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Ajax stories - Nihal Arthanayake

Thu 07 May 2020, 17:25|Tottenham Hotspur

For a man who talks for a living, broadcaster and Spurs fan Nihal Arthanayake only needed two words to perfectly describe the start of our revival against Ajax a year ago.

Those two words said it all, and Nihal probably spoke for all Spurs fans when he recalled his reaction to the first of Lucas Moura’s three goals in the second half that night to achieve mission impossible and send us to the Champions League Final.

“My exact words were, ‘oh ‘ello’,” he told us as he reflected on that magical night, a year on. “Yes, we’re back in the building! Roll of the shoulders, limbering up! We were back in it.

“Then the second goal (Lucas scored on 55 and 59 minutes) and it’s, ‘okay, keep it down... but we could do this!’ and suddenly it’s ramping up, the adrenaline is flowing. Then it’s mayhem, end to end, just mayhem.

“At the point where Jan hit the crossbar (87 minutes), it’s cleared and then... it’s done. That’s it, we’re out. It didn’t go our way, minutes to go, it’s done and now I’m thinking about the Gooners coming for me on Twitter! I’m getting my defence sorted, and then…”

Yes, and then... Lucas delivers the final act of that memorable night in Amsterdam, drilling home his hat-trick goal with 95.01 on the clock, 3-2 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate and we’re going through to the final on away goals.

It’s a moment BBC Five Live presenter Nihal, watching at home with his son, will never forget, and this is his wonderful re-telling of those moments that took place at around 9.55pm UK time, 8 May, 2019.

'I dropped to the floor and started crying'

"Genuinely, I have never felt anything like this in my life. I jumped off the sofa, my son was still on the sofa, I ran to edge of the living room, turned around, looked at him, ran to him and almost crushed him, I’m holding him so tightly. Then my eyes started to well up and he’s looking at me, because he’s never seen me cry before, he’s thinking ‘he’s not going to cry, is he?’ and then I ran upstairs to my wife in the bedroom, she was trying to sleep, and I dropped to the floor and started crying. It’s extraordinary and at that point, my wife reminded me that I didn’t cry when either of my kids were born! Those feelings, I’ve never felt before, and it’s all coming back to me again. Lucas’ face was all of our faces, right? That expression, running to the corner and the players piling on. Then I compose myself, and Poch is crying! That sets us all off again!

Those feelings, I’ll have them for the rest of my life and I’m just glad that my son got to see that at his age, 11, which means you keep dreaming these things can happen


"It just crystallises how important sport is, and how much we miss it now, how important it is to bring people together and the utmost joy, and devastation... when that goal went in, I’ve never seen such a stark contrast between two sets of players. It was just insane. As a Spurs fan, it is the greatest moment of my life. Those feelings, I’ll have them for the rest of my life and I’m just glad that my son got to see that at his age, 11, which means you keep dreaming these things can happen. Okay, the final didn’t work out, but the quarter-final and semi-final are two of the most unbelievable footballing experiences of my life. I wasn’t in Manchester, Amsterdam or Madrid, I wasn’t in a pub full of geezers, I was in the living room with my son and it was the adrenaline rush of my life. We could meet up in 2029 and it would be the same, no question. That third goal, that moment and what it felt like is embedded into my personal hard drive for the rest of my life, and how special it was for my son and I to be together like that. I love watching football with my son and to watch that with him, that was the greatest.”

Don't miss...

Nihal, Martin Jol and Darren Fletcher, commentator on the night for BT Sport, recall that night in Amsterdam in a special video feature available on Thursday night. Here's a teaser...