Home > Random Rovers thoughts, Travel > To Dare is to Do (Spurs away – Europa League)

To Dare is to Do (Spurs away – Europa League)

‘Audere est facere’ is the club motto at Tottenham Hotspur with the English translation ‘To Dare is to do’ adorning the inside of White Hart Lane. Last Thursday night Shamrock Rovers dared to take the lead in their Europa League group game against Tottenham. For 10 glorious second half minutes, the massive Irish away support in the ground dared to dream that their team could get a win against Harry Redknapp’s multi-million pound men. The scoreboard read Tottenham Hotspur 0 Shamrock Rovers 1 and there are plenty of photos taken of it by the Rovers fans but at the end of 90 minutes it would read 3-1 to the home team. The League of Ireland champions couldn’t hold on to their lead but came away from the match with their reputation enhanced despite the defeat.

The away support for this game swelled from Rovers’ previous European game where the away contingent was just 43 fans in Belgrade. This time it was more like 4300 fans in Tottenham. Rovers had sold out their ticket allocation bringing 2,250 from Tallaght to Tottenham. These numbers were bolstered by London based Irish who had snapped up around 2,000 tickets for the neutral section adjacent to the travelling support.

The day after the win in Belgrade, the Europa League draw paired off Rovers and Spurs and I walked straight in the door from the last Euro away to book the next two. Flights were secured to London for less than €100 before the price started to head skywards. Talking to someone in work yesterday, he was laughing saying that Rovers had cost our company €550 as that was the cheapest flight he could get to London last Thursday having been called there at short notice for a meeting!

Following the morning flight on Thursday, I spent a pleasant chatting to many of the Hooperati who chose Covent Garden as their HQ for the day. They had come by the usual planes (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton), trains (from Holyhead via the ferry) and automobiles (with two buses having come from Tallaght via the ferry). In one of the bars overlooking the square in Covent Garden, we got chatting to some Arsenal and Olympiacos fans who had played each other in the Champions League the previous night. Both wished us well against our Group A opponents of Spurs and PAOK Salonica. The builders working on the roof of the church opposite seeing Rowan McFeely’s “North American Hoops” flag hanging from the balcony (on its debut trip from Boston) gave a “Shamrock Rovers – give us a wave!” shout out from across the square that we were happy to oblige.

I was pleasantly surprised how good a venue White Hart Lane was once we got out there following rush hour. A tight compact ground, we had been given half of the lower tier and an even bigger section of the top tier. We were able to stand in these sections and this helped the atmosphere that built up as kick off approached. It was great to see so many familiar faces standing around us ahead of kick off and you could see the delight in their faces that our team (and our fans) were about to perform on this big stage.

Manager Michael O’Neill had made four changes from Rovers’ last game but Harry Redknapp had made 10. Even still, there was real quality in his side with six full internationals including a strikeforce of Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Roman Pavlyuchencko. For once in Europe, Rovers managed not to concede an early goal but we rode our luck in the first half. The woodwork twice, ‘keeper Richard Brush and Stephen O’Donnell, standing at the post for a corner, all prevented Rovers from conceding a goal. The Hoops, playing in black but with the green and white hooped socks, created very little in the attacking final third in the first half. Rovers did maintain a fair amount of possession and worked neat triangles around Spurs who pressed Rovers hard. The fans behind Richard Brush’s goal got to cheer each pass during a series of lengthy first half passing moves that ultimately lacked any real penetration.

Everyone in the away end was quite happy when the Lithuanian official blew for half time. Sadly UEFA didn’t write us a cheque for €35,000 since we were half way to a draw. There is no goal bonus from UEFA for scoring but we didn’t care when we broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half. When Carlo Cudicini parried Gary McCabe’s well taken free, the ball fell to the scorer of that superb volleyed goal in Belgrade, Pat Sullivan. He struck the ball well on target but Stephen Rice got the decisive touch to lift the ball over the keeper to score in the south end of the stadium in front of the Rovers support. It was absolute mayhem, as Rice and his teammates celebrated in front of us.

In the home game against Juventus in the Europa League qualifiers last year, our Ultras unveiled a banner saying ‘Facci Sognare’ or ‘Dare to Dream’. Well we were continuing the dream in Europe as we spent the next 10 minutes leading the game. Could we hold on? Could we maybe get a second as we got greedier? No was the answer as Spurs stepped it up a gear and over a devastating six minute period scored three goals in quick succession. It was international quality that was the difference with clinical finishes from internationals Pavlyuchenko, Defoe and Dos Santos giving Spurs a 3-1 lead.

Only the goals seemed to liven up the library-esque silence of the Spurs fans. They got the full song repertoire from Rovers with plenty of ones familiar to them (‘Shall we sing a song for you?’, ‘Here to see the Rovers’ and eventually ‘Sing when your winning’). They may have been scratching their heads when hearing David Essex ‘Hold Me Close’ or going “Is that really ‘Build me up Buttercup’ being sung?” as we went through our vocal repertoire. The rendition of Tallaght to ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Keep the Green Flag Flying high’ were sung with real emotion as Rovers fans who followed the club through the tough times got enjoy this reward even if we were losing 3-1 (so naturally we also sung “We’re going to win 4-3”!). Maybe it might have happened if the extra official behind the goal had signaled for a penalty when Billy Dennehy looked to have been fouled towards the end of the game but probably not.

The players made their way over to the Rovers end to clap our support and they genuinely seemed to enjoy the occasion even with the result. Jersies, shorts and socks were thrown into the crowd with Pat Sullivan leaving for the dressing room only in his skimpy briefs! On the arrival back in Covent Garden, random passers by seeing our colours were congratulating us. Those that asked me the score were told it and then I giddily would tell them “but we went 1-0 up!” It was one of those glorious defeats. Yes, we should be striving wins in Europe but Spurs are just on another scale from the set up at Rovers and that is no disrespect to anyone at our fan owned club. What we are trying to do at Rovers is develop further so that we can get into the group stages on a regular basis and that we are a quality destination for young Irish footballers to develop in the game with opportunities for them to play regularly in Europe.

Nights like these for the players, and everyone involved in the club including the fans, just makes everyone want more of them. Even though Shamrock Rovers lost, it doesn’t mean we are out of Europe of course. We still have another four more games in the group stages. I had travelled to London hoping we wouldn’t be taken apart and that we might get a goal to cheer. For me, what we got was so much more. We got a goal, we got a lead and we got the most enjoyable defeat that I’ve ever witnessed as a fan of Shamrock Rovers.

I’m going to keep on enjoying this European odyssey with our next adventure coming in just three weeks time when we head to Greece, the home of Odysseus.

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