All 94 minutes of Tottenham’s epic draw in the Camp Nou on Tuesday night were excruciating viewing. But for those wanting the north Londoners to progress to the final 16 of the Champions League, it was the two minutes immediately following the final whistle in Barcelona that proved unbearable.
Having blitzed Barca in the second half to secure a well-deserved point, the exhausted Spurs team congregated in the middle of the pitch. Frantically they searched for confirmation that Inter Milan had dropped points at home to PSV Eindhoven. The game had been locked at 1-1 since the 73rd minute. If the result remained the same then Tottenham’s Champions League campaign - seemingly doomed after the first three matches had yielded a solitary point - would miraculously continue with progression into the knockout stage. Such was the players’ anxiety, Harry Kane even dispensed with the now ubiquitous practice of covering his mouth when asking: ‘Is it over?’
As none of the players had a smartphone tucked down their sock the England captain’s question went unanswered. Instead, the primary source of information appeared to be the massed ranks of travelling fans tucked securely in the away section of Barcelona’s giant stadium. A mere 450 miles (as the crow flies) from the San Siro.
Always on these occasions, dependent on ‘results from elsewhere’, ‘news’ suddenly reaches the crowd and then spreads like wildfire. Invariably the information that comes through is that whatever result the fans want has somehow miraculously materialised. This is immediately followed by ‘scenes’ as the television cameras zoom in on middle-aged men jumping around and embracing, joy written large upon their faces. It’s the (false) hope that kills you.
This night would be no different, word comes through that the Inter game has finished all square and Spurs have definitely qualified at the Italians’ expense. The Spurs end erupts. The players, reminiscent of students nervously awaiting the posting up of exam results, begin to pick up on this. Some look jubilant, others confused. Why aren’t the club officials on the sidelines joining in?
Those watching on television at home know why. The game in Milan is still very much alive and will enter a sixth-minute of injury time. A single goal for the Nerrazurri will consign Tottenham to that cruellest of fates, the dreaded UEFA Europa League. Perhaps even worse, the prospect of the inevitable hammering that will follow on social media should Inter steal a winner at the death. It will be delivered in meme form showing Spurs fans cheers turning to tears. Doubtless, this Doomsday scenario will also result in another mocking circulation of summer’s hubristic advertising campaign that declared the new Tottenham stadium ‘The only place to watch UEFA Champions League in London’. The stakes could not be higher, blow up ref please, FFS.
But how do these rumours in a crowd take hold? In the old days presumably, one bloke with a transistor radio allowed his desires to get the better of him. He would mistakenly extract the result craved by the assembled throng from the fuzzy wireless commentary, passing it on to the bloke he’s sat next to for years but whose name he does not know. From there the good news taken as gospel would engulf the crowd against its better judgement. It takes a big person in that situation to hold up their hands and admit they’ve made a mistake, so understandably transistor radio man keeps quiet, head down sheepishly hoping that what he has relayed now comes to be.
The only alternative explanation for this phenomenon is one so mischievously appalling it can barely be countenanced; namely that a member of the crowd, purely for the craic, decides to wind up their own fellow supporters by making up the result from elsewhere. Surely no one is that perverse?
Given that nearly every member of the 4610 strong official Spurs contingent in the stands at the Camp Nou will have had a 4G internet connection in the palm of their hand it’s hard to imagine how news of the final whistle in Milan prematurely broke. Such was the intensity of their celebrations however, I found myself checking two separate websites for confirmation. This despite having live pictures in front of me of PSV booting the ball repeatedly down the field as their game in the San Siro went on and on and on.
For the sake of those Spurs fans in Barcelona hopefully by the time word reached back to them that they had been sold a dummy, the referee in Milan had actually blown the final whistle. Which he eventually did, I saw him do it with my own eyes. They’ll never know how close to disaster they came.