Tottenham Hotspur In Focus

Impetus’ Tottenham Hotspur correspondent Rachel Cohen reports from head coach Vicky Jepson‘s media conference ahead of this weekend’s trip to Manchester United and also highlights why today’s announcement of a doubleheader home match with the Spurs men’s Premier League team is not necessarily the great piece of news that some may think (5/5/23).

Above: Tottenham Hotspur in the huddle after their WSL game against Leicester City. Photo: Spurs Women.

Jepson confident that Spurs can take the fight to Manchester United

Above: Tottenham Hotspur boss Vicky Jepson. Photo: Forbes.

Tottenham Hotspur head coach Vicky Jepson remains confident that her team will avoid relegation, saying that she was not taking anything for granted because it was “still very tight at bottom”. But she was “confident and calm in our approach to these next three games.”

“The girls are training well. We’ve had two positive results where we’re coming away, not empty-handed, which is something that we’ve experienced a lot this season, so we can take the plus from that. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy with the point because I’m certainly not. I want three. That’s all we all want – three points every game we play. But yeah, we’re in a good place mentally and physically.”

When asked about the team conceding early in two games in a row, Jepson pointed to “concentration levels,” blaming moments in which “marginal errors” had cost the team. She did though praise her team’s ability to rebound: “The big positive for me is that when we go behind, it doesn’t deflate us and you see that with some teams soon as they go behind, then the wheels fall off. Our wheels don’t fall off.” She also pointed to (not) conceding late as an area that Spurs have improved upon in recent games.

Jepson credited the substitutes for changing things in Spurs’ last game against Brighton and Hove Albion, crediting Kit Graham, who Jepson said was “outstanding” in a recent friendly and who had “come on and instantly affected the pocket, to play that in-behind ball for Beth (England) to go on and score.”

With Spurs taking on high-flying Manchester United on Sunday, Jepson acknowledged that United “score goals regularly” even if it takes them until the last minute of the game, as it did against Aston Villa. But she insisted that “we’re not there just to take part in the game. We’re there to compete.”

She denied that there was any aftermath from the incident between Ella Toone and Eveliina Summanen in the reverse fixture and said that Summanen had not been affected by it, praising the player’s impact over the last couple of games as “incredible”.

She also discussed the versatility of Summanen, who has seemed to take up positions all over the park this season, more recently combining in attack with Beth England. “We have been playing her in a 10 role with Beth in the nine. So, like a pendulum press. But she can also play in the 10 or she can play in the four and the eight.”

In terms of player availability, Jepson said that most players would be available for Sunday, with club captain Shelina Zadorsky able to fully participate and Ramon Petzelberger back in the matchday squad for the first time since last September.

On Beth England, Spurs’ star player since joining in January, Jepson said that she came off in the game against Brighton because she was not feeling well at halftime and then, after scoring the goal, told the bench that she didn’t have much energy left. This was not, however the first time that England was substituted in the last few games.

The Tottenham boss explained that previous substitutions were because England has been “on restricted minutes” to manage a knee injury. Typically knee injury news in women’s football is calamitous, but Jepson sounded relatively sanguine about England’s ongoing issue: “It’s more of a protection piece rather than running her into the ground and having any flare up. And she’s been monitored and the medical team and the physical performance team have done a great job to make sure that that’s not an issue.”

There are some other ongoing minor injuries with players needing to be looked at pre-game. These include Nikola Karczewska whose lack of game time in recent weeks was explained to be in part due to a groin injury that will be assessed on Saturday.

Spurs, why do you do this?

Today Spurs announced that the final home game of the women’s season has been moved to Saturday 20th May and that it will be the second part of a doubleheader at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The first part will see the men’s team play Brentford.

Given recent comments about the WSL from Daniel Levy (which have been beautifully taken apart by Sophie Lawson among others) this move appears to be an attempt to show that the club cares about its women’s team.

But the timing of the announcement and the way that it has been organised show anything but that, with little attention paid to fans of the women’s team and seeming nonchalance about the consequences of getting it wrong.

This game matters for only one Spurs team

There are some but not many fans who care deeply whether Spurs men’s team beats Brentford. Obviously, fans want to see the team playing well. But Ryan Mason is not going to be sacked if they lose. Spurs are not going to qualify for the Champions League either way. Fans are not going to suddenly love Daniel Levy or Enic. And most fans are at best half-hearted about getting Europa League or, the currently more likely scenario, Europa Conference League.

On the other hand, the women’s game matters a whole lot. There are only three games to go, and by the time of this game, there will be only two. Spurs Women are three points above relegation and will play the team currently in the relegation spot (Reading).

The two teams sitting in between them (Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City) have an additional game in hand. Unless by some miracle Spurs beat Manchester United away this coming Sunday, Reading could be the most important game of the season. Win and we stay up. Lose and relegation becomes much more likely.

Okay it’s a bit more complicated. Goal difference may matter. Reading may (but likely won’t) beat Chelsea on the final day. Tottenham may anyway beat West Ham United in our final game.

But does any Spurs Women fan want to leave our season to an away game against a team (West Ham) that would like nothing more than to see us relegated? And in case you have any doubt about this, look back at Kate Longhurst’s celebrations after her last-minute equaliser last season, in a game that meant very little.

Meanwhile, in case anyone assumes the game against Reading will be a gimme, it won’t. Spurs have played Reading three times already this season. These have resulted in a win, a loss, and a draw (which became a loss on penalties). Tottenham are improving and they have the quality to win this easily, especially with the goal machine that is Bethany England, but wins have been hard to come by and both teams will be fighting hard.

Above: Tottenham Hotspur (black shorts) battling against Reading earlier in this season. Photo: Spurs Women.

So, let’s just consider what happens if Spurs Women get relegated: The team loses money, publicity, and televised games. It may be that some players (I’m thinking England in particular) have escape clauses in their contracts and it will become hard to attract or re-sign the players needed.

Moreover, having failed to significantly capitalise on the Lionesses’ Euro’s win, Spurs will be in an even worse position to capitalise on the summer’s World Cup. Looking ahead, and with only one promotion spot, a return to the WSL is unlikely to be either straightforward or quick.  

In other words, everything that can be done should be done to ensure that the game against Reading is played in a way that prioritises getting the players to the game in a good place, creating a positive supportive atmosphere for the team, and reducing any additional risk.

A doubleheader may work brilliantly. But it clearly fails in terms of reducing risk – just by virtue of being new and different. It may also fail to achieve the other two priorities. With the women’s game as the second of the two games, what are the consequences if the men have a poor game? How would the players be affected if the atmosphere in the prior game is toxic? Do they have to wait for the men to leave the changing rooms before entering? How does any of that help them prepare?

What about the fans?

A double-header is all about boosting attendance at and attention for the women’s game. After all the club is making it easy for all men’s team fans to watch for free. Let’s ignore for now the signal that sends about how much the women’s team is worth. We can at least appreciate that the club is trying to increase crowds at the women’s game.

Above: Beth England celebrates in front of empty seats during Spurs last game at the main stadium. Image: GOTB

But how well is that being organised and what does it mean for fans of the women’s game?

First off, it is happening with just over two weeks’ notice. Men’s team fans who already have train tickets to the game, may not be able to change them to stick around later and see the women’s game. Lots of women’s fans who planned to be at the game when it was on Sunday will not be able to change plans to be there on Saturday. We know that late changes happen a lot in the women’s game. But this one was not forced on the club by TV stations it was a choice by the club to inconvenience fans of Spurs Women.

Second, there has been no consultation with and seemingly little consideration of Women’s Season Ticket holders and fans who regularly attend games at Brisbane Road, nor less those who have previously paid to go to women’s games at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Some women’s team season ticket holders are also season ticket holders of the men’s team. But even dual-season ticket holders often attend the men’s and women’s games with different people.

The club has said that season ticket holders can book a ticket at the stadium for unreserved seating in level 1/South stand with entry from 3.15pm (for a 4.15pm game). Most likely the same will apply to those who want a ticket to see the women only. Meanwhile, those people with season tickets or tickets to both men’s and women’s can stay where they are after the men’s game (it is not yet clear whether they will be able to move if they want to).

There are a couple of glaring assumptions underpinning this plan: a) that a large proportion of the men’s fans will leave, creating spaces in the South stand, and/or b) that not many fans of the women’s team will attend. So at the one time Spurs are organising a double-header to increase interest from men’s fans and organising seating on the basis that most will leave and that they won’t be able to attract many additional women’s fans. That might end up being the case. But if it is, it is hardly a ringing endorsement of having a doubleheader.

There has also not been a lot of thought given to the logistics. For instance, if I enter the stadium at 3.15 and find an empty seat, how do I know whether the person who was there has left or whether they have just popped out for some beers and are likely to return (perhaps a little drunk) to reclaim their seat just minutes before the women’s game starts?

No doubt it will not be terrible. At worst there will be a few people having to move or getting a bit shirty with one another. But why come up with a seating system that is potentially anxiety-producing for a game about which many of us are already anxious enough.

None of this is terrible. Fans will live. Hopefully the team will still win the game. And it is of course to be celebrated that Spurs want to move towards a #oneclub approach and integrate the women’s with the men’s team. But the women’s team has fans and has on-pitch priorities and it would be good if these were more obviously front and centre in planning women’s games. There is not yet evidence that they have been in this instance.

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