Gerard Sharpe is a 58-year-old Tottenham lifer who thought that his team had run out of ways to torment him. He was wrong. His story comes from the night of the Champions League quarter-final, second leg at Manchester City and, in so many respects, it encapsulates the dramatic extremes that have propelled the club to the final against Liverpool in Madrid on Saturday.
Sharpe was heading home to Epping from Miami, after a cruise holiday with his wife, and it was a battle to keep the connection on his phone to the text updates from the Etihad. On the tarmac, with the flight about to take off, he finally lost it – just after Raheem Sterling scored what stood to be the winning goal for City in the 92nd minute. And so began Sharpe’s purgatory.
On the field, Spurs’s players were crushed. “When Sterling scored, I just put my head down,” Lucas Moura says. “I was so sad.” Christian Eriksen had been the player who gave the ball away. “They went through and ended up scoring,” he says. “It felt like a disaster. I thought we were out. Gone.”
Everybody knows what happened next. The goal was disallowed after a VAR review for an offside in the buildup and Spurs squeaked through on the away goals rule. For the players, the seconds had stretched like hours leading up to the reprieve. Yet Sharpe would be in the dark for the duration of his eight-and-a-half-hour flight to Gatwick.
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,” Sharpe says. “I watched a couple of films but my mind wasn’t really on them. I knew there were two more minutes of injury time still to go and I’m thinking: ‘Can they get another goal?’ But really you say to yourself: ‘Sod this, they’ve blown it again.’ I was really upset.
“My wife is saying: ‘What’s the big deal? It’s only a game of football.’ She’s not into football, at all. She’s a football widow, who has to put up with my bad moods at weekends and now this. I’m coming back from a fantastic holiday on a lovely plane but it was a nightmare. I’m thinking: ‘Typical Spurs. They’ve let me down. Two minutes to go and they couldn’t hang on.’”
Mauricio Pochettino’s team scored late goals in each of their final three group phase ties to keep themselves alive – against PSV Eindhoven, Internazionale and Barcelona – and Lucas’s 96th-minute winner in the semi-final, second leg at Ajax sparked the wildest of scenes. Sharpe, though, will never forget the moment that he turned on his phone at Gatwick.
“The first thing I looked at was the Sky Sports website and it says Spurs are through to the semi-finals,” Sharpe says. “What?! I thought Spurs had to have scored again and it wasn’t until I looked through it all and saw about the VAR that I realised. I couldn’t believe it.”
It has felt, on more than one occasion, as though destiny has been at work, drawing Spurs to Madrid, although Eriksen does not buy it. “I don’t know if it’s destiny – I think we’ve just been lucky,” he says with a smile.
Sharpe is conflicted, not least because fate has dealt him another lucky card. When Spurs beat Ajax, he did not have the required loyalty points for a ticket to the final only for the club to then lower the threshold, allowing him and a friend to get a pair. “It was miraculous,” he says. They had the tickets but they had missed out on flights and so they decided to drive, via Folkstone and Calais, with an overnight stop in Bilbao on Friday.
“I’d like to think our name is on the cup but Spurs fans are very pessimistic,” Sharpe says. “Until the final whistle goes and we’re lifting that cup, I won’t believe it. Liverpool are favourites but something is also saying to me that there could be divine intervention going on.
“I’ve now got a four-day trip, and we’re going all over France and Spain to see this game. So somehow it keeps pushing me. But I’m thinking: ‘Keep going, we’re going to get there and we’re going to win it.’”