Why can’t we get over the line?

Gareth looks at how we consistently fail to take the final step

Another final comes and goes and the opportunity to end a now 13 year wait for a ‘trophy’ is extended much to the glee of our adversaries.

Let’s park the debate about the significance of trophies (compared to sustained top 4 league finishes) for the moment and just take it as given that winning an FA Cup or League Cup is better than not winning one but that attainment in the League is not a mutually exclusive pursuit. The subject was expertly covered on this week’s the Game is About Glory podcast (from 31:00 specifically).

As was pointed out the cup trophies in England have been hoovered up by those with significantly greater wealth and resource than we have.

YearFA Cup WinnersLeague Cup Winners
2021Chelsea or LeicesterManchester City
2020ArsenalManchester City
2019Manchester CityManchester City
2018ChelseaManchester City
2017ArsenalManchester United
2016Manchester UnitedManchester City
2015ArsenalChelsea
2014ArsenalManchester City
2013WiganSwansea
2012ChelseaLiverpool
2011Manchester CityBirmingham City
2010ChelseaManchester United
2009ChelseaManchester United
Table 1: Domestic Cup Winners since 2008

The outliers in that list are Wigan, Swansea and Birmingham – it is frustrating that we weren’t able to capitalise on the power vacuum that existed in the competitions in those particular seasons. (but look out for a future blog exploring our bizarre disconnect from the FA Cup). Annoyingly, unlike the mid to late 90’s when The League Cup was legitimately labelled a ‘Mickey Mouse’ trophy as the best teams – Manchester Utd and Arsenal – were apathetic towards it, the big boys now take great pride in winning it – the City players and staff celebrated this fourth successive victory – in a week in which they play a Champions League Semi Final – as if it was their first trophy.

You’ll need little reminding that our last silverware came in 2008…far too long ago but not quite as far back as the meme’s you’ll undoubtedly have been receiving today from West Ham fans whose last trophy arrived when there were only 3 terrestrial TV stations available.

They say you need to lose a final to know how to win one; presumably the heartache of seeing your opponent lift the trophy and celebrate in front of you provides that added determination to get it right next time. Yesterday’s defeat to a vastly superior Manchester City was our fourth successive final defeat dating back to the 2008 League Cup victory over Chelsea.

To lose 4 successive finals is something of an anomaly and coupled with our infamous streak of losing 8 successive FA Cup Semi Final’s suggests that there may be some sort of mental block. Other teams have suffered similarly – Liverpool lost 4 successive finals between 2012 and 2018: FA Cup (2012 v Chelsea) League Cup 2016 (v Manchester City) Europa League 2016 (v Seville) and Champions League (2018 v Real Madrid). Equally Sunderland had gone 8 Wembley appearances without a win between winning the FA Cup in 1973 and beating Tranmere in the Papa Johns Trophy against Tranmere in March this year.

We have been unfortunate that our four finals have all come against undisputedly brilliant teams.

  • 2009 League Cup Final v Manchester Utd (0-0 – lost 4-1 on penalties) – Man Utd were English and European champions and would go on to win the league and reach the Champions League Final.
  • 2015 League Cup Final v Chelsea (0-2) – Chelsea would become Premier League Champions
  • 2019 Champions League Final v Liverpool (0-2) – Liverpool had just recorded 97 PL points; had played in last season’s Champions League Final and would go on to win the league at a canter the following season.
  • 2021 League Cup Final v Man City (0-1) Champions elect and possible Champions League Winners too

I find it hard to accept that Spurs can ‘never win the big games’ because we have done in both the Premier League and Champions League. This hasn’t always been the case between the 90’s and until the early 2010’s our records against Arsenal (no wins between 1999 and 2008), Chelsea (no league wins between 1990 and 2006), Manchester Utd (no win at Old Trafford between 1989 until 2012) were appalling.

However, the league by its format provides few high stakes matches with the instant jeopardy that cup ties provide. The 2010 game at Manchester City is perhaps the closest we have been to a true league ‘cup final’ and of course we won on that memorable evening. Between 2015 and 2018 in the peak Poch era we won fixtures against Manchester City, Man Utd, Liverpool and even finally ended the hoodoo at Stamford Bridge in April 2018 – a result that effectively secured a finish above them.

The last two league campaigns have seen a steady regression back to pre Poch times. In fact, the biggest problem Pochettino created was the rise in expectations. The graphic below shows how between 2010 and 2016 the number of points remained roughly the same (between 62-72) but the incredible 2016/17 (the last at WHL) saw a big fluctuation and sadly since then the points have dropped off at an alarming rate though should consolidate this season probably rising a little.

Figure A: League points gained by Tottenham Hotspur per season since ENIC bough club in 2001

You must also look at the Champions League…though the wins over Inter Milan in the ‘taxi for Macon game’ and the thrilling victory over Real Madrid at Wembley were in the group stages. However, beating Dortmund over two legs in 2019 was an emphatic example of getting the job done. The incredible QF victory over Man City did of come courtesy of a large slice of luck but only by winning the home leg 1-0 and denying City an away goal and then scoring twice in 10 minutes in the return leg provided us a platform whereby we earned the luck needed by a narrow VAR Offside call.

In fact, almost the whole of the group stages in 2019 had aspects of jeopardy – we were going out for more than we were going through and crucial late goals against PSV, Inter and Barcelona saw us progress.

However, when thinking about our inability to win a cup competition, you can’t help think that there may be something intangible missing from the psyche of the club:

SeasonCompetition/StageOpponentOutcome
2008/09League Cup SFBurnleyWon (2 legs)
2008/09League Cup finalManchester UnitedLost (penalties)
2009/10FA Cup SFPortsmouthLost (0 – 2)
2011/12FA Cup SFChelseaLost (1 – 5)
2014/15League Cup SFSheffield UnitedWon (2 legs)
2014/15League Cup finalChelseaLost (0 – 2)
2016/17FA Cup SFChelseaLost (2 – 4)
2017/18FA Cup SFManchester UnitedLost (1 – 2)
2018/19League Cup SFChelseaLost (2 legs)
2018/19Champions League SFAjaxWon (2 legs)
2018/19Champions League finalLiverpoolLost (0 – 2)
2020/21League Cup SFBrentford Won (2 – 0)
2020/21League Cup finalManchester CityLost (0 – 1)
Table 2: List of all Tottenham Hotspur Cup Semi-Final and Final Appearances since 2008

Once you remove the 3 League Cup Semi-finals against lower league opponents (Burnley, Sheffield Utd and Brentford) it makes the Ajax win very much the outlier in the list. These results have spanned 4 very different managers with some of our best players in a generation all involved.

On further analysis of the 9 defeats seven have occurred against an opponent who we had either already beaten in the league that season and/or finished above in the league too – i.e., we were more than capable of beating them. To have failed on nine successive occasions is surely not just unfortunate even though there is mitigation with nearly all of those games in isolation.

I think we all acknowledge that we are the Junior Partner in the ‘Top 6 cartel’ even though we have enjoyed finishing above all of them at least once in the last 5 seasons. Though a look at their comparative cup result data highlights the bizarre rate of failure that we have experienced.

Figure B: THFC record in Semi-Finals and Finals compared to the other ‘Big 6’ clubs

Our record is undisputedly the worst – especially as the few green bars have invariably come against lower division opposition (LD). Arsenal and Manchester City have the best records (10 – 3) whereas Chelsea have beaten us three times in their record of 9-4. Manchester Utd will need to find a way to reverse any psychological damage suffered in losing their last five significant cup ties.

It is interesting to compare Arsenal with Liverpool. The former has established themselves as Cup Specialists having previously focused on sustained entry to the Champions League. This run started though with highly fortuitous semi final draws in 2014 and 2015 (Wigan and Reading) and then by playing Hull City and Aston Villa in the respective finals. Liverpool, meanwhile, have done the opposite – Klopp has sacrificed domestic cup competitions to prioritise the Champions League as a process towards winning the League but of course with the exception of ‘Dr Tottenham’s help they have lost their last 4 finals having been masters of winning them in the decade prior (they had won 7 of their 8 previous cup finals).

Have we always been this bad in key cup ties? No is the short answer. The 13 semi-finals and finals prior to 2009 which culminated in the 2008 League Cup success are detailed below:

SeasonCompetition/StageOpponentOutcome
1990/91FA Cup finalNottingham ForestWon
1991/92League Cup SFNottingham ForestLost
1992/93FA Cup SFArsenalLost
1994/95FA Cup SFEvertonLost
1998/99FA Cup SFNewcastleLost
1998/99League Cup SFWimbledonWon
1998/99League Cup finalLeicesterWon
2000/01FA Cup SFArsenalLost
2001/02League Cup SFChelseaWon
2001/02League Cup finalBlackburnLost
2007/08League Cup SFArsenalWon
2007/08League Cup finalChelseaWon
Table 3: Tottenham Hotspur’s 13 previous Semi-Final/Final appearances including and prior to 2008 League Cup Final

The first thing to spot is that there are six green bars and none with the caveat of lower league opposition. There is no doubt that Chelsea and Arsenal (in 2008) were better teams than us and likewise with Chelsea (2002). Leicester also finished above us for the three seasons before we beat them in 1999 and the 1991 victory over Nottingham Forest (our last FA Cup success) came against a backdrop of being knocked out of both domestic cups by the same opponent in 4 of the 6 seasons either side.

For those of you old enough to have lived through the cup glories of the early 80’s I’d be intrigued to get your take on what mental benefits were gained by the perpetual successes and ability to win semi-finals. Between 1981 and 1984 we won 6 from 7 of these ties resulting in 2 FA Cup’s and the 1984 UEFA Cup final. Why were we able to win these ties? Was it know-how, was it luck or was it just being a bit better than our respective opponent?

Whilst the previous comparisons identified failings when compared to the rest of the ‘top 6’ I have also compared our achievements against that next tier of clubs:

Figure C: THFC record in Semi-Finals and Finals compared to the other ‘similar sized’ clubs

What this shows is that we have far more frequently reached the latter stages of cup competitions than the clubs listed. It cements the view that whilst we are the Junior Partner of the so called ‘Big Six’ we are a long way ahead of the chasing pack using a variety of metrics.
My time parameter was 30 years – Everton and West Ham have only played in 13 ties between them in this period. Villa have been frequent semi-finalists but have not won anything since the 90’s. Leicester have a lot of green but look at their opponents and also consider that their successes in the 90’s were during the period that the League Cup was de-prioritised.

As the dust settles on yesterday’s somewhat predictable yet commendable defeat against a rampant Manchester City side what will change before our next big cup tie? How many more lessons can this group of players, and football club as a whole, learn in order to make things better next time.

When we hear the standard platitudes from our players through heavily managed club PR/Comms about ‘going again’ and ‘we’ll learn our lessons for next time’ you have to wonder what actual conversations are taking place. Maybe we need a Sports Psychologist to work with the squad; maybe we just need to win once….or perhaps we just need to hope that Manchester City and Chelsea get knocked out in the early stages and that we can capitalise?

Tomorrow Never Knows

Steff, Ram, Ricky and Milo have a “morning before the night after” pod but find big laughs in dark moments whilst also obsessing on vintage English language and covering breaking thoughts on a breaking story that has broken three more ways already. Laugh along with us…

Recorded on Sunday night before Mourinho’s sacking. The Super League announcement is made during the record.

Wolves, Sheep, Hypocrites, Opportunists And Amnesiacs

These past 48 hours in football history have seen the fans, and tradition, given another beating. Don’t, however, think that is a new concept. STEFFAN CHIRAZI explains

AS the story of this proposed European Super League broke, as it circulated like an international tornado, and as it started to fall apart in real-time, with a flood of public outcry against the “disgraceful” plan which would “ruin our game”, “take it from the working class” and “show fans they don’t matter”, I found myself getting increasingly angry. Certain things are a reality; there are a lot of arrogant, rich bastards currently swanning about sans a shred of empathy for anyone, we are all at the whims and mercies of said-bastards to a certain degree, and such bastards don’t look like changing their colours anytime soon. But the cringingly sanctimonious media (and public) rush to be heard proclaiming ‘moral’ virtues was getting impossible to accept quietly.

So I couldn’t.

Thus I decided to sit down and write this for my own therapy as much as anything. I’ll share it with you too. Here goes…

Let me first be very clear. I personally despised the idea of this ESL, like any football supporter with a soul, but I also knew that if it happened, my club needed to be at the same table or else probably go into financial ruin. It was most certainly not the most comfortable of places to be, morally knowing what a great pile of shit the proposal was, yet understanding why my club was left with little option but to buzz around the giant turd for a feed or else be swatted away into oblivion. But this thought that it represented the exact moment “football lost its soul” was ludicrous to me, and surely to anyone with a memory greater than that of a common household gnat.

Gary Neville

Was anyone falling for Gary Neville’s rant as he brandished a mic with the SKY logo on it? Was the person who showed up outside Stamford Bridge waving a placard with an image of Drogba and the words ‘NO TO SUPERLEAGUE – DREAMS CAN’T BE BOUGHT’ exercising humour so dry as to make the Sahara look like an oasis? And then we had this, from Gianni Infantino, the President of those charitable humanitarians, FIFA.

I’ve been working very hard and investing a big part of my life to defend the principles and the values which have given this success to the European football. We hope, of course, that everything will go back to normal, that everything will be settled but always, always with respect. Always acting responsibly and always with solidarity and always in the interest of national, European and global football.”

I’ve italicized certain parts of that quote for greater effect. It is worth remembering the Infantino was suspected of having broken FIFA ethics in 2016, and was interviewed by the FIFA Ethics Committee. Cynic that I can be, this seems to me like a bar manager investigating his friend, and celebrated nightly customer of 20 years, for being a suspected alcoholic.

Wait.

Let’s not cheat UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin of his moral moment in the sun.

“I cannot stress more strongly at the moment that UEFA and the football world stand together alongside this disgraceful, self-serving project from a select few clubs in Europe fueled by greed above all else,” Ceferin said. “This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers and our society as well. We must not let them take [football] away from us. I have seen many things in my life, I was a criminal lawyer for 24 years. I’ve seen many people. I’ve never seen anyone like that…”

Strange to think he never met the likes of Lennart Johansson, Michel Platini or Sepp Blatter, but hey, I suppose it is possible that one was in the loo as the other was leaving the building. And yes, I know Blatter was FIFA, but I’m sure they all shared brown lunch-saks together.

As if THIS wasn’t Twilight Zone enough, in came the politicians, unable to resist their own moral yearnings and thus desperate to (as ever) show they have the public at heart. Here was that people’s champion Boris Johnson (via Twitter of course):

“Earlier Oliver Dowden and I met with representatives from the FA and Premier League and football fan groups to discuss action against the proposed European Super League. No action is off the table and we are exploring every possibility to ensure these proposals are stopped.”

To cap it all, Dowden (the Culture Secretary) criticized the ‘…the big six English clubs…’ for going ‘…against the very spirit of the game.’

He added that they, “…should remember that they are only temporary custodians of these clubs and that they forget fans at their peril”.

The very same Johnson whose party single-handedly assisted the destruction of football as a working class sport in the ‘80s.

The very same Dowden who seems to have been OK letting grass routes football fight for oxygen and slowly perish as the covid restrictions kept on and on.

The queue for virtue has been quite something these past 48 hours, and of course it has sucked in millions of covid-frustrated, angry and increasingly disillusioned members of the public. They in turn have been flooding all manner of social media and broadcast channels with their vitriol and outrage at how this will ‘ruin the game for the aforementioned working class, and how utterly ‘disrespectful’ it is.

Again, personally I agree that the European Super League was always a disgraceful idea, thankfully however, my memory is slightly better than that of said-household gnat, and I can remember times not too far back when all of these issues were being shoved in our faces in just the same way.

Because it appears that everyone in the UK has forgotten what happened on May 27th 1992, when the ‘new Premier League’ was formed in a breakaway from the Football League (founded in 1888) to ‘take advantage’ of lucrative TV rights deals, with Sky being at the forefront (that is the Sky which is owned by philanthropist Rupert Murdoch). Currently, the TV partners for the Premiership are Sky Sports, BT Sports, Amazon Prime and BBC for highlights only. Those are the UK ones; look up the international rights. It boggles the mind to even consider the amount of money being taken in. Then consider the lengths to which these broadcasters go to preserve your experience as a loyal supporter, you know, normal 3pm kick-offs with mid-weeks at 7.45, the ability to see a few games a week on your own terrestrial TV service, decent ticket pricing, affordable transportation to away games, that sort of thing…if you’ve just read that thinking I have it wrong, you’re right. I have. What I described has long gone. And Because the truth is, domestically, the Premiership has had no more than the required amount of interest in your experience as a supporter, and has incrementally been chipping away at them via absurd kick-off times, bizarre match dates and an upwards spiral of pricing that do not(by any stretch of any imagination) have the ‘fans interests at heart.’ I’ve also heard it all before, back in 1992, and again when the Champions League expanded. Cries of, “I’m done with my club they can fuck themselves!” flooded pubs everywhere, only for these warriors of virtue to show up again a few days, weeks or months later because they are addicts just like me.

UEFA have also done their part, bless.

In 1992 the European Cup was binned off for the Champions League, and in 1997, the whole tournament was expanded further to include more group games over a longer stretch of time. If you want to wade through the qualification criteria, be my guest, but rest assured, financial gain was paramount in all plans. In 2021, there will be further expansion, and the creation of a third tournament -the Europa Conference League- which will ostensibly act as a European tournament for the “third tier” after the Champions League and the Europa League (which was itself created in 2009 with the UEFA Cup getting mothballed and the Cup Winners Cup having received the same treatment a few years earlier). The “magic” of European football seems within the reach of more clubs than ever, but the reality is that the money these tournaments generate continues to create a greater wealth gap between clubs than ever before. If you think the system is going to see Burnley in the Champions League any time soon, then send me your bank information and password so as I can help you make more of your money. By the way, this is the same UEFA that insisted on holding a Europa League Final between Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku and only giving them 6,000 tickets each for a 68,000 seat stadium in . The same UEFA who for our CL Final in 2019, gave both us and Liverpool a derisory total of 33,226 tickets TO SHARE for a 68,000 capacity stadium; fans first always, lifeblood of the game.

As for FIFA, well, there isn’t the page space, so glossing swiftly over the details of the 2015 FIFA corruption case which saw arrests for bribery, fraud and money laundering, just take a few minutes to absorb the details being Qatar 2022. I will give you one. Approximately 6500 migrant workers have died during site construction for the tournament. Since 2010, an average of 10 migrant workers from the likes of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died each week. According to quotes in Sports Illustrated (my source for this information) those numbers are light a few bodies too. Remember though, “…always acting responsibly…”

…Oh I could go on.

Where has football been for the lower and non-league clubs during this pandemic?

How has football helped supporters achieve an affordable day out at a top match?

Hasn’t football been flexing the schedule for international followers for over a decade already?

Hasn’t the Premiership essentially been the same 5 or 6 clubs battling it out thanks to the riches those clubs have amassed?

How did Uefa protect football when it allowed Man City to dance around the Financial Fair Play rules in July 2020?

How has football protected itself when the likes of Chelsea were allowed to sign dozens of young players and loan them simply so as rivals couldn’t have them?

So again, whisper it…the Premier League, the Champions League, UEFA and FIFA do not actually place you or I at the top of their ‘concerns’ list. The ‘sanctity’ of the game is also not their primary driver and hasn’t been for decades. The money grab has been going on for years, and the greed syphons are only getting greater. That this ESL proposal even became a proposal says as much about the arrogance and entitlement of all those bodies as it does the equally clueless and arrogant owners who were behind it. Yet the fallout has left the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA looking like shining lights of normalcy and (shudder) tradition, while the likes of Abramovich and Mansour are suddenly benevolent saviours of the game for withdrawing from the ESL proposal abruptly (they have enough large dollops of filthy lucre between them already). It all reminds me of seeing George W Bush getting a hall-pass into credible guy world simply because he wasn’t Donald Trump. And it disgusts me as much as the ESL proposal.

We are all complicit.

We all look the other way when it suits us.

Nobody’s really doing much to tackle racism beyond some t-shirts and the knee, and nobody’s in the streets raging about dead migrant workers building an air-conditioned World Cup which will drop right in the middle of the 2022 season.

Where’s the anger? Where’s the outrage? Where are all those bastions of football leadership speaking about it, doing something about it? Where’s Boris saying we won’t compete in places which violate human rights so brazenly?

And here’s one you likely don’t know, or think, about. The flood of young men from the African continent who end up mistreated and disused as their families pay exorbitant sums to try and ensure their sons become professionals in Europe’s top leagues. The stories are out there, in publications ranging from The Guardian to Al Jazeera to When Saturday Comes (here’s the link to their excellent piece https://www.wsc.co.uk/stories/14102-player-trafficking-the-dirty-secret-of-football-s-global-transfer-business) yet I haven’t heard Infantino address it any way, shape or form, let alone the Premier League.

So do me a favour.

As you settle back and rejoice that ‘real’ football has ‘won’ and that ‘the greedy’ have not been ‘allowed’ to ‘win’, try to check your hypocrisy.

Try to hold yourself accountable. Try to maintain a grip. And if you really, really give a shit about the game, maintain your vitriol towards the OGs of football greed now that ‘normal service has been resumed’.

It’s OK, we’re all hypocrites to a degree, we’ve all bought into -and gone along with- the increasing shit that these bodies have thrown at us and our clubs. That’s why these vampires love football, because there’s a core of addicts like you and I who enable them to behave as they wish.

My fear is that those vampires will now behave worse, and with more impunity, than ever. Let’s hope I’m wrong and some good for the moral compass of the game will come of all this. Forgive me if I cynically suggest it won’t…

‘School Boys Very Own Stuff’ – Reliving my greatest Spurs memory

14th April 1991 – the most memorable date in my Spurs supporting lifetime (which for reference begins in September 1988).

The scene was set – the first ever FA Cup Semi-Final to be played at Wembley after it was decided by the FA that it was illogical and somewhat dangerous to ask the biggest and best supported clubs in London to travel to Birmingham or Manchester. Arsenal, by then the league champions elect, were hot favourites to reach the final at our expense and not for the first or last time in their existence approached the game on the pitch and in the stands in a state of hubris.

What followed remains my greatest moment as a Spurs fan still eclipsing the incredible scenes in Amsterdam in 2019. The game provided some of the most iconic moments and commentary sound clips from Barry Davies that still today give me goosebumps reliving. Gascoigne scored the most sumptuous goal and the 65 minutes he managed before being withdrawn was perhaps the most significant in his professional career.

But how did that afternoon fit into the wider context of Tottenham Hotspur’s history. What had happened immediately before and after? This blog considers the 1990/91 season – our last to produce a ‘major trophy’ and perhaps the last time since Poch arrived on the scene 23 years later that we truly embodied the glory and promise of swagger that the name Tottenham Hotspur has been mostly associated with.

We went into the 1990/91 season with great momentum. We won 8 of our final 10 games of the previous season which culminated in leapfrogging Arsenal on the final day of the season to finish 3rd. Alas this was the first season in which English clubs were re-admitted into European Competition and so only Aston Villa, as runners-up, were granted a UEFA Cup Spot.

The feel-good factor in N17 echoed that of the country in Summer 1990 with England heroically reaching the World Cup Semi Final and it was Tottenham’s due of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker who had earned the plaudits. Gazza’s iconic role in that tournament not only propelled him onto the world stage but was also the turning point in changing the image and perception of football as a sport in Britain.

Whilst everything on field had been rosy in N17 there were dark clouds circling as the extent of the club’s financial difficulties began to occupy front and back page news. The writing had been on the wall the summer before when Chris Waddle had been sold very reluctantly for a then British transfer record of £4.25m. Then, it was revealed that the somewhat modest fee of £1.2m for Gary Lineker (who had joined the club only the week before partially on the promise that he’d be playing alongside both Waddle and Gascoigne) had almost been defaulted and there was genuine risk that Lineker would have to return to Barcelona.

Having finished 3rd the previous season there may have been some hope that further investment in the team could have seen us realistically challenge Liverpool and Arsenal. Yet Spurs’ only incomings in the summer of 1990 were two 19-year olds in the form of Justin Edinburgh, signed from 3rd division Southend United, and John Hendry from Forfar Athletic. Imagine how this would play out now on social media?

Additionally, the conversion of the iconic Shelf terracing into Executive Boxes in the middle of the East Stand had caused understandable resentment amongst supporters leading to a strange paradox whereby there was genuine excitement watching the team but this was offset against the growing concerns at the way the club was being run.

White Hart Lane basked in the glorious August sunshine for the opening game of the season against Manchester City. The eyes of the football world were on Gazza who duly obliged with a trademark dribble and finish to cap off a fine 3-1 victory – Lineker scored the other two.

The good feeling and good form extended through the Autumn and after 10 games we were unbeaten and sitting nicely in 3rd spot behind just Liverpool and Arsenal. Gascoigne had continued where the World Cup had ended scoring 10 goals in 13 games including two hat tricks. However, whilst the England duo stole the headlines there were important supporting roles – namely David Howells, the homegrown versatile player who starred in a 2-1 victory at Nottingham Forest on 27 October with two late goals either side of a goal line clearance.

Having also comfortably negotiated the first two rounds of the League Cup and with the prospect of the Year ending in a ‘1’ expectations were sky high as we welcomed Liverpool to White Hart Lane for a Sunday live game on ITV in the first weekend of November.

PWDLFAPTs
1Liverpool1091022628
2Arsenal1073018524
3Tottenham Hotspur1064017422
4Crystal Palace1055017920
5Manchester City10451151217
6Manchester Utd10424131414
1st Division League Table going into game v Liverpool on 4/11/1990

A victory over Liverpool in March 1990 had provided the catalyst for that great run of form either side of Summer 1990 but in almost perfect symmetry a defeat against the same opponent, who showed their superiority, proved to be the beginning of a concerning dip in form.

We won just 3 of the next 8 league games of 1990 and two comprehensive defeats between Christmas and New Year at Coventry (0-2) and Southampton (0-3) were a sign of things to come as we quickly exited any talks of a title run. Having been just 6 points off Liverpool before that meeting in November we had fallen away to 6th by New Years Day – the gap now 15 points.

PWDLFAPts
1Liverpool201532411648
2Arsenal211470411047
3Crystal Palace211263312042
4Leeds Utd211164362139
5Manchester Utd211065212335
6Tottenham Hotspur21966342733
7Manchester City20775302829
8Chelsea21888343929
1st Division Table – 1st January 1991

As Spurs fans of the time will remember we were often referred to as a ‘Cup Team’ which was a recognition of the ability to win one off games but to lack the ability to string significant run of good results to become credible title contenders. And so, as 1990 became 1991 attention turned to the cups. The FA Cup provided kind draws against Blackpool (Division 4), Oxford, Portsmouth and Notts County (all Division 2) though hopes in the League Cup were dashed by a 3-0 home reversal against Chelsea in a 5th round replay.

League form continued to plummet in 1991. Additionally, Gascoigne was suffering from a hernia and having scored the winner against Notts County in the FA Cup QF in March was whisked off to have surgery in the slim hope that he may be able to return for the semi-final which had produced the titilating draw against Arsenal. We won just one of the six intervening league matches between Quarter Final and Semi-Final on 14th April – meaning a dismal run of just 2 wins in 12 games since the turn of the year. However, the most significant incident of the final of those league games – a 2-1 midweek defeat at Norwich – was the return of Gascoigne who completed more than an hour which confirmed his availability for the biggest game since the 1987 FA Cup Final.

There was of course a fear that semi-final jubilation could provide an ‘after the lord mayor’s show feel’ for the final which would be against Nottingham Forest on 18th May. The remainder of the league season was largely irrelevant and this was highlighted by no wins from the next 5 games cementing us firmly back into mid table. We would finish 10th (though bizarrely the final game of the season – a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford – would be scheduled for 48 hours after the FA Cup Final).

PWDLFAPts
1Arsenal3824131741883
2Liverpool382378774076
3Crystal Palace382099504169
4Leeds Utd3819712654764
5Manchester City38171110645362
6Manchester Utd38161210584559
7Wimbledon38141410534656
8Nottingham Forest38141212655054
9Everton38131213504651
10Tottenham Hotspur38111611515049
Final 1st division League Table 1991 (20th May)

By the time of the Cup Final – still then the most significant day in the domestic football calendar – it was clear that Spurs’ very existence depended on winning the match (which would provide enough potential income from the subsequent UEFA Cup Winners Cup campaign) but that also this would be Gascoigne’s final game in a Spurs shirt after a record transfer fee of £8.5 had been agreed to take him to Lazio in Serie A.

With Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough seeking his first ever FA Cup Final success the game generated plenty of narratives but as he had in the semi-final it was Gascoigne who stole the headlines though this time for the wrong reasons. His over enthusiasm (by all accounts he had not been able to sleep the night before in anticipation) channelled itself negatively and he began like a bull in a china shop committing two challenges each worthy of a red card; the latter though did more damage to Gascoigne that it did to his victim, and so his final action in a Spurs shirt was to be carried off the pitch on a stretcher with Nottingham Forest 1-0 ahead having scored from the resulting free kick.

Spurs only settled once Gascoigne left the pitch and his replacement, Nayim, was involved in the second half equaliser scored by Paul Stewart. The Spurs players would later remark that they were determined to win the game, and the famous trophy, for Gascoigne. Des Walker, Forest’s stalwart defender, who had actually grown up locally to Tottenham in Enfield and been missed by Spurs’ youth scouts, had the misfortune of heading into his own net for the eventual winner in extra time.

The consequences of an emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon were that Spurs had won the FA Cup for a then record 8th occasion. Though not a direct effect of winning the match the club was sold to Alan Sugar bringing an end to the financial and even existential concerns that had built. Spurs would be returning to European Football for the first time since 1985 and their place amongst English football elite seemed well consolidated.

Gascoigne would not play for Spurs again. His proposed transfer to Lazio was postponed by 12 months and his serious injury knocked £3m off the price tag.

Terry Venables, heralded as a tactical genius, saw his personal ambitions in the boardroom rather than then dugout and, supposedly in partnership with Sugar, would become Chief Executive of the club though perhaps fulfilled the contemporary function of a Director of Football. He appointed Peter Shreeves to take control of the 1st team for the 1991/92 season.

However, the 1991 success was not a precursor to future success. The 90’s were largely a bleak time for us. We would not finish in the top 6 positions again until 2006 and flirted with relegation (1992, 1994, 1998, 2004) more times than we qualified for Europe (1999) or even reached a League Cup Final (1999, 2002).

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