Our thoughts rightly turn to Ugo Ehiogu as a new era for London football dawns at Wembley Stadium

JOHN DILLON

These are the times when football remembers it is just a game. So it will be a significant and poignant moment when the tributes are paid to Ugo Ehiogu at Wembley today.

Football is more than just a game, of course. That is one of the reasons it prompts outpourings of emotion such as the one there has been since the tragic death of 44-year-old Ehiogu following his collapse on the Tottenham training pitch.

So much of our collective spirit and soul is wrapped up in the sport. So much of it is about striving for achievement and excellence that it reflects the best of us (as well as, at times, the worst.)

Certainly, it provided Ehiogu with a rich and fulfilling career as a player and then as a coach at Tottenham, even though he has been taken from it tragically early.

So in one way, yes, it is just a game and people are right to say that occurrences like this one put it all into perspective. But it is also so much more.

It is also, at its grandest, about humanity in just the same way that art, theatre, opera and cinema are - and in just the same way that they seek to illustrate what that humanity is all about. .

The depth of feeling expressed about Ehiogu has, one hopes, provided some small sliver of comfort for his shocked and grieving family which - again one hopes - will provide them with more solace in times to come.

One striking factor about this has been the way in which a former player who was no longer on the main public radar - while he got on with building a fresh chapter in his career - has been remembered so fondly beyond the inner circles of the game.

Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Partly, this is because of the awful circumstances of his death and because of his age. But again, it is also because football strikes a chord within us that is about far more than mere entertainment. And Ehiogu excelled at it and represented the best of it.

The whole nation will bear witness to this on Saturday afternoon during the television coverage of the FA Cup semi-final between Ehiogu's team, Tottenham, and Chelsea.

Undoubtedly, this will make this a difficult match for Spurs. But already, at the Norwich City versus Brighton game on Friday, a full and genuinely heartfelt tribute to the former England, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough defender has taken place.

The shadow now hanging over this FA Cup semi-final will surely also remove the toxicity which has marked the rivalry between these two clubs in recent times as well.

It is more marked off the pitch than on it. Chelsea as well as Spurs will be paying tribute to Ehiogu. It is be hoped that the nature of the occasion now will also ensure that supporters of both sides realise that this day should be about the best that football has to offer us.

Before tragedy struck, it was shaping up as one of the most significant meetings between the teams for some time.

In the plainest terms, both Chelsea and Spurs still have the Double within sights.

Antonio Conte's team still look better placed in the race for the league title but in the past week, Spurs fans have found them wondering whether a repeat of achievement of the fabled team of 1960-61 is feasible.

The fact that they can even dare to dream about now illustrates how far they have come under Mauricio Pochettino.

Even if they ended up only winning the cup rather than the league, it will have an extra resonance beyond the fact of success for its own sake.

Surely, it would be the moment - the arrival of Pochettino's first trophy - that would signal the start of even bigger things for the club.

This game will also have its own psychological bearing on the current title race.

That, too, has an extra layer of meaning. Pep Guradiola has been brought to Manchester City, Jose Mourinho is re-kindling something at Manchester United and Jurgen Klopp has Liverpool in contention for a Champions League place.

But is this all-London collision at Wembley - repeat of the first Cockney Cup final in 1967 - a match which highlights where the real power will lie in English football's near future?

Beyond the fact that Spurs and Chelsea are the best two teams in the land just now, there is a glittering economic future awaiting both clubs as they gear up to move into new stadiums - Spurs first and then Chelsea.

Both new grounds will be so dazzling, so state-of-the-art and so well-conceived and built that they have the potential to be financial game-changers for the whole sport.

They are going to make Old Trafford look dowdy and old-fashioned.

A new era may be dawning for London football at Wembley today.

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