With a distinct Brummie burr the Aston Villa contingent at White Hart Lane belted out the cruellest of all football chants.
“Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning”.
There was no conjecture about this. No exaggeration. After just shy of three and a half years in the capital, Martin Jol was indeed facing the boot.
The problems had started that summer. Two consecutive fifth placed finishes had prompted the Tottenham board to invest heavily in new personnel in a bid to smash the top four glass ceiling and though on the surface this all sounds very encouraging, Jol leaked his displeasure at having his preferred signings vetoed by Director of Football Damien Comolli.
A bid for Martin Petrov didn’t materialise despite assurances being given and instead a hotchpotch of new arrivals were secured, some, in hindsight, huge successes (most notably Gareth Bale and Danny Rose), others flops from almost the day they entered N17.
With great expenditure (almost £58m all told) comes great expectations and when Spurs lost their opening two games of the 2007/08 campaign the club’s hierarchy were photographed in a Spanish hotel deep in talks with Seville boss Juande Ramos. It was a discussion that could perhaps have been brushed off with excuses, that is until Ramos admitted to journalists that the Premier League club had made him a ‘dizzying offer’. Busted.
The scandal made Jol’s position almost untenable but he ploughed on regardless and results marginally picked up until, a month later, he committed the cardinal sin for any manager under the cosh – he oversaw a meek, surrendered derby defeat. Now the knives truly were out with the build-up to the Aston Villa game in early October, dominated by talk of the Dutchman’s imminent and seemingly inevitable departure.
Twenty minutes in to an understandably tense midweek encounter Dimitar Berbatov punctured the pressure with a typically cute header from a set-piece. This night had long been scheduled to commemorate Tottenham’s 125th year of existence, with the players wearing a retro design and a pre-match celebration taking place for the club’s greatest ever manager, Bill Nicholson.
Due to the present circumstances the party mood had been considerably muted but now The Shelf roared with defiant pride as angry hope prevailed. For a club suffocating under so much negativity it must have felt like an exorcism for the Tottenham supporters as they sang their songs, their seats forgotten, but the defiance lasted precisely two minutes before Paul Robinson spilled a simple catch at the feet of Villa defender Martin Laursen, who poked home an equaliser.
It wasn’t long before Laursen got on the scoresheet again, the ball ricocheting off his head past the beleaguered Spurs keeper after a frantic spell of pinball inside the box. The Danish centre-back spent six years at Villa: here he scored a quarter of his overall goals tally inside ten minutes. Before the break an individual effort by Gabby Agbonlahor brought a crescendo of boos ringing out around the Lane, unrest that only escalated when Craig Gardner thundered home a free-kick on the hour-mark to make it 4-1 to the visitors.
That’s when the Villa fans sang their cruel taunt. And that’s when Spurs began to fight back.
It began with a ‘consolation’ from Chimbonda (a player forever destined to fall into the ‘remember him?’ category) but belief surged through the home side when Robbie Keane was hauled down inside the box, dusting himself down to fire home the stonewall penalty. There were now eight minutes remaining and how fickle and stupid it is that the fate of a respected, erudite top level coach hung on those 480 seconds but that’s where modern football had taken us.
This enthralling, adrenaline-charged game was deep into added-on time when Younis Kaboul slammed home an emotional leveller. The ball thundered up into the roof of the net and the Spurs players piled on, unified in spirit and elation. Martin Jol’s P45 was safe for another day.
What happened next?
Jol’s stay of execution lasted for three weeks, replaced somewhat predictably by Ramos and his dizzying offer. The future Ajax and Fulham boss discovered his fate when his nephew sent him a text during a home UEFA Cup defeat to Getafe.
Aston Villa, the support act to this particular tale, finished the season in sixth place.