So goodbye, Andros Townsend.
The winger officially left Tottenham yesterday and headed for Newcastle and a new start. He needed the move. In a different era and under a different head-coach, Townsend may well have been the “one of our own” story that Harry Kane has become but, alas, it wasn’t to be.
Players come and players go in football, that’s the game, but Townsend’s social media narration of his final hours in North London stirred the senses. He, in his own words, had lived the dream of a fan and had got to play for the club he supported as a boy. He meant it - of that I’m sure - but there was an unspoken regret within his posts and, quite obviously, this story hasn’t had the happiest of endings.
In the latter half of 2015, Townsend’s potential departure from White Hart Lane was being widely discussed within the community. He had fallen below Erik Lamela in the wide-midfielder hierarchy and it was becoming apparent that his style of play wasn’t entirely suited to Mauricio Pochettino’s approach.
“So flog him for £10m - it’s best for everyone involved.”
There’s nothing wrong with the logic, it was - and is - entirely reasonable. Townsend is an England-calibre player with ambitions of going to the European Championship this Summer. His departure will probably halt the negative momentum of his career and give him access to valuable playing time. Similarly, Tottenham will be better served by the transfer revenue they are receiving from Newcastle than they were by a player who had seemingly been banished to the periphery.
But it’s not that simple. This is the era of the Football Manager mindset, in which players are faceless entities comprised entirely of numbers and attributes. The human side of the game is becoming less relevant, eclipsed by a commodities culture which treats athletes as possessions.
As understandable as that may be, it’s still right to pause for thought sometimes and remember that it’s a terrible thing to sell a fan. In Townsend’s case, it was reasonable, logical and it made sense from every perspective. But still, what a dreadful moment.
Think back to your own football days and remember the moment when you realised that you would never play for the club you supported. The horrible irony there is that, generally, that’s a truth realised at quite a young age - at a time when dreams shouldn’t be crushed and aspirations shouldn’t have any limitations.
“You’re not good enough, you’re going to have to work for a living.”
That’s a cruel voice, but we’ve all heard it.
Townsend didn’t. His childhood fantasy became his life and he made over a hundred appearances in the shirt worn by the heroes who probably adorned his bedroom wall. It’s easy to envy him, then, and tempting to cast him as something other than a sympathetic figure.
But consider what his Tottenham career has been. He was good enough without actually being good enough. An obviously talented player who does a lot of things well but just not the right things. At a different time in the club’s history, he might have been star. At points in the 1990s and early 2000s, he would have been a certain starter and he would be celebrated as the local boy who had gone from the stands to the pitch.
He would have been Kane: the crowd would have sung his name, young boys would have had his number on the back of their shirts.
Given the choice, we would all trade places with him. Offer any Tottenham fan the opportunity to play one-hundred games in lilywhite before being sold and they would, without exception, snap your hand off.
Remember your own dreams, though. In that fantasy world, we were scoring goals and lifting trophies, we were never marginalised players or substitutes. Andros Townsend did get to pass through the back of his wardrobe and he did get to walk in the Narnia snow, but he was dragged back by circumstance before he was really ready to return.
That’s a terrible fate. Maybe it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but that’s not definitively true and there’s a certain pain attached to touching a dream without ever really getting to live it.
Townsend will do well at Newcastle and he moves to the North-East with the well-wishes of an entire fanbase. His transfer has a layer of sadness, though, a lingering melancholy.
We watched a dream die yesterday.