10th February 1990, in case you are wondering. Twenty-six years ago, older than a lot of our fans and unless you are in your mid-thirties, you won’t remember it. I don’t and I was alive attending football matches at that point. Probably too much beer sunk inbetween times.
On 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison. I remember that; a epoch defining moment and at the time, the way the world had been, an event which seems less miraculous than us winning at Stamford Bridge.
Of the line-up I expect tomorrow, only three of the starting eleven were alive at that point: Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Sissoko. Think about that for a minute. Just as we bear the brunt of the fifty-five year jokes, this is a similar scenario.
Except that joke isn’t funny anymore.
There are a number of ghosts to lay to rest tomorrow and despite being unbeaten, none of us can be confident of getting three points. We had a two-goal advantage last year, needing a win to prolong the agony of the title race a week longer. We blew it.
We had to win on Tuesday to stay in the Champions League and failed to show any sense of urgency or desire to do that, even when handed a lifeline. I know the line-up was rotated but the performance was so poor that it feels like the contagion of fear is running through the squad.
Can the manager and players turn it around?
Over time, yes but there’s no sense in denying these are difficult days. Last weekend’s win over West Ham should have provided impetus but didn’t. Two late goals should imbue them with confidence and belief, as well as a desire to never be in that position again. We shouldn’t need a ‘Hail Mary’ approach but at least we’ve got the players who can carry it through.
Recent form can’t be ignored; last weekend was the first win in eight games, a run that is now 1 in 9. In the Premier League we have yet to lose and twelve games in, that’s impressive but nobody’s talking about us as champions. After this season so far, I doubt many will be talking about us going into next season’s Champions League either.
The Europa League games, according to the manager, will take place at Wembley. Given how we were stifled in the Champions League there, is it a wise move?
A bigger question for the board to consider is what attendances will the matches attract? I don’t recall any selling out last season so unless we are making a clear statement of intent to go out and win the Europa League, it would be better to play the games at the Lane.
But tomorrow is more important than that question. Will the players be able to raise themselves? Does 26 years of history weigh heavily on their shoulders?
The more I think about it, the more I’m comfortable considering a point a good result.