It was a long time coming, but it was damn well worth it. It may only have been the Worthington Cup, there may have been Premiership games playing at the same time as it was on and it may have been a God-awful match, but at 5pm on Sunday 21st of March, I saw a sight I thought I would never see: Sol Campbell lifting a trophy for Tottenham. I was sure he would be playing for Liverpool or Real Madrid before Spurs had a team capable of winning anything. It’s easy for me to gloss over the day from my pub stool in the Leopardstown Inn, Dublin. The pub was not full by any means. There were probably about 30-40 interested parties in there that day. Some of them were Spurs fans but the majority were just hoping to see a decent game. They were to be disappointed.
It started late for me. I crawled out of my new apartment at 2.50 and called up to my mate Dave who lives two floors above me, a Manure fan, to see if he wanted to pop along to the local pub and see it. Interestingly enough, he did. So I got ready for my first visit to ‘The Galloping Green’, what looked like an ‘old mans pub’ – you know the kind of place you would like to sit when you are 60 – damp, smoky, dark but the purveyor of a nice pint. We burst in the doors (his mate, Brian came along too – a Nottm Forest fan, poor lad), and were met by a host of previously mentioned old men and a perplexed looking barman. ‘Erm, are you putting on the match?,’ I asked politley. ‘No, we’re closed,’ was the tetchy reply. Spurs first cup final in 8 years and you are closed!! At this point, I knew God was an Arsenal fan, pulling the strings while knocking back a glass of white wine. You see we still have this thing called ‘Holy Hour’ in Ireland, where pubs close between 3 and 4pm on Sunday’s for some holy reason – ironically it is probably the hour that provokes the most swearing in Ireland.
So with this in mind, it quickly occurred to us that the Leopardstown Inn (aka the Lep Inn) would be open – they serve food you see and it is okay to drink alcohol during holy hour as long as you’re diluting it with asparagus and broccoli. We arrived there at 3.10pm and there it was on a bloody nice ‘big’ screen – it was 0-0.
Pints and bottles were ordered, and we took our seats. The Manure and Forest boys not in the least bit bothered by who won, me feeling strangely indifferent too. Why? I asked myself this question and came up with the answer. It’s a match we should win really, so I’m not that nervous. Secondly, it’s a bit of a dumb cup. I mean no one really cares anymore about the Worthington Cup. Even back in the 80s it was a bit of a non-entity – second tier clubs like Oxford, Sunderland, Norwich and Luton were appearing in finals. Thirdly, all I care about is qualifying for Europe – we need to get some quality players in. So winning the cup is not the main thing. When the final whistle goes I’ll put my hands in the air and shout: ‘yes, we’re in the UEFA Cup next season!!’.
Of course, it turned out I was talking bollocks.
First half blues
The first half progressed with little incident. I was mostly frustrated with the performances of Darren Anderton and Steffen Iversen, with Justin Edinburgh not far behind. Anderton was strutting around the pitch, little working for him, but little effort to make up for the mistakes. Iversen was proving to me once again that he is in the main, ineffective. He is not short of effort, but he is short of talent. He can’t read a game, can’t use the ball effectively with his head, can’t control the ball, can’t outpace a half decent defender.Justin Edinburgh was doing okay but he is probably one of the most severely limited players in the history of world football. He just does enough to hold his own in the top division but ask him to do anymore than that and he’ll stare at you blankly.
All eyes were on David of course. No, not my mate, but the French genius of le nom meme. Just five days previous he had delighted Oakwell, Barnsley with a superb solo goal and it was believed that this was his day to shine on the Wembley turf. Of course we should have remembered that this was Leicester City that we were playing. Two years ago, a Swedish midfielder called Pontus Kamrak denied everyone a chance to see Juninho shine in the Leicester v Middlesboro when he man-marked him effectively out of the game.
This time the great spoiler was the slightly less exotically named Robert Ullathorne. Well in truth it was himself and one or two others combined who managed to crowd Ginola out of the game. Daveeed still had his moments and one can only admire his incredible pace and skill with the ball.
Justin’s favourite colour
I was feeling a little more nervous in the second half as the reality started to hit home. ‘This is our big chance to get back on the sports pages for the right reasons’. Things quickly went pear shaped as the aforementioned Justin Edinburgh was suddenly presented with an identity crisis and mistook himself to be Sugar Ray Leonard. His attempted punch/slap at Robbie Savage did not go unpunished – Edinburgh saw red for the second time in three games. Typical.
Down to ten men and not really creating too much…it looked ominous. However, Leicester were worse. They sat back and only attacked as far as the edge of the Spurs box before receeding again to the halfway life. They lacked confidence and it showed. With 15 minutes to go, the momentum began to change. Anderton and Iversen jumped into life and the midfield was motoring again with Nielsen and Freund taking control. Sadly it was not before both men made blatant attempts to get Savage sent off for his role in the Edinburgh sending off.
Savage does take a huge amount of blame in my book for Justin’s card. He thumped into the back of Edinburgh flattening him in the process in the center circle. Justin, not being one for making the best decisions, quickly decided that since the referee deemed it unworthy of a free kick, that Savage deserved a fractured jaw. Justin missed, catching Savage’s dodgy highlights instead and the Leicester man hit the ground like he’d just been hit by a falling parachutist. Freund and Sherwood both tried to provoke the Welsh midfielder into fights but Savage held back – a truly wise man, as well as being a premium tosser.
There’s people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…etc
Into the last five minutes and Spurs were clearly the better side. It looked good for them going into extra time even with only ten men. Just seconds to go and Martin O’Neill made the decision to withdraw Robbie Savage who was being provoked by both Spurs players and fans – better to play extra time with the numerical advantage rather than lose it because of one moment of madness.
But the match had a sour twist for O’Neill who only 60 seconds later saw Steffen Iversen released by Steve Carr and Les Ferdinand. Iversen easily outpaced the lumbering Steve Walsh and sent the ball towards goal. Kasey Keller got down to it but could only deflect it into the path of the Dane, Allan Nielsen. The midfield dynamo couldn’t miss as he headed home from 6 yards. The joy on the faces of all was a scene to behold. It was like years of pain and anguish were washed away in a second. Spurs had practically won the cup.
Ginola off, Sinton on. A minute later, they had won the cup. It could have been the Champions League to an unversed onlooker. It mattered not. Sol Campbell proudly climbled the steps and raised the Worthington Cup above his head with a roar and a smile. It was all over.
Vega is dead, long live Vega
For certain people in the Spurs lineup, it was probably the best day of their lives. Steven Carr, the young Irish full-back, must have thought all his birthdays had come at once. 12 months ago he looked like he could end up on the scrapheap – his form was poor, and the team were struggling. Now he is on the verge of international recognition, one of the most consistent performers in the Spurs lineup and reciever of incessant praise from his new boss – now he had a cup winners medal. Ramon Vega probably endured some of the worst treatment of any Spurs player ever, from his own fans. His performances last season were paramount to treason and had not looked any better for the earlier part of this season – he seemed certain to be on his way out. Even though still slightly erratic, the Swiss international deservedly got his day in the sun following over a month of solid performances – his performance on the day at Wembley even outstripped that of partner, Sol Campbell.
Allan Nielsen must have felt vilified as he had been dropped to make way for new £4m signing, Tim Sherwood. With Sherwood cup-tied, Nielsen played a pivotal role in midfield – his last gasp goal guaranteeing him a place in Spurs folklore. Les Ferdinand picked up his first ever medal and David Ginola claimed his first honour in British football. Finally, it was great to see Sol Campbell, a Spurs legend in the making, claiming his first trophy and taking a step closer to signing a new long-term deal. We can only hope.
Good old Harry Redknapp. As Spurs made another last ditch attempt to snatch Frank Lampard from West Ham, Redknapp hit back with a rather sad quote: “Why should he go to Tottenham? We are fifth in the League. Where are they?”. Try Europe, Harry. Next up was the classic foot-in-mouth statement. “Why shouldn’t we think big? We’re not second class citizens. To be fifth in the championship for us is the equivalent of winning the championship. We are below Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal and they are in a different class.”
Nice one Harry. We’ll see you in the UEFA Cup final next year then?