This week, in light of two 1-0 defeats, cup elimination, and overall confusion about where Tottenham Hotspur are, Steff, Milo, and Ricky arrive at the heart of all that matters, but not before discussing baking, Prince lookalikes and Beyonce bungee packages at the new Lane after a spot of karting…
Milo, Steff and Ricky celebrate Sonny’s wonder-brace in the 3-0 FA Cup win over Preston at Deepdale, enjoy Danjuma’s debut and overall vibe, contemplate Porro’s apparently imminent incoming, and realize that even though Harry Kane didn’t play at all today, we still found him becoming a part of the conversation. All this, plus a detailed overview of Ivan Perisic’s legs.
Live and direct from The Game Is About Glory Towers, Ram, Milo, Ricky and Steff look back on those sharp dressed men of Tottenham Hotspur’s performance earlier tonight at the new Lane, where they gave us all their lovin’ with a 5-0 spanking of Everton. We also look back at something which happened over a week ago AND we look forward to Saturday’s tea-time classic at Old Trafford. 3-2-1…
Steff, Milo and Ricky look back at Turf Moor lows, Elland Road highs, dynamic duos and Antonio Conte’s potentially menopausal media modulations which have seen him both violently throwing handbags and showering the squad with kisses within days. So not only do we drill into the matches that matter, this week you’ll also get a dose of aural HRT!
This week, Steff, Milo, Gareth and Simon take a look back at the fine 3-1 win over Brighton in the FA Cup 4th Round, discuss the transfer window holistically, get the full run down on Spurs new super Swede signing Dejan Kulusevski and discover what Rodrigo Bentancur and Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman have in common. Plus Milo commits to a firm prediction. Fancy Hitchen a ride into that lot? Welcome and come on in…
This week, Steff, Gareth, Milo and Ricky look back at the FA Cup 3rd round game against Morecambe and the League Cup Semi Final 1st Leg against Chelsea. We also give an honest evaluation as to who furthered or hindered their cause with Conte. No rants, but honest conversation about some obvious candidates and former fan favourites. 3-2-1 download!
For the 31st consecutive year Spurs fans will wake up on the day of FA Cup Final with little, if any, interest or intrigue in the forthcoming showpiece event in the sporting calendar.
18th May 1991 was the last time FA Cup Final day was relevant for us when quite frankly the world was a very different place….Cher was top of the Charts with The Shoop Shoop Song, no homes in the UK had access to the world wide web and Harry Kane was not even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.
As a 10-year-old who was just into my third year as a fully-fledged Spurs (and football) supporter I assumed that this day would come around frequently. I was totally consumed by our successes in the competition going back to 1901. If you include replays the ten years prior to ‘91 provided 5 FA Cup Final Day’s to look forward to.
Since our last appearance in 1991 no fewer than 21 clubs’ set of fans have experienced seeing their team appear in an FA Cup Final. 21 clubs is just a little less than 25% of the entire Football League pyramid. Finalists since ’91 have included Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Millwall, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Wigan, Hull City, Crystal Palace and Watford – all of whom have spent at least half of that 30-year period outside of the top flight).
It is actually absurd that Spurs have not made one final – despite the ‘magic of the cup’ rhetoric the better teams tend to reach finals and win it. Spurs are one of only 6 clubs to appeared in the top division for each of those 30 intervening seasons and have mostly finished in the top half at least. They are a real outlier in a list of clubs not to have appeared in an FA Cup Final during the period. The only other clubs to have played in the Division 1/Premier League for 10 or more seasons and not to have reached a final are:
Blackburn Rovers (18 seasons)
Leeds United (14)
But what has happened that has prevented Spurs from building on their 1991 success which at the time was a record 8th occasion to have won the famous competition?
Why is the FA Cup relevant?
Firstly, let’s consider the importance and significance of winning the FA Cup. I have resigned myself, as a staunch traditionalist, that this is not a competition that ultimately progresses you as a Football Club. Since ENIC took over 20 years ago only seven different teams have won the competition – 5 of the established ‘Top 6’ and the other two being Portsmouth and Wigan – both have subsequently languished in the lower divisions. Even Arsenal’s recent FA Cup successes (4 since 2014) have not done anything to propel them back to the heights of English football – if anything that have acted as a detriment to their league form which has seen them drop out of the Top 4 positions since 2016.
To give a domestic real-life analogy putting all your eggs into the FA Cup basket is akin to wanting to book a Family Holiday to Disneyworld instead of having a new kitchen fitted. Two weeks in Orlando will be magnificent for the kids and you’ll remember it affectionately for a long time but the new kitchen will enable you to put a healthy meal on the table every night and ultimately will help you to sell the house in a few years’ time. The stars have not yet aligned in N17 for both to happen.
Speak to any football fan over 40 years old and they will tell you how they dreamed of scoring the winner in an FA Cup Final at Wembley, how FA Cup Final day was akin to Christmas Day with round the clock coverage on both the UK’s main terrestrial TV stations. It’s also worth remembering the football landscape and how it was consumed. Until the birth of the Premier League and Sky Sports’ involvement in 1992 armchair football fans would receive live on their televisions on average less than 1 live game per week.
There was no Champions League as we now know it with its predecessor, The European Cup, involving just one club per country and in a straight knock out format so once the English team were knocked out there was little further interest in the competition. Additionally, there was no European football for any English clubs between 1985 and 1990. So, apart from up to 30 live 1st division matches the only live football accessible on TV was one game per FA Cup round, the League Cup Semi-Finals and Final and the odd England game. Following ‘less is more theory’ the FA Cup Final was therefore something of a novelty often taking place on famously glorious sunny May Saturday afternoons. It was very likely the most significant live match on TV in the football calendar.
The current (pre Covid) broadcasting rights saw 160 live Premier League games in addition to each and every one of the 92 Champions League matches (from group stage onwards) plus Europa League Games and League Cup games before you even start to add in the 5+ games per round available from the FA Cup. Therefore, by the time middle May comes around even the most hardened armchair fan would be suffering from fatigue.
Without the carrot and incredible riches provided by the Champions League – once its participation was extended to 3 and then 4 clubs in England post 2001 – clubs were far less commercially driven and so success was far more tangible for its on-field achievements. By Christmas clubs invariably knew whether they have any chance of winning the league – but unless you were amongst one of maybe two or three times – the lure of winning the FA Cup could take precedence by the time the 3rd round weekend comes around in early January. There was little tangible difference between finishing 4th and 16th in the old Division 1.
Participation in the Champions League is of far greater financial importance than winning the FA Cup – there is perhaps even a case for extending that to Europa League qualification too. From a purely financial perspective there is simply no comparison:
|FA Cup Winners||£1.8m|
|Champions League Group Stage||£12m|
|Europa League Group Stage||£2.2m|
It’s got much harder to win
From looking at the winners of the FA Cup since 1991 and then comparing this to the same time period prior to 1991 you all see a huge difference in the pedigree of its winner.
|Number of Different Winner||Median Average League Place Finish of FA Cup Winner||Number of Winners that Finished in 1-4 in League||Number of Winners Finishing 11th or Lower|
It is also worth noting that three winners in the earlier period were second division teams (Sunderland 1973, Southampton 1976 and West Ham 1980).
If you consider that since 1992 we have only finished in the top 3 on three occasions (2016, 2017, 2018) and that in the latter two occasions we were beaten in a semi-final by a team who would finish above us then perhaps the most obvious reason why we haven’t won the FA Cup has been that sadly the bar has risen and we are still not quite good enough.
That is perhaps a ‘get out’ for 30 years of failure in the competition and it is still beyond belief that clubs such as Millwall, Stoke, Southampton, West Ham, Watford and Middlesbrough have all enjoyed a grand day out at Wembley (or Cardiff between 2000 and 2007).
The table below summarises Spurs’ progress in each FA Cup Competition since 1991.
|Year||Round||Team who knocked us out||Score|
The Ingredients needed to reach an FA Cup Final
I have identified what is I think is required to actually get to a Cup Final:
- LUCK OF THE DRAW
The role of random luck is often ignored in an age of micro-analysis and as such it is almost impossible to quantify exactly how significant luck is. The FA Cup’s very concept is based on the randomness of balls being drawn from a bag. Clearly avoiding the better teams can be very beneficial as can being drawn at home.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that our last successful FA Cup run in 1991 saw us drawn against four lower league opponents in Rounds 3-6 before playing Arsenal in the Semi-Final who admittedly were the champions elect that season. However, to play Nottingham Forest in the final (they had finished 1 place higher than us in 9th that season) was kinder than it could have been.
Looking through Winners and Runners Up progress since then is littered with good fortune – for example Man Utd’s run to the 2016 Final included no away games against PL opponents, none of the other ‘big 6’ teams, and three ties against lower league opponents before beating Everton and then Crystal Palace in the Semi-Final and Final.
Equally Cardiff (2008) and Millwall (2004) reached the Final as 2nd tier clubs but hadn’t been drawn against any Premier League teams all competition.
- RANDOM IN-GAME LUCK
Much like the point above random luck plays a crucial part. Unlike a league campaign where luck and randomness can even out over a 38-game campaign one bad decision or the spin of the ball is crucial in a knock out competition. I have identified some of the more obvious examples below. On each occasion there is no way of telling whether the incident in question would have resulted in a different outcome:
- Anderton not awarded penalty v Arsenal in 1993 SF at 0-0
- Not awarded penalty v Newcastle for clear handball in 1999 SF at 0-0
- Michael Dawson slipping on the shoddy Wembley turf v Portsmouth in 2010 SF at 0-0.
Injuries can come at bad times. In recent years Kane’s injury sustained in Jan 2019, and Son’s international duty meant neither were available at Crystal Palace in 2019 (perhaps they wouldn’t have been selected anyway?).
- BE ABLE TO BEAT THE BEST TEAMS IN ONE-OFF GAMES
You are more than likely going to meet one of the established other top 5 sides on route to a final. Since beating Liverpool in 6th round in 1995 we have lost all 15 ties against:
Man U x4 – 1997 (Round 3), 2008 (4), 2009 (4), 2018 (SF)
Chelsea x4 – 2002 (6), 2007 (6), 2012 (SF), 2017 (SF)
Arsenal x2 – 2001 (SF), 2014 (3)
Newcastle x3 – 1999 (SF), 2000 (3), 2005 (6)
Everton x2 – 1995 (SF), 2021 (5)
Additionally, we have lost our only ties against other fellow PL teams:
Crystal Palace x2 – 2016 (5), 2019 (4)
Portsmouth – 2010 (SF)
Man City – 2004 (4)
Nottingham F – 1995 (5)
Barnsley – 1998 (4)
Norwich City – 2020 (5)
Since that Liverpool victory we have won only 16/41 FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League teams. The most impressive was perhaps the 2-0 5th round replay victory against Leeds in 1999. Aside from the win at West Ham (6th Round 2001) and Leicester (3R 2016) the other 13 victories have come against teams we finished comfortably above at the end of that season:
Wimbledon (98/99), Charlton (2000/01), Bolton (01/02, 09/10, 11/12), WBA (04/05), Fulham (06/07, 09/10), Reading (07/08), Wigan (08/09), Burnley (14/15), Swansea (17/18), Southampton (19/20)
To put this into context this is the equivalent of gaining 44 points in a season – we have only gained less than 44 points twice during this period (93/4 and 97/8).
However, this is more frustrating as we had beaten the same opponent (who had knocked us out) in the league that season so knew how to beat them and/or were better than them at the time. It suggests that we are more committed to winning league games than FA Cup matches.
Apart from Man Utd’s aforementioned run to the 2016 FA Cup success and then Manchester City in 2019, the last 10 winners have beaten one of the other Top 5 teams:
|Year||Winner||Top 5 Teams Faced|
|2011||Manchester City||SF v Manchester United|
|2012||Chelsea||Final v Liverpool, SF v Spurs|
|2013||Wigan||Final v Manchester City|
|2014||Arsenal||5R v Liverpool, 3R v Spurs|
|2015||Arsenal||6R v Manchester United|
|2017||Arsenal||Final v Chelsea, SF v Manchester City|
|2018||Chelsea||Final v Manchester United|
|2020||Arsenal||Final v Chelsea, SF v Manchester City|
- BE ABLE TO MANAGE THE FA CUP SCHEDULE
In what is already a very congested domestic schedule the FA Cup campaign (for Spurs) begins post- Christmas. Even with the benefit of a kind draw and random in-game luck the timing of fixtures plays a crucial part particularly if we haven’t had a deep squad to pick from.
For every season since 2009 we have gone into the second half of the league season, either in or just around the Champions League places. Rightly or wrongly the revenues this creates will always take precedence.
In retrospect 2016 probably presented our best chance of progressing – having been drawn against Crystal Palace at home in Round 5 we rested Lloris, Alderweireld and Eriksen and lost 1-0. A victory would have seen us drawn against Reading and then Watford before a final against Manchester United. However, the week before the Palace tie we had won 2-1 at Manchester City to establish us as genuine League Title contenders.
Equally, European football resumes in February usually around the same time as the FA Cup 5th round. In 13 of the last 15 seasons dating back to 2007 we have had the latter stages of either the Champions League or UEFA Cup/Europa League to balance.
Whilst the FA Cup is still considered as a superior competition to the League Cup it is also worth noting that by January the latter is at the semi-final stage and therefore just two ties away from yielding trophy success – on five occasions since 2007 we have found ourselves in a League Cup Semi-Final where typically the second leg is scheduled in the midweek just before or after FA Cup 4th round. In 2008, 2015 and 2019 we exited the FA Cup.
- HOLDING YOUR NERVE (AND NOT BEING ‘SPURSY’)
Sorry – I hate the phrase as well and get how its constant use can perpetuate a vicious cycle if only just amongst a fanbase. Contrary to popular belief every team is a bit ‘Spursy’ – even Barcelona can lose 3-goal first leg victories and concede 8 goals in a semi-final.
However, in analysing why we’ve not won the FA Cup since 1991, or at least reached a final, ingredients 1-4 explain most but not all of our failures. There are still those years in which there was simply no better explanation than that we shot ourselves in the foot either in specific moments or approach to a one-off match which provides the ultimate jeopardy of elimination.
Most notably the 1995 and 2010 FA Cup Semi-Finals against Everton and Portsmouth come to mind. We went into both games as big favourites but managed to lose both in fairly humiliating fashion. On both occasions though it is worth remembering that had we won we’d have had to play Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
Does the FA Cup help to breed future success?
There remains the argument that to win The FA Cup (or League Cup) could act as a catalyst to greater things and would enhance our chances of going onto challenge for and win the Premier League or Champions League. Does anyone think that had we won the FA Cup in 2012 we’d have got over the line in the Leicester season, or had the know how to deal better with Liverpool in Madrid? There’s really no way of knowing. Can anyone say beyond any reasonable doubt that had City not won the 2011 FA Cup (with an uber dull 1-0 win over Stoke) they would not have gone on to record 4 league titles?
In summary the reasons for not adding a 9th FA Cup success is that for much of the 90’s and early 2000’s we weren’t very good and since 2006 it hasn’t been the priority.
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.
|Year||FA Cup Winners||League Cup Winners|
|2021||Chelsea or Leicester||Manchester City|
|2019||Manchester City||Manchester City|
|2016||Manchester United||Manchester City|
|2011||Manchester City||Birmingham City|
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.
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:
|2008/09||League Cup SF||Burnley||Won (2 legs)|
|2008/09||League Cup final||Manchester United||Lost (penalties)|
|2009/10||FA Cup SF||Portsmouth||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2011/12||FA Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (1 – 5)|
|2014/15||League Cup SF||Sheffield United||Won (2 legs)|
|2014/15||League Cup final||Chelsea||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2016/17||FA Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (2 – 4)|
|2017/18||FA Cup SF||Manchester United||Lost (1 – 2)|
|2018/19||League Cup SF||Chelsea||Lost (2 legs)|
|2018/19||Champions League SF||Ajax||Won (2 legs)|
|2018/19||Champions League final||Liverpool||Lost (0 – 2)|
|2020/21||League Cup SF||Brentford||Won (2 – 0)|
|2020/21||League Cup final||Manchester City||Lost (0 – 1)|
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.
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:
|1990/91||FA Cup final||Nottingham Forest||Won|
|1991/92||League Cup SF||Nottingham Forest||Lost|
|1992/93||FA Cup SF||Arsenal||Lost|
|1994/95||FA Cup SF||Everton||Lost|
|1998/99||FA Cup SF||Newcastle||Lost|
|1998/99||League Cup SF||Wimbledon||Won|
|1998/99||League Cup final||Leicester||Won|
|2000/01||FA Cup SF||Arsenal||Lost|
|2001/02||League Cup SF||Chelsea||Won|
|2001/02||League Cup final||Blackburn||Lost|
|2007/08||League Cup SF||Arsenal||Won|
|2007/08||League Cup final||Chelsea||Won|
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:
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?
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.
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.
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).
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).
FA Cup Quarter-Final, Anfield, March 11th 1995
Liverpool 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
(Fowler – 39) (Sheringham 44, Klinsmann 89)
Attendance – 39,592
Referee – Martin Bodenham
My first marriage was about to end.
It had been a rough couple of years, and these were the final few months as we worked out how to finish it.
I was not in a great place.
I needed something huge to happen, a boost, a bolt of hope from eternally dark grey skies.
On paper, an FA Cup quarter-final at Liverpool was not it…
…I did the journey alone, meeting an old Liverpudlian friend Brian and his Dad on Merseyside. They’d invited me for a pre-match lunch at theirs, and I gratefully accepted.
I needed the away day to start as early as possible.
I needed something.
I got an early train from Euston to Lime St, a bag of nerves both excited and, well, nervous.
About the game.
About my life.
About the game again.
I brought my sports Walkman and loaded it with the Oasis debut Definitely Maybe, an album I was in love with it, in particular the song “Columbia” which had a driving, circular riff of incalculable might. It was, despite the hits, my favourite.
As the train whistled through the likes of Nuneaton and Tamworth, I found myself not just playing the album repeatedly, but specifically “Columbia”. My spine shook. My skin tingled. Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Anderton, I needed them to do it today, I ached for it, I needed light, happiness, a sign that life would be alright, and I needed my lifelong partner Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to deliver it today. And the more I played “Columbia”, the more I became convinced that they would not let me down, despite nearly a decade to the contrary, every spin generating a deeper sense of unfathomable belief.
As the train pulled into Lime St Station, I was literally vibrating with electricity. It was on. It was going to happen. Surely they wouldn’t let me down in my hour of need, surely they’d find a way. I got the taxi to Brian’s, and had a fine lunch with him and his family at a house not too far from Anfield as I remember. Truth be told, I don’t recall a whole lot about the meal because my head was manically focused on getting into the ground.
As is the way in the cup, we had the whole end.
I was half-way up just to the right of centre behind the goal, and for some reason, I found myself engaged in a passionate exchange of sign language with a Liverpool supporter in the main stand to my right, seated a little along the touchline from the corner flag. When they went one up, it was as though the crowd around us both receded to fade, he was 20ft tall and throwing me a finger and wanker sign. My body shook with anger and adrenaline. It was nearly insufferable. My life was a fucking mess and now this, this! I could barely tolerate the swirling sea of Koppites staring back at us, laughing and seemingly taunting, from behind the opposite goal.
On the stroke of half-time, David Howells played a good ball inside to Klinsmann. He seemed to have got the ball caught in his feet, yet turned his back to goal smoothly and saw Sheringham on his left, striding into the right-hand channel. A perfect square pass, into Teddy’s stride, and Sheringham curled a delicious shot from 25 yards around James’ despairing dive, gently kissing the inside of the post as it went in.
Sign-language plus, and a roar of delight at the sheer beauty of Sheringham’s finish. He stood in a near sumo-crouch, pumping his arms, drinking the moment as well he deserved to. It was brilliant! I cannot remember what half-time was about, but I know that my life suddenly seemed a whole lot better again, that maybe it was going to happen after all, that maybe they wouldn’t let me down.
The second-half was tense. I think we were on top but I cannot remember for sure. I do know that as we approached the 89th minute, I thought we’d probably hold out for a draw and replay, not quite what I’d hoped and prayed for, not quite what a dozen plus spins of “Columbia” had said would happen, but at least we wouldn’t lose.
A throw-in got cleared, the ball landed at Anderton’s feet, he threaded a pass to Sheringham who had his back to goal but produced the deftest of flicks to the empty left-hand channel and from nowhere, Klinsmann was onto it, racing into the box, bearing down on James before placing it firmly into the bottom right-hand corner.
PANDEMONIUM! LEAPING! BRUISES ON LEGS BANGING THEM INTO SEATS! JUMPING ON SEATS! TUMBLING DOWN ROWS! HUGGING EVERYONE IN SIGHT! SCREAMING SHOUTING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES, LOOKING TO THE SKIES AND THANKING THANKING THANKING EVERY-FUCKING-THING, but most of all, THANKING TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, JURGEN KLINSMANN, TEDDY SHERINGHAM, GERRY FRANCIS, ALL OF THEM THE BEAUTIFUL BASTARDS, because in my greatest hour of need, at the moment in my life where I genuinely needed their sign, THEY HAD NOT LET ME DOWN!
I remember the Liverpool supporters on the Kop applauding at the end of the match, and soon after I walked, literally shaking, outside to wait across the Anfield Road for Brian and his Dad. I hid my scarf, fearing that any utterance of joy would result in trouble. If I thought I’d been buzzing before, you could’ve wired the city with my energy at that moment.
I saw them both appear through the waves of Liverpool supporters.
Brian’s Dad waved from about 20ft, and loudly said, “Well done the Spurs, well played, go on lad, let it out!”
And I did.
I screamed at the top of my voice, punching the air with both fists, happiness, relief, more joy, so many emotions spewing uncontrollably out.
He smiled broadly.
I write this now, I will never ever forget that most human of gestures.
It remains an utterly unforgettable away day, a deliverance of faith, hope and love which I can still access at any time by listening to “Columbia” and watching those goals again, an instant time machine back to the day I actually prayed for Tottenham Hotspur to deliver, to the day they dutifully did…praise be for that.