Football seasons are defined in very literal ways and, tempting though it is to assign blame for all of the game’s ailments to the way its broadcasted, that’s probably television’s fault. Moments, in the Premier League Years sense at least, must seemingly always have an impact on the table’s complexion; a goal here, a definitive consequence there.
Tottenham’s campaign produced little which belongs in that category. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were highly successful and those sneering at their second place finish are guilty of misjudgment, intentional or otherwise. Truthfully though, 2016/17 was characterised more by its ambience than any particular high point. Yes, the twin White Hart Lane victories over Arsenal and Manchester United will endure for many years, and the perfect muscularity of the two-nil win over Chelsea was wonderful but, even in those instances, supporters are more likely to remember how they felt on those afternoons and evenings, rather than what they saw or what the repurcussions were.
Television doesn’t really do quiet satisfaction. preferring instead to focus on Jose Mourinho’s race towards Icke-ian paranoia or Jurgen Klopp’s touchline slapstick. That’s fine, because it suits the medium: tv is drama, reaction, and hyperbole, and it’s extremely difficult to package nodding approval in a way that appeals.
Nevertheless, that’s what Spurs were.
Talking of catharsis is a little trite, but Pochettino’s team really are that cool wind blowing through overheated corridors. This is the age of the crisis club and a context within which Daniel Levy’s steady-handed stewardship is preferable to the alternative, but Tottenham have still crammed a lot of dysfunction into the last decade. So much so, in fact, that the contemporary team offer certain healing properties just by performing well and sidestepping disaster.
Over the course of the season, Spurs developed a habit of bullying inferior opponents in north London. What were once problem fixtures, “one of those days” occasions, became glorious exhibitions of functionality. West Bromwich Albion were mercilessly bullied in North London, and Watford and Bournemouth were also brutally knocked out by quick, savage combinations to the jaw. In years to come, the feeling fans felt on those days will become 2016/17’s reflexive association. It was pride, certainly, but also so different from what had come before. As the clock wound down on White Hart Lane and the emotions starting seeping down from those high-banked stands, it became easy to forget just how poisonous it often was. All groans, moans and impatience, providing a sonic commentary on its team’s place in the game: even when things were going well, the expectation of failure was never far away.
Perhaps that was because of its sightlines? The Lane offered excellent views, even in the prison-barred East Stand, and that intimacy was a double-edged sword. In certain situations, particularly at defensive corners or free-kicks, that closeness accentuated danger. The team’s frail history was, of course, partly responsible for the paranoia, but that visual perspective was equally guilty. And it’s not something which exists at many other grounds, certainly not inside the newly-builts, where the crowd sits on a gentle gradient and the cathedral-like surroundings belong to world removed from last-minute equalisers and disappointing home defeats. It’s an intangible quality which will doubtless be disputed, but at places like Old Trafford, The Emirates and The Etihad, there are implied assurances of victory which White Hart Lane has never offered.
But last season saw that reversed. Even in the bigger games, in which victory was anything but certain, the ground throbbed with belief. The football staples remained and the complaints about referees and targeting of opponents was much as it always was, but the tone was unmistakably different. More joyful, but also deeply descriptive of the trust which has been established between the supporters and players.
There were glorious highlights from last season. Son Hueng Min leading that uninhibited celebration in south Wales, the delicious split-second of silence between Gabriel felling Harry Kane and Michael Oliver pointing at the penalty-spot during the north London derby, and Harry Winks galloping into Pochettino’s arms after scoring against West Ham. There are many more, too, but the theme which binds them is the atmosphere in which they occurred – and that’s 2016/17’s legacy: all that harmony, all that warmth.