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Sunday, 16 September 2007

Through Darkness, the Game Was Stopped...

Saturday 15th September, 2007: Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Bale), Arsenal 3 (Adebayor 2, Fabregas)

Tottenham Hotspur v. Royal Arsenal - This match was played on the ground of the former at Park, Nov. 19th [1887] The 'Spurs at once began to attack, but 10 minutes from the start, the Arsenal scored a lucky goal. From this point, the visitors were pressed throughout and, had it not been for the splendid defence of F. Beardsley (Notts Forest), in goal, the score would have been much larger. Through darkness, the game was stopped 15 minutes before time, the 'Spurs winning by 2 goals to 1

The Weekly Herald, Friday November 25th, 1887

"Through darkness, the game was stopped". Arsenal had arrived late for the game, a fairly common occurence back then, it would seem. The previous week, the Herald reports on the same page, Tottenham and Cheshunt had enjoyed "a pleasant game of 60 minutes, result[ing] in a draw, no goals being scored" before, presumably, the darkness fell once more. Nowadays, barring a failure of the artificial light of the floodlights, it would take more than darkness to stop the North London Derby. Wars came and went and, though they may have reduced the relative importance of the fixture and robbed it of some who had graced its stage, they could not stop it; the two teams played several times in the London Football Combination during World War I and even burying their differences for long enough to share White Hart Lane during World War II. It seems there are some rivalries that just won't lie down, even in the midst of greater territorial disputes.

Almost 120 years on from that first curtailed encounter on Tottenham Marshes, in brilliant late summer sunshine, the 'Spurs and the Arsenal once more square up, this time at White Hart Lane. I listen on the radio while I paint the stairs, my brushwork echoing that of my father and great grandfather, both painters and decorators in their day; dad's paint splattered Sony portable radio relaying the events from the Lane. It's a closer game listened to live than the Match of the Day highlights, shown later, suggest. As they have for the last two seasons in this fixture, Tottenham start the better and get an early goal; the promising youngster Bale curling what seems the perfect free kick - low and creeping in just inside the post - around the Arsenal wall.

Then, in the second half, the game turns on two missed chances by the 'Spurs gifted striker Berbatov. The first, which would have killed the game off, sees him round Arsenal 'keeper Almunia, only to dither with his finish and allow Toure to pull off an astonishing last gasp block when the tall Bulgarian seemed to have done the hard part and certain to score. The second comes after Adebayor's firmly headed equaliser, Berbatov seeing his snap volley from a corner kick go straight into the chest of Gael Clichy defending the Arsenal goalpost.

Minutes later, the game has swung in Arsenal's favour. Fabregas is allowed to waltz into space thirty yards from the Tottenham goal. He seems to have as much time as he wants to steady himself, take aim and fire a howitzer of a shot past the despairing dive of Tim Robinson. There's still time for Tottenham's £16 million summer signing Bent to scuff a glorious chance to bag a share of the spoils for the hosts. Denilson spurns a similarly gilt-edged chance before, seconds later, Adebayor seals both the result and an impressive personal display with a stunning volley. Flicking Fabregas; strongly weighted pass up he, swivels and sends the ball high over Robinson's upstretched arm. It's a goal that may just be the making of him as he attempts to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor Thierry Henry.

It's certainly the sort of goal TH14 would have pulled out of nowhere, but today is all about Cesc Fabregas. From the evidence of the highlights, the geometry and precision of his passing seems to become more certain and delightful with each game. Two simple angled balls along the deck bisect the Tottenham defence and should have been rewarded with goals. He's already scored a goal more than he did in the whole of the last campaign, so let's hope those young legs can last and that his agent doesn't get too greedy.

We got the full 90 today, but even another light curtailed seventy-five would have delivered more quality from these two sides, who are closer in their potential than league standings and today's result suggest, than in most Premier League games. The only darkness to be found must be amongst the Tottenham faithful, who saw their team again play so well, only to lose. But both sides have felt the lights go out many a time over the last 119 years and I'm sure both will again.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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