thirty-five minutes he just couldn’t wait any longer. By forty minutes I was watching the game from the concourse with him stood next to me, facing the other way, eating his chips. So it goes.
The family dynamic at Spurs was different: both my older and younger brothers were in attendance. My younger brother, Phil, was sporting the gold Hummel top which I’ve seen so much of on social media lately. I’m pretty sure that my older brother, Steve, was the one who had bought it. But it was Phil’s now. I’m not sure how much more expensive these original items need to become before this provokes a family argument. I don’t think Phil had worn it since Marco had in 1990, but here we were in 2008 and he still got it to fit somehow.
It was a warm late summer’s day at White Hart Lane. I liked the ground well enough with it’s stand up straight sides, the fans bearing down on the pitch, and the obligatory stanchion in the way. It reminded me of somewhere else, but only vaguely.
Spurs dropped Berbatov for this game (awaiting a transfer) but still had a host of other big name stars to choose from. Their line-up also included the increasingly impressive Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. Perhaps they started the game a little better than us but we were never over-awed, competing for everything from the off.
The Spurs fans appeared a little lacklustre. You go to some places and opposition fans are very enthusiastic about showing you how much they dislike you. Not on that day. They didn’t seem to show the game that much concern either: it’s a lot of effort to work yourself up when you fully expect to win.
I remember David Bentley getting a lot of grief whenever he came anywhere near us, behind one of the goals. Gareth Bale was booked for diving. And Steed Malbranque hit the post for us, late in the first half. After forty-five minutes it was 0-0; the excitement saved for part two.
Andy Reid and Steed Malbranque provided much of the creativity for us but the player who stood out on that day was Kieran Richardson.
The spiritual revival in his life was also paying dividends in his game. I think there had been an article in the paper about how he had not been away on holiday that summer but had stayed in Sunderland and stayed focused doing plenty of running. It showed. He was always rapid but in that early season he looked a couple of paces quicker than anybody else on the pitch. And he applied himself wholeheartedly against Spurs.
On fifty-five minutes Richardson picked up a loose ball outside the area and hit a deflected belter past Heurelho Gomes. We enjoyed that.
When Jermaine Jenas scored for them with fifteen minutes to go it felt like a familiar story was unfolding. But we didn’t crumple. And we always looked like we might get another. We worked too hard not to.
Richardson had been substituted before their goal. Djibril Cisse came on, making his debut.
A Sunderland player, over the course of his career at SAFC, may experience the full gamut of emotion from the fans – aimed at him. Cisse almost had the lot in thirty minutes.
First there was the wild and frenzied reception which greeted his first appearance. Then there was a mutter of slight disappointment when his first touch of the ball didn’t work out. Then there was audible harrumphing when his next touch also proved poor and I suspected a third poor touch might result in open abuse but the next time I noticed him he was rising like an enigmatic salmon (!?) to head home a superb cross from Daryl Murphy. He powered that ball into the turf and into the net and we all forgot any worries we might have had and went back to thinking he was brilliant.
The game ended 2-1 to us. Kieran Richardson went on to score a very good free-kick a couple of months later. Funny thing: Djibril Cisse scored in that game too.